In the Spirit of Collegial Inquiry...

updated: 23 Jun 98

Religion and Science: When Worlds Collide ...

SS:   At the risk of offending, which I do not mean to do, I think that belief in a supreme being is the result of an incomplete maturation of logical thought-- the persistence of the child's need for the protection of adults and the security of knowing that everything has an explanation.

KB:   Does this explain high scores achieved by some believers on tests of fluid intelligence?

SS:   To the extent that this results in abnormal, destructive and illogical behaviors it is a form of mental illness.

KB:   Presuming your predication is true ...

SS:   In most cases those behaviors are not especially harmful and most people with such beliefs are high functioning.

JPr:   How kind of you to notice. I guess we all cannot be as mature as you seem to be.

SS:   That's enough for now. I'm sure there'll be enough reaction to this without my going on.

CW:   That there may be a "supreme being" isn't an explanation. The problem is the fixed concepts of doctrine which for some reason are justified. Strangely enough, we don't want the authors of the bible to be responsible for their frequently very confusing and (partly) as a result damaging words. What if God is just content to let the experiment run its course? Can it be any concern of ours what intent lies behind it? Even if we knew how could it be relevant to human life?

LDL:   I agree! If the universe is intelligent ... which seems nonsensical by any means, certainly alone on the basis that inorganic matter is different than organic matter and the former has never been known to contain the trait of intelligence, certainly it has no interaction with human beings, or any other life on this planet ... in that, I would concur.

In the human species, as in no other, our childhood is extended over nearly two decades ... we are protected, sheltered, cared for, and for the most part we look to our parents to protect us and nurture us. When our parents do a good job we have a feeling of being loved almost unconditionally. I think it small wonder that most people never question the concept of a divine father figure, or mother, a celestial parent, when they become adults. I have often thought that the big parent in the sky is a product of our extended childhood, a way of holding on to the security of the past, as a means of dealing with the harsh realities of adult life.

I also agree that when there is abnormal, destructive, or illogical behavior, religion could be viewed as a form of mental illness. Although, as you point out, most religious people get along fine, it is only until their beliefs are confronted directly by some unexpected contact with reality. A pregnant daughter, a daughter who wants an abortion, a child who is gay, or one who rejects their religion in favor of another, or in favor of skepticism. At this time highly functioning religious people can exhibit symptoms of mental illness, but they, of course, would never concede it was such.

KB:   I've been reflecting on the numerous occurrences of various science atrocities. Similar discussions can be held on why anyone would embrace science given these evils. Now, do I discount science because of these wrong-doings? no. My point being, of course, one can find examples of benefits as well as curses brought about by any endeavor -- chaos theory applicable perchance? Well my arm tires of beating this metaphysically challenged equine.

LDL:   Let's discuss these "science atrocities" ... enumerate these "numerous occurrences" where science has committed atrocities ... I know of incidents where inventions and products of science have been used by religions and politicians for committing atrocities, but that is not science committing the atrocities. I would be most interested in hearing and discussing what evils science has wrought?

Your point has not been made until you demonstrate it. A science atrocity ... now, what would that be? Give me a half dozen off the top of your head. The problem you will have is that science is not something people commit atrocity for, it is a methodology, a means of exploring and understanding reality, or obtaining knowledge. People don't torture, commit murder, or commit atrocities in the name of science.

JPr:   Maybe I have not followed this entire discussion as I should have, so I am responding incorrectly for your intent. However, at face value-- science, or more appropriately, scientists, have indeed committed some heinous atrocities. My personal favorite is sewing little monkeys' and rats' eyes shut to see if they develop visual abilities in the absence of early visual stimulation. As a teacher of the blind, this sickens me. I read this research as I did my training years ago. If that ain't torture, what is? There are plenty more where that came from. Pardon my grammar, my mother isn't here to correct it.

KB:   I didn't include any, presuming anyone could think of a few. Human radiation experiments ...

Japanese Unit 731 used human beings for vivisection in order to develop biological weapons. Equally unbelievable is that the United States has covered up the crime in exchange for the data on human experiments.

    Nuclear bombs, waste, testing

    PCB contaminated water, fishing, et al supplies

    Studies on African-Americans using syphilis

    LSD studies on American military personnel

    Development of biological and chemical agents for war

    Weapons development

    Misused (overused) brain techniques

    Sterilization of mentally retarded

    Hiroshima, Nagasaki

    Chernobyl, Three Mile Island

These being just off the top off my head ... Same point; using current enlightenment to judge failures of the past. We learn from these mistakes and hopefully refuse to make the same mistakes.

JPr:   Good listing, for being off the top of your head.

KB:   Perhaps religion is a methodology as well. "A means of exploring and understanding reality, or obtaining knowledge." At least as far as I'm concerned it is thus.

JCC:   That seems a good point, and perhaps there is some evidence of "collective" learning from past catastrophes. Certainly contemporary religions, at least the mainstream elements, are wary of endorsing positions that will lose members and earn widespread contempt from many directions. Some of the changes have nevertheless been a reaction to encroachment of rationalist/ humanist philosophy; some are the result of reformist questioning with the ranks, as Ahmadiyya in Islam or the various flavors of Protestantism within Christianity. Abuse tends to occur most horribly where dissidence has been effectively suppressed under monolithic rule.

The "science atrocities" though are more fairly atrocities of nationalism and militarism, economic greed, lack of concern for safety of employees and the general public.

KB:   True enough in some of my examples. However there remains many goings-on only attributable as science gone bad (perhaps like potato salad?) hehe..

JCC:   While it's not fair to adopt a paradigm to the effect that whatever is not religion must be science, it is a fair observation of the intellectual/ spiritual vacuum that seems to be abhorrent to our nature. In Russia, the Party quickly became enshrined as a new god in place of the old, with a pseudo-scientific editing of Marx into a new scripture. Perhaps the real issue is the sociology of belief systems, obscuring effectively the time-honored quest of those seeking mystic encounter or highest truth attainable. We make a mess of it, and yet ...

KB:   Or might there be two sciences: science of the known; one of proofs from established truths, music, math. Students of these sciences accept the firmly established and apply knowledge to related areas ... Science of the unknown; theology, biology, medicine, quantum physics, etc... Why cannot theology be a theory that billions theorize and spend their lives testing? Learning from past failures and successes until the gestalt.

Much of science and theology begins with the question of an unknown and then sets out to prove the questions validity, reliability, etc. ... I see no cause for concern or conflict.

I have always approached my short life with a simple goal: to learn as much as possible about this world/reality. I see everything as the puzzle pieces, beautiful in isolation yet integral to the whole. For me the study of geometry, physics, music, anything, is vital for understanding of God. The inverse being true as well. I am not alone in my quest, and path I've chosen, for knowledge.

I will not be put in a box of denomination. I'm sure it's now obvious I enjoy, learn more, from discussions with scientists, atheists, rationalists, skeptics, than I am at my churches Sunday school. Uh oh, need a bigger box. hehe, "Yo quiero.... "

LDL:   I see no evidence that religions make any changes until they are forced by circumstances to make them. This is not exploration as I understand the word. Learning because your fingers are burnt is not coupled with the spirit of adventure inherent in exploration.

At best, the scholarly examination of myth and religion, can be described as exploration, but this is rarely accomplished by religionists. Joseph Campbell, for instance, was an atheist, but thoroughly enjoyed the religious myths. I think, so long as they are understood as part of the human phenomenon, and explored as such, it is a valid study and reveals much about the human condition as it has evolved through the ages.

The point that "science atrocities" are the result of nationalism, militarism, and human greed are well made. However, you neglected religion ... religion has used and developed instruments of torture, death, and destruction using the knowledge obtained through science, as well. One shouldn't blame the tub, because the water is dirty. Nor can one excuse or dismiss the massive atrocities of the religious . We forget we are talking about millions and millions of people murdered to establish god's kingdom, versus dropping a bomb that killed tens of thousands, and that the former still continues, and the later stopped a war.

If the world is ever destroyed by a nuclear holocaust, it will be because one religious faction is trying to wipe out another religious faction and establish their god as supreme. This, patently, is mental illness...

These examples, off the top of your head, are neither science, nor religion ... some are political, some are atrocities only by opinion, some were accidental, not by design, none approached the magnitude of the religious extermination of dissenters, and not one example was for the advancement of science.

KB:   Using what? Science. This makes no sense. Using your logic it holds true for religious atrocities. Political, only by opinion etc... And now the discussion turns to who killed more millions? science or religion?

LDL:   Nuclear bombs, waste, testing (as a deterrent), Hiroshima and Nagasaki, (The Japanese were bombing and killing civilians, the bomb stopped them.) weapons development, (as a deterrent); sterilization of mentally retarded, (a sensible solution) development of biological and chemical agents for war (as a deterrent); PCB contaminated water (accidental); Chernobyl, Three Mile Island (accidental); misused (overused) brain techniques, (huh? What are you talking about?)

KB:   Exploratory brain surgery on the mentally ill. Perhaps this is sensible as well? ... I'd rather hear voices in my head than actually believe on faith that the companies and government had no knowledge of the detrimental factors with PCB dumping. Chernobyl; Three Mile Island, accidental ... And the point is? Not guilty based on negligence? Nuclear reactor worker, "Yeah the rods get a little hot, but what the heck!"

LDL:   That leaves three possible atrocities, none of which were for the advancement of science. These atrocities were committed for political reasons, not for science.

Religions have and still commit atrocities for the advancement of religion. Faith the reason for the atrocities; establishing the kingdom of some god, their religion, in the here and now.

Religion is not a method of exploration ... it is the claim that all is known that needs to be known, that god is incomprehensible, that all knowledge necessary has been handed down by the emissaries of god, that any who disagree are wrong and, to one extent or another, must eventually bow knee to their god, or be forced to do so.

Religion is not something people test, it is something they have accepted as real without testing. Religion is not a theory to those who believe, it is ultimate truth and questioning it is generally taboo. Example: Most believers don't want to discuss the flaws in their beliefs ... take bible literalists, try pointing out that the bible speaks of unicorns, cockatrice, flying dragons, talking snakes, and other mythological characters as having really existed.

Or talk of the many mythical miracles in the bible ... the sun standing still in the heavens, for instance, or the parting of the Red Sea, talking bushes, a virgin birth, the resurrection, and on and on ... no matter that these are obvious myths, bible literalists, and even some who aren't literalists, want to believe they are true, in direct opposition to everything we know of reality.

There is no testing, no theory, only uncritical acceptance. This is not methodology, nor any kind of science. Religion is the mythical answers of the human species to address questions not yet answered ... it is not a science in any sense of the word. Religion is founded on fear and desire, as consolation for our fear. The study of a god is not necessary to the sublime enjoyment of mathematics, art, science, music, et al. The concept of god only enhances these studies for those who have need of gods. The pope even cautioned Prof. Hawking not to explore past the Big Bang, because that is the province of god. Hawking, an atheist, while accepting his award from the pontiff, made it clear that this admonition was not one he intended to honor.

Science is methodology ... religion is acceptance.

Religion is the acceptance of some man as the voice of a divine god ... this is not a methodology. It is extolling a charismatic personality. Unless god has spoken to you personally, and then you are a man who hears voices in his head. Still no methodology involved, either you accept the tenets or you do not.

Religion tends to oppose scientific advancement, contending against it every time that superstitious dogma is revealed by scientific advance. Religion wants to retain the status quo as sacred and unchanging. Considering the numerous times that science and religion have contended, and that religion is "always" demonstrated to be in error, I think that is a pattern one can use for judgments of religious tenets and propositions in all future encounters.

It seems that voices in the head is not a reliable means of knowing and understanding reality.

I suspect your enjoyment in discussing with scientists, atheists, skeptics, is because you personally search for truth and reality and are willing to do that which most believer are not willing to do ... to question.

Science tests and retests and is the only human methodology employing reason, logic, and facts to understand and describe reality.

Religion is handed down from people who hear voices in their head, either in the form of writings or oral traditions.

I think the comparison speaks for itself.

KB:   Snared in your own trap!

LDL:   I raised four boys, taught them to use logic, science, and reason as the means to guide their life. (I didn't talk to them about god, pro or con. My spouse was a believer and out of respect for her I refrained.) Propositional calculus, the Wff N' Proof version was one of our favorite games, and Krypto, a game of math ... after awhile we took out all eights and nines and played it in the base eight. Chess, of course, and other strategy games, was big in our household. Building blocks for logical thought.

Each of them, when just little kids, attended church with the next door neighbors, and my spouse. They also attended Sunday School with other kids. I never thought twice about it. Grounded in logical methodology, it never once occurred to me that they might be seduced into the embraces of religion . Which is, of course, what the neighbors wanted to do, and what my spouse wanted too. It would have been a real laurel had they captured the minds and hearts of the atheists's sons.

One day, after the boys had been attending for the better part of a year, I asked what went on at these sessions. They said they had fun playing with the other kids, but they had to listen to boring talks about some dude who they thought died and was reborn, and to bible studies. They also said that most of the other kids thought it was stupid too, but they didn't tell their parents. Finally, they said didn't want to go anymore ... what fun there was, wasn't worth putting up with the boredom. It was the same reason I told my parents I didn't want to go to church when I was little. I told my spouse and reminded her that I had played fair, the kids didn't want to go anymore and I wasn't going to force them. She was livid, but I prevailed.

Somewhere, between the honesty of youth, and the ascension to adulthood a story told and retold takes roots in young minds. I wonder if any believer would dare let their kids spend six months attending meetings of the American Atheists? No matter, how grounded the kid might be in religion. My spouse would have hit the roof if I had even suggested such a thing.

Kids are not born religious ... they must be indoctrinated into it by their parents, their family, or someone. It is rarely the free choice of an adult ... the alternative is never offered; never even discussed. Wonder why! I wanted my kids to know the difference between rationality and religion and the best way to do that was to teach them how to think and then let them go to church armed with clear thinking minds. I didn't train them to be atheists. I encouraged them to go. My kids had a choice, the opportunity to embrace religion if that was what they wanted, and they chose to reject it.

At the time, I figured if they needed something in their life that religion provided, I didn't want to deprive them. They are grown now, responsible citizens, good people, and, unlike me, religion is a subject they simply ignore as unimportant in their lives. They tend to make friends with intelligent people who, like them, have no interest in religion. They neither embrace, nor oppose it, although they understand and have compassion for my life long conflict with organized religion. I'm curious! Is there anyone on the side of religion, who has given their kids the opportunity to turn away from religion? Anyone who didn't raise their kids to believe in a god? I would be highly surprised. It really doesn't fit the religious perspective.

KB:   Quite a pigeonhole. I personally have experienced three of these examples pertaining to two close relatives and have shown them (to their amazement) love, acceptance, a faithful breast, a listening ear, and a non-judgmental tongue or heart. If one of these relatives hadn't finally told someone, anyone (I being the only family member knowing), he would have ended his life -- a true loss. When he asked why I didn't react in the stereotypical way, I simply told him I loved him and it was his life -- his decisions. Whether I agree or disagree matters not. I want him to be happy and I'll do my best to help in any little, or big way. This is the meaning of my religion/ spirituality. And no, growing up in a rural, blue collar, monocultural, community, would not have made me as such.

I wasn't raised by my parents to be so open. Nor do I feel I was born with these acceptances. I learned them through my belief. So I, many Colloquy members, and millions worldwide, have blown this curve. Or perhaps the curve needs to be replotted? As with the methodology of science and religion, unfortunately (?), humans carry out the experiments, methods, and the implementations.

Applications are not fractals. I cannot judge any science by those who implement it. Nor can I judge any religion/ spirituality by the same criteria. My intent is that humans can accept differences of (in) belief systems without presumption. It seems I keep explaining about those out here who are not in this neat box being constructed here; yet generalizations abound.

LDL:   Where are the acknowledgments? Where are the repudiations? Where are the reparations? Where are the guarantees it will never happen again? No religion I know of has changed its dogma and if they obtain political power there is no reason to suppose they would not repeat the past.

One more thing ... I am having fun. I hope you are too. This is not meant to be a stressful correspondence.

KB:   It was a semblance of fun until the "sensible" remarks. Also, you use too many opinions when explaining how others' opinions are incorrect. I have run out of pearls.

EM:   Hello everyone, this discussion of belief, in whatever form, vs non-belief, in whatever form, has been lucid, profound, intelligent, and at times somewhat interesting. I do detect a slight escalation of emotion as the discussion progresses, perfectly normal for such discussions, I concede. Give it another 3 months and they'll be at each others' throats. A vigorous discussion tends to crowd out other topics, I could put up dozens of possible topics if anyone is interested.

I am a member of the World Future Society **, and each year receive the State of the World yearbook. I found the current one as intensely interesting as they always are, particularly as to providing background for what makes headlines month by month as though it is news, when it is simply the normal progression of events. Is anyone interested? A fascinating current extrapolation, we are living through the end of cheap oil, it will begin to rise in cost once again in the next decade, never to fall. The changeover will be to alternative energy forms, wind energy is currently the fastest growing of them all. Not surprising, the major established energy companies are the ones doing the pioneering in many areas, so when oil is priced out of the market, who will own the alternative methods of energy production? You guessed it, buy Exxon and Shell for the long term.

If the Chinese decide to eat as much fish in the next decade as the Japanese do now, all the fish caught in the world will not be enough. All the fish that can be caught is about ninety to a hundred million tons, this has stayed on a plateau for the last six or seven years, it cannot go up, but it can go down with pollution and overfishing. Do I think any of the gigantic problems facing humanity will be overcome or ameliorated by careful and considerate planning by the various political leaders? Not at all, political leaders are not selected for intelligence, they are selected by emotion, same as religious leaders, or movie stars, or any other celebrities.

Saudi Arabia wanted the world to continue to be dependent on oil, but Saudi Arabia did not want to be dependent on imported wheat, so they paid $24 per bushel to their own farmers, six times the world price, starting about a decade ago, and increased their own production twentyfold. They also took their underlying water aquifer down to about zilch, and had to give up trying to grow all their own wheat. Nature doesn't care how much money you have, when the water is gone, it's gone. If the Saudis had spent some of that money on desalinization equipment, they might have developed a sustainable increase in wheat production. But, if you are very powerful, people must do what you say, and you can make them do almost anything, if you have enough control. Ego and pride triumph over intelligence at every turn.

LDL:   Naw, it won't go on another three months ... I suspect it is already finished. My last tirade said all I wanted to say, any rebuttal will be left unanswered. The least I can do is concede the last word, since, as I said before, I started the thread. All in all, it seemed pretty mellow to me.

Yes, a change of subject would be welcome, very much so ... I've tweaked enough sacred taboos to last me quite a spell. {GriN!} One can only generate so much power from the wind, even in places where it blows constantly. Also solar power is highly over-rated ... we live in Arizona and you would need cover the entire state with panels to supply enough power to run Casa Grande, let alone the major cities. And on those dark, dismal, and rainy days, forget it. Electric cars are coming along, but need a lot more work, or a total change in the American attitude toward speed. 150 miles per charge and 55 miles per hour top speed won't make many people thrilled with the change. One could argue that it will be better for the environment, safer on the road, less stressful on the drivers, et al ... but I remember when cigarettes were twenty-five cents a pack; what are they now, two dollars a pack? I think many people will absorb the financial increase and go right on whizzing along.

EM:   Why stop at one topic, here's another to consider, not a happy one, to be sure. In the last month I have had the opportunity to see some home movies by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun at Berchtesgaden ... or the Wolf's Lair ... I think that was one of the fanciful terms for the place. There was a cliche kind of banality about the wholesome, well-scrubbed middle class atmosphere conveyed, almost a parody of the 1930's Norman Rockwell God, motherhoood and apple pie kind of values depicted. It was overdone to the point of being theatrical, it seemed like an operetta, Student Prince comes to mind. Nothing intruded that would give a hint of upper or lower class, nothing artistic or intellectual, or cultural. Eva was a shopgirl in a photographers shop when Hitler met her, maybe she set the standards. The pictures included the years from 1936 (approx) to 1944. Nothing discernible changed in any of the scenes in the entire time, as to atmosphere conveyed.

I could not escape thinking that in 1942, Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka were all busily in operation. There was a concern at the highest German administrative level that these places were to be kept secret and destroyed when their function was completed. Some of them operated a little over a year, then were razed. Clearly they were something of which the German government of that period took no pride in establishing. I was baffled and puzzled by the contrast between the wholesome Sunday School rectitude conveyed by the dictatorial domesticity scenes and the inconceivable horror of the extermination camps. I am still puzzled by it.

In the examples presented of Hitler's personal life, we see an almost mawkishly sentimental burger virtue played off against an evil and cruelty that stuns the imagination. Did Hitler require this drama, or tableau, of middle class virtue and morality to offset the abominations being done for the greater power and glory of Germany? I do not know, it is all very baffling to me.

** The World Future Society has a noteworthy presence on the Net.

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