Religion, Science, and the Fundamentalist Mindset

"Religion & Science" cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

“Religion & Science” cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward

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I critique religion where I believe it fails. I’m not an enemy of religion. I value it. My concern is that religion gets overrun by fundamentalists, idiots, control freaks and abusers. Religion, I think, can be a beautiful expression of human wonder, a magnificent response to mystery, a force of good in the world. It often is these things.

I also love science. One of the most influential books in my life is The Essential David Bohm, a collection of essays and interviews of Bohm, a quantum physicist. Did you know Bohm and Krishnamurti, the Eastern spiritual philosopher, were friends and saw the spiritual value of science and the value of religion for science?

But, just like in religion, proponents of science and rational thought can be just as dogmatic and fundamentalist in their thinking, writing, and speech. Not just towards religions and their adherents, but even towards other scientists and rational thinkers. Bohm faced opposition even within his own scientific community. All foreign ideas are held in suspicion no matter what field you’re in.

So we watch religious people scorn those who aren’t religious. And we watch non-religious people scorn those who are religious. Same mind. Unimaginative. Arrogant. Narrow. Closed. Mean.

This doesn’t always happen. There are many people who understand that religion is a valuable human creation, just like science is. It’s a rich expression of our human culture.

I like what Camille Paglia says in her book, Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars:

“Although I am an atheist, I respect all religions and take them seriously as vast symbol systems containing deep truth about human existence. While evil has sometimes been done in its name, religion has been an enormously civilizing force in world history. Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.”

I compare those who want to rid the earth of religion to the Taliban who destroy ancient works of art. Stunted imagination.

Chris Hedges expresses his opinion on fundamentalism in his book I Don’t Believe in Atheists:

“The blustering televangelists, and the atheists who rant about the evils of religion, are little more than carnival barkers. They are in show business, and those in show business know complexity does not sell. They trade clichés and insults like cartoon characters. They don masks. One wears the mask of religion, the other wears the mask of science. They banter back and forth in predictable sound bites. They promise, like all advertisers, simple and seductive dreams. This debate engages two bizarre subsets who are well suited to the television culture because of the crudeness of their arguments. One distorts the scientific theory of evolution to explain the behavior and rules for complex social, economic and political systems. The other insists that the six-day story of creation in Genesis is fact and Jesus will descend format the sky to create the kingdom of God on Earth. These antagonists each claim to have discovered an absolute truth. They trade absurdity for absurdity. They show that the danger is not religion or science. The danger is fundamentalism.”

You see? It’s not religion. It’s not science. It’s the mind.

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12 Responses

  1. Gary says:

    Excellent post today David.

    “fundamentalists, idiots, control freaks and abusers”

    Love it. Sounds like an accurate personality profile of fundies from all sides of the coin.

  2. Adam Julians says:

    Yes, totally.

    And then the “juvenile.. TV culture ” becomes mind numbing neanderthal like touching on basic instincts of survival desire and desire feeding fear and instant gratification.

    It’s easy just tune in and turn off.

    Then when someone talks about bombing and banning others, putting up walls physical or psychological then cheer along in a neanderthal like way, claiming being independent while being highly conformative.

    Hard not to be cynical abou basic human nature sometimes.

    I guess thinkers have been and will always be treated suspiciously in the light of that. But then perhaps another way of looking at it is that history remembers those who have dared to do so.

  3. Bernardo says:

    From the science side: “The theory of everything : the origin and fate of the universe.”

    by Hawking, Stephen

  4. Great book by a great thinker, Bernardo. And… I think I was fair to science in this post, as well as religion. I don’t think science needs defending because of what I’ve written.

  5. Bernardo says:

    Just in case, more food for the mind and an easier book to read:

    A Short History of Nearly Everything Paperback – September 14, 2004

    by Bill Bryson

  6. Sid says:

    I like this idea. I take it one step further. As I see it – with a lot of study – there is no conflict between science and religion. Those with a solid grounding in philosophy can see easily that they occupy parallel spheres, without colliding. Religion calls us to grow in acts of love. Science gives us the tools to enact that love by ending human suffering. Now that’s a healthy relationship!

  7. Bernardo says:

    “First, do no harm” works well from both sides and is historically rooted in both. Actually, said ethic is sufficient to replace religion. Not so in science.

  8. Adam Julians says:

    I like what you say Sid. I think the Oxford professor John Lennox would agree with you.

  9. Sid says:

    Thanks, Adam. I’ll have to look up Lennox and his work. (It’s nice to find people who agree with me. 🙂 )

    Bernardo, actually, I would suggest that “First, do no harm” might go farther in science than one might think. What we learn from the work of science is how to act without doing harm. Until we understand how things work (the object of science), we may act with good intent, and yet produce harm.

  10. IdPnSD says:

    Math and science are all wrong. Religions are all correct. Take two examples. Newton’s first law – an object will continue in motion in a straight line with a constant velocity. Have you seen such an object on earth? No. You have not even seen it in space also. Thus Newton and hence science are wrong. Why this happened – because science is based on assumptions. In this case Newton assumed isolated environment – which is neither valid in nature nor in engineering.

    Consider destiny from Bible and Vedas. Destiny is a law of nature. It means all our activities are precisely predictable, moment by moment, year after year, and even before we are born. There are many such examples in public literature. Take a look at https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/ Bible says what we sow is what we reap. This means our past controls the present. Since we know past we can tell the present. Have you ever done anything without any reasons? No, never. Again this means past controls the present. Thus religion is correct.

  11. Kristin says:

    I agree Sid, your conclusion is one I have come to myself. The two are quite compatible in my experience, so long as you aren’t fundamentalist about either of them. That is what I love about “Time One: Discover how the Universe Began” (written by my father who has a PhD in physics, and who’s not a proponent of religion in my experience). This complex dance between science and religion is one of the themes explored. You are left to draw your own conclusions regarding God’s existence.

    David, Bohm is one of the lengthy “cast” of scientists in Time One
    http://www.timeone.ca/cast-alphabetical-list/#sthash.WLDlXLEe.YdXTr251.dpbs

    Cheers, K

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