The Marriage of Science and Religion (part 1)

I have a real issue with the ongoing battle between religion and science. First, let me say I think many of our religions are cheap, bastardized versions of honest spirituality, just as I think many of our sciences fly off into unsubstantiated delusions of grandeur. Rubbish on both sides, I say. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish!

That said, there are a lot of babies in the bath water, and I care to keep them, so let me get very specific. In fact, let me be downright simplistic.

Religion is about belief. Whatever you believe is your religion, because it binds your actions. If it does not bind your action, then it is not something you truly believe, it is simply something you give lip service.

Often people confuse their beliefs with the various orthodoxies of some sect, or church, or organization… Fine. But true religion is the beliefs that influence your actions. When push comes to shove and the world forces you to act, this is why. Religion is meaning. Why do you think what you think? Why do you say what you say? Why do you do what you do? We all have different beliefs, as we should. We’ve lived different lives and value different things. Because of this, religion is very individual.

On the other side, science is about physical process. Science is our understanding of how the material world works. We do things according to a methodology, because following a specific process gives us a specific result. Science is a matter of manipulation. We have schematics, blueprints, recipes, and if we follow them, we make the things we intend to make. Science is very communal because the process that built your house, made your clothes, and grew your food, will also do the same for me. What works for one works for all.

Science answers how. Religion questions why. Science gives us easier lives, but religion gives our lives meaning. It isn’t science versus religion. Its a balance between the approximation of religion and the specificity of science. Bad religion leads to lies. Bad science leads to failure. Considering that there are all sorts of failures and lies in the world, we can conclude that there is also a lot of bad science and bad religion in the world.

Sometimes opposites have one desirable pole and one undesirable pole: love and fear, good and bad, abundance and scarcity. We should cling to one, and avoid the other. But sometimes both opposites are beneficial: energy and matter, innocence and experience, justice and mercy, day and night. male and female. To me, it makes sense to utilize both religion and science, instead of pitting them in an endless war. One is not better than the other.

Religion is based on belief. I don’t know, I believe. Science knows because I’ve done the experiments and studied the results. Between the two, science is more desirable, because it is more certain, but it is also more work. Religion is cheaper and quicker, but less reliable.

Here’s the crux of the problem: although I know many things, I’ll never know it all. If I want to proceed, there will be times when I have to follow my belief. There will be times when I do not know, and thus, science is out the window. Religion is a bit of a crutch. I use it when I don’t know, and it helps me know, because believing in a thing is necessary if I wish to test it.

Perhaps an example is in order. I hate to do this to you, but we’re going to bring math into this… I promise it won’t hurt, much.

Science tells us that the ratio of pi is 1 to 3.14159265358979… and there goes my science. Did you see how quickly it faded? Fifteen digits and I’m done. It matters because science is about precision. Science is about accuracy. But if I need to know pi, I’ve failed miserably. Fifteen digits of an infinite number is an astonishing failure.

So I let religion take over. I believe that fifteen digits is far more than I’ll ever need to know. In fact, I bet half the time I can get away with nothing more than the first digit. Why? Because the ratio of 1 to 3 is over 95% accurate when calculating pi. Do I think I can get away with being 95% accurate? Damn straight!

The other half of the time, I’ll need to know the equivalent of 3.1 or maybe 3.14159 or even 3.141592653589 of my pi shaped problem. I bet there will even be a few times I need to know more than I actually do know, and in those circumstances, I try to balance my knowledge with a bit of belief at the end, because that is all I can do. I’ll never know it all.

Sometimes, I simply fail. I won’t pretend otherwise. But if it matters to me, I can always gather more information and come back to it. There is always a second chance. Usually there are third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh chances… If you believe in reincarnation, the number of chances is just a bit below infinite.

Life is a math problem. It’s a continual math problem with sums, products, divisions and multiplications that we understand intuitively. These values have different names, involving money, relationships, prestige, integrity, emotions, and all sorts of other things. Some of these things we care about dearly, and some not so much, because we are individuals, and different things matter to each of us. The problem is that the math is more than we will ever know. Despite the grand achievements and back patting of our species, we can’t even solve pi. How can we possibly solve the bigger issues if we can’t even describe a circle? Thus, we will always need some belief.

We constantly balance our decisions between our knowledge and belief, our science and religion. Both have their strengths and both have their faults. If science is impossible, religion is naive. If we simply believe, we become creatures of convenience. When we ignore the knowledge bestowed by the great universe, we suffer ignorance, and find that three is not enough to solve our pi shaped problems. The universe wants us to learn. It wants us to be precise, but it also demands that we stay humble. No matter how much of our belief is tested and tempered and struck into solid science, we are not to pretend we know it all.

Some of you may think I’m wrong. You may think you know more, you may think you know it all. If you think you might be in danger of knowing it all, take this impossible test:

What is the license plate number on the author’s car?
What is the original word count of this article?
When was the second time you ever went to the post office (date and time)?
How much rain fell in the Pacific Ocean yesterday (in quarts)?
What are the middle names of your second cousins?

Humbled? Me too, and I got the first one right. Okay, so here’s one more question that might make you feel better about not knowing everything:

Can you imagine a life and death situation in which you need to know the precise answer to any of the above questions?

Yeah, me neither.

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3 comments

  1. Ulysses says:

    What enrages me about any epistemological camp is presumed monopoly of interpretation.

  2. Agreed. It’s rather arrogant of people to think that they have a monopoly on truth when a sincere study of the natural world is all that is needed to learn any and everything. As to authority: the authority is the author, and who better to author your story than you?

  3. Ulysses says:

    The language you are speaking. I also speak it.

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