Competitive, But Teammates

Science & Religion: Partners In Crime

Updated 29 weeks ago David Stone
Science & Religion: Partners In Crime

The Long View:

Does the ocean compete with the shore or do they share an objective? 

Atheists and Believers Line Up for Battle

After centuries muttering in the dark, atheists are now free to attack religion in public without jeopardizing jobs or friendships. But angry as the battle sometimes is, it's confusing too. 

Why are both sides so adamant?

If your neighbor doesn't believe there’s a God, that doesn't make any God or gods disappear from the universe.

Your belief in God doesn't change anything either. It's one or the other. 

But why throw hot coals at each other about it?

And as I see it, there’s another valid angle that’s rarely discussed — Are the doubters and the faithful committing similar crimes?

Atheists and Believers On Different Roads to the Same Destination?

Scientific atheists have grown more militant, aggressively taking the centuries old war between faith and science to the public forum.

Only politicians, the most cringing of figures, seem reluctant to consider anything except faith — and usually only the most traditional.

Positions turn rigid. 

Passionate, but peaceful atheist Sam Harris was pilloried by radicals for hinting at transcendental possibilities in meditation in his book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

With academic wolves at his door, Harris backed down.

Richard Dawkins, the most visible militant atheist, published several books, such as The God Delusion, and routinely attacks others within the scientific community like fellow bestselling author, Frans de Waal, who don’t bow to his orthodoxy.

In his book  The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, de Waal wrote about debating Dawkins

Richard Dawkins Attacks, Fists Flying, Eyes Closed

With Dawkins, it's more than a little amusing that, while railing against a supreme being, he usually acts as if he believes he is one.

Posturing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he claimed, like your everyday, unthinking extremist, that the opposition — religions, one and all — are inherently bad.

And yet, he’s widely respected as a scientist. 

To be honest, I always thought scientists were set apart by their determined objectivity. Not when it comes to faith, I guess.

The conflict is heated, and while the differences are seemingly unresolvable, the contesting parties share some similar motives and goals once all the fancy rhetoric and smoke clears.

Both share a deep discomfort with nature. Both are engaged in extracting humanity as much as possible from it. 

In a reasonable way, it looks like a turf war.

But is it?

In This Corner, The Faithful, and Across The Ring, Scientific Atheism

Science Tackles Religion

Science and religion are not in conflict at the core of their mission. 

Their differences can be seen as little more than the use of different tools and methods to get after the same goals.

Both are obsessed with divorcing man from nature.

One elevates man from the root of his evolutionary essence by making him a god, god-like or a special creation. The other deconstructs nature, including homo sapiens, casting any special features into mechanistic irrelevance.

When Dawkins and his atheist followers take roundhouse punches at believers, they hope you will ignore science’s own set of magical assumptions which, although uncontested in their own community, are as soft as those religious faith is built on.

Scientists, for example, believe the universe to be filled with provable facts that will be discovered, explained and pieced together in describing nature and all that takes place within it.

These facts, scientists believe, are all within the eventual grasp of humans or our equipment.

Any invisibles, such as dark matter, gravity and the tiniest proposed particles, either will be understood or revealed as not to exist.

These beliefs, based on nothing more substantial than the faith of adherents, provide a foundation for extreme militance among some of them.

Religious systems are proud to announce myths built on faith or belief as the cornerstone of their practices.

After all, what God worth His salt would stand for proof, anyway? 

Belief is an act of faith validated by commitment.

Both domains rely wholly on beliefs they insist lead to truth and wisdom.

Can Cats and Dogs Be Wrong?

Science & Religion: Partners In Crime

Fluffy and Fido Get A Bad Deal

The area in which combatants are most in agreement is their core commitment to extracting humans from nature and setting us aside as exceptions.

Jerry Coyne in his otherwise excellent,  Why Evolution Is True, closes with an emotional spiel about homo sapiens being superior to all those other productions of nature.

Cats and dogs, he explains, have never risen to the heights of human culture, a claim he stakes as proof without its ever apparently dawning on him to ask if there is any reason why Fido or Fluffy would want to read Shakespeare or sit agonizingly through Jean Paul Sartre's The Fly.

It's enough for Coyne to make the claim for superiority, just because.

I don't know about you, but I trudge reluctantly off to work on cold winter mornings only after making sure our cats have enough to eat and can safely enjoy napping and scanning the savanna until my wife and I return to feed and play with them again.

If the privilege of sitting through Fidelio is the price to pay for achieving parity with homo sapiens, I firmly believe Billy and Sam will say, “Nah,” pretty quickly, if the subject ever comes up.

It wasn't always this way.

Early scientific exploration and discovery looked to discovering the secrets of nature in a spirit of awe and wonder. 

For centuries, these efforts were explained as attempts to understand the glories of God's creation.

Faithful and Faithful Stake an Uneasy Truce

Then, the Destruction Begins

Tracing religious practice through history, the farther back you go, the closer  you get to nature worship, and you track farther from kneeling before an abstract being managing or overseeing the world.

Old Testament stories suggest, for example, an intimate deity, one who communicates directly with people at times. 

That ancient God got into the the worst human offenses, genocide, torture, slavery, while destroying cultures which had the misfortune of selecting other deities for worship.

As Western religions developed, the initiative to distinguish humans from things in nature picked up momentum.

The motive for this remains unclear, but humans were encouraged to move away from behavior that connect them intimately to their roots.

Maybe it was vulnerability or the uncontrollable dangers an increasingly aware animal witnessed, but something made the world we emerged from unacceptable in important ways.

Soon, we needed clothes, objects of worship and rituals that maintained an alliance with a puritanical, rigid, judging and distant God.

Once persecutions inflicted by the Catholic Church on nonconforming scientists eased, allowing science relative equality with religion as a way of understanding the universe, a mechanistic vision of nature formed, one that did not require Gods or magical manipulations by creators or lords.

God could safely be discarded as irrelevant and unnecessary, tossing aside simultaneously the natural lusts and connectedness that fostered deities as a way to bridge the painful arch of unnatural separation.

Science and Religion — The War Against Nature

Adversarial positions hardened.

As insistently as scientists declared, emboldened by brilliant theories like evolution and relativity, that they’d eventually find an answer to every mystery, religious thinkers pushed back with certainty that no matter how far down the road of discovery we travel, we will never grasp the ineffable qualities of the perpetual creator, except through faith.

The competition to definitively divorce humans from nature accelerated.

A few have sought a resolution between the domains or to declare them different enough to be irresolvable, but no matter.

The efforts of both are pulling us farther from nature. Both are fired by the same fuel.

That is, we must constantly show that we are smarter, more informed, wiser, healthier, more civilized and by all means better than all those (other) animals and plants, those beings still subject to natural forces that resist control.

Religion and science are competitive and marginally brawling teammates, but they are not true opponents.

The true opponent of each on the field of reality is nature. 

Nature is their unacknowledged mutual enemy, and both have a mission to strike it down.

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