This article follows on Religion & Science: Another perspective.

The words we use are intended to either contribute to a dialogue or to halt it all together. “Religion” is one of those terms which are used in so many contexts and with so many different intentions, it becomes almost meaningless (For an example this see the debate between Jeff Bethke and Fr. Claude Burns aka Fr. Pontifex). Allow me to define how I understand and use it.

Religion is the embodied form in which faith is uttered; it is the rituals, symbols and the dogmas which makes up the building blocks by which we know a certain faith. As such, religion is a neutral concept with a descriptive function, in as far as it describes what a person or persons believe in. In the process it groups people together that use similar words, concepts and rituals; hence we refer to Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and Pastafarianism as religions.

In using the term we are however faced with at least two problems. Firstly we are faced with the challenges and limitations of language. Just because someone uses the same words, concepts and rituals, does not mean they adhere to the same set of believes. For example, if someone breaks bread and drink wine with a meal does not mean that they are taking part in the Christian Eucharist. In other words, it might be that people are think they are saying the same thing or doing the same thing, when they are in actual fact saying and doing completely different things.

The second problem is that a specific religion is often judged by the behaviour of individual believers or groups of believers. Once again the choice of individuals to evaluate any given religion often says more about the person doing the selecting rather than the religion. In each and every religion there are examples of people who do not seem to be capable of walking the talk and people who seem to epitomize the very essence of what the specific religion is about.

In the current debate the use of the term religion is similar to the use of statements which include “believe in”. I am complete agreement with MemeMan that it is frustrating when one engages in critical dialogue with people of faith and the formula “believe in” becomes a scapegoat. The same frustration is felt when opponents of faith uses the dark side of religion as a scapegoat when engaging in critical dialogue with people of faith.

What can be said, that many people of faith is more than willing to engage in critical dialogue with people with a different perspective on faith, religious sets and also those who oppose a faith perspective altogether. What becomes clear from the comments column on articles such as this is that many people of faith as well as those who oppose faith is not willing to engage in critical dialogue. As a Christian I am more than willing to admit that I am complete wrong in my understanding of who God is or is not. I am even willing to admit that the possibility exists that the concept of God is purely a construct of the human mind and psychology. Faith-based language has limitations and should not strive to explain things that falls outside of its scope.

I would venture that the only requirement dialogue partners from a faith perspective, as described above, has is the same attitude from the dialogue partners from other perspectives. In terms of the science dialogue partners, it would mean an acknowledgement of the limitations of scientific knowledge and the fragmented or one-sided perspective of the scientific method as well as the important role that educated guesses play in the development of theories. One such an example is the important role that the Higgs boson plays in the Standard Model of particle physics but, at this time, is a hypothetical elementary particle.

The implication of this is that not everything in the world is describable through the scientific language set, that not everything that exists are measurable, that not everything in the cosmos is falsifiable, at least not in the sense used by the Scientific model, and that other language sets are necessary to offer description of some of the realities we are faced with every day.

The sad part being that on every side of the debate you’ll find fundamentalists who have an inability to at least accede the hypothetical possibility that their own paradigm might be intrinsically flawed and does not have the ability to explain the whole of Reality. In truth the Science Method has already made a great contribution to our understanding of us and the eco-system, as well as universe, of which we form a part. Since the earliest days of mankind, the language of faith has also made a significant contribution. It might just be possible that the roots of our current civilization can be found in religion, the embodiment of faith; the basis of this theory being the ancient temple Göbekli Tepe. At the same time the language of faith has made some horrendous contributions, the Crusades being a point in case. Likewise, the scientific language set has made some terrible contributions, for example the leveling of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It might just be that the worst atrocities are committed when the extremists on either side co-opts the language of the other in order to justify or carry out their respective ideologies. Maybe some of the most celebrated achievements of (wo)mankind are achieved when an honest and critical dialogue exists between different language sets, in this case religion and faith.

In conclusion to this installment of my contribution to the dialogue marking the News24 user content at the moment, I would urge a certain amount of humility on every side of the argument, an acknowledgement that we are not quite as clever as we think we are; as the faithful that we do not have such an intimate knowledge of God as we would like to portray, and as the scientists that we do not have quite the clear picture of the whole as we would like to portray. It might just be possible that the Theory Of Everything will include both the scientific and faith language sets as well as other we might not even foresee at the moment.

The next installment will focus on faith as a way of seeing this reality.

 

 

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