I just typed “science and religion” into google, and clicked on “images”. What I got was a deluge of pictures, cartoons and dismissive (sometimes vitriolic) statements, almost all selling the view summed up in examples such as:
“Religion will never understand science and science will never give a shit about religion.”
“Science: always doubt; always question; when challenged, replies with evidence. Religion: no doubt, no question; when challenged, becomes hostile.”
“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” (sometimes attributed to Richard Dawkins, but I think it originated with Victor Stenger)
Whatever happened to Albert Einstein’s more measured voice? Or Martin Luther King? Or Gandhi?
In all these quotations the word “religion” is being equated, broadly speaking, to superstition, fear and ignorance, tribalism and nonsense. Well, obviously, any sort of a decent human being is opposed to all those things. So if that is what “religion” is, then the quotes above are all fair. But what, then, is the word which I should use to describe the following aspect of human life?
Throughout human history, and in much of the world today, people gather together to discuss with each other what values they judge to be important and worth preserving. They have built meeting-places, and enacted rituals which attempt to express a sense of the transcendent, and in which they typically admit their failings and encourage one another to live better and love their neighbour. Many have tried to love their enemies too. They have met the moments of birth, and marriage and death with shared ceremonies whose principal themes are gratitude and hope. They have also felt a sense of loyalty to something with which their reason and their felt experience concurs, something or someone not completely contained in or expressed by the ordinary physical world. Call that thing by impersonal names such as truth or justice, if you like. But better names seem to be kindness, mercy and love. Every attempt to pin down what virtue and goodness consists in, or what music and art imperfectly capture, seems to veer off to infinity. The most important things cannot be completely defined, only reached for. Being good does not consist in merely doing stuff, but in being a certain sort of person, and in giving fair attention to other people around you.
What is your preferred name for this area of human life? What is the right word for this attempt to enact in our lives the reaching-out and reaching-up and deep attention that is fundamental and central to being a fully formed human being? In the past it has been called “religion”. It has been much abused and thoroughly compromised by superstition, fear and ignorance, tribalism and nonsense. Those are abuses of it. So if those abuses are what the word “religion” has come to mean for you, then we need some other word for this aspect of our lives. If the pausing to reflect, and to admit our failings, and to sense that despite everything, we are lovable and loved, is not called “religion” then what would you like to call it? It is not science. It is something else. Perhaps it is poetry, or art? Those activities certainly overlap with it. But it reaches out beyond those.
Whatever is the name for this positive, challenging and fulfilling part of human existence, that is the thing that this blog is about, in addition to scientific, analytical skills and the knowledge that those can provide. I sometimes call it religion, because that is what it was called in the past, but I am willing to call it by another name if someone can coin one. I am interested in it purely on grounds of truthfulness.
Perhaps it is “spirituality”? That is a possible candidate but suffers from vagueness and subjective wishy-washiness. What we are talking about here is more fully objective, and integrated. It is tougher, with high intellectual standards. It especially involves serious attention to the lessons of history. Perhaps “philosophy”? That puts me too much at the centre of my own universe; I want to engage, not just think. I don’t consider that I somehow define myself, nor do I define my universe: I think my identity is not altogether in my own keeping.
Here is a candidate word for what I am talking about:
So this is a blog about science and reconnection.
Whatever is the right name for this thing, this X that I call reconnection:
It is not about failing to understand science, but about understanding science.
It is not about being sure. It is about doubting and questioning. When challenged it does not become hostile but replies with reasons why it has reached its opinions.
It has been exhibited by people like Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin and Eddington, all of whom helped us fly to the moon.
(It was also exhibited by a good number of the remarkably brave, thoughtful and skilled astronauts who actually flew to the moon.)