Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Faith of Reason

Over at the Huffington Post, Sam Harris, has a quite controversial post bodly entitled Science Must Destroy Religion. Let’s get to the meat:

Religion is fast growing incompatible with the emergence of a global, civil society … I am hopeful that the necessary transformation in our thinking will come about as our scientific understanding of ourselves matures. When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths. Only then will the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu be broadly recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is.

So I guess there is a nugget of truth in the generally false belief that liberals seek to use science to destroy religion. Mr. Harris is not going to put out any fires with this well-written but profoundly shallow opinion.

First and foremost, anyone who thinks religion is the sole or even predominant cause of strife in this world is guilty of gross oversimplification. Conflict and suffering come from a great number of causes. The American Revolution, The Civil War, WWI, WWII and Vietnam were all wars fought on grounds that were predominantly secular. The current war on terror is obviously much more rooted in religion, but even here, religion is just one piece of the puzzle.

As for the power of science, I personally love it. But I deeply disagree with those who think science is the only means of understanding our world. To me, science and religion are two pieces in the same whole and, through us, they are joined. We have a mind that can understand our world in scientific detail and a spirit which seeks and senses that greater something, that oneness we call God.

Sam Harris seems to think that mankind’s natural state is one of reason—that, to be more pure, we must embrace pure reason. In his eyes, we are imperfect but can achieve a more perfect and enlightened state by embracing science as our exclusive belief system. But wait, isn’t the driving force behind religion a conviction that we can achieve perfection and enlightenment through a specific set of beliefs. Isn’t Mr. Harris placing in science the same starry-eyed hopes and, ultimately, the same destructive failings he sees inherent to religion?

The path of science is a great one, but it’s no more likely to create a great and loving world than is religion. Such pure belief in the power of science takes, well, a serious leap of faith.

Thanks to amba for the tip on this story.

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