Well, here we are folks, well into the twenty-first century and we’re still facing the same old problem: conflict between religion and science. Most of the conflict is verbal, often quite heated, but at least the two sides aren’t violent. The other end is the warfare between open, democratic societies and the religious fundamentalists who hate us.
What’s going on here?
Well, whatever it is, it’s been going on for centuries. An old song that just keeps playing, even though nobody likes the tune. For example, there’s the old standby of evolution versus creationism. Seems like that argument has been with us forever. Many conservative Christians believe that the Bible tells them the world was created in a six day period less than ten thousand years ago. Scientists have determined that all the evidence points to the formation of Earth about four to five billion years ago. Seems like this should be an easy one to resolve, right? But it ain’t happening.
Even though we can’t resolve the old issues, new ones keep piling on. A good one (well, not really a good one) is the issue of homosexuality. Scientists have concluded that homosexuality is a completely natural sexual orientation occurring in a small minority, caused mainly by genetics. On the other hand, religious conservatives believe that it is an unnatural, sinful state chosen by or taught to the individual. How do you bridge that gap?
And then there are the emerging issues, the ones just beginning to come into view. In my novel, Unholy Domain, I attempt to describe the oncoming issue of artificial intelligence versus natural humanity. Pay attention to Adam Jordan, the First Minister of the Church of Natural Humans, speaking to his congregation in 2022:
“Listen carefully to what Lucifer says,” Jordan said, his voice cracking. He swallowed, watching the faithful, his passion pressed to the limit. He took a breath, then another.
“He offers this bargain: through technology, he will restore our civilization to a greater level of material riches. In order to gain this wealth, you must allow the Technos to create artificial beings, godless abominations that will rule the earth. But even that is just a step along the path to an even viler future. The elements of our human bodies and minds are to be replaced, step by step, with synthetic genes and artificial components. Humans are to evolve into a new species. Technological Man they call it.”
“Never,” cried a female voice among the believers. Others echoed her cry.
“Now why is the Devil doing this?” Jordan asked. “Why?” He paused, looking across the crowd. “The reason is simple, yet horrible beyond belief. In this secular world, your soul is your link to God. When the Devil replaces aspects of your humanity with artificial components, he weakens your connection to the Lord. When he inserts a synthetic gene into your body, he disrupts God’s plan. At some point, as your humanity shrinks and the artificiality grows, the link to the Lord will be severed. And when the Devil destroys that link, it’s gone forever.
“I beseech you to save your immortal soul. Do not be fooled by Lucifer. Do not join the Domain.”
Shaking his head, Jordan ranted, “Would you trade your immortal soul for a few moments of comfort? That, my fellow humans, is Lucifer’s offer. An eternity in hell in exchange for a handful of comfortable years on this Earth.”
We’ll kill all the Technos, he thought. I’ll see the Antichrist’s bones burn in this church.
Righteousness powered his words. “You must reject this bargain,” he shouted. “Do not become a citizen of the Domain, for doing so shall seal your fate. Cast your lot with humanity; live and die as a Natural Human.”
A man in the third row stood up and shouted, “We despise all their abominations.” The man’s face contorted with hate. “We’ll kill them all.”
The crowd roared.
Maybe a touch dramatic, but you see what’s just around the corner. Will it never end? What’s causing all this conflict, anyway? I mean, really causing it.
There are two layers, as I see it. First, realize that scientists and clerics share a common problem. Both take a world that can’t be fully understood and try to explain its fundamental properties.
Clerics postulate beliefs that can never be proven; they demand you accept these postulates as your Faith, which will guide your actions and thoughts. Fundamentalists believe that God has revealed the Truth in scripture; no compromise of these beliefs is possible. It’s a top down way of thinking; start with the big picture and derive rules for living. Fundamental knowledge is static. Even the derived rules rarely change.
Scientists work from the bottom up. They build a baseline of observations and formulate theories to explain these phenomena. Nothing is sacred; with new observations, theories are discarded or modified to fit the facts. A scientist may or may not have a personal belief in the existence of God, but at most a scientist believes in a passive Deity that doesn’t interfere with nature.
Okay, that’s the first level. But why are clerics top down and scientists bottom up thinkers? It has to be a combination of genes and parental guidance. Genes set the foundation; you’re either accepting of faith or your nature demands evidence. Parental guidance plays a role, too; if your folks raise you Catholic, you are more likely to remain within that religion. On the other hand, if your parents are atheists, you’re more likely to become a skeptic.
Science and religion; how could they not be in conflict? Tolerance seems possible, maybe, but this might be wishful thinking. A religion-dominated culture would have to accept the existence of a science-dominated culture. Women’s rights, homosexuality, abortion, evolution, and all that stuff. This is pretty tough for a fundamentalist to swallow. Even more difficult is accepting a large group of people who don’t believe in the True Religion. Kill the infidels – it’s God’s command. A prime example of this is Al-Qaeda.
Not that the science-based cultures are without blame! We think we’re intellectually and morally superior to the faith-based cultures, and we take advantage of them. But at least we’re not flying airplanes into buildings.
So here’s my conclusion, and it’s not pretty. Religion and science are irreconcilable. At best, each can give the other a little space and allow peaceful co-existence. But not always. As an American, I see continuing divisiveness within my country as the sectarian and religious groups press for advantage. Not violence, but plenty of heat and anger. And that’s the good news. Here’s the bad: religious, primarily Moslem, fundamentalist will continue to attack us for years to come.
And that’s why science and religion don’t mix.