Markus Becker summarizes a number of points of view as to the conflicted relationship between science and religion as part of his recent article “Has Darwin Failed?” Becker notes that while modern day religions still try to establish themselves as the sole source of ‘truth’ within religious ideologies, science itself doesn’t hold all the answers. The social processes by which Homo Sapiens have evolved over the last several millennia may predispose our thinking towards the creation of deities as a means of strategic planning and self control.
Now personally I do not know if God exists or not. I am resigned to the fact that I will likely not “know’ this truth until my own passing over in which case I will either disappear into nothingness or be pleasantly surprised. Regardless what I do believe is very similar to Karen Armstrong’s insight that God, in the very real and manifest sense, doesn’t exist ‘out there’. Armstrong (1993) wrote
A few highly respected monotheists would have told me quietly and firmly that God did not really exist – and yet that “he” was the most important reality in the world. (p. xx)
In the almost 20 years since Karen wrote about A History of God, I have found that this passage seems to resonate more and more with my personal ideology at a time where extremist ideologies are increasing vying to reclaim social articles of faith amoung cultures which are increasing pre-disposed towards challenging those articles in the first place.
The world is shrinking owing to telecommunications, networking, global access to travel in a way that is affordable to those people who the Church once took to be their flocks, or sheep. Teach a person to read and give them access to a wide range of new ideas and the traditional narratives which make up religious and social moral and ethical convictions have no choice but to be questioned. The human spirit by its very nature craves intellectual understanding and is driven by curiosity.
Faith, not God, becomes the defining characteristic by which the human psyche reconciles fundamental differences on which all other truth is based. Ultimately, as John Locke pointed out, our understanding of truth comes down to a simple proposition that A cannot be A and not-Aat the same time. A lack of ability to differentiate these differences in the absence of complete information means that there are many truths in the world which cannot be reconciled. Faith become the circuit breaker that prevents our thought processes from spiraling into an infinite loop of irreconciliation when faced with these choices.
Hence many of our root beliefs are not founded on fact but on social acceptance of a shared understanding that something is true. Social acceptance requires the adoption of a ‘religion’, in its purest definition, by which conflict is minimized provides a measure of social peace which is essential for the preservation of the family or social unit. And since social units require shared narratives, or stories, by which to pass on and function, hence we gradually adopt narratives which represent the path of least resistance – such as Gods, or ghosts, or spirits, or fate, or existentialism – towards maintaining social harmony.
In short, it is a survival mechanism and one that has served us well in the absence of advanced science and instant access to stores of information outside of development of the social narratives on which we need to maintain order.
The present upheaval we see in today’s society is simply our multiplicity of social paradigms trying to come to grips with this influx of information without the underlying social narratives established in context of the narratives that came before it. Becker I feel clearly shows this when he describes recent Christian dogma which shows it’s failure to understand the root cause of the rot eating away at the underside of it faith. Becker wrote:
The suspicion that the Christian religions continue to claim a universal prerogative of interpretation was recently fueled by Pope Benedict XVI. In April 2007 he wrote in a theological textbook that the process of evolution is “not verifiable.” When asked about the origins of human rationality, the Pontiff said: “Science can and may not answer this question directly.”
It is this failure to understand and appreciate the important role of faith and narratives compared to the politification of religious institutions that I feel is directing social upheaval towards more extremists attitudes rather than seeking to reconcile these differences. What is needed is shared experience – shared stories – shared culture within a context that doesn’t seek to vilify those social traditions that came before it.
You can’t give democracy to a culture at the point of a gun;
You can’t give culture a religion at the point of dogmatic rhetoric;
You can’t lead a religion through fear and intimidation;
Root beliefs change in only one of two ways – over long periods of time as shared social narratives influence new generations and older ones pass on; or through the psychological breakage of those root beliefs through an immediate and emotional severing of the foundational underpinnings of those beliefs. The development of those ‘ah-ha’ moments which we have all, on occasion, experienced but for which, owing to their deep rooted necessity in grounding our faith in truth, are more apt to be the result of deep psychological stress which forces a change only when all other methods of flight, flight, and denial are no longer possible.
In the new age which is our future, God may be dead – but faith mustendure. And with a little luck those that come after us to reclaim the concept of religious ideology in a post-modern age will remember which of the two is more important. Attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason should never be consigned to failure but rather stand as a testament to the perseverance of the human will to survive in a world where both are equally important.