Friday, September 3, 2010

Science and Religion Wars

Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch broke through the bigotry wall many in his party have built over the past few months by saying the following about the controversial New York Muslim community center project:

Let’s be honest about it, in the First Amendment, religious freedom, religious expression, that really express matters to the Constitution. So, if the Muslims own that property, that private property, and they want to build a mosque there, they should have the right to do so. The only question is are they being insensitive to those who suffered the loss of loved ones? We know there are Muslims killed on 9/11 too and we know it’s a great religion. … But as far as their right to build that mosque, they have that right.

I just think what’s made this country great is we have religious freedom. That’s not the only thing, but it’s one of the most important things in the Constitution. […]

Can't say I have ever supported much of what the Senator has stood for over the years. But clearly on this issue, he understands that's it better to reach out to your neighbors than condemn them as enemies.

Somehow, that message seems to be lacking in the debate over physicist Stephen Hawking's new book, in which he claims that a creator God had no role in creation of the universe. I can imagine there's a lot more going on in the book than that, but a fair number of religious leaders are apparently pretty pissed at Hawking, running around making public statements denouncing Hawking's book and views. And Hawking hasn't exactly been innocent himself, making statements like the following a few months ago:

"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

Talking about winning and loosing is just as ridiculous as seeing heads of religious institutions flipping out over the comments of a single scientist who may be influential, but certainly isn't THE definitive leader, even in his own field.

The battle over Hawking's book, as well as over the Cordoba House project in New York, are both dramas of insecurity, and the enemy making that comes from it.

Science and religion are not enemies. Christians, Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists are not enemies. Republicans, Democrats, and the rest of us are not enemies.

It's all in our heads - how so and so is an enemy. The more of us that learn this, and act from this learning, the better.


Algernon said...

Hear, hear. Let us keep speaking of the mind that is eager to find enemies.

Tom said...

Yes, "enemies" is too powerful and emotive a word but not sure that I agree with your logic. Many religions feel that their fundamental precepts are challenged by science. Other religions are much more accommodating to logical scientific inquiry than others.

That to me is the strength of zen. Someone may provide you with a roadmap but you've got to go to the places yourself and work out what they mean for yourself.

If you're looking for something entertaining to watch this weekend, I can recommend Dalai Lama Renaissance. It's an entertaining and illuminating DVD which shows what happens when scientific egos clash with religion.

Brikoleur said...

Uuuugh, not science vs. religion all over again.

From where I'm at, the only problem is that lots of people have a very narrow view of religion. This includes "New Atheists" by definition (since they define themselves as being in opposition to such a narrow view of religion), and, unfortunately, lots of religious people—specifically, the ones who tie their identity and practice to a number of specific existential or ontological claims that are now under threat by scientific discovery.

Fairy tales about anthropomorphic gods magicking stuff into (or out of) existence are under threat by science, for sure. But that doesn't make the slightest difference to the deep, inner meaning of lighting a taper to St. Francis, prostrating yourself towards Mecca, or reciting the Kannon Sutra, or any of the other myriad forms of religious practice.

Nathan said...

"Many religions feel that their fundamental precepts are challenged by science. Other religions are much more accommodating to logical scientific inquiry than others." I'd be more inclined to say that groups within every religion and spiritual tradition feel science is a threat, while other groups have no problem with science.

Mumon K said...

Having read Hasking et al.'s article I can say his point is strong. It is that the "strong anthropic principle" is hubris.

Dogma is at its core, immoral these days, and the assertion of dogma is antithetical to the pursuit of the Great Matter.

Mumon K said...

I have posted my own take on their article on my blog here.

I would note that Hawking and Mlodinow are not condemning religious people, they are condemning the notion of dogma claimed to be given by revelation.

We Buddhists do not adhere to "dogma claimed to be given by revelation", in my experience.

Nathan said...


I wasn't coming from a perspective that Hawking is condemning religious people. Mostly, I was reacting to the notion that science "will win," suggesting that such language, no matter what the intent, will inflame people who might otherwise support Hawking's work while still believing in God or some other transcendent being.

One of the problems I see in all of this is that people on different sides don't know how to talk to each other. Obviously, some folks will be threatened no matter what you say because they are clinging to a dogma, whether it is theist or atheist in nature. But I think there are many others who might greatly benefit from sharing differing viewpoints, if only there were more listening, and less grandstanding going on.

Mumon K said...


In order for there to be more listening there has to be less fear.

And I don't think it's the scientists' fault that some religious folks are fearful. In debates over that which is observable and measurable science can't help but "win" over dogma, since the latter, though it asserts facts and truths, shies away from corroboration/falsification if the risk is too great.

It's like blaming them for Nietzsche's anguish over the death of god; Nietzsche's anguish was within himself over his cognitive dissonance - with a good dollop of psychosis via other origins to boot.

Daniel @ Campinas said...

Not directed at you or your writing, but WHAT you wrote about: conflict and bickering and beliefs.
I think the title of Brad Warner's book:
would do a lot of people a lot of good..
im pretty sure you get where im coming from, just wish more people would...

Nathan said...


I totally get where you're coming from. And yep, it would do good if more folks would just sit down, shut up, and I'll add listen (even if they are only listening to the wind or the sound of their breathing. maybe especially if they are.)