Monday, September 24, 2007

A short discourse the meaning of religion and science

I am of the notion that the implicit purpose of our religious texts (Bible, Talmud, Koran) is to provide a rule book and moral compass for a society. They tell us how to live. And because we all have a very basic need to believe in something bigger, more powerful, more meaningful than ourselves, these texts are written in terms of the actions and words of gods, angels, devils, saints, prophets etc.

As our societies change, our rules change; our sense of morals change. Unfortunately our religious texts have not changed as well. We are left with books that reveal we are not all equal and that belief in other gods is wrong. We should not look for literal truths in outdated texts. I would rather that we read these texts as parables to be interpreted and changed as we change.

Science represents our best understanding of the world as we know it at the time. Science and our understanding of the world as revealed through science changes in time. What we consider fact now is nothing more than what we can currently understand and can prove in some way.

I see a natural link between science and religion. Science is all about trying to understand and explain things. Many of our myths are religious stories and try to do that too: explain some natural event in terms of one god or other. Eventually, we reached the point where enough people began to wonder if it was really Thor, Guruwari or Yahweh that caused that light in the sky, shaking ground or pestilence among the people. Our curiosity grew beyond the stories we would tell each other, and soon enough our equipment and growing knowledge showed us that there other explanations.

I see this is as being the dichotomy broached in this thread: do we still need religion to explain things to us when science has an answer too?

I believe the answer is intrinsic: science is about what we know and religion is about how we should live. Both of them should change as we change, and we need to understand that what is right today, can be wrong tomorrow. Without this we will find it hard to adapt. [ erm.. evolve. :) ]

One last thought. We have a lot of religious hierarchy who do manage to interpret religious texts in different ways, and sometimes those appear to be positive ways. However, I am not convinced they have the good of society in mind. Instead they have a lot to protect: money and power. I have the same sense of cynicism for our political and business structures. None of these large organisations have the good of humanity at heart, because the need for making money and gaining power is too high a priority. We will never have a good balance between religion and science for this same reason: as long as someone has to be wrong for someone else to be right.

I originally posted this in the Excape Artist's forums.

2 comments:

Marc said...

Taking a look at religions with the presupposition that no God exists and that they are man-made (as you have done) will lead you into many quandaries. It's like analysing science with the assumption that there is no external reality - it all looks silly.

However, I think you'll find that religion is best explained in terms of man's response to a transcendent reality and not because he did not understand his environment. Try something truly radical today and analyse a religion as if it were true.

It also seems to me a contradiction to say a) religions tell us how we should live and b) this should change over time. If morality is dynamic then what Hitler did could have been OK for his time and culture and may be OK again in the future. Any atrocity can be justified by saying: "move with the times!".

RobertMarkBram said...

Hi Marc, you raise some very good points and I appreciate you reading what I wrote.

Taking a look at religions with the presupposition that no God exists and that they are man-made (as you have done) will lead you into many quandaries.

I think life is quite literally a never-ending chain of quandaries, and belief in God doesn't change that. It might change how you analyse and react to each new quandary, but it doesn't shield you from either the possibility of new quandaries nor from the consequences of them.

It's like analysing science with the assumption that there is no external reality - it all looks silly.

It does look silly when your understanding of what is reality changes. Today, it looks silly that we ever believed the Earth was flat.

However, I think you'll find that religion is best explained in terms of man's response to a transcendent reality and not because he did not understand his environment. Try something truly radical today and analyse a religion as if it were true.

I wholly respect your right to do so, and to have faith in the conclusions that come from that analysis. Personally, I do not share that faith. My analysis has shown me what I have written already.

It also seems to me a contradiction to say a) religions tell us how we should live and b) this should change over time.

It is clear to me that morality is dynamic: it changes over time and furthermore is highly pluralist within the global population of humans at any given time. Laws change to reflect the shifting morality of the people within them. Our sense of morality with respect to equality of race and gender is a prime example, showing both that humans across the globe have changed over time and that there are still wide differences between the morality of different cultures at the current time.

If morality is dynamic then what Hitler did could have been OK for his time and culture and may be OK again in the future. Any atrocity can be justified by saying: "move with the times!".

I hope that would never happen, but honestly, is it that hard to think of things we once thought were ok but now abhor?

This is precisely why religion needs to be dynamic: it needs to change as we change. Just as our legal and governmental structures do, just as our understanding of science does, religion must change to reflect our shifting beliefs and understanding of the world around us.

Thanks again, you really gave me something to think about. :)