Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Science vs Religion

"...it is agreed that Scripture, in order to be understood by the multitude, says many things which are apparently and in the literal sense of the words at variance with the absolute truth."

"If I were allowed to give my opinion, I would say that it might be more appropriate, and more befitting the dignity of Holy Writ, to stop every lightweight popular writer from trying to lend authority to their writings, often based on empty fancies, by quoting verses from Scripture, which they interpret or rather force into saying things that are as far from the true meaning of the Scripture as they are near to making complete fools of themselves when they parade their biblical knowledge in this way."

Both these quote are from a letter sent to the Grand Duchess Christina in March 1610 from Galileo whose scientific research supported Copernican heliocentrism but which were attacked in sermons and at society parties, which one might call the internet chat centers of the day.

Unfortunately, as time passed, Galileo was tried by the Church, forced to recant his "errors' and died in 1642, blind and under house arrest.

I found this quote in the Spring Edition of Lapham's Quarterly, titled Discovery, which I just began reading this past week.  It struck me as incredibly relevant today, and incredibly sad that over 400 years after such a brilliant man was pilloried for his intellect, and ability to advance man's understanding of the world, we still find ourselves at the mercy of those who insist that the Bible is a science book, those who justify their beliefs under the guise of "alternative facts", and those who question climate science research in order to justify a status quo that maintains economic power in the fossil fuel industry which just coincidentally heaps huge campaign donations on our elected officials.

And, of course, the equally insidious practice of manipulating the masses with anti-elitist rhetoric, and a rose colored nostalgia for the perfect past, all the while further empowering the 21st century's version of the papacy of Galileo's time.

I expect it naive of me to imagine that the battle between science and religion might one day end in a mutual acceptance of each other's importance.  Perhaps it is human nature to resist change when that change contradicts the interpreted foundations of one's holy book or sacred beliefs.  While Galileo may be the most famous, perhaps even most talented person to ever be persecuted for his challenges to the status quo of his time, his tragic end is certainly not unique.

What is both amazing and irritating is that some might rate Jesus of Nazareth as the person most harmed by his attempt to educate his contemporaries, as I would expect that were his teachings being followed today by those who lead us politically, economically, and socially, our debates concerning income inequality, immigration, religious intolerance, gender identification, and equating money to free speech, might have a completely different tone, or might even be unnecessary.

Science vs Religion, logic vs spirituality, believing in what you can see and quantify vs belief in what is beyond your ability to understand.  Perhaps the problem is that, while there are surely battles that must be waged, the war is not needed.

We need people who have been blessed with an insatiable desire to understand the phenomena of our existence, just as we need people who are blessed with the ability to make sense of the randomness of disaster and death.  Both help the rest of us stay focused on living our lives with less fear of the uncertainty of life, and death, and more joy in the time we have to experience life as we move towards the inevitable end.

Science gives us a method to uncover the dangers and the wonders of the natural world.  To fashion a better world for our children and grand children.  Religion gives us a method to accept the things we have not yet uncovered as part of humanity's travels down the path of life.  Denying that some things have yet to be divined can be just as limiting as denying that some things have been figured out through the use of the tools given to us by the creator.    

I hope that as I continue to read Discovery, I might stay open minded to perspectives that I may not have encountered to date, or that I have dismissed in the past.  In is certainly not an easy philosophy to maintain, and I expect to fall short more often than I succeed.  But isn't that what discovery is about; recognizing and exceeding ones limitations whether personal or as a community?


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