Science and religion. A pragmatic approach.
With the increasing occurrence of stories about men of God taking selfies in heaven, selling AIDS-curing holy water, and ridding people’s faces of cockroaches (with Doom!), it begs the question as to why people still subscribe to religion in South Africa. I understand that there is much more to Christianity and religion than these shiny-suit clad charismatic preachers, but I still wonder why so many people flock to them and still take religion seriously in this day and age.
As an atheist, I am inclined to dismiss all of religion as utter rubbish, and instead propose that science is all we need to be happy and feel fulfilled. I realise that science makes me happy because I am a nerd, so say the kids today on the web, through their mobile computer machines. But after a little reading, and living with normal Christian humans, it seems I have been wrong about these Jesus people and their faithfulness.
With the risk of sounding philosophical – ewe! – I believe that science and religion are both human constructs that have been the cornerstones of human progress and culture for the past few thousand years. Science being the younger of the two, some would argue that it has had a greater impact on humanity and is slated to replace religion as we move closer to a Star-Trek future.
I have realised that there are many, many parallels between how science describes the universe without – from quarks to quasars – and how religion describes the universe within the murky depths of consciousness and feeling.
History shows how ugly religion has been, its role in many wars and the many apartheids that we have seen and continue to see. It is convenient to blame the entity that is religion for all these atrocities, when in fact we must realise that it is humans who did these things, and that the religion they chose to create reflects our humanness. The way I see it, everything we might come to hate about religion, is what we hate about ourselves as humans.
We do not blame astronomy for the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, nor do we blame biology for the black death – these are sciences we use to understand and mitigate these events. It is the same for religion as well, it is ugly and beautiful; as complex as the humans who birthed it.
Being aware of the universe both without and within, we seek patterns and order to make sense of it all in both these universes. We not only assume that this order exists but we need it to exist if we are to have any comfort living in it.
Science assumed order in the universe from its beginnings in history, as did religion when it organised the ancients into the communities that started agriculture and so set our path to civilisation.
In science, we assumed an order to the way nature works, and in religion, we saw ourselves as being at the mercy of gods who have it all figured out for us.
So, why does it seem that these, our greatest, yet intangible, creations are said to clash? Well, I propose that this is because the universe, inconceivably large and uncaring, is incompatible with humanity’s universe within. Religion shows that people want to be important, we see ourselves as being necessary, but the universe suggests otherwise; we are not important, and our existence is an accident (mistake?) of nature that will eventually clear itself out when all life ends.
We feel that the universe is ours, we own it and instead of being a part of it, we feel we are the reason it exists; we are the ones that make it worthwhile.
The universe, through science, says otherwise. We are but biological machines driven by impulses of reproduction on an insignificant speck gracefully falling into an unremarkable star in the unfathomable vastness of the observable universe.
The universe is out to kill us all, and we can either embrace this reality and wait for our imminent death, or we can ignore it by drinking mock blood.
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