Touching The Limits Of Knowledge

Cosmology and our View of the World


Problems in the Debate Between Science and Religion


Discussion Outline by Nick Copanas & Evan Czyzowski:


The Search for Meaning

Humans encounter mystery about their being, and about what is meaningful. Science and religion, do they both originate from the same sense of mystery about being in the world?

Can both science and religion be "Right"?

Drees writes "A Gallup Poll in November 1991 found that 47 percent of all Americans supported a strict creationist view, (‘God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the past 10,000 years’)," (Drees 189). This statistic indicates that many Americans think of science and religion as searching for the same type of "Truth" and in the same way. If science and religion both search for the same Truth, and give answers about the same Truth, can they both be Right?

Are there different truths?
What do we mean by truth?

One scientific description of material "Truth" might be definable as the quality of propositions adequately describing nature. What do we mean by religious truth? What do the religious literalists think of as truth? They might say, "Truth is what is" or maybe Truth is what God tells us. Compare religious literalists, with material realists. Those with unquestioning faith in science might believe that we can completely understand nature. This knowledge, as Bacon writes, comes with the hope that "We will tie nature to the rack," end suffering, and overcome death.

Will science, or philosophy, ever be able to explain what it is like to exist?

Kierkegaard satirized attempts by philosophers, most notably Hegel, to completely explain away existence, or reduce it to confusing terms and systems, as in this passage from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death. "Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation, which relates itself to its own self, or it is that in the relation which accounts for it that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but consists in the fact that the relation relates itself to its own self. Man is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, or freedom and necessity, in short, it is a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two factors. So regarded, man is not yet a self."

As Samuel Miller writes in his book Religion in a Technical Age, "The primary mysteries of human life are not articulated or illuminated by the technological apparatus of science or industry. Birth and death, lobe and hate, sin and sanctity, joy and tragedy—these remain as they were in the days of Troy or the fall of Rome. No machine, no technique, no analysis by X-Ray, or measuring of galactic space, brings us one whit closer to the human hear. It may shred man’s flesh from his bone, grind his skull to powder, beat his blood to a froth, measure chromosomes and genes, but the mystery of self-identity, the ancient splendor of the soul, evades it all. The meaning of human life is not given by the machine, or any combination of machines, or any refinement of the machine."

Do we have to choose between our heads and our hearts?

It’s like we have to pick whether science or religion has more meaning. Is science what is "Real"? Is religion what is "Real"? Or is it the case that neither scientific nor religious models should be taken literally—they are descriptions, and not reality itself? Perhaps science tells us what is real, or perhaps what science strives is a model that most accurately reflects how objects in act. Perhaps religion is just a bad way of explaining away the unknown. Religion may, however, gives us metaphors that can help us to live more meaningful lives if it is an expression of the wonder at Being that is not reducible to propositions that are empirically verifiable.

What do we mean by "wonder"?

Paul Brockelman writes in his book, Cosmology and Creation, that wonder is a moving, often indescribable encounter with the unknown. "I want to claim that wonder is an experience of the radical and inexplicable mystery of Being encountered at the boundaries of understanding," (Brockelman 72).

Can religion "keep up with the times?

In Isaac Singer’s story The Death of Methuselah, a woman boasts to Methuselah that he is living in the past by living a God-fearing life. "’Yahweh threatens to open the windows of heaven and bring the flood. But we have scholars who have discovered how to close them. In all these years when you, Methuselah, lived with your faithful wives and concubines, plowed the fields by the sweat of your brow, and attended your flocks of sheep, many men of learning sprang forth. They can split hairs, count the sand of the sea, the eyes of a fly, measure the stench of a skunk and the venom of a snake. Some of these men have learned to tame crocodiles and spiders, they can make the young old, the fools wise, and reverse the sexes. They can reach the very depths of perversion. Stay with us, Methuselah, and you will be twice as clever and ten times as virile.’"

Should we adopt new religious metaphors?
Are scientists touching upon the same mysteries?
What is the significance of the new cosmologies?

As Paul Brockelman writes in his book, Cosmology and Creation, "Everything—the stars, the earth, the myriad species and infinite forms of being, you and I, the poetry of Rilke, the paintings of Anselm Kiefer, the music of Monteverdi, and of the Grateful Dead, and even this scientific understanding of the whole—has emerged from the initial Singularity. Although it is a single and interrelated reality, it is made up of a seemingly infinite diversity… We have in this new cosmology, then, a deep and all inclusive vision of all creation that, like earlier creation myths, narratively reveals both a sense of what reality is about and what the human role and destiny is within it by seeing nature as the outcome of an originating mystery which shines through it."

Does religion interfere with science?
Does science interfere with religion?
Can either one be criticized without the critic being subversive to the subject?

Should our religious interpretations help us to make ethical and legal decisions?

How should we apply science? Are there cases where we should limit our scientific understanding? Should we limit technological applications of science? Are we playing God? Should we approach these questions with more "Fear and trembling," as Kierkegaard put it.

Philosophy and science can lead us to a greater wonder, a greater sense of spiritual mystery. "A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion," Francis Bacon. While the religious can give our day-to-day lives more meaning, and help us answer questions of how we ought to apply science.

Where are we headed with science, and where are we headed with religion?
Where does this debate bring us?
What is the future of science and religion?