Advertisement

The New Religion of Science

  • William Grassie

Abstract

In our bottom-up approach to exploring religious intuitions and truth claims, we will now consider contemporary science to see how far we can climb from science to the sacred without invoking special revelation. I call this “the new religion of science,” but not in the sense of scientism, the faith of philosophical naturalism. I am not the reincarnation of Auguste Comte; this is not a resurrection of the Enlightenment project of replacing the old religions with science. Our ambitions are more modest, more interesting, and more compelling. Instead of replacing or displacing the “old” religions, we look to reinterpret and reinvent them through a constructive dialogue with contemporary science, supposing that the received traditions have intuited, experienced, discovered, and transmitted important insights into ultimate reality. This is a theology of nature from the bottom up, initially without reference to revealed scriptures and received traditions. We shall take nature as understood by contemporary science as the primary revelation to be read and interpreted in religious categories. Contrary to popular belief, contemporary science is actually conducive to certain religion-friendly interpretations. Approaching religion through science will help us get closer to some of the truth claims intuited by religions over millennia that inform religious belief and behavior.

Keywords

Human Language Scientific Revolution Ultimate Reality Contemporary Science Critical Realism 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Richard E. Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages (New York: Harcourt, 2003);Google Scholar
  2. Norbert M. Samuelson, Judaism and the Doctrine of Creation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Samuelson, Jewish Faith and Modern Science: On the Death and Rebirth of Jewish Philosophy (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980).Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See, for instance, Sandra Harding, ed., The “Racial” Economy of Science (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993);Google Scholar
  6. Harding, The Science Question in Feminism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    For a discussion of the Aristotle’s four causes as they pertain to the modern scientific revolution, see Holmes Rolston, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987), 34–36; and Merchant, Death of Nature, 11–12.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    This presentation of the scientific method was taught to me in middle school. As the discussion below indicates, what science really is as a methodology is not so clear. For an excellent collection of essays on the philosophy of science, see Richard Boyd, Philip Gasper, and J. D. Trout, eds., The Philosophy of Science (Cambridge, MA, and London: MIT Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, [1925] 1967), 35.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1962] 1972), 92–94.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    See, for instance, Trevor Pinch, “Theory Testing in Science—The Case of Solar Neutrinos: Do Crucial Experiments Test Theories or Theorists?” Philosophy of Sociology of Science 15 (1985);Google Scholar
  12. H. M. Collins and T. J. Pinch, “The Construction of the Paranormal: Nothing Unscientific Is Happening,” in On the Margins of Science: The Social Construction of Rejected Knowledge, ed. Roy Wallis (Keele: The Sociological Review, 1978);Google Scholar
  13. Ronald N. Giere, “The Philosophy of Science Naturalized,” Philosophy of Science 52 (1985);Google Scholar
  14. Paul Thagard, “The Conceptual Structure of the Chemical Revolution,” Philosophy of Science 57 (1990).Google Scholar
  15. For a bibliography and review of the literature, see Steve Fuller, “The Philosophy of Science since Kuhn: Readings on the Revolution That Has yet to Come,” Choice 27 (1989).Google Scholar
  16. 13.
    Perhaps Ludwig Wittgenstein is the background here. In the Tractatus (1921), Wittgenstein is a logical positivist, indeed an active member of the Vienna School along with Moritz Schlick. Late in his life, Wittgenstein wrote Philosophical Investigations (1953), in which he promotes the idea of incommensurate “language games.” One could talk about rationality and irrationality within particular language games, but comparing language games was comparing other-rationalities. Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996).Google Scholar
  18. 15.
    David Abram prefers the term “more-than-human” in his effort to build a nature-centric understanding of human language. See David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Pantheon, 1996).Google Scholar
  19. 16.
    Here I am drawing on the synthetic philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, which I discussed in chapter three of my dissertation. William J. Grassie, “Reinventing Nature: Science Narratives as Myths for an Endangered Planet,” Ph.D. diss., Temple University, 1994.Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    See Abram, Spell of the Sensuous; Terrence W. Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (New York: Norton, 1997).Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything: Special Illustrated Edition (New York: Broadway Books, 2003, 2005), 477–78.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    Scott F. Gilbert and David Epel, Ecological Developmental Biology: Integrating Epigenetics, Medicine, and Evolution (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2009), 98.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley, eds., The Subversive Science: Essays toward an Ecology of Man (Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin, 1969).Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Robert B. Laughlin, “Fractional Quantisation,” Review of Modern Physics 71, no. 4 (1998).Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    Varadaraja V. Raman, Truth and Tension in Science and Religion (Center Ossipee, NH: Beech River Books, 2009), 115.Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    David Harel, Computers Ltd.: What They Really Can’t Do (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000);Google Scholar
  27. John D. Barrow, Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999);Google Scholar
  28. Orrin H. Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can’t Predict the Future (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007);Google Scholar
  29. William Grassie, “Useless Arithmetic and Inconvenient Truths: A Review,” Metanexus (2007), http://www.metanexus.net/Magazine/tabid/68/id/9854/Default.aspx.Google Scholar
  30. 25.
    John Horgan, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1996).Google Scholar
  31. 26.
    For a discussion of emergent hierarchies in science, see George F. R. Ellis and Nancey Murphy, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  32. 27.
    Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams, The View from the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos (New York: Riverhead, 2006).Google Scholar
  33. 28.
    Eric Chaisson, Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  34. 29.
    Chaisson, Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 139;Google Scholar
  35. Chaisson, Epic of Evolution, 293–96; Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  36. 31.
    This interpretation has been advanced by physicist-turned-theologian John Polkinghorne. See, for instance, John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Providence (London: SPCK, 1989);Google Scholar
  37. Polkinghorne, Faith of a Physicist, The: Reflections of a Bottom-up Thinker, Gifford Lectures for 1993–4 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  39. 33.
    Freeman Dyson, Disturbing the Universe (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 250.Google Scholar
  40. 34.
    Paul C. W. Davies, “Science and Religion in the 21st Century,” Metanexus (2000), http://www.metanexus.net/magazine/tabid/68/id/2592/Default.aspx.Google Scholar
  41. 36.
    The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 b.c.e.) famously proposed an early vision of a universe characterized by transformation and change. Certainly, Buddhism, arising in a different place around the same time, also promoted a concept of endless change as the fundamental characteristic of reality. In the modern Europe, we encounter the French philosopher Denis Diderot (1713–1784) speculating about evolution in a 1769 book. The French biologist Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829) proposed a theory of evolution prior to Darwin’s theory of natural selection in the first decade of the nineteenth century. In 1803, Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather, invoked evolutionary concepts in his book The Temple of Nature. Erasmus appeals to his Muse to tell him “how rose from elemental strife/Organic forms, and kindled into life.” The Muse responds with an evolutionary story of how “imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,/… Arose from rudiments of form and sense.” Richard Lewontin, “Why Darwin?” New York Review of Books 56, no. 9 (2009).Google Scholar
  42. 37.
    Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Biology, Molecular and Organismic,” American Zoology 4 (1964): 443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 38.
    See, for instance, Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meaning of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).Google Scholar
  44. 39.
    A. N. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), 163.Google Scholar
  45. 40.
    See a standard introductory biology textbook, for instance, William K. Purves et al., Life: The Science of Biology (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1998).Google Scholar
  46. For discussions of the inadequacies of natural selection as explanation, see David Depew and Bruce Weber, Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  47. Robert Wesson, Beyond Natural Selection (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991);Google Scholar
  48. Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ian Stewart, Life’s Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1998). See especially Gilbert and Epel, Ecological Developmental Biology.Google Scholar
  50. 42.
    Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology, trans. Austryn Wainhouse (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).Google Scholar
  51. 43.
    Carl Friedrich von Weizsaecker, Die Geschichte Der Natur (Frankfurt: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962).Google Scholar
  52. Bernd-Olaf Küppers, Der Ursprung biologischer Information (Munich: R. Piper and Co., 1986).Google Scholar
  53. Küppers, Information and the Origin of Life, trans. Paul Wooley (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), xi.Google Scholar
  54. 44.
    Christian, Maps of Time; Cynthia Stokes Brown, Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present (New York: New Press: Distributed by W.W. Norton, 2007);Google Scholar
  55. Chaisson, Epic of Evolution; McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird’s-Eye View of World History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003); Primack and Abrams, The View from the Center of the Universe; Berry and Swimme, The Universe Story.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© William Grassie 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Grassie

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations