Science, religion and values
In the previous stren, #89, I explained how our faith-based assumptive views create our personal religion and influence our actions. In this stren, I want to consider how science, i.e. the common sense knowledge of the universal laws of cause-and-effect, influences our religion. The word “common” in common sense means it is discoverable by anyone, anywhere, irrespective of their location or religious ideology. Science is based on the universal laws of cause-and-effect, what we call knowledge. It helps us perfect the assumptions upon which we base our religion. Religion is the outcome of the leap of faith we make through our assumptions. Religion may be considered an art form in that it is based on personal meaning we ascribe to information that is not readily provable. In the previous stren I offered an analogy that science is knowledge of the universal laws of cause-and-effect, what is contained within a fence. Our knowledge is impressive and constantly growing, but the area outside the fence is far larger than what our science now provides. Religion is the leap into the area beyond the fence. Science and religion are not only compatible, they are contiguous. As in the prior stren, I offer my assumptions to encourage you to identify and strengthen your own process of becoming your own person, i.e. self-mastery.
I am impressed by how much I have learned in 76 years, and how much scientific knowledge humankind has accumulated and shares within an ever-expanding fence. I am even more impressed with the expanse outside the fence, what I don’t know and may never know. Yet I am regularly called to act on assumptions that I make based on what is outside the fence. Decisions on the conduct of life, related to such areas as values, morality, justice, and aesthetics, must often be made on the basis of faith and personal “taste” rather than scientific fact. I rely heavily on common sense and wisdom, but ultimately a leap of faith is required. Here are some common sense assumptions based on common sense thinking.
I accept a number of common sense “scientific” arguments for the existence of an almighty force most people call “God.” (1) Every phenomenon has an antecedent; i.e. each effect can be traced to its cause. Reason suggests that eventually there must be a first cause or uncaused cause sufficiently powerful to set things in motion. A suitable name for the first cause would be “Prime Mover” or “Uncaused Cause.” (2) Saint Anselm’s “proof” for the existence of God also makes sense: God is “that than which no greater than can be.” Assumptions that this greatest of all powers favors me and my tribe with little respect for “not me” or “not my side” seems to be more a self-serving expression of humankind than a divinely inspired message from the almighty force. (3) I am drawn to the view of the Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin. Based on his scientific study of paleontology (fossils), he concluded that evolution represents a progressive plan to make humankind in the image of God. Our growing self-mastery and making ourselves powerful creators of original ideas inspires me to respect de Chardin’s insight that we are driven by a powerful creative force, yet unrevealed by our level of scientific discovery. (4) In my college days at Johns Hopkins, my roommate and I debated the presence of miracles; I refuted them and he supported their occurrence. When I now think of the magnitude and complexity of the world, I concede to him that our very existence, and the universal orderliness of cause-and-effect, is miraculous.
So while I remain agnostic about what is beyond the fence, I accept there is a supernatural force. I don’t accept that he, she, it, or the uncaused cause takes sides and favors one group over another. When I was a kid I used to bargain with God: let Howie Moss, the slugger for the then Triple-A league Baltimore Orioles, hit a home run and win the game, and I in return would please God by ceasing to bite my nails and pick my nose. More often he struck out. I kept bargaining with God for a long time even though my offers were rarely accepted. I recognize the long history of man’s need to create idols, superstitions, and magical intervention when knowledge is lacking. We made assumptions that the earth was flat and the center of the universe; that God approved of killing witches; and we have routinely demanded that members of “our tribe” engage in war to prove that our assumptions are superior. In WWI, to the astonishment of the Allies, every German soldier had “Gott mit uns” (God is with us) inscribed on his belt. Gradually, some religions are modifying their insistence that God literally created the world in six days and then rested, and they are lessening their resistance to the idea that evolution is the creative process of a powerful force. These changes suggest to me that our beliefs are still fluid and we have more myths to shed. I am especially skeptical of any individual or group that proposes on the basis of authority that a particular religion or political ideology is the supreme one according to their or God’s authority. Common sense suggests such proclamations are self-serving inventions of humankind.
Common sense knowledge would suggest that the First Cause, or “God” if you prefer, set into motion multiple generations of substance beginning with matter, which then progressed in an organized, rational manner to simple life that can reproduce itself. Thereupon, simple life would predictably progress to more complex life that can not only reproduce itself but also assume responsibility for its own survival, pleasure, and the freedom of self-management. Recent science, i.e. common sense knowledge, informs us that humankind is the growing edge of creation, and that we still have much to teach ourselves if we wish to continue to survive and evolve to higher levels of civilization.
One of God’s first creations would appear to be the universal laws of cause-and-effect, i.e. what we call “knowledge.” Its predictability is the most universal sign we have that there is an orderly basis to our existence. It is discoverable by intelligent minds, more specifically nature’s unique gift to humankind of an advanced cerebral cortex. It functions as a specialized “organ” within the human brain to discover wisdom. The cerebral cortex frees humankind from dependency on fate and circumstance, nature and nurture, instinct and tradition, to become powerful creators with the opportunity to rule their own universe.
Common sense can tell us the Prime Mover is unlikely to play favorites among people and divide the world into opposing sides. Rather, we learn by “mistakes” and pass our new found knowledge of cause-and-effect and wisdom forward. We begin by seeking physical wealth, but then we must progress to mental or “spiritual” wealth (wisdom) if we are to discover what is in our best interest before we self-destruct from our innate survival of the fittest derived greed.
My understanding of scientific knowledge leads me to infer that I am a link in the process of evolution and that we are headed somewhere even more complex than we are now, but I personally will not experience what time ultimately brings. Consider how religions change with knowledge. Try to imagine the common assumptions that influenced the beliefs of cave people. Have you modified your own beliefs since childhood? Did you write a letter to Santa this year? Or have you instead become your own Santa or genie, responsible for the gifts you receive? Yes, knowledge and “fact” does influence our views about what we don’t know, but let us also graciously acknowledge how much we don’t know and will not understand in our lifetime. Nevertheless, I am inspired to use my best to do my best and arrive at the important basic beliefs that I indicated in the prior stren.
When I convene with nature through my higher self, here’s what I learn. I have been gifted with a freedom organ, nature’s latest model brain. This makes me privileged beyond any other form of life on earth because it allows me to discover the secrets of my creator, be it nature or a superhuman force. I and my human family have been provided the tools for self-enlightenment. I have the ability to recognize that nature is a work-in-progress and I am an important part of it. Work-in-progress means beginning simple and primitive, and striving toward greater complexity and sophistication. It means we are moving towards an end point; we are not “finished.” Humankind has been provided the opportunity to influence which finishing point we reach. My species or “family” has the intelligence to create knowledge through what we call science. We recreate the physical world using and manipulating symbols, and create original combinations not found in nature. We magically convert physical data into non-physical ideas that appear only within our personal consciousness; we then transform imagination back into the physical reality for the entire world to share. Intelligence is the power of a freed will to create alternatives and choose among them. We are distinguished among earth creatures by our capacity to join nature in determining our present and designing our future.
Intelligence (power) may be used constructively and destructively. Free will is the means we have to exercise our choices. Nature tells me, “Your human brain is like my biggest uncut diamond, my most solid rock, easy to throw and a good weapon if you choose to leave it in its primitive state. You can also choose to polish it, shape it, and make it an object of beauty.”
My higher power, the intelligence within my cortex, unlike my older “automatic” animal brain, allows me to see the similarities in our diverse family and the benefits each of us has to contribute to humanity. I can see that, like each organ and cell in my body, I am part of a larger system and I best serve my purpose when I contribute to the good of the greater whole. I can also see that when cancer cells only take from the system and give nothing back, they eventually kill their host and die along with him or her. So my understanding is that I function best as a member of the whole system, and I do what I can to help the system evolve to greater sophistication, greater freedom, and to becoming more humane and civilized. I enjoy envisaging what I would like the “finished” end point of our work-in-progress to be, and then considering what I might contribute to help us move in that direction. I believe that this is what I can do for my family, other loved ones, and humanity. Promoting humanity seems a most worthy source of meaning and purpose.
When I contemplate what I’d like the end point to include, words that come to mind include joy, happiness, peace, cooperation, sharing, purpose and meaning, creativity, mental freedom, belonging, companionship, justice, learning, and pursuing even higher levels towards “perfection” which will always be somewhere in the future to strive for. Total maturity, complexity, and sophistication are perfected end points of our work-in-progress that shall always be beyond our reach.
I have attended the religious services of many different faiths, and find a comforting spirituality in all of them. I am impressed that virtually all religious groups and philosophers come to the same moral views. This is understandable to me because common sense leads to universal wisdoms such as, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The differences in religions are mainly confined to dogmatic proclamations based on the authority of a superhuman being or a divinely inspired human being who commands certain behavior and the acceptance of creeds that have limited basis in rationality. They commonly declare their particular group, philosophy, political view, and/or religion is superior to others, but they fail the common sense test which requires that non-tribe members would come to the same assumptions. I suspect that any group holding such views has a self-serving purpose.
While I admit there are people who behave in ways I don’t particularly like, I do have a great affection for humanity. This is one source of my passion to strive to bring about happiness and world peace. I am concerned for the well-being of my children, grandchildren, and other loved ones. These are the main reasons I devote my time and energy to popularizing the newer way of thinking that I believe is most certain to bring about world peace.
In sum, I believe science and religion are not only compatible, they are contiguous. As we discover the universal rules of cause-and-effect, we recognize a creative force that applies to everyone. We learn that we are members of a larger family who progress through cooperation and collaboration. I maintain no religion is superior; no religion is inferior. I strive for tolerance toward all religions and all individuals. I accept that some leaders are convinced that they are destined to be a master race and are authorized to subject others to their will by force, including murder. Despots, like Hitler, may be impervious to rational persuasion, and I believe it is the duty of all peace-loving world citizens to come together and humanely impose whatever restrictions may be required to restrain the power of those who would control and endanger others. Bigoted leaders will become powerless if enough concerned citizens lead the way by attending to our own immature two-category thinking. I believe the newer way of common sense thinking will crack the thin veneer that holds back the passion for peace and freedom present in all humankind. The grass roots power of the masses will be unstoppable.