Religion and Science’s Perceived Conflict

From Pew Research Center:

People’s sense that there generally is a conflict between religion and science seems to have less to do with their own religious beliefs than it does with their perceptions of other people’s beliefs. Less than one-third of Americans polled in the new survey (30%) say their personal religious beliefs conflict with science, while fully two-thirds (68%) say there is no conflict between their own beliefs and science.

Put the other way, very few people think that their own beliefs conflict with science:

Respondents who have no religious affiliation are the most likely to think that science and religion, in general, are often in conflict, with 76% expressing this view. But just one-in-six religiously unaffiliated adults (16%) say their own religious beliefs conflict with science.

I didn’t expect the perceptual gap to be that wide. Fascinating.

Veneration

The new iPad launches today, promping the faithful throngs to queue at Apple stores (and authorized resellers) worldwide to obtain this latest object of desire that we didn’t know we could live without just two short years ago. I jump from them to “we” because I like my first generation iPad very much and, to my shame, I was in line to obtain it on its launch day about two years ago.1

What disturbs me about Apple is the religion of it. It’s not just that their customers have attached transcendent meaning to Apple and its products, but that Apple actively cultivates veneration. When I spent three shame-faced hours in line for my iPad two years ago, the employees came out clapping and cheering as the Apple Store was about to open, trying to whip us up into a frenzy. I gritted my teeth, feeling as awkward as a Jew at a Pentecostal revival. I didn’t want to get saved, I just wanted to exchange money for a consumer good.

It’s not that I’m just blaming Apple, but us as well. We’re the ones lapping this up; the ones lining up the night before for the “privilege” of getting to drop $500+ on one of these things. We’re the people whose only commitment is to instant gratification, but we conjure long-suffering as we reverently await the availability of a consumer good.

And yet, here I see glimmers of hope; of people striving to connect with something transcendent and significant. They’re horribly misguided, but the underlying impulse is sound and good. I believe that following Jesus in self-giving love is the answer to this religious impulse, but I’d settle for anything that looks a little more like service or love or justice and a little less like conspicuous consumption.


  1. As a web designer, I knew that the iPad would be incredibly important to test my sites on. Or so I justified it. 

Science is a Cultural System

In Mirror, Mirror: Religion Gets Explained, But Science …, we hear a pretty typical account of religion from scientific quarters:

A number of authors … have suggested that the human proclivity for acquiring and transmitting supernatural agent concepts is an incidental byproduct of cognitive mechanisms genetically adapted for other purposes. … have argued that religions are cultural systems that exploit such byproducts to adaptive effect.

In other words, religion is like a leech or a parasite, growing on human capabilities that have evolved to give us advantage in the world. And, scientists would be quick to add, there is no longer any evolutionary advantage for believing such nonsense.

There are a variety of angles from which that idea can be critqued, but Larry Gilman, the author of the aforementioned article, points out naivete about science itself by its practitioners:

But science, too, is “an incidental byproduct of cognitive mechanisms genetically adapted for other purposes,” as well as a “cultural system that exploits such byproducts to adaptive effect.” We didn’t evolve to do calculus, chemistry, and cognitive psychology; our ancestors evolved brains with a huge amount of built-in flexibility, and we have since found some remarkable uses for them. Science is a “cultural system” not in the sense that its narratives are arbitrary, but as a thing that exists only because human beings have figured out together how to do it, and whose standards, terms, and practices we have knocked together in social settings such as laboratories, journals, and universities.

There’s some more good insights in the article, including what this does and doesn’t mean for the truth of both science and religion.

Progress and Work

I cannot help myself. My duty as a blogger is to assume that whatever poor soul is still reading my blog is interested in everything I read. Wendell Berry is his usual painfully insightful iconoclastic self in this passage from What Are People For?

As a measure of how far we have “progressed” in our industrial economy, let me quote a part of a sentence from the prayer, “For Every Man in His Work” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer: “Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men.” What is astonishing about that prayer is that it is a relic. Throughout the history of the industrial revolution, it has become steadily less prayable. The industrial nations are now divided, almost entirely, into a professional or executive class that has not the least intention of working in truth, beauty, and righteousness, as God’s servants, or to the benefit of their fellow men, and an underclass that has no choice in the matter. Truth, beauty, and righteousness now have, and can have, nothing to do with the economic life of most people. This alone, I think, is sufficient to account for the orientation of most churches to religious feeling, increasingly feckless, as opposed to religious thought or religious behavior.

Berry, What Are People For?, 101

Charles Taylor is Very Wise

The Other Journal continues its long-running series engaging atheism, the latest of which is the first of three parts of an interview with Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor recently wrote a massive book called A Secular Age (which I plan to read very soon) which has basically redefined the subject of secularism in the West. In the interview, Taylor discusses a bit of what his book covers—that the theory of secularization as the passing-away of religion is no longer credible—and also has a few scorching remarks about the current spate of “new” atheism.

But discrediting the new atheists, as fun as it might be in a very limited sense, is mostly pointless and often counter-productive. Much like fundamentalist Christians, they see any criticism of their views as confirmation that they are correct. In this case, their thesis that all religious people are violent and ignorant is simply confirmed by any criticism coming from religious people. Again, while there is a very valid place for this criticism, there’s a larger question to be asked, one which Taylor gets exactly right:

But then what we need to do, and this is something many religious people fail to do, is to consider why this phenomena of the new atheism is happening at this time. Atheists are reacting in the same way that religious fundamentalists reacted in the past. They are people who have been very comfortable with a sense that their particular position is what makes sense of everything and so on, and then when they are confronted by something else they just go bananas and throw up the most incredibly bad arguments in a tone of indignation and anger. And that’s the problem with that whole master narrative of secularization, what’s called the secularization thesis, that people got lulled into—you know, that religion is a thing of the past, that it’s disappearing, that it did all these terrible things but it’s going to go away and so on—because when it comes back people are just undone.

If you missed the link up top, here it is again. I’m looking forward to parts two and three.

Dear God

There’s an interesting new site out there called Dear God which is a simple collection of (often anonymous) submitted prayers. It’s kind of like Post Secret, but more healthy (in my opinion). Here’s the blurb:

Dear God is a global project for people around the world to share their innermost hopes – and fears – through prayer.

It doesn’t matter what your version of God is…Jesus, Allah, Buddha or simply a spiritual universal energy… praying to a higher power soothes and heals. It’s scientifically proven that people who pray are healthier, happier and more resilient.

Share your prayers here and help us create hope one prayer at a time. Simply send us your personal letter to your God and/or a picture that sums up your message visually. (Dear God will source a picture if you don’t have one).

I’m normally not a huge fan of vague notions of religion such as this, but at the same time I’m fascinated by the universal hopes and fears that are exposed when people turn to God in prayer. What do you think?