Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Science and Religious Faith are Incompatible

The argument that atheism or science are their own rigid doctrines or dogmas is tragically flawed.  Faith is the belief in, for all tense and purpose, unreasonable things.  Science has nothing what so ever to do with belief, per se.  Belief in science is more akin to an educated guess, informed by empirical evidence.  A hypothesis is the closest science will come to a belief.  The scientific method requires that this hypothesis be tested (and retested) and the evidence systematically compared and quantified.  Other scientist often challenge these hypothesis as well and further tests are conducted.  In general, science can be seen as the antithesis of faith.  It is a method of discovery in which disputing outdated belief systems is an intrinsic part of the practice.  There is no judgment, just a fundamental examination of the quantifiable facts.
Many fundamental belief systems try to adopt the methods used by scientists, but often fail miserably for a number of factors that will become apparent shortly.  Christian Science?  The two words are mutually exclusive (the “Christian” part will always outweigh the “science” part, if you are a “true Christian” with a strong “faith”).  An example which comes to mind is the way many Christians unquestionably buy into the hypothesis of “original sin” (which I personally find to be an extremely hurtful ideology to our intrinsic human nature that continues to support the antiquated dualism of a Bronze Age mentality, which serves as a fundamental drive to divide people into separate camps; such as good vs. evil, sinners vs. non-sinners, believers vs. non-believers, men vs. women, black vs. white, me vs. you, etc).  While it might seem like basic human nature to divide the universe into opposing dualistic pieces, it’s important to recall that this habit of humanity was actually acquired quite recently, and has evolved strongly only within the last 4,000 years or so, with the fall of most Goddess cultures (gaining most of its strength especially within the last 2,000 years with an exclusively male, left-brained, Western orthodoxy sanctioned by the Church).

While humanity of our prehistory tended to be aware of such opposing forces in nature, both manifestations were traditionally viewed as sacred and required in order to maintain a whole perspective (the yin can not exist without the yang, as in the Taoist philosophy for example).  Even death, which was traditionally viewed as necessary (and good) for the renewal of the cycles of life wasn’t vilified or feared until the encroachment of the Bronze Age.  The fact of the matter is, these early cultures generally maintained a more enlightened perspective of the universe, which acknowledged that nature itself is not dualistic, but acts from the whole of its parts (Westerners have unfortunately inherited Bronze Age cynicism and xenophobia that doesn’t necessarily apply to the global functionality of the modern world).  Look deeper (a main tenant of science) and you will find this to be true. The societal meme that we’re inherently bad (i.e.: we’re “all sinners”) supports a self-fulfilling belief system, one in which humanity is viewed as somehow being flawed and need some male sky deity to show us how to have compassion for one another.  This belief (often intrinsic of ones unquestioned religious faith) often determines how one choses to behave and is often self-serving to those in power (typically a male clergy).

Science has debunked the misnomer that we needed supernatural guidance to develop compassion for one another, and (in a nutshell) here’s how.  Humans as a species have evolved to have larger brains.  Our female ancestors began dieing en masse as our brains began to evolve exponentionally quicker then a women’s hips (due, in part, because our hands eventually became free to manipulate objects following our species evolved ability to walk upright, but that’s another story all together).  Following the basic tenants of natural selection, children inevitably evolved to be born prematurely (i.e.: not fully developed) so as not to not kill their mothers (which would clearly lead to their own death sentence).  Unlike other species, human babies were born completely helpless for the first few years of life in order to fit through the birth canal without killing the mother.  In order for them to survive outside of the womb, being so completely helpless, they need a large emotional/altruistic investment from their parents.  Hence, the driving mechanism of this is this noble trait of humanity (compassion) evolved (I say “evolved” because the trait was already there on some level, among other species we’ve evolved from, growing exponentially with our increased cranial capacity).  Compassion therefore required no deity or divine intervention to manifest itself among humanity – no god hypothesis required for its evolution (that is, unless one were to counter with the argument that some deity orchestrated the entire thing, which is an argument based on unquestioned, unquantifiable faith, and needs no further attention here as the speculation lies outside the clearly defined parameters of the established scientific method and therefore is more suited to the arena of credulous speculation).

If I were personally to ascribe to a faith, it would not be to some male sky deity inherited from the prevailing culture I was born into (opposed to a female lunar deity which predominated human cultures for the last 40,000 years before the inevitable spread of war and xenophobia, whose catalyst was provided by of the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago).  Your focus in life determines your reality.  My faith is instead, in humanity itself – the fact that humans are born good and that good people sometimes make bad decisions out of ignorance (e.g.: it’s the decisions that are bad, not the people).  From this view, evil is a learned behavioral trait and not intrinsic to our nature.  It's important to not that behind every evil person is a lifetime of earthly conditioning (as a therapist, I am enlightened to this fact nearly every day).  We all have the ability to feel compassion.  It only requires one powerful main ingredient, and that is deep understanding (which has the natural propensity to be diametrically opposed to ignorance).  Understanding is therefore experiential, and not “granted” by some fundamental doctrine or belief.  You can never fully understand the true nature of something if you ascribe to the label it’s been given (by yourself or by some divine authority), which inevitably biases your opinion of it.  Arguments based solely upon authority, however convincing they may appear, are still not valid arguments (one might remember from basic tenants of logical debate originated in fifth century Greece).

It’s important to remember that the myth of a "universal morality" that many fundamentally inclined religions ascribe to is inherently flawed.  For every rule written in stone, there are multiple exceptions.  A prime example might be to picture the dilemma of the Nazi’s during WWII banging at your door, asking you if you have a Jewish family hiding in your basement to hand them over– obviously you must go against “Gods rule” and break one two commandments written in stone - “thou shall not lie” or “thou shall not kill."  Instead of focusing on rules (which, when focused on exclusively, separate one from reality and the goodness of our intrinsic nature), I believe (as a compassionate scientist) we should be directing our concentration on understanding and compassion that are available to each and every one of us, in each and every moment, as an intrinsic part of our nature. I think it’s also important to note that faith requires emotional reasoning vs. logical thought - a leap of faith, so to speak.  The god hypothesis is not based on the tenants of science.  When it comes down to it, it’s based solely on emotional reasoning, which is fine if you have the temerity to admit to the fact.  Deity worship requires a leap of logic, plain and simple, and anything else is just wishful delusion.  My faith (in humanity) is no better by any means, but at least I can sleep soundly knowing that it has the distinct benefit of being scientifically informed.