Science and Religion

The great thing about the virtual world is that it connects people of like and differing minds all over the planet.  I visited the site of a blogger who liked one of my posts.  He wrote about science and religion.  He said that he values science exclusive of religion.  Science will teach truth, he writes, religion is made up.  I would like to respectfully dissent from this view.  A few definitions need to be made.  Science doesn’t teach truth.  It teaches fact.  Religion teaches truth.  Facts are verifiable, but they are meaningless.  Truth may be disputed, but only truth has meaning.

There may be proof for the existence of quarks.  I don’t know; I’m not a scientist.  But as I watch television news programming about racial injustice in the US, a quark doesn’t matter all that much to me.  But the words of the Hebrew prophet Amos do, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).  The Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago.  Fact.  But it doesn’t tell me how to treat my fellows like Jesus does, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).  Chemical salts are made by ionic bonds.  Fact and provable.  But that won’t tell me the nature of my own consciousness as do the Upanishads.  ” Whoever knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10).  

I respect scientific inquiry and science explains the physical world–as far as it goes.  But in the realm of human relations, and in the matters that matter to me, I prefer religion.


Truth, Fact, and Meaning

The things we are most certain of mean the least to us.  The things that mean the most to us, we are least certain of.  The difference is between fact and truth.  We are certain of facts, we believe truths.  A chemical redox equation can be duplicated anywhere, any time, and the results will be the same.  A redox equation is fact.  But does it mean anything to us how may electrons switch valences?  Of course, the batteries that depend on redox equations power our cars and cell phones, and they matter a great deal to us.  But the certainty of the equation itself doesn’t matter much to me.  On the other hand, the fact that there are eternal consequences to the way I live now matters a great deal to me.  The truth that there is a loving Creator watching over me, leading me, guiding me towards eternally lasting happiness matters a great deal to me.  But the existence of God is a belief, not a provable fact.  The reality of eternal life is also a belief, not a provable fact.

I grew up in a family that thought only science was truth.  Even art was devalued.  Math, engineering, chemistry, mechanics–these were the things that mattered.  These were the things they called truth.  The meaning a person finds in a poem, was not considered truth.  In fact, it wasn’t considered at all.  In the Turgenev novel I’m reading, the nihilist Bazarov deprecates belief, the arts, and aristocratic values.  He believes in nothing.  This abandonment of belief thrusts him into science.  He thinks that only science is certain.

But there is much truth in poems, like Robert Frost’s The Mending Wall.  “Something there is that does not love a wall.”  There is a feeling in us that wants connection among fellow humans and doesn’t love walls that come between us.  But Frost is an artist, not a scientist.  I don’t think it can be proven that there is a human antipathy to walls that come between us.  But I agree with Frost.  I believe he is correct.  The Mending Wall means more to me than the existence of quarks.  Quarks can be proved, Frosts truths can’t.  Neither can God’s love for humanity, nor the reality of afterlife.  But even if the things that matter most to me can’t be proven, my life is more fulfilling when I act upon the truths I believe.  I don’t see how science can direct me to a full and fulfilling life, even if the facts it discovers are provable.  The things that matter most to humans are not provable; the things that are provable hold least meaning to us.

An Environment Evacuated of God

I think we live in a world evacuated of God.  Back in the late 19th century Nietzsche prophesied the death of God, “Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the horizon?”  We are now in the 21st century, and in most public spheres God is dead.

What this means is that 21st century western society has lost the sense of the sacred.  We hold little sacred, do not hold each other sacred, do not hold the universe sacred.

This means that Nature is not sacred Creation.  It is a collection of unfeeling elements, molecules, atoms, quarks, and quantum fields.  That’s what makes a tree grow, a flower bloom, a river flow, the sunrise.

Since Nature is not sacred, it is easy for us to do what we want with Nature.  We can burn its forests, throw our garbage into its ocean, pipe our defecation and industrial waste into its rivers, kill its wales, tigers, bald eagles, fill the heavens with sulphurous fumes, carbon dioxide, soot, and fluorocarbons.

If we treated our fellow humans like this, we would be arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.  But doing all these things to Nature ends up doing them to each other.  Oxygen comes from forests, we fish the oceans, drink rivers, breathe the air, and animals are our fellows.  We think so little of each other, that we don’t recoil from indirectly hurting each other by violating Sacred Gaea.

I’m not sure science and legislation can fix our eco-system without humanity recovering a sense of the sacred.  And I’m not sure we can return to our holy roots and find our way back to the sacred.