Science vs. Religion vs. Our Fate

by David King on June 5, 2009

Mendel So I return to the issue of fate, but with an entirely different frame of reference: Our fate as a species (as well as that of the planet, with which ours is completely entwined). In recent years we have witnessed an explosion of scientific evidence that climate change is real and nearing a tipping point. We also know that we are currently in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, the causes of which are irrefutably and undeniably linked to human behaviour. And there are a number of other related issues being brought to the forefront: privatization of fresh water, predicted increases in environmental refugees, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, lack of commitment to green technology by major industries, oil dependency, overfishing, overplowing, genetic modification, soil erosion, etc. (and that’s a BIG etc.). It is only natural, then, to be looking for answers. And who else to look to but good old science and religion?

Here’s the problem. On second thought, scratch that…here are THE PROBLEMS:

1) Let’s start with religion, since it’s used to getting picked on. As I’ve stated before on this blog, religion can (but doesn’t necessarily always) cause immobilization due to the belief that salvation will be waiting regardless of the planet’s fate (and let me reiterate that this may just be the saddest possible outcome of any such faith). Immobilization = lack of care and lack of push for change. This is more generally associated with religion’s close ties to conservative policy (at least in the West), which seems to maintain a dated man-is-the-center-of-the-universe attitude that ultimately means we’re so special that there’s no way we could be causing global warming (so let’s keep producing carbon emissions for the fun of it – and it is fun, right? Of course it is! Just take a deep breath!). We could get into many more problems of course, but you get the idea.

1.5) So let’s take the big modern religions out of the picture. What are we left with? Native and aboriginal traditions and beliefs, which, very generally speaking, tend to value their connection with the natural world. And yet, at least within Canadian borders, they too seem to have failed the planet. Example: In Vancouver, the government is allowing Native groups to resume the hunting of sea otters due to their growing numbers. As one of the interviewed chiefs stated, they’re not concerned with numbers, they just want their furs for ceremonial purposes. I’m all for upholding tradition, and if we lived in a world where there were only six million human beings (as opposed to six billion) I’d have fewer concerns. Unfortunately, sacrifices need to be made on all fronts – and regardless of where the tradition lies, old ways are simply not good enough.

2) Aaahhh, science, our saving grace. Science will, after all, play a critical role in fixing many of the current environmental problems. Yet let’s not forget that science and technology have also played critical roles in bringing us to this point. Machines, emissions, chemicals, gases, mass deforestation, global consumerism – all thanks to the progress of science. But let’s go deeper than that – back to when modern science, as we know it, was first being formed – to the times of Newton, Descartes, and the like. It was at this time (a few centuries ago), that science made its split from faith and presented to the world its mechanistic and deterministic paradigms, its notions of dualism and realism, and of course its ever popular reductionism. Science, much like Western religion, spread its perspectives and beliefs in such a way that created a divide between the physical and non-physical worlds, creating an organization of human life that was ultimately unnatural. Such products of science also reinforced the long held belief that the world could be reduced, controlled, and commanded. Its divorce from spirituality (remember: Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics, was a priest) further contributed to the loss of a natural connection to life and to the planet. (After all, in a mechanistic world, what exactly is a connection to nature?) Furthermore, its abandonment of spirituality simultaneously involved an abandonment of natural ethics (and by that I mean an abandonment of all care and concern for the natural world).

As it would seem, neither religion nor science has the answer. Truth be told, there is little difference between the two when it comes to this issue, as science, just like religion, is frequently misinterpreted, purposely skewed or reinterpreted, ignored or indulged, and used for political or economical purposes. The solution? Both of these systems – both of these creations of the human mind – need to be remodelled, retooled, and reinvented in order to fully solve the problems we now face as a species. Praying to one’s hybrid car is not sufficient, nor is probing the EEG patterns associated with said prayer. Plainly stated, a reunion between science and religion will be ineffective because it will be a union of two failed systems. There is only one solution to these problems, and it exists inside each and every one of us. All we have to do is find it.

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