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Religion vs. Belief vs. Science - Ed's journal
Religion vs. Belief vs. Science
Short story this, but something I felt a need to make comment on.

"Dr Capon, himself a former lecturer in computer science, says atheists are misleading the public when they claim science and religion are incompatible.

He believes that some popular science and nature programmes also repeat this line too easily, ignoring the fact that many scientists hold spiritual beliefs. "

I understand his sentiment, but disagree with his premise. You see, I'd draw a distinction between spiritual beliefs, and religion. To my mind, there is room for 'spirituality' and 'science'. Every time you look really closely at the world, you can see an intricate beauty there. You can be moved by just how cool some of the scientific principles are.
You can even hold an untestable hypothesis, such as 'Does God Exist?'.
Scientists can fall in love.

But religion? Well, that's where it starts to go a bit wrong - religions aren't about spirituality any more than science is. It's really easy to hold a spiritual belief.
What religions do though, is aim to direct that spiritual belief. That's not intrinsically bad, but what is is that it naturally tends to accumulate dogma. Rules about what is, or isn't. And this dogma becomes part of the 'faith', and rejects scientific analysis.
That's where religion and science become incompatible - when the pope calls homosexuality unnatural, it's not the 'word of god' it's the word of one man. Word that _should_ get exposed to scrutiny. Religious texts are much the same - treat the Bible as literally true, and you're an idiot. There's all sorts of reasons that's a bad idea, and not least that the version you've probably been reading has been (mis)translated quite a few times. But y'know, I'm pretty sure God isn't credited as an author, either. So certainly, you can treat the Bible as something to read, contemplate, enjoy and ... perhaps draw wisdom and meaning from.
But you could say the same about a lot of books. They don't need to be 'literal truth' either.

So yes. I think they're setting up an unwinnable fight here - they've built a sandcastle, and the tide is coming in, because people are ever more able to understand and think for themselves.
I think religion - rather than belief - has been good for humanity as a whole. It provided a structured system of education, legality and control - a bit like a parent, watching over a child as it grows up. Until the child understands, the parent has to assert authority and guide them.
But the day comes when the child grows, and is ready to stand on their own feet and make their own choice.
The day when people outgrow religion is coming - there are already many who have made their own choices and took their own steps. There are many more who have yet to do so.

It's not a tragedy though, nor is it a schism. You love your parents past when you leave home, and you don't begrudge children the shelter they still need. But the time comes to move on, grow, and stand on your own feet, make your own choices - in belief and spirituality, as much as in life.
9 comments or Leave a comment
chess From: chess Date: February 12th, 2010 09:34 am (UTC) (Link)
You might similarly notice this progression from the 'Law' of Judaism to the 'Grace' of Christianity - there's a lot of stuff in the New Testament about it. (People have then accreted a whole load of legalistic baggage onto Christianity, of course, but that's a different rant.)
(Deleted comment)
sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 12th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC) (Link)
Indeed. I've always felt that Atheism is as much a matter of belief as Thesism. They're making assertions in opposite directions about the same untestable hypothesis.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: February 12th, 2010 11:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Islam holds that all the secrets of nature can be learned by mankind, with one single exception: what happens to the soul after death of the body. I wouldn't be able to show you this actual quote in the Quraan because I'm not familiar enough with the text, but I'm pretty sure it's in there.

My religion does not forbid me from engaging in scientific study or believing in the results of such studies. There's nothing in the following of Islam or being faithful, pious, devout, that prohibits or excludes scientific thought and understanding. There are occasionally discrepancies in the conclusions drawn by the different approaches, but then there are also often discrepancies between different scientific models. These usually depend on further understanding to smooth out. Since the religious approach doesn't give you a coherent and sensible model to test, you work from the science.

Science doesn't make judgments. Science doesn't say whether homosexuality is acceptable or immoral. Religions do that, and societies do that. Science tells you information. Science tells us the historical biology of why men tend to cheat on women. Society tells us that's 'wrong', and we should strive to overcome that behaviour. Science tells us about homosexuality on the animal kingdom, gives us clues as to why we're greedy and jealous and suffer depression. But it makes no judgement. Religion tells us how we should live, what we should believe, what we should shun and what we should aspire to.

So the two areas have quite different remits, and are not mutually exclusive.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 12th, 2010 12:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
That actually sounds quite rational, and an intriguing notion. I suppose I really should get around to reading the Quraan.

But that aside... I'm under the impression that pork is prohibited as part of 'religious law' under Islam? And that was introduced for good and rational reasons - because pork tended to be a disease vector in hot countries.
That's ... well, ok perhaps an easy target, but one example of why I think that religion does try to override the science. Give me a bit of time, and I'll be able to think of other examples, but ... well, do you see what I mean?

I take your point on morality - I would tend to agree that religion does offer a framework there - much like the educational point I alluded to. But I'm also of the opinion that it's not the _only_ source of morality, not the only source of education and enlightenment. As such, whilst to some it proves valuable, there's no intrinsic value judgement to be made between the people who adopt morality guidance from a religion, those who accept it from a person they trust - such as their parents - and those who choose for themselves.
stgpcm From: stgpcm Date: February 13th, 2010 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Science also tells us why women cheat on men...
jorune From: jorune Date: February 12th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree with Dr Capon's view. There are gobshites on both sides of the argument and it's not surprising that moderates like the C of E want less of a binary point of view. The phrase 'rational and logical' is an internet comedy cliche for highly opinionated and illogical rants arguments on religions.

When it comes to a battle against unshakeable dogma both science and religions can suffer from the politics of the time. How and why did Lysenkoism arise? Why do religions that place peace and self sacrifice at the centre of their teachings end up with hierarchies that use and abuse their followers? Human Nature, Politics, etc.

Now the one solution to the problem of human nature is morality. Regardless of how rational we perceive or promote ourselves to be, we are all flawed and all subject to irrational wants and desires. A moral structure, such as a religion, can provide the best method for any person to control the darker aspects of their own behaviour. Morality and to a degree mythology tells us culturally, who we are, what we are and what we have learnt. You can play in an amoral world such as EVE but would you want to live there? I wouldn't and I'm sure that billions would agree. Destroy organised religion if you want and stamp on its corpse, but what form of commonly agreed morality do you want in its place?

Morality is a necessary part of life and when the media portrays the views of people who want a world without it, it does us all a disservice if it does not allow a voice to the contrary.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 12th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Religion can indeed provide a moral framework. That I won't dispute. But the only one? No, that I'll not accept.
I hold that when you start to talk about morality, the tenets espoused in religion are ones decided by mankind, and driven forth by an inherent claimed superiority.

That doesn't mean they're wrong, just that - like any other words given to you by another person - you need to scruinize them, scientifically if you will, and decide the meaning and intent for yourself.

You could do worse in life than following the ten commandments, but you could to better as well. There's plenty of moral arguments that aren't covered in them - torture for example.

You use EVE as an example of an amoral and nasty world, but actually I really do think the 'real' world is a lot like that. Whatever assertions about higher purpose and morality you care to make, at the end of the day your word reaches no further than the number of people who want to listen. EVE is a microcosm, one where people are given the choice, and it lets them explore what it means - and you see all manner of people who opt to make moral, but disadvantageous choices, even in a game where that doesn't matter.

I think organised religion stands every danger of becoming a false idol itself. Science has the same danger, but at least science doesn't claim the moral highground.
jorune From: jorune Date: February 12th, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why do you and many other people refer to Religion as if it were just one form? There are hundreds of religions... just as there are hundreds of philosophies. Science used to be described as Natural Philosophy but then they wanted to be special and have their own word for it.

I'm not sure if you can scientifically analyse moral statements, I believe that Wittgenstein gave it a go and came to the notion that religious language was distinct from scientific language. Religion is not a form of science and so is best criticised using language from within its own domain. In the end you are left with opinion, after time these opinions form a body of work, a codified set of judgements i.e. a morality. How long until that morality becomes dogmatic and demands appropriate responses from its adherents? Who knows but it is a common theme in history. Let us not forget how Marxist Leninist doctrine claimed that it's victory was inevitable because it had science on its side.

'You use EVE as an example of an amoral and nasty world, but actually I really do think the 'real' world is a lot like that. Whatever assertions about higher purpose and morality you care to make, at the end of the day your word reaches no further than the number of people who want to listen.'

Surely this is why people band together in support of common thoughts and beliefs, to stop the world becoming like EVE. This is why politicians say 'Your concerns are my concerns, we share a common ground. Let me tell you my values'. In many societies around the world people are looking for their politicians to be moral and they equate morality and religion together. Yet for many atheists moral discussions are taboo. They see it as preaching and want nothing to do with it. Yet this silence is why so many in America distrust atheists.

EVE in the real world: Somalia, Libertarian Paradise.

sobrique From: sobrique Date: February 12th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I refer to religion as a blanket term, in much the same way as I refer to countries as a blanket term - they're different and unique, but all essentially doing the same sort of things - asserting a moral superiority. A notion that their clergy knows better than you.
I think that premise is pretty fundamentally deceitful. The kind you'd reject when you saw it in Apartheid when whites were better educated than blacks, and thus 'knew better'.

What you are talking about, is anarchism - a stateless society which forms around a group for a common purpose. EVE makes a case study in Anarchism, if you're prepared to look, you see the dynamics of it - when people are prepared to take personal responsiblity for everything, rather than leaving it aside unquestioningly to 'an authority' it actually works as well.

Whether that's legal matters to the state, or religious matters to the church - mankind is capable of being moral without such guidance. To be able to determine their open purpose, without some one 'interpreting'.

And yes, I daresay that much of America does distrust Atheists. Atheists are often about as closed minded as fundamentalists. But none the less, across America there's no blanket agreement on what is 'moral' or not - some will support abortion, some won't. Some will support the death penalty, some won't.
And some will sanction carbuncles like Guantanamo bay, for the greater good.

I don't honestly think that faith makes a man moral, or not. I think what you get is the same group dynamic at play that I already alluded to - people coming together for a common purpose and common ideals. Whether you believe, or not doesn't really have much to do with it. You can believe in many things but not be a memmber of a church group, and vice versa.
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