Sectarian Religions and Universal Sciences
In this forum on Science and Religion, we have had postings on Christianity and Science, Judaism and Science, as well as on Islam and Science.
We can keep adding to the list: Buddhism and Science, Hinduism and Science, Voodoo and Science, etc. In each instance, the erudite exponent will demonstrate (at least to his/her) own satisfaction that there now is and there never was a contradiction between ones own religious tradition and science, that the tradition (if anything) encouraged scientific exploration, and that science was implicit in the teachings of its masters. With due respects to the scholars, I must say that these are examples of what I have called “endopotent knowledge”: interpretations of facts and apprehensions of truth that make one feel good, but with which one can do very little.
Indeed, the fact remains that some of the official spokespersons who wield authority and proclaim correct knowledge, and who are in most instances rote repeaters and faithful followers of ancient texts, with little acquaintance with the rudiments of astronomy and biology, continue to preach and practice in their medieval mind-set from which only modern science has emancipated humanity (or at least a small section of it).
To give but one example, according to a recent report from the Associated Press [August 6, 1999], a senior cleric of the Islamic tradition “issued a religious edict … prohibiting his followers from looking at the sun during Wednesdays total solar eclipse,” because “watching the event is contrary to Islamic law.”
Apologetic scholars are likely to explain this by saying that implicit in their Holy book was a knowledge of what causes eclipses, of the effect of radiations on the retina, etc. The cleric is absolutely right in his contention that the Sharia prohibits (and wisely so) the direct watching of a solar eclipse. But we need to distinguish between reactions provoked from an instinctive fear of unusual events rather than from an understanding of the phenomenon. Indeed, one is also expected to pray and beseech the mercy of God when eclipses occur.
The theology-based pronouncement of the Lebanese mullah on a natural phenomenon has its parallels of practically every religion.
It seems to me that the goals of the Science-Religion Dialogue should be:
(a) To underscore the emotional, spiritual, ethical, and inspirational enrichment that various religions provide.
(b) To recognize the positive contributions that “modern science” has made to human civilization: such as providing a deeper understanding of the limitless range of the phenomenal world, enhancing the human capacity to probe deep down into the microcosm and to measure the universe, unraveling the mysteries of matter, life, and mind, discovering and eliminating the causes of diseases, exposing the untenability of superstitions and pseudo-sciences, etc.
(c) To spread an awareness of the serious negative social, environmental, and other impacts of “modern science,” and see how these may be diminished or eliminated by adopting world views that spring from the wisdom of the ages as enshrined in various religious traditions: for the greatness of religions lies not in their explanation of how the world began, or Homo sapiens emerged, but in enabling us to interact compassionately, meaningfully and reverentially with the World of Creation.
(d) To explore in what ways certain no longer acceptable aspects of the traditional religious framework may be changed, modified or rejected: such as authoritarianism, scriptural infallibility, socially evil and outdated injunctions/sacred-laws, irrational fears, so as to bring religions in harmony with rationally acceptable criteria for explaining physical phenomena and with the spirit of social/humanistic enlightenment. This includes respecting other religions (in so far as they are non-hurting) as much as enjoying deep devotion to ones own.