Science vs. Religion, pt 1
November 20, 2006
I just came back from a wonderful interfaith dialogue that brought together a large number of each of Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as a couple of Bahá'ís (but no Pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. for some reason). I was reminded and really struck by one of the common elements that is found in the highest spiritual essence of every major religion — the importance of treating our fellow humans with dignity and respect, of greeting the stranger with hospitality and working together for our common betterment.
It is true that this is hardly what we think of when we hear the word "religion" today, that rather we think of the inhospitality, the brutality, the disrespect we see perpetrated in the name of religion. I challenge anyone to find the basis for this in the religious teachings themselves. I also challenge myself to find the basis for my claims on hospitality. I'll return to that one of these days.
The New York Times is running an article about the growing "evangelism" of humanistic science, led by people like Steven Weinberg and Richard Dawkins. Many of their points I agree with, but I obviously will not agree when they paint a broad brush across all religion. Weinberg once famously said, "Anything that we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilization."
But what can science tell us about hospitality? About the treatment of our neighbor? It can tell us that we have essentially the same makeup, but that truth is just as subtle to most people — people who can clearly see the differences between us — as is the truth that all religions essentially teach the same thing. I know that Weinberg would posit a basis for ethics, but why can't he see that he too has a blind faith — faith in the ability for scientific progress to give us more ... what? Food? Medicine? Do food and medicine make you happy? No. They enable happiness. But neither their excess nor deficit guarantee anything about happiness.
Likewise religion does not guarantee happiness. But it provides a framework in which to approach the world, a framework from which to deal with the inevitabilities of physical existence. Both science and religion are, to me, essential means for approaching a world that is otherwise devoid of meaning, that is otherwise simply electro-chemical interactions firing between nervous receptors.
I have always loved what 'Abdu'l-Bahá had to say about science and religion:
"If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation." (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p181)