Science & Religion Double-Bind

Just to let you know up front:

This is my introductory post, so it’s a bit lengthy.    I promise they won’t all be!

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NOTE:   I use capitalized versions of the words Science, Religion and Truth to denote their most general, global meanings as distinguished from any smaller versions of them. Similarly, “Story of Life” refers to a general existential belief system as whole.

When seeking to understand the universe and our place in it, nearly all human beings will look to Science and/or Religion to come up with their answers. Taken in whole, in part, or in combination, these are the two Stories of Life we are given by our western societies today from which we must try to make sense of everything we observe and experience living within this world. They also are the two Stories humanity has been using to try to build a stable and peaceful world. It has now become woefully evident that they aren’t adequate to the task – by far.

Guided by the Stories of Life that Religion and Science have provided us these past centuries, humanity rushed headlong to the edge of a very frightening cliff of possible self-destruction, through a number of possible means, which is where we now reside. We live in a state of perpetual war, with nuclear weapons poised and ready. The world’s economy has been exposed as a global Ponzi scheme that is collapsing in front of us. And our ecosystems are in serious decline. Moved by a subconscious restlessness with this situation, increasing numbers of us are beginning to seek a New Story.

Although Religion has, for most of our written history, been the predominant source of Truth, over the past century people have increasingly become less devoted to, or affiliated with, any specific religious doctrine. Even though today there are still far more people who say they belong to some organized religion than there are those who say they do not, overall, Religion has steadily been losing followers for decades:

When it comes to religion, the USA is now land of the freelancers…. The new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990…. So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes. “More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself,’ ” says Barry Kosmin, survey co-author.      (Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA Today, March 2009)

This trend of people moving away from Religion has largely been fueled by the amazing progress of our scientific explorations of the physical world. Its rapidly advancing discoveries over the past 150 years have created a very strong trend, especially in Western societies, toward Science as the most trusted authority for Truth. Indeed, Science is now seriously challenging Religion for that prime position.

Still, as explained above, much of what humanity has built, following Science in the way we have to where it has led us, is clearly not sustainable and in fact is collapsing all around us. Indeed, it is Science that gave us the atomic bomb and nuclear waste, and it is the application of the discoveries of Science that has resulted in the rabid consumption of the earth’s natural resources and concomitant destruction of our ecosystems. Regardless of how much new gadgetry and other means of distraction that it continually puts before us, our pursuit of Science has failed to address its own inherent dangers. Thus we can’t escape, nor completely quell, the always-present sense of danger that has taken root within us due to living on that cliff of impending self-destruction. It’s a low-grade fear that is always there within us, like the Orc drums beating and echoing throughout the Mines of Moria in Tolkien’s  Lord of The Ring trilogy… “Doom! Doom! Doom!”

And Religion, with its fundamental intolerance of those who believe differently, is exacerbating the situation rather than helping, as evidenced by the current rise of Religious Fundamentalism, Islamic in the Mid-East and Christian in the U.S.. Christian  fundamentalism has now firmly taken root within the U.S. in counter position to the Islamic fundamentalists of the Mid-East, providing the war mongers of the world a convenient potential spark for ignition of the next world war. The result is that there is a palpable, global unease about what lies ahead for us all.

So, while the competition between the two major influences upon belief systems remains, the amount of trust humans have in both Religion and Science nevertheless is declining. People are questioning and losing faith in both of them. Many have come to feel that neither Science nor Religion are able to correct the imbalances of the world we live in, nor to help them understand it or navigate their lives effectively within it. As a result they are, in a very natural way, formulating their own individual belief systems. More and more people are quietly moving away from institutionalized knowledge systems and toward some personalized set of beliefs.

The increasing apprehension about what has been wrought upon our planet isn’t the only reason for the growing number of people who are developing their own personal belief systems. There is another, more primal reason for this shift. We humans have always felt a connection to something bigger than ourselves and a powerful desire to understand who we are and how we got here. This has undeniably been a part of the human experience since the dawn of mankind, and in fact it is this very thing that gave rise to all forms of religion… ALL of them. Even though Science would have us believe that this sense of the numinous and of connection with something larger than ourselves is nothing more than the left-over vestiges of our primitive past, the vast majority of us can’t accept that. This is because our innate sense of connection to something more has always been and still is part of the very fiber of our being. It is somehow the essence of who we are and, as such, it isn’t something we can simply dismiss as primitive wishful thinking, as Science would have us do.

The overwhelming importance of religion both in general world history and in the history of the average world individual is of course very clear from any objective standpoint, even though a scientific view of man often seems embarrassed at acknowledging this most obvious fact. For in spite of all that rationalist materialist science has implied since the Scientific Revolution, mankind as a whole has not, does not, and perhaps cannot relinquish fascination with some human type of relationship to a greater and wholly other, some mysterium tremendum with powers and intelligences beyond all left hemispheric categories, something necessarily indefinite and unclear, to be approached and felt in awe and wonder and almost speechless worship, rather than in clear conception, something that… communicates in truths of feeling, rather than in what can be verbalized by the left hemisphere. (Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness In The Breakdown of The Bicameral Mind, p. 318)

The rise of Science, while amazing and impressing us with its technological achievements, has had no capacity to satisfy the basic human longing for connection with this “other”, as Jaynes aptly calls it. With its insistence that our feelings and very consciousness and sense of who we are all amount to nothing more than the products of electrochemical processes in our brains, Science leaves this innate part of us doubting it. No matter how authoritatively Science states its claims and regardless of how detailed its explanations are, there are always things that remain beyond its ability to explain, not the least of which is this innate sense within us that there is something more to ourselves and this world than physicality, and even more to physicality itself, than we will ever be able to learn. In addition to the important things about life that Science ignores and/or can’t explain, the never-ending process of new scientific “truths” replacing older “truths” itself makes the Story told us by Science seem inherently, and irreconcilably, incomplete. Since what Science holds before us as truth today is likely to be overturned by Science itself in the future, how “true” is it today?

But if we turn from Science back to Religion hoping for a more satisfying Story of Life, we are left feeling equally bereft. Even though religions do teach about a connection with this “other” that we so much need to understand, they also include many fantastic and outdated notions that the modern human simply cannot align with. The concepts of a heaven (in the sky?) and a hell (in the center of the earth?), of a male God who sits on a throne in heaven, that all human beings are born sinful but some groups are chosen by God over all others, that virgins are waiting in heaven for the martyred suicide bombers, that primitive people who have never heard of Jesus Christ will suffer eternal damnation for not accepting him as their savior, or that the earth is just a few thousand years old… all of these things and innumerable more like them are simply not tenable or believable to a great deal of the people of today’s modern world. Of course, when so many of Religion’s tenets are so indefensible, it calls into question all the rest of them. And because Religion is still trying to convince people of the truth of such implausible things, it makes itself increasingly less relevant to life today and keeps losing followers, as the ARIS study discussed above indicates.

Following our two institutions of Science and Religion in search for answers to our most important questions, we now find ourselves in a kind of box canyon of seemingly irreconcilable conceptions of who we are and what this world is. As just described, it seems we must choose between two bleak, conflicting messages that together create a sort of double-bind dilemma in which choosing either one forces us into inner conflict with something we innately feel within us. The vast majority of the human beings on this planet are struggling to reconcile this confusing Catch-22, and their lives reflect that struggle in the crime, divorce rates, drug addictions and countless other sad and painful manifestations of the human experience seen the world over.

In terms of joy for life and hope for the future, humanity today exists in a desert that saps their strength and spirit. They remain constantly parched and thirsty for sustenance and succor, yet willing to trust neither Science nor Religion enough to take shelter under their tents and drink the water they offer.

Relying as we have upon our institutions of Science and Religion to tell us what the Truth is about our world and who we are within it, we have become split in two: Are we merely an animal and our consciousness only the result of electro-chemical activity of the brain that didn’t exist before we were born, and never will again once we die? Or are we beings created by a harsh God who controls our lives from some realm beyond our physical world and punishes us in some afterlife if we are “bad” and rewards us if we are “good” in this life?

We have been limited to these two desperate choices for a very long time, and it has created a mounting pressure that, like plate tectonics, must at some point cause movement. I believe that humanity has now reached that point. It is time for us to write a New Story about ourselves and this universe. The tension created by this set of circumstances is felt individually and is causing people to make changes within themselves in attempt to relieve the inner conflicts they feel. Individuals are being moved from within, and humanity is thus beginning to awaken. Something deep inside many of us tells us that our only options for a Truth, a Story, we can truly believe and live by should not be between the lesser of two depressing and nonsensical choices. We will seek it, and we will find it.

This is exactly what has driven me all of my life, because there is a part of me that has always felt that there must be a choice that is better. As far back as I can remember, I have always felt a certainty that, however we and this universe came into being, it could not be nonsensical. I see this double-bind as a double negative, which is always in effect a positive:  It would make no sense for this world, and our place in it, to make no sense… in other words, the world must make sense! Thus, there must be a Story that makes sense of this universe and our role in it. I have found my way to such a Story, and I will be sharing it with you through this Blog.

3 thoughts on “Science & Religion Double-Bind

  1. Robert, this is quite an endeavour. I wish you all the best, that you accomplish all you set out to accomplish and your life continues to flourish through your new found enlightenments.

    1. Thank you, Toni, for the well wishes and for checking it out!

      I’ll be writing on a lot of different topics, so I hope you check in with my work every so often. I am hoping to offer different perspectives, to get people thinking about things and perhaps opening up a bit. If you get any value from it, please share it with others… I am trying to build a following.

      Warmly, Robert

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