Attorney Steve Grow
February 3, 2012
The typical person has a fragmented, compartmentalized personality to some extent. Pablo Picasso portrayed this fragmentation graphically in his painting entitled “Guernica.” We split along many dimensions, and severe stress tends to increase the fragmentation.
From the beginning of life’s journey, a child encounters steady pressure that tends to produce an adult whose house is divided -- sometimes against himself or herself. The mere example of other people constitutes part of this pressure. There is also much explicit teaching of lessons that tend toward such an outcome.
A significant aspect of this widespread state of division appears in the ongoing encounter between science and religion. It has become more or less entrenched thinking among our cultural, scientific, religious, academic and governmental institutions, and among ordinary people. This divide is at least partly expressed by the widely held views:
that religion and science are incompatible--natural enemies and rivals
which can’t both be right;
• that science is a realm of truth subservient to the facts, whereas religion is a realm of belief oblivious to all evidence—at best sincerely held, at worst purely pretended and make-believe;
• that even when science and religion reach their fullest and most healthy stage of development--even then discord, dissonance, not harmony, must ever prevail between them.
I suggest that it would be appropriate to adopt a more optimistic view, and a more demanding one. More optimistic, because it expects that full, enlightened, wise development of both fields will tend to bring the best religion and best science toward a state of mutually supporting harmony. More demanding, because it insists that pursuing such an outcome is an imperative which neither science nor religion nor philosophy may properly shirk.
There may be a path along which we could progress toward that goal. Consider this. A scientist seeks to understand and describe and explain the truth about a particular subject matter. One of the most significant religious leaders of all time, namely Jesus, said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus did not single out spirituality or religion or psychology as the only pertinent realms in which to find truth to set you free. (Surely he meant the whole truth about everything, because half truths are lies, and incomplete truths leave one in a state of blind and helpless servitude to circumstances beyond our ken.) Jesus did not say mere belief (much less insincere, pretended belief) would set you free.
The true is the trustworthy; and true belief is trust in the trustworthy. Therefore, only true beliefs may be stepping stones toward the freedom Jesus spoke of, and truths about other subjects may also be essential to a successful journey to freedom. Mistaken belief will not do it either. Moreover, I do not believe that what primarily matters is truths or thoughts about the Truth, but the Truth (or Reality) outside our thinking or talking or imaginings, which makes any of our truths about the Truth, well, true in the first place. Hence, even true beliefs or the largest collection of truths expressed in language or thought or images, without being grounded in intuition of something beyond thought or language or images—even these are far less useful than the intuition of the underlying reality which allows you to see for yourself whether your thoughts or language or images make sense, and how they make sense, and how they don’t.
Nor will insincere, merely pretended belief. A friend once objected to my characterization of the attitude of a scientist toward a settled scientific fact as a form of belief. He viewed the term “belief” as appropriate mainly in the realm of religion, and as being misapplied in the realm of science. Now genuine belief is an actual and sincere trust in or reliance upon something. As I reflected on my friend’s comment, I realized that very often the word “believe” (especially when pronounced “be-LEE-eve,” if you know what I mean) means “pretend to believe, even if you are quite dubious about the matter.” All too often, such pretending is recommended as sufficient, even essential, to secure your salvation. In a political or social context, one may feel tremendous authority pressure and peer pressure to pretend to see the emperor’s new clothes or to pretend to believe a religious or political creed. People have been burned, stoned and subjected to other unpleasant consequences for not succumbing to such pressure.
If a proper relationship to the Truth is the goal, we should not hide from whatever scientific or religious truths may be discovered, and if we should find God or traces of his work in science, that should not trouble us. If we should discover aspects of God hitherto unknown to (or misunderstood by) our religion, that should not trouble us either. We must keep wondering and yearning for more truth. No edition of our Christian Bible contains an endorsement by God, as Editor in Chief—stating “It’s perfect—don’t add or subtract a thing.” Jesus never saw the New Testament or signed off on it.
Now consider afresh one long-standing shouting match about the theory of evolution versus religion. That discussion usually proceeds with a tacit assumption in two parts:
that one cannot find value in any version of the theory of evolution without
evicting God from the universe and giving up any version of religion,
• that one cannot find value in any version of religion if one accepts any version of the theory of evolution.
Given these assumptions, one is forced to choose one or the other. But to me it obviously is a false dilemma. One does not need to choose between being a scientific (but anti-religious) zealot, on the one hand, or being a religious (but anti-scientific) zealot. Some of the greatest scientists in history, among them Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, plainly understood this. Aristotle pointed out that there is obviously considerable intelligence in nature. The marvels in nature and people are what a sane awe and wonder is all about. Marvelling at and trying to understand Nature and life and everything is was good religion and good science are all about.
There are, of course, some forms of religion from which proper science deserves full protection—the Catholic Church of Galileo’s time, for example, suppressed his work and held him under house arrest, forbidding him to share his views under threat of death—and banned his books. The Church did not recant that ban on his books until sometime in the late 20th Century—more than 300 years after Galileo’s death. Likewise, there are forms of perverted science from which religion needs full protection.
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Our US Constitution wisely protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion—the controversies and disagreements can be messy, but the “peace” and “order” of imposed tyrannical silence and suppressed thought and curiosity is really the peace of the grave. If you yearn for a life free of controversy and disagreement, I commend to your attention this little fictional advertisement I made up for my favorite fictional newspaper, The Newark Clock:
Affordable Perpetual Care Retirement in the Sunny Caribbean. Tired of being owned by your possessions? Looking to retire to a simpler and carefree life? Tired of pointless political bickering and perpetual campaigning? We offer possession-free, back-to-basics living in a controversy-free environment. We provide everything that we provide. Escape forever from winter's snowy chill. It never snows here, and we have ocean breezes (occasionally quite strong). Cuba Retirement Resorts--Fidel Castro, proprietor.
Before you opt to move into this fine resort, do realize that although it is very easy to move in, it’s almost impossible to move out.
© 2012 Steve Grow - All Rights Reserved
Steve Grow holds degrees in physics, law and philosophy. He is a retired lawyer who practiced business law for many years. He studied philosophy and cognitive psychology at the graduate level, including working with one of the world’s leading scholars on the work of Aristotle. He was co-editor in chief of his college newspaper. He has observed and wondered about history, psychology, religion, politics, journalism and good (and bad) government since childhood.
He believes that, now and always, the central problem in politics is monitoring and governing those in political positions—so that ordinary people are the ultimate governors and can hold those in office fully accountable. Ordinary people deserve, and need, full legal protection of their privacy. In contrast, all activities of those in government should be open to full scrutiny at all times. In a certain sense, ordinary people should be “ungovernable” and accorded a broad measure of privacy – on the other hand, politicians and their actions should be open to monitoring, closely watched and constrained. Anyone with a contrary view, he believes, is an enemy of freedom—wittingly or unwittingly.