Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Universal Basis For Science and Religion

I'm going to start a new blog around the concept of a Universal Basis. I'll probably drop some of the other blogs.

A Universal Basis For Science And Religion

The key is that the more difficult things about doing science, especially on the fundamental level, is that one has to "believe in" science as it is practiced in the present, while, at the same time, searching for some instance in which science as practiced is "wrong" or, at least, incomplete. You have to be prepared to "believe in" and "not believe in" science at the very same time.

This technique is not entirely unknown in religion. If one reads the literature of Zen Buddhism one keeps running into the idea that having the insight of "Satori" makes it unnecessary to "believe in" Buddhism as practiced, yet unless one "believes in" Buddhism one does not have the spiritual basis necessary to attain Satori because only Buddhism is consistent with Satori. It is reasonable to believe that that paradox is somehow necessary (but not sufficient) to the attainment of Satori.

The reason this seems to work is that science is not a description of the universe as it is, but is, instead, a description of a model of the universe that is self-consistent; i.e., that is consistent with the accepted logical (and preferably mathematical) description of all the experienced physical phenomena that we are aware of at a particular time and place in the history of the universe. We could not, for instance, recognize the physical phenomena that are described by quantum mechanics until we recognized that the darkening of photographic film by pitchblende was caused by a previously unrecognized form of radiation, and that phenomenon wasn't observable until we had created photographic film and mined pitchblende.

We can reasonably expect that there will be phenomena that are observed in the future that will require changes in the scientific model of the universe that we use today. We should also expect that the religious models that were used yesterday will not necessarily fit the phenomena we observe today.

This will be difficult for theologians because the tradition in religion is to follow the insights of some particular individual at a particular time and place. That individual will articulate those insights in terms of the common perceptions of the time and place (or, if he does not, they will be recorded in terms of those perceptions) and, in general, the religion that results will not have a convenient mechanism for adjusting those insights and perceptions to the changed circumstances of other times and places.

But there is no reason why religious models can't be adjusted the way scientific models are. We give great respect to Isaac Newton for his insights into classical mechanics, but we feel free to use the insights of Einstein and the quantum theorists in the areas where those modification of classical mechanics work better. There is no reason why we can't respect Jesus and Mohammed and Gautama and Lao Tzu, and their insights, and still find modifications of the systems of behavior that they inspired. The trick is to know how to do that in a way that works as well as the modifications of science we have made in the last few centuries.

On the other hand we do not discard the scientific models of the past simply because they don't explain everything. We use 19th century classical statics and dynamics as the basis for civil engineering, and we find that the 19th century model of the universe is good enough for constructing buildings and bridges and machinery. It seems reasonable to retain the existing religious models to the extent that they work, i.e., to apply to those models the same kind of criteria that we use for scientific models.

What we will find is that when we start to apply scientific criteria to religion, we have to look at certain aspects of science that have become so ideological that they are more like primitive religions than the sciences they pretend to be.

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