Thursday, May 09, 2019

"The force of our religious intuitions, and of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction"

I'm close to finishing up the manuscript for a book on science and religion in America. At the end, I step back and offer some final reflections. Here's an excerpt of the current version.

If history is a guide, America will continue to blend various forms of belief with unbelief,
rationality and emotion. In that mix, it seems that we as Americans love both religion and science, or what the scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead named 
“The force of our religious intuitions, and the force of our impulse to accurate observation and logical deduction." A. N. Whitehead on religion and science
The curiously American ingredient in this conversation is our dogged insistence on freedom. This often turbulent mix represents a fundamental component to American life, in which we negotiate science and religion’s relationship. Along these lines, historian James Gilbert offered this insight, 
"One of the most creative impulses of American culture is the continuing presence of religion at the heart of scientific civilization." James Gilbert

And what we do in this country resonates throughout the world. We are, to be sure, a remarkably religious people with indicators of religiosity much higher than should be the case for an industrialized nation.This is of course part of what it means to be human. Homo sapiens are Homo religioso—a fact undergirded by contemporary scientific studies

Or as philosopher of technology Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) once quipped, 
“Man does not live by machine alone.” Lewis Mumford
I’ve learned that our work in relating these two poles, represented conveniently by “religion” and “science”—the rational, taxonomizing, and analytic, alongside the emotional, blurring, and synthetic—represent a key part of what it means to be human, and not simply what it means to be American. 

As for those, like myself, who hold to a religious tradition—in my case, an orthodox Christianity—I want my faith to engage with mainstream science. And most Christians do not see a conflict. As Ecklund and Scheitle comment
“After five years of research, here is what we know: Religious Americans of all types are interested in and appreciate science.” Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle
For the sake of our souls individually and as a nation, we will be at our best when we learn to bring together science and religion into the integrated whole or at least into a détente. It does not seem warranted to insist, along the lines of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, or Andrew Dickson White and William Draper before them, that these two must fight out to the death. I think that might be the death of our culture’s vitality. 

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