Tag Archive: science


It seems that the one constant on internet forums, at least as far as religious dialogues go, is intolerance for the other opinion. Believers don’t gladly suffer non-believers and vice versa, Christians versus Atheists, Muslims and even other Christians, and again vice versa.

Christians so often take a type of spiritual high ground, claiming to know something or at least someone that the others don’t. Sometimes they even claim to know something of someone which other Christians don’t. A subjective understanding is mistaken for an absolute acquaintance and intimate knowledge of the ultimate mystery. It seems the humbleness of the Rabbi is forgotten.

Non-believers, on the other hand, often retreat into the bastion of reason. From here they lob high-handed pronouncements, often in the form of insults, to the so called dim-witted, superstitious believers who hold on, according to them, to worldviews and other opinions that was already thrown out with yesterday’s trash.

Why is it that these forums are so often riddled by an intolerant few? I would like to venture two reasons although I am certain there are many more that can be considered. Firstly, it seems that any chest-beating is accompanied by a certain sense of insecurity, that 0.0001% of doubt that creeps in during the quiet of the night. A sense that maybe, just maybe, we are not quite as right, quite as absolute as we would like to be; a nagging sense that there might be more to the universe, the world, and even transcended, at least other, realities to my own. With all the data we are bombarded with every day, it is almost impossible not to acknowledge that the model we build and the narratives we construct does not 100% reflect Reality nor Narrative. This begs the question, is there such a thing as Reality or Narrative and, if there is, can we have objective, maybe even subjective, access to it?

It does however seem that the more and louder the chest-beating seems to be, the louder and challenging our own insecurities is, at least as far as the way we build our models and narrate our stories.

Secondly, it seems that we suffer from a good dose, maybe a severe overdose, of arrogance. We simply know. Contrary to the postulation that we might not have the free access to the Reality that we think we have, we construct from the perspective that we do not only have access to Reality but that we have unbridled, objective, and absolute access. It seems that we think that we can transcend ourselves in order to be completely objective and have the language ability to formulate the exactness of the Reality without limiting it. Of course only the I and those who agree exactly with the I has this ability. What is interesting is the assumption that we can transcend our own subjectivity at will, but that something Transcendent can’t exist.

Thus, maybe it is time we should all heed the call of the ancients and the contemporaries, from Confucius, The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Day, Karen Armstrong, and The Dalai Lama that the mark of an adult person who lives with happiness and contentment in his/her skin, one would be able to argue, in her/his own faith, is the ability to live with the Golden Rule, with compassion. And if you are wondering what this rule is, here it is in its positive form: Do onto others as you would like them do onto you, this might just lead to dialogues where we listen to others and really hear them, rather than construct what they are saying from our own preconceived ideas.

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A word of gratitude is owed to Mememan for an engaging series of postings on the relationship between Religion & Science. His first article was a short introduction and defining of the concepts faith, belief and understanding. The second article was a more detailed introduction to the definition of science and the way the Science Method should be understood. His third article is a continued exposition on the value of science opposed to the serious flaws of the religious paradigm. The articles are well written from the perspective of someone who values the Scientific Method and has a very specific understanding of religion, albeit a little one-sided. In order to further true and open dialogue between different perspectives, which is another of the pillars of the Scientific Method, I offer a few articles from another perspective, one of faith.

It is possible to accept the opening statements of the above mentioned articles as fact, that “people of faith gravitate to their worldview by faith alone” and that “the hierarchical ranking within a religious society is directly proportional to the individual’s ability to believe dogma in the face of evidence to the contrary”. However, both these statements are not so objective nor absolutely true. In fact, it paints all people of faith with a very stereotypical and simplistic brush.

Many people of faith, from the Christian and other religion (May I interrupt myself and say that I am writing from a Christian perspective and from now will not venture to speak for faith-people of other traditions. It also holds that I am not speaking for all Christians across the board, as I am sure will be evident from the Comments)., are very critical about the world and also their faith. For many Christians faith is an act of seeking, about being curious about the world and that which is beyond the world. St Anselm (1033-1109) already coined a phrase that described faith as seeking to understand, fides quaerens intellectum, and this long before the Scientific Method.

At this point it might be appropriate to throw another term into the mix, namely experience. I think it might just be possible that all people of faith arrive at their belief based on experience. It is conceivable that at a primal level, before language and thought takes over, people have an experience that, in the long run, begs for articulation, that offers the very foundation of the individual’s existence. And articulate we do; every person in a different way, similar to some and completely dissimilar to others. The way we articulate, and therefore interpret this experience, depends on who we are, where we live, our education, income, sexual inclination, sex, race, age and a myriad of other factors. It might even be that a number of scientists are using the language of science to give expression to this experience, that it is this experience that fuels their drive and curiosity to learn more, to seek more and to understand more. One might even be tempted to argue that many scientists are motivated by the belief that what they are doing will yield a result, which might or might not exist, to solve some or other problem which will better the lives of people or the ecosystem as a whole.

In this opening article I would like to make two other, but very brief, comments.

Firstly, although most Christians believe in a Creator-God, it shows a certain lack of understanding to paint all Christians as Creationists. The term has a very specific use and refers to people with a very specific dogma. Although I believe that God created, I also admit that I have no idea how (S)He) did it; in my mind evolution is the best answer to the question of how we have till now.

Secondly, understanding smacks a little bit of the hubris mankind (sic!) is known for. Physicists are telling us that what they happily described as being the whole of existence is turning out to be approximately 5% of the whole and that they have a vague suspicion of another 10 or 15 percent but that beyond that, they are essentially clueless. Now if you write theories, hypothesize, correlate, deduce et cetera on 5% of the whole and make it applicable to whole; well it sounds a lot like belief, or, would some argue, it smacks of God-complex.

So in conclusion, to this part, I would argue that both faith and science seek to understand, that honest scientists (lay and trained) and honest theologians (lay and trained), do so with integrity and sincerity, but with different ways of articulating their experiences. That belief is to be found in the most sterile of laboratories and that critical though and a questioning dispensation can be found in the most sacred of worship spaces.

I’ll write on the concept “religion” in the next article in this series of responses.

I am privilege that a recent blog entry, God is dead! Or is (S)He)?, was duplicated on www.news24.com. This entry was fairly popular and solicited an active debate. To be expected there were pundits who claimed that God was dead indeed, or, that God cannot be dead as (s)he) never existed to start with. On the other hand there were those who vigorously defended their belief, based on personal experience, faith and Scriptures.

Evolution, the tension between religion and science, Pascal’s wager and a number of other arguments surfaced amongst the, probably to be expected, stereotyping from both sides. The one argument, against the existence of God, which I would like to address, is that of causality.

The argument goes something like this. Nature is governed by the law of causality; nothing can exist without something else causing it. It is within the context of a causal world that the faithful confesses a Creator-God, which is the origin or source of all that exists, including the laws that orders our natural world. The critique that is levelled at the identification of this first cause with a personal deity is that of the continuity of causality; who or what created the Creator? Why stop at Creation, the Big Bang or the Big Bang as creation event as the start of the causal chain?

In my mind the assumption that everything is governed by the law of causality is based on our extended experiences of the natural world. In order for something to happen, it must be caused by another event. From here it is a small jump to conclude that this is the only way that anything is possible and, as such, if there is no cause, then the resulting reaction cannot exist. The fruit that grows on this tree is the question that, if God exists, who caused or created him, it or her and if no such a cause can be identified, God obviously does not exist.

Into the debate, enters the Black Swan Theory, popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan. This theory postulates that certain events falls so far outside the scope of personal experience that it cannot be predicted in any way. The theory is named after the falsification of an old world presumption. In 16th century London the statement “black swan” referred to something that was impossible. The current and historical experience at the time was that all swans had white feathers and therefore the popular conclusion was that the occurrence of a black swan was indeed impossible. It was only when a Dutch expedition in 1697 discovered black swans in Western Australia, that the presumption was falsified.

What does this have to do with the law of causality and the question to who or what created (or caused) the Creator.  Simple; why do we contend that we know everything and that the law of causality is an absolute truth. It might just be that there is a black swan waiting on the causal horizon and that this horizon is closer than we care to imagine, that is, if relativity and quantum mechanics are to be believed.

So says Nietzsche and many others agree. Huxley was of the opinion Darwin did the deed, but is it that simple? Is all that is needed for God to die the opinion of an intellectual minority of the world’s population, which happen to reside mainly in the affluent West?

I have a growing suspicion it is not quite as simple as that. It seems that (wo)mankind have been religious from their earliest awakening. One of the earliest examples of human religious experience and expression is the awe inspiring Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave paintings in southern France with an early dating somewhere in the region of 32 000 – 30 000 BCE. The cultural heritage of this cave precedes the caves at Lascaux with almost 15 000 years!

Through the centuries the idea of God developed, were defined, redefined and cross-pollinated. The one constant being that people from all walks of live from every conceivable corner of planet lived from the basic knowledge that there is something like a God, a higher power or energy, that is the source and sustenance of all Life.

Then the ability of man to harness fossil fuels and utilize industrial-orientated machinery changed the world. Suddenly we had the luxury of power and time, and the concept of knowledge changed. For our survival, at least for some, we were not at the mercy of the natural environment anymore. In those reaches where this revolution had an impact (wo)mankind felt on top of the universe; who needed God? This feeling of invincibility and spare time allocated to thought combined for the inevitable conclusion that God is nothing more than the desperate projection of those in need. How arrogant could we become?

Nature is giving us the answer; very! It seems that at the pinnacle of our knowledge, the new kind; it was and is limited, even in regarding to the ecosystems on, around and under Earth. Through natural disasters, changing climates, oil spills and shrinking water resources, to name but a few, we are learning the hard way that not everything can be fitted into a neat system with the little knowledge we have.

It might be that God is a figment of our desperate imagination, but the claim that God is dead, is merely another statement of our ignorance. How do we know? Maybe the wheel has turned enough that we must acknowledge with generations past and present that we do not understand at all, but that, somewhere deep inside, there is an almost primal experience, the old type of knowledge, of that which can be called God.

Questioning Reality

“Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one”      –              Albert Einstein

Juxtaposing God and reality is one of the popular statements of the day. God is un-visible and therefore, the argument goes, not a reality. However, before we commit ourselves to this statement too quickly; let us, for a moment, think what reality is.

The term “reality” originates in the Late Latin word realis which refers even further back to res; which might be translated with a thing or object or a matter, affair or circumstance. It was only in 1597 that the meaning of “actually existing” and in 1647 that “real existence” was ascribed to the word reality. Before these dates reality wasn’t purely used in terms of that which is visible.

Modernity seemed to coerce people into accepting the visible as the only reality and that scientific proof is the golden definition of the visible. Proof of reality is however not as easy to come by as it sounds. Before scientific proof is accepted, as the last word on reality, we do have to question how we know that the world, as we experience it, is not a projection of the mind.

Do our bodies exist, do others exist, does the earth exist, do natural laws exist, do others have feelings, thought processes and experiences like ours and do we use language in the same way? These realities, which form the basis of our world and sciences, are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to proof. Using any of our senses as proof, results in a circle argument; very similar to the one religion is accused of.

The reality of the answers to these questions are not based on proof but on acceptance or faith, a throwback to the original meaning of the word reality; that which refer to an object, matter or circumstance of existence.

Each of us accepts the answers to these questions in different ways thus creating our perceptions and, as the saying goes, perception is reality. This makes it impossible for us not to acknowledge and respect each other’s realities and not to realize that Reality might be more than the sum of our realities.

In search of our Story.

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people”  –  Albert Einstein

We are beset by two questions: Who am I and where do I belong? The first question is answered in “my story” and the second is answered by a “master story”. My story is a fairly easy thing to write with some thought and time. It starts at birth, ambles through early childhood, primary and secondary school, maybe university, marriage or not, hobbies and interest and continues to the day of our death.

My story however has the danger to start floating in space if it is not connected to something more; to a Master Story.  It is clear from Einstein that we sense this Master Story but we are not to clear on what it is. We do know that this story will always include that we exist for others.

This aspect I think is being denied by the popular Master Story of the day. It seems that people today use their existence as motivation for self gratification and advancement at the cost of others. The prevalent paradigm is not that I exist for others but that they exist for me. Evolution and the “survival of the fittest” maxim become the pillars of thought and the critique of a God-centre must be destroyed at all cost. The goal becomes a nihilistic quest for satisfaction before death ends it all. This Master Story is essentially a self-centred story.

The counter culture Master Story is that of a God-centred story. People are acknowledge as being more than mere animals; entities that is created in the image of Community. It acknowledges that we do not live primarily for ourselves but that we live for others. Death is not an end but a transition to something other. The Master Story of faith gives hope and purpose; it focuses us on the other.

In a world that is besieged by all kinds of crises; we could do worse than to take to heart the advice of Einstein that “only a life lived for others is worth living”. It might solve some of our problems, not immediately, but in the long run; problems of the community, economics, environmental and maybe even the self.

Religion is reality

Somewhere in our distant past something happened. What we do not know exactly and about the how we do not too much either. What we do know is that this development resulted in some of this world’s most precious treasures. The date range spanning this period and the creation these treasures is extensive; the earliest records of art can be found from as early as 32 000 BC, the statutes that might depict the Mother Goddess from 24 000 – 22 000 BC and then a dramatic “evolutionary” event around 13 000 – 11 000 BC.

Most, if not all, of the remnants of these times are in the form of cave paintings and sculptures; all of it dates from long before writing was developed. We do not know what purpose or role these ancient artefacts fulfilled or what the purpose or role the creation of it fulfilled.

What we do know is that many of these paintings are in places that were not used for accommodation and that most of the paintings and statutes have an “other worldly” feel. The prevalent, scientific opinion is that these artefacts were used in religious rituals of sort. These rituals might have been to ease the passing of the deceased, the influencing of the seasons, preparation for the hunt and the celebration of important life phases.

Although we do not know too much about the how and why; we can deduct with safety and conviction that from the earliest time human beings celebrated their spirituality in the shape of some or other religious expression. It seems that from the earliest self awareness, (wo)man also celebrated an awareness of something “other”.

It is only recently that human beings have started to reject their spirituality, starting juxtapose religion against reality as an intellectual achievement. It seems that with all our knowledge and technological advances, in our quest to be the masters of our universe, we have regressed to be the puppets of our own needs, wants and lusts.

Religion is human reality. Denying this is likely to deny that humans need a certain mixture of air to breath and a certain cleanliness of water to drink. Denying it is to deny ourselves.

People of faith (especially Christians) are often described as being close-minded (Religion vs Reality), holding on to primitive superstitions and believing in fairy tales.  It is difficult to say anything on the latter two. Any discussion on it soon degrades to a level of I say – you say, with both parties holding onto their dogma with ardent passion.

However, I think something can be said about the first. The Free Dictionary defines close-minded as “[being] Intolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others; stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas.” This can certainly be true of people of faith, but I venture to say it can be possible of anybody; even those who profess disbelief.

The quintessential question must be how to open our minds? What does it mean to have an open mind? The how I don’t think is too difficult; respecting the humanity of the other party, listening and understanding what the other is saying and the loss of a judgemental attitude is all important to keeping our minds wide open.

While listening and not judging there is two, amongst many, premises we need to re-evaluate in expanding our minds and keeping them wide open. The first is the maxim that only the visible exist, and secondly, if by a minuscule chance the invisible (or metaphysical) does exist, the same rules that apply here should apply there.

A number of things which is invisible to our senses and immeasurable to our science do exist; emotions, dreams and the future is a few that comes to mind.  The moment one concede that some things that does exist indeed dwell in the realm of the metaphysical; it is a small step to realize that these things do not adhere to our rules; love certainly does not subscribe to a set of scientific laws (if only), dream science is in its infancy and our children’s world will definitely function on a different set of rules.

Accepting that the metaphysical do exist by no means proves the existence of God; that will always stay a matter of faith. It does however put a brake on our claims to be able to objectively reason to the conclusion that religion makes no sense and that God does not exist.

At the very least; living with an open-mind means that we accept the hypothetical possibility that God does exist and that to find true happiness one maybe need to focus on more than just our own needs and wants. The only Reality includes our science, our love, our dreams and our beliefs, even if we believe we don’t.

It does seem that those who profess some kind of faith in the metaphysical lives with a mind slightly more open than those who only acknowledges knowledge based on scientific observation.

A scary day…

It is a scary day when we think of ourselves as merely animals.

It is a scary day when we think of ourselves as purely spiritual beings.

It is a scary day when we lose our community.

It is a scary day when we lose our individual humanity.

It is a scary day when we deny our own identity

It is a scary day when we focus purely on our own needs.

It is a scary day when (wo)man is seen as the centre of the universe.

It is a scary day when we lose our connection to planet Earth, to the soil.

It is a scary day when my faith prompts me to belittle someone else’s.

It is a scary day when we forget to be silent.

It is a scary day when we lose the ability to be silent.

It is a scary day when we lose the ability to listen to others.

It is a scary day when we don’t want to listen to others.

It is a scary day when we justify our actions by our understanding and perception.

It is a scary day when our “achievements” banished awe.

It is a scary day when we think of ourselves as larger than life.

Today,

Is a scary day!

 

In Religion vs Reality (11 November,  http://tinyurl.com/ydf4pga) DirkM is amazed at how close minded and gullible people are. He proceeds to use religion juxtaposed against reality to prove his statement. I totally agree with him that people are close minded and gullible. Here’s a few more examples borrowed from real life:

People keep on smoking in their vehicles with their children while everyone knows it is hazardous for their own and their children’s health (second hand smoke really is bad for us and even more so for our children).

We seem to be unable to change our lifestyles in the light of a possible environmental meltdown, once again dicing with the future of our children (the majority of scientific, if not all, studies show that man contributes greatly to the environmental crisis).

We don’t seem to realize the way we do business is not the answer, once again putting to risk the welfare of our children (economic meltdown).

It seems that people are indeed close minded; they don’t want to honestly think about anything that might influence their way of life and their ability to choose to satisfy their own selfish needs.

All though I agree that people are indeed close minded and gullible; I disagree that we have the mental and intellectual capacity to “think it out”. It seems that we can’t even come to a conclusion on things that are accepted in science and have a proven detrimental effect on our children. I can only conclude that we need to take a healthy dose of humbleness and truly open our minds.

This includes evaluating the premises that only the things we can see exists and that, if indeed other “things” or worlds does exist, the rules that apply here, must apply there. Reality with a big R includes our acknowledgement that not all that exists are visible; one can think of emotions, dreams and our children’s future as examples. The moment we acknowledge that things exist that we cannot see, we also have to conclude that these “things” do not subscribe to the rules described to us by hard science; love certainly does not subscribe to a set of scientific laws (if only), dream science is in its infancy and our children’s world will definitely function on a different set of rules.

Acceptance that invisible things do exist by no means proves the existence of God; that will always stay a matter of faith. It does however put a brake on our claims to be able to objectively “think it out” and the conclusion that religion makes no sense and that God does not exist. At the very least; living with an open-mind means that we accept the hypothetical possibility that God does exist and that to find true happiness one maybe need to focus on more than just our own needs and wants. Reality with a big R includes our science, our love, our dreams and our beliefs, even if we believe we don’t.

In conclusion I find myself in agreement with DirkM once again; an eternal life does not start at death. Life in eternity started for all of us at birth, nay at conception, and continues in some way, indeed in another way, after death.