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Sept. 2000 - The place of science 
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Post Sept. 2000 - The place of science
This thread is for discussing Massimo Pigliucci's Rationally Speaking article entitled The place of science.

N. 2, September 2000

The place of science

"Science bumps the ceiling of the corporeal plane.... From the metaphysical point of view its arms, lifted toward a zone of freedom that transcends coagulation, form the homing arc of the 'love loop.' They are science responding to Eternity's love for the productions of time." This grandiose bit of poetical nonsense concludes a chapter of Huston Smith's Forgotten Truth dedicated to put science in its place. Smith is one of the world's foremost authorities on religions, and his aim is to demonstrate that science is not an omnipotent force that can answer all questions posed by humanities. That is, science needs to be put in its place.

Fair enough, although I don't know of any scientist who would claim otherwise. Contrary to what many anti-intellectuals maintain, science is by nature a much more humble enterprise than any religion or other ideology. This must be so given the self-correcting mechanisms that are incorporated into the scientific process, regardless of the occasional failures of individual scientists.

But what is most astounding in Smith's essay is his attempt to develop a parallel between science and mysticism in order to "demonstrate" that the world's great religions are capable of insights at least as powerful as science's because they actually use similar tools. Let us then briefly examine this alleged parallelism and in the process try to understand what the proper place of both science and religion ought to be.

Smith's first insight is that science and religion both claim that things are not as they seem. For example, you have the perception that the chair on which you are sitting is solid, but modern physics will tell you that it is made of mostly empty space. This, apparently, is analogous to the following bit from C.S. Lewis: "Christianity claims to be telling us about another world, about something behind the world we can touch and hear and see." Never mind, of course, that physicists can bring sophisticated empirical evidence to support their claim about the emptiness of space, while Christianity is made up of a series of fantastic and contradictory stories backed by no evidence whatsoever.

Second, according to Smith, both science and religion claim that the world is not only different from what we perceive, but that there is "more" than we can see, and that the additional part is "stupendous." Of course, electrons, quarks and neutrinos are "more" than we can see, although they are stupendous only to those few scientists who spend their lives working on them. Well, this is apparently the same as Shankara's "notion of the extravagance of his vision of the summum bonum when he says that it cannot be obtained except through the merits of 100 billion well-lived incarnations," a cornerstone of some Indian sacred text. I hope you are starting to appreciate the depths of the similarities between science and religion. But wait, there is more.

The two quests for truth also share the quality that this "more" that they seek to explore cannot be known in ordinary ways (otherwise, presumably, one would need neither science nor religion to get there). Science's ways lead to apparent contradictions, such as in the case of some aspects of quantum mechanical theory. To which Smith juxtaposes some gems from the Christian literature that he says uncannily resemble modern notions of quantum physics. For example, did not Nicholas of Cusa (De Visione Dei) write that "the wall of the Paradise in which Thou, Lord, dwellest is built of contradictories," pretty much like the dual particle-wave nature of light? And did not Dionysius the Areopagite (The Divine Names) say "He is both at rest and in motion, and yet is in neither state," thus anticipating Heisenberg's indeterminacy principle? I am not making the examples up

Sat Jul 19, 2003 12:54 pm
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Post Science and Religion

I agree with many things from both sides... my view is that science and religion have some common features.

Science and Religion

-both require some of the highest human efforts.
-monks and scientist are similar in that they do not look mainly for money, but are in a kind of journey for revelation
-both are based on dogmas. In religion these dogmas are dictated by the religious leaders, whereas in science these are called premises and axioms. Science and Mathematics are not possible without axioms.
-both create symbols. In religion these are the cross or the picture of mary... in science it is the laws of Newton or the equations of Maxwell.
- in boths there is veneration for the achievements of past leaders. In religion you look upon the priest or the pope... in science you look upon the professor or the Nobel Prize winner.
- in both you can be on the mainstream, or you can also cause a revolution. In Religion this kind of revolutions is what Luther did to the Protestant Church... in science this is what Darwinism did to Lamarkism...
- in both, there is a kind of method, a protocol to carry out your duties... in religion this is called ceremony or lithurgy... in science this is called lecture or lab protocol.
- in both, the highest authorities meet and decide what is trendy and what is not. In religion, this is made in the vatican... in science this is made in conferences and workshops.
- in both, there is censure... in religion, there are reviewers that decide what movies or book are tolerated by the church... and in science, there are scientific editors and reviewers that decide which papers are accepted in which journal, and which not.

I could make the list longer... but I want to say the differences... to me, the most important is...

Science searches for the truth. Religion not.
Religion searches for the good. Science not.

There are also many other differences... but the day that we accept the above statement, it will be possible for science and religion to coexist.

The Bible does not contain the truth. It is only fantasies and mythologies that help us to find answers to ethical answers. Scientific laws are ethically neutral.

You can base your ethical on scientific facts... but the judgement of what is gob or bad, must be based on humanity (and cannot be provided by science).

Diversity is Good!

Thu Sep 30, 2004 1:01 pm
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