Saturday, April 08, 2006

Science as religion

Recently Salon has interviewed a couple of popular science writers, Edward O. Wilson and Daniel Dennett. Both were asked whether science is a religion. Not surprisingly, both said no. Wilson came off as being more sympathetic, even admitting that he has a spiritual belief (which he calls a “provisional deism”). But he denies any kind of religiosity to science:

I don't see it as having the qualities of a religion, in terms of obeisance to a supreme being or of an urge to proselytize.
He obviously hasn’t met Dr. Dennett. Dennett is one of those sceptics who can’t help but take whatever opportunity at hand to take a shot at religion. He certainly does proselytize. In this particular interview it really sounds as though he were being spoon fed talking points, rather than actually being questioned. He claims that “every major problem we have interacts with religion.” The very same claim could be made about science, but he doesn’t go there. He does go on to make an utterly ridiculous claim that religion has been protected from scientific inquiry for too long, that its time to breach the moat that protects it from real, scientific understanding. Where has this man been for the last century?

Like Dennett many seem to confuse faith with hoping, or even wishing. A limited view at best. And sometimes, I suspect, a biased or disingenuous one. By keeping the argument simplistic, you get to keep your responses simplistic as well. But faith is so much more than he is willingly to consider. It isn’t simply wishing something to be so. Our faith incorporates and expresses our beliefs and practices. The word is sometimes used to describe a credo, because, like a credo our faith is what shapes our view of the world and how we act in it. When we step out in faith, we strengthen it because the experience gained from our action encourages our faith. It starts with a realization that there is a God and that we can approach Him. Through prayer and worship, through the study of His Word and fellowship with others that know Him, we gain the knowledge, experience, and spiritual understanding that constitute our faith.

Once you understand that faith encompasses our beliefs, behaviour – our view of the world, it is easy to see how the word can be applied to other views, political as well as materialistic. A communist puts his faith in Marx, a neo-conservative in the Market, and certain dogmatic cynics in Scientism.

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