I need to draw from personal experience to illustrate why I believe that science and faith can exist harmoniously.
I was brought up an atheist and for most of my life rationally believed that there couldn’t possibly be a god because there was no rational proof and that god was a human creation.
That was until a series of personal events disrupted my blissful existence. I won’t go into detail, suffice to say that I really had no idea how to deal with them.
I asked for help from every conceivable source until someone suggested that I pray. I thought the idea was ridiculous and initially rejected it but in desperation with nowhere else to turn, I tried it. I didn’t know to who or what I was praying but it made me feel better.
I rationalized that if I needed a god, there must be one. Don’t think that this is the preamble for a god bothering sermon, it’s not. It’s the way I coped with a situation in which I might otherwise have topped myself.
I invented a god that was just for me, someone who would listen without me having to question his origins (a female would have invented a she).
Basically it was a psychological trick, a way of fooling myself back into a positive state of mind but it worked.
No Prozac, no shrink, just the acquisition of a type of faith.
My particular faith doesn’t conflict with science in any way because I make no effort to define, explain or understand my god, all I need to know is that he’s there. When life is jogging along nicely, I forget about him, don’t need him and don’t bother him. He only comes out of the cupboard when I can’t think my way out of a problem.
I’ve had to resort to the dictionary(reaches for the other spectacles) for the exact meaning of reconcile and am surprised to learn that it has a religious connotation; “purify by special service after profanation or desecration” well mmm that bit doesn’t seem to fit but “make aquiescent or contentedly submissive” works where my particular faith is submissive to science. It does so because it’s formless, unstructured and can live “contentedly” in my own imagination. I’m now satisfied that I haven’t just been discussing semantics.
Science and religion are invariably in conflict because religion wants to explain origins which science can rightly refute. It’s science which does the explaining, leaving faith to the irrational, emotional part of the brain where it belongs. I like the saying that there are no atheists on sinking ships, there’s a reason for that.
I’m still the type of person who’d expend every scrap of mental energy trying to save the ship before praying but when bereft of ideas, would now ask for divine inspiration.
An article just brought to my attention about the alarming rate of baby- boomer suicide in the USA is attributed to various factors but one not mentioned is that my generation have largely discarded religion.
I believe my own very individual form of faith if practiced by others would help in what appear to be dire situations. It doesn’t change the situation as such but prevents the slide into depression and with a more positive outlook enables the brain to start thinking again. I’m not setting myself up as a guru and the information is already here for you to also invent your own god without trespassing on the realms of science. Perhaps it’s more psychology than religion or faith but for me it worked.
If you don’t believe that you can convince yourself of something in which you rationally disbelieve, try it, when all other avenues have failed. I still believe that god is a human creation in fact I know because I created him.
As a younger man I despised organized religion for the atrocities committed in its name, the contradiction of what science had discovered and the irrational mythology of it.
In the relatively tiny window between acquired knowledge and inevitable loss of faculties, I’ve come to realize the importance and necessity of religion to many people. I remember someone telling me that 95% of people believed in a god, so they couldn’t all be wrong. In my intolerant, rational voice I replied that once upon a time 100% believed the earth was flat and they WERE all wrong.
Rationally I was correct but hadn’t taken into account the nature of the person I was speaking to. On reflection, despite his sermonizing attempt to convert me, his personal life had disintegrated and his newly found religion was all he had to cling to. He’d bought the whole shop, myths, icons, preaching, because that was the only way this person could find the faith to support himself.
I later concluded that there are many similar people on the planet whose life circumstances need the support that religion offers.
Science on it’s own explains the nuts and bolts, the facts, what it doesn’t do is cater for emotional and psychological requirements.
Here in the OECD nations we have a standard of living which allows many of us to pursue interesting and fruitful careers, raise families and in those pursuits we have little need for religion. As educated, intelligent beings we can cope with minor crises.
But what happens when debilitating illness strikes. The career goes down the toilet along with the expected lifestyle. The savings are quickly spent, the stress of the event alters the happy go lucky personality to one no longer recognized by friends and family and one by one they disappear because they’re far too busy dealing with the crises in their own lives. Does science have an answer for that ?
Yes it does because concerned politicians could listen to well qualified advisors and provide a rational safety net for such situations. But it doesn’t. We’re talking about human beings here. Funds are diverted elsewhere, corruption exists at every level of the system and so the practical result is that the individual is left to fend for him or her self, not having been given the tools to cope.
That is where the community of organized religion has its place. Providing the warmth of emotional support and in many cases practical help. Without that, an expensively educated, trained and experienced individual is lost to society.Religion also takes care of the "fallen" when government is unable or unwilling. The homeless, mentally ill, poor handicapped etc. My measure of a society is not only the number of successes it creates but the way it cares for the under privileged.
Rules. The organizing principle of any society is a rule book. We have laws to govern our everyday lives but where do they come from? Rationally we can devise a set of laws and by watching the practical results, can tweak by adding amendments until we’re satisfied that they’re working as intended. We can base them on secular morality with perhaps humanist principles and have no requirement for religion. Is that actually true? From where do we derive “morality”?
I’ve never read a bible but having been brought up in a predominantly Christian society, there are social conventions, rituals and verbally transmitted knowledge which is learnt without necessarily realizing its Christian(or pagan) origins.
I try to abide by the concept of doing to my neighbour what I would have done to me. The question I ask is; would a secular philosopher have devised that easily understood guiding principle ? Perhaps he did and Christians decided it was too good not to include in the bible !
The point I’m making is that the wisdom and guiding principles in the major religions have stood the test of time.
What hasn’t stood up to scientific rigour is the mythology, manipulation of scripture and that the words were handed down from an omnipotent being via a prophet. Students of classical texts are well aware of the history of the early church and the decisions taken to publish what the religious faithful think are facts.
Where I diverge from Richard Dawkins’ recent remarks concerning the bishops, is that they are experts on scripture in which there is much wisdom beneficial to how we govern ourselves. They’re also experienced politicians and so I have no objection to their input in the lawmaking process. An upper house consisting solely of experts drawn from a cross section of society sounds fine in theory but practically could lead to lobbying for their own specialisation. I remember clearly that during the reign of HM Thatcher, it was the bishops in the House of Lords who modified and delayed her most draconian policies.
To conclude, I believe that even organised religion can co-exist with science and is still beneficial.
When every human becomes well educated and informed and no longer lives in grinding poverty, there’ll be little need for religion but until we can provide that society, attempts to rationalize religion out of existence will be counter productive.
In light of this; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/12/pope-francis-canonise-otranto-martyrs
I need to reluctantly add further comment. Clearly Benedict is still running the Vatican because Francis could have overturned this decision and didn't. Anyone can foresee how such an act is likely to be seen in the Muslim world. A deliberate provocation. Instead of attempting a consensus of where the two faiths could find common ground, this divisive priest has just fired the first shot of a new crusade. So I'm forced to eat some of my words regarding religious influence on the governing process. IF a far sighted, modernizing prelate was prepared to amend the dogma and focus on the benefits of the guiding principles of his religion and make a concerted effort to liaise positively with his peers from other faiths, then and only then is he fit to partake in the governing process.
Catholicism and Islam are so entrenched in their own dogma that I seriously doubt any meaningful dialogue is possible. The leaders of both seem intent on the pursuit of their own narrow doctrine to the point of their eventual destruction.
Catherine Parr, Luther, Calvin were the first modernizers of a process which has sadly stalled. The Church of England has every opportunity to progressively minimize dogma and steer religion to the point of acceptance by free thinking individuals. As with all human affairs, a progressive agenda is only as good as the people charged with its implementation.