Religion and Science

Religion is a coping mechanism for the harshness of life. It sustains people when reason and evidence can’t and guide them through the unknown into a better place. The fact that many middle and upper class people in wealthy nations have historically lost their interest in religion shows that they no longer need it as a coping mechanism since their quality of life has increased.

Religion, at its core, is a framework for how to live and make decisions. The customs, traditions and institutions associated with any given religion should not be mistaken for the core ideas of the religion. The fact that Catholic priests molest children is not necessarily a strike against the ideas that Catholicism puts forward (although it might be). It’s important here to separate the core ideas and its associated acts.

Having faith and believing in God do not mean that you believe in the literal existence of your chosen deity. The essence of faith is that you act in way that presupposes the existence of your deity, which entails following the framework laid out by your religion. The deity you choose is secondary to the positive effects that result when people adhere to the religious framework, which is why it’s stupid to fight over whose God is the one true God. If you’re doing that, you’re missing the point.

If some God actually presented themselves one day, there would no longer be any need for faith. Religious institutions would instantly be superseded by the rule of this supernatural being who comes down every Sunday to deliver judgment. In other words, religion would be replaced by supernatural governance since faith is no longer needed. Everyone can see the deity for themselves and everyone can feel the pain of his whip, there’s no need to believe in some abstract framework anymore.

What’s important is not believing that your deity (or deities) of choice literally exist. (If it helps you adhere to the straight and narrow path, then by all means, believe.) What’s really important is believing that you believe in the religion’s framework, or more specifically that following the core tenets of this framework in action and speech will lead you to a better place. This takes faith because the framework is so abstract, the commitment is demanding, the time line is long, and the feedback you get is scarce and inconclusive. It’s much easier to do away with this altogether and just live day-to-day with what you can see.

It helps if you believe in the literal existence of heaven and hell, God and the Devil because it raises the stakes and makes it that much easier to follow the core tenets of your religion (in this case, Christianity). But if you don’t, it would disingenuous to try and make yourself believe. If you don’t believe, it doesn’t matter, since you can be functionally religious. Someone who is functionally religious acts in way that is consistent with the religious framework in question but doesn’t believe in the literal existence of the deities involved. They are functionally identical to someone who does believe in these deities, minus some activities like going to church or stuff like that. Functionally religious people aren’t posers — in a way, they are the opposite, since they capture the true essence of their religion and leave off the decorative parts. Religious people believe in God and functionally religious people believe in the framework.

Science is an empirical knowledge-building activity that’s done collectively. It seeks truth and provides solutions to problems. Science is of no use when confronted with the very personal realities of suffering and mortality. This is the realm of religion since these problems are unsolvable, and so the best you can do is cope.

Science and religion clash when they step into each other’s realms, in other words, when religion is used to solve problems and science is used to cope with life (usually by explaining things or solving problems).

Atheists like to nitpick the creation story and other “factual” inaccuracies in religious texts saying that there is no value in the rest of the manuscript if these certain facts were incorrect. But in doing so they simultaneously miss the purpose of religious texts and the fact that they speak in metaphor and should not be taken as literal historical reports.

Proponents of religion often make the same mistake of interpreting their texts too literally, which leads them to adopt stances that make no sense from a scientific standpoint (e.g. anti-vax).

This is all to say that there is no reason that someone cannot practice science and religion simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they in no way conflict with each other.

And then there are consciousness-focused “religions”, the most notable of which is Buddhism. I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it seems to me like you can practice science, Buddhism, and an Abrahamic religion all at once, which is my way of saying that they don’t step on each other’s toes.

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John Doe

John Doe

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Processing information, stacking concepts. Writing this down so I don’t keep thinking about the same things over and over again