I have been troubled for a while by the thought that the American/Western/Anglo cultures of the world, while scoffing at large at those who profess a belief in the divine, are worshiping at the altar of science. In this post, I try to make sense of how I came to that conclusion.
Characteristics of Religion
A quick Google search showed me that there is no definitive list of what makes a religion. That makes my task a little more difficult, as some lists will support my viewpoint better than others. Having no other logical choice, I picked a list, Common Characteristics of Religions, and will use it as the framework of my post. While it looks like a non-scholarly source, the list has been pulled from Niels Nielson’s Religions of the World and ends up ranking as as scholarly source because the original document is a published book.
1. Most religions include belief in the supernatural (spirits, gods, God) or belief in some other Ultimate Reality beyond, yet connected to, human experience and existence.
Cryogenics is the first thing that comes to my mind. For those who don’t believe in a spiritual afterlife, the idea is to preserve the body until science advances far enough to “bring back” those who are unwilling to accept death as the ultimate end of their existence. Another idea is that, eventually, science will lead us to a perfect truth in its facts and data.
2. Religions distinguish between the sacred and profane (or ordinary) in terms of time, space, objects, and people.
In the worship of science, the sacred is housed in the scientific method, facts, data, and logic. Human characteristics such as faith, intuition, and emotion are discarded as base and profane.
3. Religions strongly encourage or require prescribed ritual activities for individuals and communities of faith.
Scientific conferences abound. While they have their place in disseminating new information, they can also very much like religious symposiums, with the presenters functioning as missionaries and prophets, proclaiming that science is now even closer to arriving at its ultimate goal of pure truth through fact and data.
4. Religions commonly promote a moral code or ethical principles to guide individuals and communities.
Scientists are supposed to abide by a code of objectivity that will keep findings pure. Reports of the findings and data are supposed to be presented in the most objective manner possible. The principle of denying desires and biases guides the movement.
5. Religious life engages and incorporates common emotional and intuitive human feelings.
To me, this is the sneaky one. Those who worship science present themselves as objective individuals who are ruled by logic, but the emotions and the intuition still exists. To suggest that science will always be limited by the failings of the humans who are conducting the research or to suggest that truth exceeds and supersedes mere fact and data, can invoke ire, scorn, or other emotions. The scientific devotee is emotionally committed to the belief system without being conscious of it.
6. Religions both encourage communication and provide ways to communicate or connect with the divine.
If the divine, in science, is considered the rule of fact, data, and logic, then experiments and observations become the means of connecting with the divine.
7. Through sacred stories, the religions provide a coherent worldview.
Religions have their stories of divine creation, scientists have their stories of the Big Bang Theory and evolution. Religions are filled with stories that illustrate proper moral code, science has behaviorism — believing that the ills of human nature can be cured as we unravel the mysteries of the mind. Stories of great scientific discoveries fuel these views.
8. Religions organize life for individuals–including dress codes, personal sacrifices, and appropriate occupations–in the context of their respective worldviews.
This may be the one item that I really don’t have an answer for. There are those who have made great personal sacrifices in the name of science, but the dress code and proper occupations is a stretch.
9. Religions require and promote social organization and institutional forms to carry out the necessary functions of worship and leadership, preserving orthodox teachings and practices.
This is actually done by scoffing at organized religions and promoting the rule of science in the public, political, and legal sectors.
10. Religions promise an inner peace and harmony despite the vicissitudes of life.
Through the belief that science will eventually make sense of everything, and because facts and data feel more tangible than spiritual experiences, the scientific adherent consoles the heart and soul with promises of “one day.”
11. Religions typically offer a future hope through the coming of a new age or a better existence in the afterlife.
Again, this is housed in the belief that science will unravel all mysteries and set right all wrongs through pure fact and knowledge.
12. Religions must propagate themselves through the recruitment of new members and procreation within the community of faith.
While I am not so sure that those who worship science promote procreation in the community of faith, most adherents to the religion of science are quite outspoken about the failings of religion and the superiority of science, and are more than ready to recruit new adherents to their faith.
If you were reading this post hoping that I would conclusively prove that science is worthless, I have probably disappointed you. In it’s place, science is a valuable tool that has improved our quality of life beyond measure.
My uneasiness rests in those who profess no religion (or even profess religious convictions) who place so much faith in the pursuit of facts and data that they lose sight of the limitations of research. Science is limited by our ability to measure. Science is affected by the biases of both the researcher and the reporter. Science changes more quickly than religion ever has — imagine still holding on to scientific facts from the 1960’s and refusing to update as more is learned! Science also has a hard time accounting for things like emotions and spirit, because it cannot measure them.
I am also troubled by those who allow science to cause them to doubt their faith. Having had many experiences in the religious realm, I know that there is a God in heaven who is watching over us and guiding our life experiences. As I understand it, He has promised that, in the eternities, we will see that science and faith actually align completely.
Next week, I want to take a look at the idea of “truth.”