Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Experience, Science and Religion

Sometime later today my next post over at Reality Base will appear. I am focusing on the first step, for me at least, in getting past the traditional debate and that is emphasizing experience over theory in thinking about science and religion. "Experience" as a category in thinking about what happens in spiritual endeavor goes back to the 1700s and Friedrich Schleiermacher. The best, most universal exposition of the idea and it's best connection for thinking about the Science vs. Religion debate comes from William James who I discuss more in the post.

In thinking about Religion James was not interested in a person who has

“his religion … made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition, determined to him by fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit.”

Instead it was the original experience that mattered for that was sat at the base of all human religions.

“Personal religion will prove itself more fundamental than … theology….” James writes “Churches, when once established, live at second hand upon tradition but the founders of every church owed their power originally to the fact of their direct personal communion with the divine".

James, being the empiricist, gave considerable latitude to his definition of the divine and in the end it is the experience that matters more than some theory of what stands behind it.

The category of "Religious Experience" can be fruitful as way of casting the whole debate about how Science and Religion relate to each other and the search for both Truth and Meaning. It is of course an idea which must be treated with care (an experience of what?) and I recommend Wayne Proudfoots writings on the subject for a critical view

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Curse of Certainty

The wise philosopher says: "Be Kind for everyone is facing their own great difficulty".

This is good advice and so I offer a small mea culpa for my name calling. The Sullen, The Silly and the Snarky: I don't mind using these terms in my discussion of science and religion because they have a certain poetic economy. Each one captures some essential element of the standard forms of the debate. But I am not deaf to fact that I am goofing on their subjects with the Jersey-born sarcasm this flesh is heir too. So I do not mean to offend and if I do I promise to bear it with grace when fired back upon. We are all stuck here for however long and there is no point in being intentionally mean.

I will say though that in this great debate I am intolerant of the intolerant. The whole point of science is to come to world with a sense of reverence and honor that serves as inspiration for the study of nature. The whole point, as far as I can tell, of an authentic spiritual longing is to live in accordance with a call to compassion and honesty. So what is up with the ham-fisted certainty that clubs dissent or dismisses it with a wave of the hand? The hardest thing we have to face as species with 6 billion plus is the sense that we know for sure, that we know with absolute certainty. It kills the creativity that lives in the moment. It kills the options that we may need to face the challenges we face. And, all too often, it simply leads to killing.