Wednesday, January 28, 2009

People R Crazy

I was really happy to see the discussion generated by my ongoing series of posts over at DISCOVER. Much of it is really thoughtful and it's encouraging to see the depth which so many people consider their own thinking on the subject. At its best consideration of science and religion as a subject is really about people confronting the deepest questions of meaning humans can encounter. Lets face it. Life is weird. Being here is weird. Amidst the sorrow and the beauty and the horror and small joys our capacity to to stop and consider the world-in-and-of-itself, to ask what this is and what it means, must certainly count as one "better angel" of our nature.

At the same time in some responses you can see the shadow in us. There is a need for certainty that emerges for some when these questions are touched that is rigid and shuts out the capacity to learn. I love science for its simple ethic of 'stay awake' and 'be suspicious of your preconceptions'. While it may surprise my scientific colleagues to hear me say this, I found the same spirit in many of those who are authentic in their religious life, who find their sincere attempts to live compassionately and with wisdom emerging from their own sense of a deeper weaving to the fabric of the world. That is what makes those people so interesting to me as a scientist (and a friend, acquaintance, etc)

It is sad that for too many people the discussion is not about humility before the great mystery but a kind of steamroller that "they know". I always find this perplexing and unfortunate and it also clearly is the root of a lot of the world's suffering. In the end being human is a creative act of creating meaning from our observations and our lived response to the world. Its so much richer when you don't bring your preconceptions or your demands to the easel before you start to paint.

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

The Tao Te Ching
Translated by Stephen Mitchell


  1. 'with wisdom emerging from their own sense of a deeper weaving to the fabric of the world.'
    I applaud the beauty and insight of this statement.

    'It is sad that for too many people the discussion is not about humility before the great mystery but a kind of steamroller that "they know".'

    To re-phrase Samuel Johnson's famous remark, "Dogma is the last refuge of an idiot".
    I am not so concerned with the dogma of religious zealots (your Sullen and Silly), it is readily discernible and easily dismissed. Rather it is the dogma of some in the scientific community, what I call the Snarky (to extend your alliteration somewhat), that is most damaging. They are characterised by their arrogant, dismissive, contemptuous and demeaning attitudes towards humankind's spiritual/religious yearnings.

    The Sullen and the Snarky are the dogmatic extremes that dominate discourse, denying space for reasoned, considered points of view.

  2. The Snarky... I like that. Mind if I borrow it sometimes. The Sullen, the Silly and the Snarky. Sounds like the title of a play.

  3. Thank you for your reasoned approach to the science vs religion debate. Being agnostic I grow tired of the outright dismissal of religious points of view by scientists (I don't know many religious types who dismiss science). I don't believe any religious text should be taken literally and, in the same light, I don't believe all of science's assumptions based on limited data should be believed as well. Ironically science and religion are similar in many ways running parallel to each other but within different spheres. To make this comment short, I like to think science is intelligence whereas religion is wisdom. One cannot exist without the other and they both equally add to the greatness of (western) democracies. It would be a disaster for civilization if either were to be stifled or destroyed.

  4. Hah, the Snarky have a tin ear! I love your insights.