Monday, March 29, 2010

religion and science

Just been watching the absolutely marvellous Wonders of the Solar System (episode 1). Lots of beautiful imagery, lots of fascinating information about the solar system, and how the cycles of the sun drive river systems, and how to work out how much sunlight actually falls on the Earth.

Only one teensy little quibble. In the first five minutes of the programme, Prof Brian Cox says "science is different from all the religions that have been practised here in Varanasi; you can test science's explanations for things, you don't have to take them on faith".

Yep, that's true. Except that most religion is not about explaining how the universe works. Hinduism, the main religion of India, has multiple creation stories, all of which exist happily in parallel with each other and with science. They are symbolic stories.

I know there are lots of mad fundies who think that their religion explains how the world works, and I know they shout really loudly, and grab all the media attention, because for some reason journalists just love watching religious people frothing at the mouth (look how much media attention that old hypocrite Ratzinger gets).

But lots of religious people belong to a religion because they want the sense of community, and the mythological structure, the shared values, and the spiritual practices that go with it (meditation, prayer, singing, contemplation, yoga, whatever).

Most Unitarian Universalists and many Pagans and Quakers do religion because it reflects the inner reality of the psyche and they can share their spiritual journeys with others who share the same symbolism. It's not about belief, it's about spiritual practices (the efficacy of which can be verified empirically, by seeing if the people who do them are happier, calmer, etc.)

Many liberal people of religion enjoy science and find it fascinating and beautiful. I enjoy science very much, and wish that some scientists didn't think that all people of religion are nutters, just because some people of religion are out-and-out bigots and fools.

As Carl Sagan once said, "A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge." (But this should probably be taken in context with everything else that he said about religion.)


KittKatt said...

Happy Easter! Is the Stroppy Rabbit turning into an Easter bunny for the day?

Yewtree said...

Happy Easter to you too :)

The Stroppy Rabbit will probably be eating fair trade dark chocolate for the day.