To: All Msg #64, Sep0693 12:04PM Subject: Re: Origins and Faith In article 1993Sep5.194244

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From: Bruce Salem To: All Msg #64, Sep-06-93 12:04PM Subject: Re: Origins and Faith Organization: Stanford Univ. Earth Sciences From: salem@pangea.Stanford.EDU (Bruce Salem) Message-ID: <26g554$> Newsgroups: In article <> (Seth J. Bradley) writes: >I'm reading "Getting Here: The Story of Human Evolution" by William Howells >and came across an interesting footnote. Comments encouraged: > >[the] religious understanding of the universe and life [...] >is beautiful, it is unified, it gives explanation and meaning, >and it is soul-satisfying to viewers and society at large. >and it does not change, and that is its difference from science. [...] Of course, and it is Pythagorianism as well: Tidy little systems which reassure one and appeal to aethetic sense may not be true in even the smallest sense. They usually have some elements of truth in them, which is the danger, for people struggling for order and reassurance in their lives will more easily jump to conclusions, and worst of all, think that they have acquired absolute knowledge. They will become arrogant and because not everyone agrees with them they will hide from criticism behind a vail of mystery and secrecy. At its worst, religion is Mankind claiming to have the knowledge that he ascribes to Gods, absolute knowledge, and the mistaken arrogance, that even if God spoke to him, that he understands what God said to him. Science IS different from religion in that it makes no claims to absolute knowledge, no final solutions, and no reassuring conclusions. Even though systems with beauty result, and the scientist looks with an aesthetic sense for simple laws, there is no necessity in science that he will find them. The methods of science eventually uncover the tendancy of people to jump to hasty conclusions and to be hampered in the search for true relations by emotion, but is not guarenteed to. The biggest lesson of scientific training and experience is that Mankind knows so little and almost nothing absolutely, even if with great confidence. > After writing this I noted a letter to nature which says it better, >from Professor Cesare Emiliani, to whom we owe chronological ordering of >marine sediments by oxygen isotopes, a major achievement. In the letter he >deplored the use of radiocarbon in dating the Shroud of Turin, bearing the >imprint of the dead Christ, to the fourteenth century AD. He wrote in part: >"Religion is perfect and unchangeable, the work of God. Science is imperfect, >and, I suspect, the work of the Devil. The two should never be mixed. The >scientists who participated in the dating of the Shroud of Turin should >repent and promise to never do anything like that again. There are people who think that the Shroud is still a sacred artifact despite the questions of its authenticy, and so what? If they want to believe that on faith, let them. Emiliani's attack on the scientific investigation of the artifact is misplaced. Certiantly, there is a legitimate physical study of the artifact which is scientific and which should yield consistant results like those from only other physical artifact from historical times. What Emiliani is telling us is that he thinks that the Shroud has emotional and symbolic meaning to him dispite what we may find from the artifact itself. He thinks that the symbolic meaning is more important then the factual. In that sense, he is in the company of someone like Joeseph Campbell who scoulds people for taking spiritual meanings too literally, and for taking objects useed to indicate these meanings too literally, as a result. But the difference is hardly the work of the devil. If it is then Emiliani has been tripped up by the authority he has given to his own faith, and the role it has for him of creating certainty. Science is imperfect. But is religion any more perfect? If religion is said to be based on the work or God, then how can it be said that religion is perfect if it is but the effort of people to express the work of God? Surely that effort is imperfect. Even if God spoke directly to the Prophets, how can we be sure that what the prophets tell us what He told them is perfect? We only have appeals to authority and our own needs to drive us to any conclusion that religion is perfect. One major flaw of religion is that we have no way to check the accuracy of religious statements which do not rely upon the acceptance of authority. Science is different, for as far as we can, every authority will eventually fall under scrutany and will fall if it cannot meet simple tests which are indepenndant of conclusions being tested. And science is different because the scope of questions is severely restricted, and the tendancy to overgeneralize is eventually stopped. No such restrictions exist in religion where the force of reason is not countered by the threat of force. >Creationists are >even more guilty, for they have been mixing science and religion for years >and years. They should abandon their evil practices forthwith, last the wrath >of God descend upon them like a ton of bricks." Interesting reversal of logic here, but such things are routine within reliigous language. Creationism fails on its own assumption that the language of Scripture and of science must be reconciled, and in its projection on its enemies that they think like religionists who usurp absolute knowledge. I think that rather than the wrath of God, that the puny nature of human knowledge and the reality of uncertianty is the bane of the Creationists, but if you have to lie to them to get into their mindset and say something like that, and they desist, so be it. But I think that it is in their nature to think that they know much more than they do, the danger in reliigons the world over, and so they will continue to try to mix science and reliigon. In another retake of this, I have argued that spiritual world and laugage is possible which does not have anything to do with science and history, it is timeless and not-objective in the sense science is, and yet we must try to get at it. The problem has always been that we tend to confuse the language we use for our physical world, and the language we use for spiritual awareness, partly because we speak of the latter in metaphors from the former, and partly because we think that we know more than we are entitled to say. Bruce Salem


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