Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion. Show all posts

16 October 2013

Sciencism and religiology

Sciencism and religiology do not exist for very good reasons. Neither would be an appropriate endeavour, both would be doomed to failure. It's necessary to use faith for religion and the scientific method for science. Any attempt to swap these methods would be extremely foolish.

Science and religion
Science and religion
Near the end of my previous post I asked two questions, "Why is there no widespread science of 'religiology'?" and "Why is there no widespread religion of 'sciencism'?"

I'd like to consider these questions now, and we'll start with the second one.

Why is there no widespread religion of 'sciencism'? - All religions involve believing something without tangible evidence and this is called "faith". I should be clear about what I mean by "evidence". Evidence is used in a court of law to help the jury decide whether or not a person is guilty of a particular crime. This is the same kind of evidence required in science to establish whether an assumption (called an hypothesis) is wrong.

Suppose there has been a murder or a theft. The evidence that a crime has been committed is always clear, there is a body or a missing piece of property. But the evidence that the suspect was responsible is often harder to find. It might depend on discovering fingerprints or a weapon and there may be counter-evidence. Perhaps the accused has an alibi.

Science is based on clear and reproducible methods of making observations, creating hypotheses, testing them and rejecting whatever can be proved to be wrong. In some ways this is similar to a court of law. Over a period of time, often decades, if an hypothesis has still not been disproved it may be regarded as a theory, that is, an assumption that seems sturdy and has survived every attempt to prove it wrong.

That's how science works (by means of abundant evidence from observation and experiment). Because of this there is nothing to believe, science is not a matter of faith, so there can be no religious aspect to science. The religion of sciencism doesn't exist because it is a contradiction in terms. Some people might "put their faith in science" in the sense that they expect it to explain everything leaving no room for religion. But that is a dangerous point of view.

There are areas that science does not and cannot investigate. For example, the idea that there is a Creator who brought the universe into being cannot be investigated. We can observe the universe as it is today and we can draw conclusions about its state close to the beginning. But "before the beginning" makes no sense and is open to speculation and to faith, but not to experiment or measurement.

Why is there no widespread science of 'religiology'? - Let's be clear what we mean. We can use some of science's methods to study religion, but not all of them. It is possible to count or estimate the number of people who adhere to a particular faith, their geographic distribution can be studied, so can their ethnic make-up.

However, this is not enough to make a true science. Certain elements are there, but others are missing. Studies like these are part of the so-called "social sciences".  They share careful observation and hypothesis with science, but they sometimes lack the testability by experiment that is also necessary.

Suppose you form a hypothesis, perhaps that some kind of god figure is essential in a fully functioning human society, or that any god must be a feature of human imagination and cannot be real. How do you test that? What experiment can you do to disprove hypotheses of that kind?

There is no science of religiology because religion is not susceptible to the scientific method. And that turns out to be the same reason there is no religion of sciencism. (There is, however, a Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Perhaps this goes against the argument I am making and might be evidence that my hypothesis is faulty.)

What can we conclude? - The only sensible conclusion to draw is that we need different sets of tools for the two domains, scientific tools based on observation and experiment for science and religious tools based on faith for religion.

This is why it is incorrect to claim that evolution is as much a matter of faith as creationism. Evolution is evidence-based, creationism is faith-based. We need to use the correct tools. The creationists are right about creation and wrong about evolution. Richard Dawkins is right about evolution and wrong about creation. The two camps cannot communicate because they are using different languages.

You cannot dismiss science by claiming that faith is required. You cannot dismiss religion by claiming the scientific method is required. Both stances are equally incorrect, both are equally foolish, and both miss the point.


Questions:

  • Why do you suppose there is so much heat and so little light in the debate?
  • Do science and religion threaten one another in some way?
  • Do they deal with two different parts of the human experience?
  • If so, why can't we all just accept that?

See also:

11 October 2013

Understanding science and technology

Truth is truth, and we have to deal with that, even if it seems terribly inconvenient. In particular, scientific facts are truth in the sense that they are demonstrable (by the scientific method) and effective (because they lead to technology that works).

George Boole
George Boole
Denying something that is a well-established theory and has stood years, decades or even centuries of attempts to disprove it is, well, foolish. Yet this is often what believers do (of all faiths) when faced with a scientific finding that seems to contradict articles of their faith.

And the technologies that work for us every day include some that demonstrate the effectiveness of those disputed scientific findings.

Some examples - The science around evolution, for example, underpins some effective technologies in plant and animal breeding, agriculture and medicine.

The science of geology explains the ancient origin of rocks and the movement of the continents but also underpins the petroleum and mineral extraction industries.

And the hotly disputed science around climate change is providing predictive technologies that are already showing their worth in longer term forecasting. Although this is not a religious argument per se, it is being argued in similar ways to the conflict over evolution.

Some of the earlier science/religion debates that were once high profile are now long-forgotten. Few people would argue today that the Catholic church was correct and Galileo wrong about the earth not being at the centre of everything.

Accepting science and religion - And here's something else that's interesting. Why are certain scientific ideas argued against so vehemently while others attract little or no attention? For example, Joshua 10:12-13 tells us that the sun and moon stood still in the sky. Yet this is not leading to a mass denial of angular momentum, classical mechanics or orbital mechanics which clearly show such a thing to be impossible.

Can we not accept that science attempts to describe and explain the physical universe while religion attempts to describe and explain the spiritual realm? The physical universe is known and understood by observation, experiment, and careful thought. The spiritual realm is known and understood by revelation. Why should science and religion be seen as in conflict? Science deals with that which is provable, religion deals with that which is not.

(The photo shows George Boole, who developed the mathematics for processing values of true and false. His work underpins some of the theoretical aspects of modern computing.)


Questions:

  • Is it helpful to keep science and religion separate in our minds?
  • Why is there no widespread science of "religiology"?
  • Why is there no widespread religion of "sciencism"?
  • Does it make sense to begin with a conclusion and then look for supporting evidence? In a court of law? In science? In religion?

See also:

28 May 2013

Islam and peace

The murder of a British soldier is just another example of violence between different groups of people. What is the greatest religious divide in our day? It may not be what you think or expect. But what we have in common far outweighs any of the differences we focus on so often.

Simulated image of the Earth
Following recent events in Woolwich, I want to write down my thoughts about the greatest religious divide of our time.

Just a week ago a British serviceman was brutally murdered by two men who justified the act by saying that British forces were killing Muslims.

The great divide - So what is that divide? You might pick something different, but for me the greatest religious divide is between violent fundamentalists on the one hand and everyone else on the other. Seen in that way, the great majority of Muslims are on the same side as the great majority of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and the rest.

Violent fundamentalists of any faith are a small minority, they always were and always will be. Most people are caring, kind, and want nothing more than to live peacefully and in safety. Fundamentalists are zealous and uncompromising about their beliefs, but only a few would say that violence is justifiable or necessary. And of those that say violence is justifiable, only a few would actually commit a murder. So the men who murdered the soldier are a minority of a minority of a minority. Islam has no monopoly on violent fundamentalism. We see it amongst Christians, Hindus, Jews, and even Buddhists.

Standing together - The vast majority of people in this world of any faith and of none must stand together. We must continue to declare peace to one another, to bless one another, and to recognise that all violence is wrong. We must make it clear that we do not accept violence as a way of solving problems and we oppose any person or organisation that does.

It's also important to remember that there may be many reasons for committing a violent act, not all of them are based on strongly held religious views. There are also political reasons, personal reasons, mental illness reasons and many more. Perhaps political reasons are the most common.

The brutal murder of an off-duty British soldier by driving a car into him and then hacking him to death causes fear amongst ordinary people. On the one hand the fear of Islamic fundamentalism is ramped up, and on the other hand the fear of reprisals against Muslims is also ramped up. It's a double whammy. It's likely that the motive, at least in part, was to raise tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. We must make sure those tensions are quickly calmed.

Peace and vision - To any Muslim in the UK reading this I say 'Assalamu alaikum', 'Peace to you'. I understand that you may be afraid of retaliation, under the circumstances that is natural. It's up to all of us to draw closer to one another, not just within our communities but between them too. Talk to your neighbours of other faiths and of none, understand that they may be just as anxious as you are.

I condemn all violence and threat of violence, regardless of who is responsible for it, who it may be aimed at, and whatever reason may be given for it. There can be no justification for one human being injuring or murdering another. Nor can there be any justification for damage to property, for threats, or for any kind of intimidation. Violence and destruction simply cannot be right.

Instead we need a vision for cooperation, peace and love. Here's a great, international demonstration of peaceful cooperation, the song 'We don't need no more trouble'. This wonderful video will give you a better sense of the spirit of cooperation and fun that is available to us if only we will accept one another - not as black or white, male or female, wealthy or poor, Muslim or Christian or Hindu, but as people. How hard can that be?

Yes, but - Oh - I should have mentioned something else.

There is a cost to the goal of accepting one another in love. There is always a cost. The cost is that we (I, you) must make the first move. No matter the injustice or issue between us, we must forgive and move forward - for all our sakes.

Let's remember, whatever our differences we are one people, all of us are related, one family, living on one Earth. Nothing should cause us to destroy one another. Nothing.

Questions:

  • In what ways can you, personally, reach across a divide in your own, local community?
  • Have you been unjustly treated, hurt, ignored, overlooked, or picked upon?
  • Why do you think it's so hard to make the first move in reconciliation?
  • What will happen if nobody makes the first move?

See also:

07 November 2012

A Bible free of religion?

The Religion-Free Bible is a project by Jim Palmer to develop a new paraphrase of the Bible. The objective is to inspire people to greater love, peace, compassion and harmony. It's a collaborative venture with everyone invited to be involved.

Life and religionJim Palmer, best known for his book 'Divine Nobodies', is working on a new project (Jim and a whole series of helpers, that is). Anyone can volunteer to help with the work of The Religion-Free Bible (RFB) Project. There are several ways to get involved. But first, what is the RFB?

I suggest you go to the RFB website and take a look. On the home page Jim provides twenty-five reasons for creating a religion-free Bible. One of his reasons is that the Father 'has no religion'. Another is that 'in the hands of the people, the Bible can be an instrument of love, beauty, peace, acceptance and harmony in the world.'

Here are two extracts from the RFB 'About' page...

The Religion-Free Bible Project exists to inspire more love, peace, beauty, goodness, acceptance, compassion, justice and harmony in the world by offering humankind a paraphrase of biblical passages, which combine texts and images to creatively capture the spirit and meaning of the Bible, free from the bias and baggage of man-made religion. The goal of the RFB Project is to make the Religion-Free Bible accessible to all people worldwide, and for 51% of our world population to have a copy of the RFB in some form.
...
Jim believes that the value of the Bible lies in its capacity to transform people’s relationship with themselves, God, others, life, and world, not perpetuating theological dogma or religious rules and rituals. In frustration about the disempowering spin on the Bible he often saw online, Jim wrote out a paraphrase of one of Jesus’ sayings and posted it on Facebook. He added and image to his post and referred to it tongue-in cheek as the JPV – Jim Palmer version. A significant response to this and other JPV posts, led to the idea of the Religion-Free Bible, which combines Jim’s paraphrase and images he has selected for each entry.

What does the RFB text look like? - This Bible is a paraphrase, a rewriting of the meaning using entirely new wording. It should not be regarded as a translation, there are plenty of those in many of the world's languages.

Other paraphrases include the 'Living Bible' and 'The Message', both of which are widely known and used. Unlike these, the RFB is luxuriously reworded in order to emphasise the meaning in all its richness. Like any paraphrase there is, of course, a degree of interpretation involved. It's the Bible as understood and experienced by Jim Palmer.

Here is John 3:16-17. Compare it with some other versions.

  • NIV (UK version) - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
  • The Message - This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
  • Religion-Free Bible - Love gives. Love is what brought me into this world. I am a gift, offered in love. Love desires your freedom. Love desires your wholeness. Love wants you to know yourself as complete. Love wants you to be at peace. My life was an invitation to this freedom, wholeness, peace and love. But my invitation is a choice. You have also been fed a lie about yourself that will ultimately destroy you. The lie says you are bad and worthless, irreparably flawed, defective and unacceptable, and undeserving of love and acceptance, even from God. I’m here to say that’s not true, and I’m asking you to believe me. Even when everything in your head or everything in your life seems to be evidence of the lie, I’m asking that you believe me instead. I’m going to be gone soon, and I need you to get this because I need your life to be that invitation as mine was. You are as much a gift to the world as I am, and I want you to accept and own that for yourself. Love never stopped giving. Love keeps birthing new expressions of the truth to awaken those lost in the lie. First, you have to wake up yourself and then your life naturally becomes the smelling salts this world needs.

Is the RFB going to succeed? - You will have to be the judge of that. All of you who choose to read it for yourselves.

The language is different from anything we've seen before. Does it put the sense over well? Will ordinary people understand it? Some people will feel it is a misleading version, that religion is an essential part of the Bible. Some will be unhappy that it leaves certain things out or adds other things in.

We must remember that it is an interpretation. I'm asking Papa to use it to open hearts and minds to the fragrance of his presence in this world and to reach many who reject religion but in doing so may also reject the truth of the Father's love for his creation.

I know this project won't please everyone and will offend some. But on balance I think it's a great idea and a worthy project and I will be supporting Jim any way I can.

All I ask of you, my readers, is that you take a look at the RFB Project and make up your own minds.

Getting involved - If you want to help, the RFB website has all the information you need. They are looking for financial support for the process of publication, of course. But they are also looking for practical help with photography, the writing/editing side and in getting the word out by telling friends and contacts.

Questions:

  • What do you mean when you use the word 'religion'? What do you think Jim Palmer means by it?
  • Is it possible to tell people about Jesus without being religious?
  • Was Jesus religious in what he said or in what he did? What sort of people liked him? What sort of people despised him?

See also:

16 October 2012

Debating science and faith

Science and faith sometimes appear to be at war. But is that inevitable? A conference in Switzerland is examining these issues and draws together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers.

The Whirlpool Galaxy
A conference is underway as I write, a conference with a difference. The whole affair is very refreshing and encouraging and exciting.

It brings together influential scientists, theologians and philosophers to discuss the nature of science and faith, and focusses on the Big Bang theory and the discovery of the Higgs boson.

The conference is being held in Switzerland and is called 'The Big Bang and the interfaces of knowledge: towards a common language?' The aim is to explore questions around the interface between science and faith and whether a common framework of knowledge might be possible.

You can download the programme as a PDF file (165 kB) or read brief details online from the website of the organisers, Wilton Park in collaboration with CERN in Geneva. There's also a very useful BBC News article about the conference 'Big Bang and religion mixed in Cern debate'.

Here's the introduction from the full programme...

The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model for explaining the genesis of the universe. To date it has the wide support of the scientific community because if offers the most accurate and comprehensive explanation for a broad range of observations. It leads to a dating of the universe as 13.7 billion years old.

The purpose of this conference is to enable scientists from a range of disciplines to dialogue with philosophers and theologians from the world religions about the nature of the Big Bang Theory. What understandings might scientists and theologians share in common? How are their paradigms shaped and developed? Is it possible to develop a common framework or language?

Why is this conference so exciting? Simply because it's an unusual opportunity to discuss and (perhaps) reconcile views that are often perceived to be irreconcilable. And it's exciting because the conference involves experts who would rarely meet together. When a record of the meeting becomes available it will make very interesting reading and should spark further debate in the wider community.

We might borrow the words of Pontius Pilate and simply describe the topic of this meeting as 'What is truth?' Pilate was caught in a dilemma between religion and politics. The dilemma this meeting is discussing is quite different - it's examining two different kinds of truth.

How do you see the debate? Is it possible for science and faith to agree about anything at all? Are the two views truly irreconcilable or do they actually threaten one another? Is there an unbridgeable gulf between the two?

See also
  • Relationship between religion and science - Wikipedia, undated - Encyclopaedic article on the topic with further references.
  • Science and faith archive - Patheos, undated - A collection of links and book titles on the topic, updated from time to time.
  • Science and faith - again - Journeys of heart and mind, 22nd August 2012 - How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?
  • Science and faithJourneys of heart and mind, 7th January 2012 - Can I have faith and accept science too? Is that an unreasonable position to hold? Recent discussions on Jesus Creed have provoked me to write on this topic again.
  • Science and faith - war or peace? - Journeys of heart and mind, 25th April 2010 - The origin of the universe, the origin of life, evolution - these are some of the topics that seem to be endlessly debated across the science/faith divide. Why does this happen, what are the root causes of the sometimes strongly-worded arguments? Perhaps it's time to take a fresh look.
  • Science and faith: The conflict - The Telegraph, 16th March 2009 - A new film opening at the Cambridge Science Festival this evening attempts to demonstrate that the divide between religion and science is not as great as it has been portrayed.

10 August 2011

St Neots (Cornerstone) - Distressed by church life

< 3rd August 2011 | Index | 25th August 2011 >

I had arranged to meet a couple at Cornerstone this morning but was late arriving. In the end that was not a problem and we spent several hours together. These two lovely people shared a story of church life causing pain.
Cornerstone Cafe and BooksMuch to my shame I forgot about the meeting and was only reminded when I received a 'We're here, where are you?' text on my phone. By the time I arrived at Cornerstone they had already left.

I ordered a coffee, called them, and was relieved to discover they were just exploring St Neots High Street. Very soon we were finally in Cornerstone together sitting, drinking tea and coffee and chatting.

The conversation was encouraging. They told me about some of their history in church life, a not unusual mix of good and less good. Church life tends to be good when we are all listening to the Holy Spirit and obediently doing whatever he tells us to do. It tends to be much more difficult when we are 'doing the best we can'. Rather than doing our best (which is never good enough) we need to get out of his way and let him do his best in us and through us. Sometimes the things that other earnest, well-meaning people do to us in the name of religion is distressing and disappointing.

I felt Father nudging me to give my new friends a copy of 'The Grace Outpouring', and shortly afterwards one of them said something about 'grace pouring in'. I popped down to the book counter, Angie sold me the last copy on the shelves, I scrawled a brief note inside and passed it across the table to them.

Because we were rather late starting, we still had plenty to share with one another as lunchtime came along so we stayed together and had a light lunch - sharing food as well as thoughts and conversation.

I showed them the meeting room and the healing room and we spent a useful time praying together. Father gave me a picture and a word for them but I'm going to share it here too as I think it applies to all of us.

I saw a pathway leading slightly uphill amongst scrubby woodland. I knew it was the way we should be following despite its poor condition. There were large rocks blocking the path, potholes, nettles and brambles. And the Lord said, 'You are on The Way, it is the right way, it's the way I have planned for you. The road ahead is not going to be easy, the road I have walked wasn't easy either. You will have to move some of the rocks, pull out the nettles and thistles, and fill potholes. Move those you can and the road will be a little easier for those following behind you.

I had a sense that The Way as it originally existed was perfectly straight and flat, but two thousand years of religion and tradition have damaged it and made it unsafe. But as we pass along we all have opportunities to improve the Way. Perhaps this is a picture of church life, rough, uneven, hard and sometimes painful yet improving little by little by the action of obedient servants who hear the Spirit's murmurings and obey him.

All three of us enjoyed our few hours together and were encouraged. We will meet again for sure and we will keep in touch. And we will walk The Way in the church and in the world - wherever the Master sends us.

< 3rd August 2011 | Index | 25th August 2011 >

08 October 2010

Eaton Ford (day) - New skins for new wine

Paul and I met at his home and enjoyed a great mix of talking, thought and prayer for friends and family, and Bible study. We're picking up in Mark's gospel where we left off back in the spring.

We read Mark 2:13-22, here are some of the main things we thought about together.

A man carrying a wineskinThere seems to be evidence here that Yahshua didn't plan what he did in quite the way we might do. It seems much more likely that he was just responding to his Father's guidance on a moment by moment basis. He went out for a walk by the lake and people gathered there, so he started teaching them. Then, still walking along, he spotted Levi at work. He called him to follow - and Levi did. He must have left the tax booth with the money and equipment - and just walked away!

Levi clearly invited him for dinner that evening, and Jesus went!

Doesn't he call us to live the same way, not planning but listening? He wants us to say what he says, and do what he does. He wants us to pay attention to him and then live his life in the world day after day. He wants to live inside us so that our words will be his words and our actions his actions. He wants the world to know him by seeing and hearing us! That is awesome!

The Pharisees asked Yahshua's disciples, 'Why does he eat with people who do wrong?' They thought that living according to rules would make them righteous and acceptable to the Almighty. But Jesus tells them that he came for sinners, not for the righteous.

The fast referred to would have been a religious festival and the righteous were certainly expected to adhere to it. It would have been like Ramadan for the Muslims, failing to take part would show contempt for the accepted religion. In that case, why were Yahshua's followers not taking part?

His answer must have been perplexing. He refers to himself as the bridegroom. Perhaps they wondered if he was going to get married!

Verses 21 and 22 are fascinating. Yahshua mentions an old garment and old wineskins. Surely he's referring to the rules of the Pharisees, the idea of fasting because it's customary, the need to avoid eating with sinners. These old patterns of behaviour will be utterly ruined and broken by the new thing that Jesus is ushering in! He's turning the world upside down.

The old rules no longer apply. For example, it's no longer enough to use a ritually cleaned cup to avoid defiling yourself; from now on the words that come out of a person's mouth will determine whether they are holy or profane.

31 August 2010

REVIEW - The End of Religion

This is not a full review of Bruxy Cavey's amazing book, 'The End of Religion'. It's just a few comments and a brief extract. But I feel strongly prompted to write these words so if you are prompted to read them - here they are...

The End of ReligionI forget where I bought the book, but I was intrigued by both the title and by the author's unusual name, so after an engaging and encouraging dip into the pages I went ahead and bought it. That was probably a year or two ago.

I really enjoyed this book - I mean really enjoyed it. For me there was refreshment on every page, I knew right away that the author sees Jesus much as I do. Bruxy Cavey understands that Jesus came to release us, not to bind us up with a thousand more dos and don'ts.

Recently I decided to give the book to a visiting friend. It encapsulates what he thinks too and if it refreshed me I think it will also refresh him.

Here's a little extract to whet your appetite for more. It comes from the introduction which is entitled 'The Holy Hand Grenade'.
I am convinced that the Bible holds clues to a way out of our slavish addiction to religious systems, while it simultaneously invites us into a direct connection with the Divine.

But isn't the Bible a book full of rules, regulations, rituals, and routines - the very stuff of religion? True, the many texts of the Bible, especially those of the Old Testament (that part written before Jesus), do contain laws and rituals, systems and institutions. But these religious ideas are not its starting point or its ending point.

The Bible begins by painting a picture of the ideal world - a world without religion, a garden where God and people live in naked intimacy. This was God's original intention for humankind. In the Bible it is only after people turn away from his ideal of mutual trust and intimacy that God gives them rules and routines, traditions and teachings - but this is not the end of the story.

The rules and rituals of the Bible are like a map that leads to a great treasure, though they are not the treasure itself. I think this is what the revered Jewish poet and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel is driving at when he says, 'Religion as an institution, the Temple as an ultimate end, or, in other words, religion for religion's sake, is idolatry.'

Religious people often tend to confuse the treasure map for the treasure.

If you want to buy the book you can get it from Amazon. But if you live anywhere near St Neots in Cambridgeshire I urge you to visit Cornerstone, have a coffee and a delicious bite to eat, and pick it up or order it while you're there.

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