Religion & Science: Conflict & Harmony
Each tends to attack the weak points of the other and dismiss the baby with the bathwater.
That religion is incorrect about scientific origins is as regrettable as that scientists presume to apply material knowledge to the realm of values. Science is adept at quantifying but it cannot determine quality. Religion is a combination of many elements, and to attack the false ones and dismiss the rest without investigation would be tantamount to looking at science prior to the enlightenment, in its alchemical days, or looking at some of science's more blundering goofs, and finding these paths false dismiss the rest of science as hocus-pocus.
So there is bad science, actually bad scientists, folks who cling to their pet theory in the face of all contrary evidence, folks who slant their testing results to get what they wanted, and folks who are just plain wrong in their application of the scientific method.
And there is bad religion, actually bad religionists, folks who cling to their pet superstitions in the face of all contrary evidence, folks who will acknowledge only the data which supports their beliefs, and folks who are just plain stubborn and dogmatic.
Science, however, being a materially-oriented and rational subject, is self-testing to remove the bad science — peer-review journals and standards of testing by which errors are eliminated and data confirmed or falsified, theories tested and fine-tuned or altered as needed. It's a slow process, sometimes. Good scientists never believe they have the final answers or "facts" at any time, but are always willing to be corrected, shown new and better understandings, and progress.
Religion, on the other hand, being values-oriented and subjective, is self-testing in different ways. There is peer review and there are standards of testing, but they are more complex and qualitative because there is no material standard for human values. Over time, we have tried and tested theories of religion, from the ghost-spirit superstitions to the tribal gods, to the polytheistic pantheons, to the monotheistic but still largely irrational king-God to a single personal parent of eternal salvation. Human values, evolving over time, reflect in our ideas of what a Deity would be like. In an age when slavery was acceptable, the highest teaching was that one should treat one's slaves well; in a more advanced age, we know that a God of love and mercy would not want us to enslave our fellow sentient. It's an excrutiatingly slow process. Good religionists never believe they have the final answers or "truth" at any time, either, but are always willing to be corrected, shown new and better understandings, and progress.
You may wonder why there are so many more good scientists than good religionists, then. Many reasons. We're in the scientific age, and I praise God that we are. Science learned how to be scientific a few centuries back, and that intelligence has gradually been taught to the world. Material reality, like a hot stove, provides a rapid feedback mechanism, and so science, once it was freed from the shackles of superstitious religious tyranny of the ages, took off like the space rockets it helped inspire. The feedback mechanisms of society's evolution of values is not as clean or quick as material feedback. Hard to put "treat each other fairly" under a microscope and show your neighbor the "proof" that it's better than "rip each other off."
Creationism, as an outgrowth of Biblical Fundamentalism attempting to reinforce its peculiar literalist interpretations of ancient creation myths, is a pitiful example of the worst of religion trying to do science. Unfortunately, some of those who respond to Creationism (and similar aberrances) go beyond making their good points about scientific realities, and stumble into the realm of theology, declaring there is no God. Note this well: Science cannot prove or disprove anything supermaterial. Never can, never will. Science is absolutely silent on the supermaterial because science deals exclusively with matter. If a religion says, the universe began in this way, and science indicates otherwise, that only proves that the particular myth was inaccurate, but it hardly obviates faith in a Creator to realize one's myth was inadequate. These scientists who stumble into theology generally know their science very well but tend to attack the "easiest targets," the most primitive and superstitious aspects of religion, and thus show they may know science but know next to nothing about advanced modern theology. That disproving Creationism disproves God would come as quite a surprise to the millions of faithful who acknowledge both evolutionary theory and the theories of the origins of the cosmos without any religious conflict.
Whatever we discover in matter, wherever we may venture in the realm of mind, however we experience values in our lives as we interact with our fellow personalities, faith simply says, this is God's creation. Faithful living is simple but not simplistic. If God has permitted "evil" in the world, we recognize what seems "evil" is simply the shifting of matter, the partiality of perpetual evolutionary transition, the residue nature of our animal ancestry, and the selfish choices of the unenlightened.
Far from destroying faith, evolution enlightens us to God's purposes in this life! Rather than explaining pain and suffering in this life by concocting stories of Pandora's Box or the Eve-bitten Apple (which metaphors are useful for teaching but hardly scientific), instead of seeing God as a capricious ruler, we can now appreciate the cosmos-spanning Master Artisan of Time and Space. If God wanted to create perfect beings, a perfect universe, eternal and existential, then God would. And did. However, certain elements are not possible in such a heaven: evolution, growth, conflict, all that which comes from partiality and imperfection and the striving toward greater unity, toward light, toward increasingly better use of energy. In order to have those elements, yes, we have to have some pain and suffering. And a universe full of time-space sentients — including you and me my sibling — are made possible only because God created the Void, the hole in Godself where something as un-Godlike-seeming as us could happen.
Science and religion are far from antithetical. Each can, and in more enlightened ages and peoples, does illuminate the other. Superstitions and dogmatism stood against science, but good religion stands against superstition and dogmatism. Materialism and skepticism stand against religiion, but good science eschews such philosophies as materialism and skepticism. There is a hierarchy: values are more important than meaning, meaning more important than fact. In biological evolution, the fact of life is succeeded by the meaning-discerning mind, and ultimately self-reflective and value-recognizing personality appears. Gods.
"Have I not said, you are gods?" — Jesus of Nazareth. Read Genesis, not again but anew, this time shucking off the foggy glasses of Fundamentalist interpretations, and see the words written in flame: And God said, let us make man in our image. This is not God's-like-us homocentrism. This is truth. We are made in the image of God. We have bodies. God's body is all that is (this is the body and the blood). We have meaning-discerning and reason-capable minds. God's mind is beyond, but also encompassing of, all the mindedness of all levels of reality: time-space, eternal-infinite, and all the transcendental levels. (Whoops... am I losing you? Hang on.) God's values — ah, you see, that's what we're discovering, uncovering, having unfold in us. Thus, when we discover material facts, we are discovering the body of God. When we discern meanings and abstract understandings, we are exploring and unfolding the potentials of the mind of God in time and space. When we interact with our universe as unique personalities, and interact with our fellows, we employ value-systems which are the crude reflection of the spiritual goodness which God wishes us to ultimately become for all future eternity, and that is true for each person individually and for each world.
Evolution can be either adaptive or progressive. Science cannot evaluate "progress," but it can measure efficiency and energy, and as I said before, there is increasing efficiency of energy utilization evident in the progression from unicellular to multicellular to higher organisms with specialized systems to central neural networks to the central processing brain units, from plant to animal, from stationary to mobile, from the murky and limited sea to the sunlit and variegated land environments, from simple mentation to highly adaptive behaviors to complex social organizations (obviously, I'm Reader's Digesting the progress of mind evolution) to the explosively varied and complex human civilization... and now we verge on the age when we must encompass one another completely — worldwide fellowship. Fortunately, science has been right along with us in this task, bestowing upon us in the wild and value-free evolution of its own (encouraged by warring tribes) the technological incentive of the potential for various types of planetary humanicide.
Adaptation is simply adaptation, but progress is real. Society's progression is just an extention of the patterns and processes by which unicellular became multicellular. Sciences, both material and social combined, may not say anything about God, but the trends they chart point toward a more progressive and fellowshipping civilization. Some have suggested that there is an ultimate social unity, a kind of "unified field theory" which could ultimately evolve, and they say "that's God" — someday in the eternal future, so to speak. A more encompassing theology acknowledges this but recognizes that the "final product" of time and space is also the same as the "original" of eternity — that God is source and destiny not only of the individual soul but of the entire universe.
Here's what we've got. A universe that's beautiful in its scientific perfection, minds which seem to have incredible potential for appreciation of this universe, and a sense of the divine — by which I mean we evaluate ourselves, our circumstances, and one another in our lives. Beauty, truth, and goodness are the ideals of the realms of science, philosophy, and religion. Fact, meaning, and value are the respective arenas of matter, mind, and spirit. We live on a threshhold, using our minds (the up-and-running software) to appreciate the world we receive through our material senses and brain (the hard... or in this case technically wet-ware) "beneath" us, and to appreciate the insight we receive through our superhuman senses from "above" us — "the still, small voice within."
That's the theory. Believing in this or any other theology is simply acknowledging that there are levels of understanding beyond us — God — which we seek to comprehend, and they don't yield to scientific testing. You have to wash feet, cook food, carry water, raise children, love and suffer and sweat and wonder and joy — all the while knowing that God is with you — even at death. That's how you test, not religion, but faith. The tenets of religions are usually nothing more than social trappings, dogmatic doctrine, tribal rituals and superstitious creeds, organizational chains, and poor social and scientific policies, and have nothing much spiritual or saving about them. Some truths stand eternal, though, and you'll find them on a side shelf in the closet of most religions: love God, love one another, strive toward perfection, find wisdom. These are truths, simply stated, but to understand them is hardly going to happen by just saying those few simple words.
How would someone who simply feels no use for God get to know God? Now, that's a funny one. Aren't there perfectly moral, surpassingly good people out there who don't seem to have any faith, even declare themselves atheist? I only conjecture that a worthy God would not give such an atheist any different treatment than any other of God's children, wouldn't you agree? That is to say, the consequences of one's behavior are the same, whether you have faith or no faith. "God causes the rain to fall upon the just and the unjust alike." Survival into whatever next life awaits should not be judged on something as arbitrary as belief but upon whether one has developed any human qualities of survival value.
In heart, we may be faithful, but in mind we must reason as agnostics. Let's be reasonable. If God is, then would you or I accept anything less than an ideal God? That is, God must be reasonable, too, and therefore just, and let's make God loving, too. Is that a more acceptable ideal than capricious, contrary, or fickle? Let us work with that ideal, then, as our theoretical basis. A just God would not condemn anyone simply for not believing in a God that has been presented badly in one's life. A reasonable Creator will present opportunities for creature correction for whatever we failed to get right in this life, and grant us understanding to satisfy our intellects if not recompense as balm for our souls for what we endure here. A loving Parent will provide mechanisms for our continuance beyond material death and for eternal life. If this theology is not satisfactory, what have you got that's better?
I also reason that if there is such an ideal God, and if this personable Parent truly shares my life almost as one with me, then there's just a chance, an outside chance, that God may have some clue and just might be worth getting to know, even if I don't yet understand why. That would just seem sorta reasonable to me.
How would you get to know God? Like anyone else, you get down on your knees (or sit in lotus position in your closet or — my favorite — take a walk in some private natural setting) and you say, all right, God, I'm here, and someone told me you are here, and I don't accept anything anybody says about you, but I'm willing to get to know you if you're real. Then you wait for an answer. If you hear voices, be very worried, and consider competent psychological help, because not for nothing is it called "the still, small voice within." Just keep alert. It's not that God is going to Come Calling Today. God's always been here. You're not "going to Heaven" ("Imagine there's no heaven... it's easy if you try...") or anyway this is all you get of heaven — the presence of God — right here and now. That breeze (is it from the woods or the factory)? It's the breath of God. That chorus of voices (is it the babble of children playing or a screaming mob at war?) is the voice of God. That face before you, that's God's face. That thought you had just now, that help you wanted to give someone the other day, those are God's thoughts, God's kindness. This life is what God is giving each of us as your commandment of the moment.
Volumes could be written about living faith as opposed to the mere mechanisms of belief systems. Volumes have, in fact, and I could suggest a few if you're interested. But volumes could be written just as easily in opposition, and all the volumes in the world don't make up for one moment of faithful service.
It was the last meal before they arrested and killed Jesus. A private spread had been laid out, and the servants were called off. While Jesus lagged, his twelve main men headed upstairs for the feast. When they walk in the dining room, there's the foot-laving supplies, but no servants. The servants are downstairs hanging out with Jesus! Well, who's going to wash our feet? They all look at each other. Then they look at the table, with its Chief Seat and the Seats of Honor. Judas, already intoxicated with his plans of betrayal for that evening, boldly takes the Right Hand Man slot. Peter decides to be Humble and takes the low seat, expecting he'll be called up. The rest grab positions. They're in a fine mood and still grousing when the big dude walks in and instantly scopes out the situation. Without a word, he doffs his toga, puts on the servant's wrap, and goes up to Peter. Peter can't believe his eyes. Here's the Son of God, about to play the meanest of servants. No way, says Pete a/k/a Rocky. Jesus looks up at him standing there and says, Rocky, if you don't let me do this then we might have to cancel your reservation on the halleluia express. Whoa! says Rocky, then Master, I'll let you wash me all over. (They were very close, but not like that, you know. Rocky was just babbling.) And Jesus proceeds to go around the table, washing the feet of every single one of those rascals. Look it up, and what he said.
God lives in a small mud-and-grass hut just outside the palace walls. The King leaves the palace one day and goes next door to the lowly hut to give God the deed to all the Kingdom. God receives the deed, smiles and says, thank you. Now you run it for me.
Newsgroup-appropriate closer: the realm of mind is affected by the substances we consume. Experience every aspect of your life as a prayer, a psalm of joy. Do what you do and dedicate it to God, says Krishna, and Jesus, and Radd Dadd, among many others. Make what you do holy. This gift of experience we share with God closer than a lover, as close as our own soul. Whether we are chopping wood and carrying water or tripping the astral plane, on earth or in a life to come, the commandment of love remains. Praise Jah, raise a mantra to Shiva and Krishna, thank the Almighty for the goods. Beware of poisoning the living temple of your spirit, the womb of your eternal soul, by self-destructive indulgence. Use and abuse are a fine line apart, as the priest drunk on the sacramental wine would tell you. As Ram Dass related, the object is to be high not to get high. Be joyous even if it's kinda hard to be sometimes during dry spells. Vaya con Dios, my siblings. Aloha and happy trails.