09 May 2007

Forcing the OR Between Science & Religion

Responding to Chrlane's comment on the previous post, I was struck by a thought that clarified so much of my squeamishness about the evolution vs. religion debate in recent years.

People like Pat Robertson and Sam Harris have been trying to force an OR between science and religion. Pat Robertson and others would say that the Bible is to be trusted on matters of origin more than scientists and would say that you can believe in God OR those secular scientists. Sam Harris would point to the illogic of certain scriptures and beliefs and say that you can believe in God OR science, but not both.

The secular scientists and religious fundamentalists both make me nervous for very similar reasons: they are insisting that we choose between science and religion, forcing an OR between the two.

Perhaps it is because the majority of us Americans are neither scientists nor theologians that we can so casually hold to our belief in science AND religion. I suppose that at some level it is logically inconsistent to hold to both.

But I also think I know enough about the process of science and faith to stop short of believing that either is infallible or, even, that they are addressing the same issues. I'm a Christian, yet the conversation about whether the Bible is inerrant seems to miss the point. For Christians, the foundational truths in the Bible are Christ's teachings - teachings typically communicated in the form of parables, stories that may or may not have happened. That is, the "truth" of the stories Jesus told have little to do with the truth they contain. By contrast, science is all about objective truth that can be measured, replicated, and studied.

I'm sure that there are plenty of people who would be horrified that I'm so naively and ignorantly insisting that the link between science and religion is AND rather than OR. And while the fundamentalists and agnostics who decry my lack of intellectual rigor may have a point, I think that they actually miss the larger point. Their conclusions are fundamentally uncivil - resulting in widespread dismissal of a large swath of the population. While forcing an OR between science and religion may work within the small confines of their own minds, it does not work within the wider expanse of society and civil discourse. I don't think it is any coincidence that whenever the OR groups gain power - whether they are running theocracies or atheist regimes - dissent is punishable by imprisonment OR death. As for me, I simply don't trust the OR groups, whether they claim to be operating under the guise of religion OR science.


Chrlane said...

We say necessity is the Mother of invention, but is it always? Sometimes, greed is the Mother of invention. Sometimes sloth is the Mother of invention.

On the other hand, so long as religious leaders are greedily profiting one way or another from the bounty of the scientific perspective, whether on a personal level, or financially, they have no right to flout the teachings of science.

I reconcile my grasp of the evident with my reach of the spiritual by allowing each to occupy it's own sanctity within my life. Much the way I use different tools for different jobs. For example, I would never use an oil can to turn a screw. But I each has it's own place in my work room. Often, I need both tools in order to complete a task effectively.

A meditative abstraction, such as those in the Bible, employs the motivation for scientific progress, while the tenets of science provide us with the means on a physical level with which to accomplish.

It is my belief that both disciplines must reach viable means of communication and overlap if wither way is to be reconciled with the problems we face in this Age.

I also believe that as communication between the two disciplines increases, we shall see progress beyond the wildest stretches of the imagination. Progress which is centered and built on a solid foundation, much like the architecture of an age long past, which we treasure to this very day.

Chrlane said...

Goodness! Did I type 'wither' instead of 'either'? Apologies are in order.

Damon said...


Ron Davison said...

Actually, I kind of liked "wither." given I was clueless about what it meant, it gave an air of mystery to your message. I quite agree with idea about these notions being tools at some level. (Very much in the spirit of pragmatists like William James, by the way, who felt that it the idea of universal ideas was about as ... well, pragmatic as the idea of a universal tool. Like forks for soup, some ideas just don't apply in particular situations. Thanks again for the dialogue.

Ron Davison said...

Actually, AND & OR are not that big, as words go. They just look big because I typed them all in CAPS.

exskindiver said...

for bigger words see

Chrlane said...

Sorry. I did not mean to hurt anyone's poor head. This stuff fascinates me on so many levels.

So far as wither goes it did add a bit of poetry to the words, but it was not at all in line with my point, so I felt compelled to excuse the typo.

Ron Davison said...

Now you're just poking fun at me.

Ron Davison said...

fascinating indeed - with or without the wither.

chesca said...



Tisha! said...

sorry Ron I'm one of the BIG bad agnostic monsters you talked about BUT I have no need for an "OR", "AND" suits me quite well because nothing is absolutely definite in my mind and anyone who needs to make such distinction is depriving themselves.

Ron Davison said...

Chesca (xSD),

Ron Davison said...

But all my blog readers are supposed to think just like me! :)
Actually, as you know, some of my best friends are agnostic and fundamentalists. The only ones who make me nervous are the ones who think that the world would be better off without the other. You and your agnosticism are welcome to come around R World any time because I know you're the welcoming and tolerant sort.

Tisha! said...

Cheers Ron! I believe in pluralism...freedom of thinking :) You have the same way of seeing things!

Life Hiker said...

Wondering about the "AND" or "OR" has been a primary preoccupation of humankind for millenia. And I have been no exception, searching and searching for understanding, but of course unsuccessfully like all my predecessors.

I want to believe, and do believe, that the universe has a purpose and that its sentient habitants will someday get some insight into that purpose. If that's false, what's the point of us?

I'm "Christian", too, but not so ignorant as to believe that the creator is limited to approaching us humans in only one way. But it seems that those who truly sense the divine have a humility that many who practice "religion" sadly lack.