Saturday, June 05, 2010

God and religion

The Crest Edition of today’s Times of India carries a series of articles probing the subject, “Does God exist?”. The usual arguments, for and against, have been put forward. Depending on one’s pre-disposition, one can find the material to agree with or disagree.

But the subject brought to mind some brilliant articles that I had come across in the website of “Edge, The World Question Centre”. Every year, Edge poses a question and invites experts from different fields to respond to that. The question asked in 2006 was, “What is your dangerous idea?” and some of the responses centred around God and religion.

Some excerpts:

In his article “Science must destroy religion”, Sam Harris, neuroscientist, warned that ‘religious tolerance” could help propogate absurd ideas and that it was as dangerous as religious war.

Despite the ecumenical efforts of many well-intentioned people, irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict.

In response to this situation, most sensible people advocate something called "religious tolerance." While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticizing ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves — repeatedly and at the highest levels — about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.
 But Robert Provine, psychologist, talked about the futility of trying to resolve religious conflict.

Resolution of religious conflict is impossible because there is no empirical test of the ghostly, and many theologians prey, intentionally or not, upon the fears, superstitions, irrationality, and herd tendencies that are our species' neurobehavioral endowment. Religious fundamentalism inflames conflict and prevents solution—the more extreme and irrational one's position, the stronger one's faith, and, when possessing absolute truth, compromise is not an option
Scott Atran, anthropologist, feels that science must learn a few methods from religion if it has to win the battle.

Science treats humans and intentions only as incidental elements in the universe, whereas for religion they are central. Science is not particularly well-suited to deal with people's existential anxieties, including death, deception, sudden catastrophe, loneliness or longing for love or justice. It cannot tell us what we ought to do, only what we can do. Religion thrives because it addresses people's deepest emotional yearnings and society's foundational moral needs. Religion is the hope that science is missing.

Finally, Jesse Bering, Institute of Cognitive studies, says that it is impossible for Science to get rid of the concept of God and religion. It is something hardwired in our brains and made permanent by natural selection.

No matter how far our thoughts shall vault into the eternal sky of scientific progress, no matter how dazzling the effects of this progress, God will always bite through his muzzle and banish us from the starry night of humanistic ideals. 
Science is an endless series of binding and rebinding his breath; there will never be a day when God does not speak for the majority. There will never be a day even when he does not whisper in the most godless of scientists' ears. This is because God is not an idea, nor a cultural invention, not an 'opiate of the masses' or any such thing; God is a way of thinking that was rendered permanent by natural selection. God too is a biological appendage; until we acknowledge this fact for what it is, until we rear our children with this knowledge, he will continue to howl his discontent for all of time

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