This is our first blog on topics included in or related to our book Under Six Eyes, published by Austin Macauley (AM). The purpose is to extend the conversation on questions of the existence and role of God in the world, and especially to understand the points of conflict and reconciliation between the religious and scientific worldviews. We want readers to participate in this blog via comments, to ask questions and to propose new perspectives.
To begin, each of us will now make a statement that, like the book’s preface, introduces the broad question that propels most of our discussion. (Our short bios are on the AM website, so suffice it to say here that James is a Lutheran pastor and Rob is a professor of mathematics.)
Rob. Science seems so successful in closed explanations that never talk about experience or intent, let alone God. It seems hard to argue with that, but how do we leave experience and design out of the world when our lives seem defined by it? Still, when we wander away from science, we sometimes come to a place that is incoherent and given over more to how we wish the world were, rather than the truth of how it is.
James: The modern technological world is truly marvellous, to the point that we imagine we have surpassed older forms of understanding (like children growing out of old clothes). A knowable world uncoupled from meaning has made alienation the primary by-product (and cultivated expression) of modern culture. I wonder if the incoherence you are describing is not somehow necessary in the world we have made. Religion can certainly become wish-fulfilment, but it can also temper our self-fascination, the mirror of Narcissus that much of our knowing has produced.
A larger statement of this question begins the preface of our book. The entire preface (and more) can be found at a link given on the AM main website.
So, any comments? Let’s get started…
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4 thoughts on “Invitation to the Conversation”
Overall, I believe both of you bring up some really strong points! I had a few thoughts. The first is that
I agree that we are defined by our experiences–that’s what makes us different from one another. I think the big question is where does science fit in the experiences that people think it typically doesn’t. A person may be partially defined by the many years they’ve spent going to church. The question then becomes, how does science impact strongly religious people’s lives? Is this influence good or bad? Can it really be defined as one or the other, or is it more multi-faceted than that? Also, assuming that this action is bad in the first place, how can we avoid religion becoming a form of wish fulfillment? Would incorporating science help prevent ourselves from doing that in any way?
Lauren, thank you for your comments and questions. Many of us are exposed to religion, especially if our parents are religious, before we are exposed to science. I would not infer from this that religious thought is cognitively less demanding, but even as children, we inhabit ourselves in a way that makes narrative explanations more accessible than third-person analytic ones. For some, the subsequent introduction to the culture of science may entirely displace religion—look at the Tolstoy quote in our Chapter Five—but I find it hard to make a broad value judgment about that. For Tolstoy that displacement was bad; for some it might be liberating in a good way. And that shows something of the complexity of your last question, which is tied to our chapters on Freud, science, art, and romantic naturalism. My short answer would be that narrative and objectivity need to be mutually constraining, that science carries the burden of acknowledging experience and narrative, just as religion, carries the burden of a degree of objectivity that invalidates any characterization as mere wish fulfillment. I think that Rev. Pike can far better explain how that latter constraint is achieved.
Hi! Thanks so much for both of your comments. Rob, your point hit a particular note with me and it reminded me of a philosophical argument against utilitarianism that I recently read. The philosopher (Caritt) argues that utilitarianism deprives an individual of incorporating their moral projects into decision making. Though it may sound different, I think that you and Caritt are hitting the same point, albeit from different perspectives.
I am grateful to see this conversation continue with added voices!
The pandemic illustrates Lauren’s question in an interesting way. I had afternoon tea today with an almost 90 year old, highly educated, European emigrant who asked me two questions:
1) Was I getting the vaccine?
2) Did I think the Antichrist was somewhere in the Middle East?
Both questions were asked seriously and both answers were viewed suspiciously. She evaluated all my words by an unspoken measure, “Can I trust what he’s saying?” In our current historical moment, tribally endorsed trust has more currency than truth in our attempts at knowing.
Our growing dependence on the prescribed orthodoxies that come with our various and deeply held affiliations makes it incredibly difficult to have religion (or politics) not default to wish fulfillment. In this case, religion as wish fulfillment is merely symptomatic of a materially comfortable, congenital immaturity that the modern person seems quite happy to inhabit.
One unfortunate side-effect is that possible resolutions to the question–traceable all the way back to the ancient Greeks–are no longer compelling. For example, theology used to be seen as the summit of the sciences because one naturally moved from the mutable and material (natural science) to the immutable and material (mathematics) to the immutable and immaterial (theology). A whole view of reality made the synthesis develop without needing the intellectual shakedown we routinely perform on the ideas of other people.
Kimiko, your comment (if I understand the reference properly) touches on another important issue that arises as we measure experience. Consequences of our decisions as they relate to utility (or happiness) are not the only meaningful or interesting part of who we are. The context and natural resources of our interiority cannot simply be reduced.