Science and God

Science and God

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Practically every human culture has evolved some kind of religion or other, invoking supernatural powers, beings, and principles. God may be regarded as the personified essence of these. The rise of scientific and naturalistic explanations of the world has had the effect of transforming, even diluting, some of the traditional views of God, but they have never succeeded in eliminating God or its equivalent from human societies.

There have been a number of scholarly studies of the notion of God and the emergence of religions in different context. Robert Hinde’s Why gods persist: a scientific approach to religion , for example, is a discussion in terms of biology, psychology, evolution, anthropology, etc. Insightful as it is, like other efforts to explain a significant aspect of human culture and existence, the book reduces God to a notion that has emerged in the human mind for various practical and inevitable reasons. Though a scientific interpretation of belief-systems could be valuable and interesting to those who are interested in religion as a social and cultural phenomenon, any scientific approach to religion is likely to shake, if not destroy, the very foundation of traditional religions. This is not always welcome news to the vast majority, if only because religions serve many purposes that no amount of science and star-gazing can do.

Then again, we live in a world that has been polluted by ugly side effects of the industrial age which, in the eyes of many, is a direct consequence of the scientific worldview. Add to this the purposeless portrayal of a universe that science offers. To many people, this picture undermines the splendor and beauty of a world where love and laughter and joy become possible; and they are not tickled by the catastrophic end into which thermodynamics and astrophysics tend to dump us.

Consider also the sophisticated mathematics, precise terminology, and exhausting analytical techniques one has to learn, perhaps master, in order to decipher abstruse scientific jargon; and the fact that scientists keep changing their models for cosmogenesis like cars from Detroit , making the theories of past generations approximate, obsolete or downright wrong. Under these circumstances, who is going to buy science when rosier pictures can be obtained for less, especially when the perks of science like vaccines, antibiotics, TV, planes, computers, hurricane prediction, chlorinated water, electricity at home, and more can all be had without taking an oath of allegiance to rationality and empiricism?

At the same time, not all the pious members of faith communities take their religions as seriously as their forebears used to do. The power of science restrains their total commitment to God and church (of whatever denomination). Disbelief of some kind lurks in the core of even those who proclaim allegiance to this religion or that.

An unexpected byproduct of science has been the overall culture of craving for comfort and consumerism. These have resulted from, if not fostered by, advances in scientific knowledge. This has serious consequences for the sanity of civilizations. This is what prompted Huston Smith to quickly write a slender volume entitled Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief in which he warns that that scientism which regards religion as irrelevant is dangerous to society. What we need to analyze is not why, but what kind of religion matters.

Skeptical scientists don’t always recognize that the yearning for spiritual experience is not a trivial quirk of the mentally challenged. Unless it is chip-based, this yearning is a deep-felt component of the healthy human heart. It expresses itself as faith in a Divine Principle in whatever form with whatever name. The thirst for an abstract beyond is very much part of most thinking entities: as a search for super-symmetry and mathematically precise laws, or whatever. Like Voltarian God, meaning and purpose, if they don’t exist, must be created for human sanity. One may try to explain this in terms of evolution, neurochemistry, or the property of the frontal lobe, but any system that denies meaning and purpose to human life, and proclaims faith as an unnecessary confusion of the human mind is more foe than friend to the man on the street. Science, as the foundation for a worldview, simply cannot afford to ignore this.