To: All Msg #64, Sep0693 12:04PM Subject: Re: Origins and Faith In article 1993Sep5.194244
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)
In article <1993Sep5.firstname.lastname@example.org> email@example.com
(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.
>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.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank