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Re: science superior to religion? (CarolAnn)

Posted by Adam on November 17, 1999, at 15:38:03

In reply to Re: science superior to religion? (CarolAnn), posted by Bob on November 17, 1999, at 13:48:06

> On the other hand, while one day we may be able to say how the universe came to be what it is today, science will never be able to explain "Why the universe?" or even "Why *this* universe?"

Again, given the older theories about the big bang, it is plausible to conclude that teh universe arose spontaneously, with no causative event,
no plan behind it, no higher consciousness, nothing. It just is. In this case it makes as much sense to say why does it exist as to ask what
came before. There was no "before" in real time (though you can theoretically survey the process mathematically in "imaginary time").

One competing theory on the origin of the universe I'm not all that familiar with proposes that our universe is an extention of a much more expansive
structure, a "megaverse" that has always existed. Due to random fluctuations in whatever quantum fields defined the structure of what came before,
portions of this megaverse can spontaneously inflate, sometimes at an enormous rate of speed, and give rise to whole sub-universes, of which ours is
one. The initial conditions defined at the moment of inflation give rise to the constants of nature that are true for that particular region. Given
the infinite extent of this megaverse, and the infinite opportunity for universes to bud off from it (and subsequent universes to bud off of those),
there are an infinite number of possible conditions, some amenable to life, some not. We happen to occupy a universe that has certain physical constants
that allow for the kind of life that we know to develop and intelligent creatures such as ourselves to ask questions like why (the anthropic principle,
I believe, perhaps the "weak anthropic prinicple"). Since there are an infinite number of possiblities, it was bound to happen at some point. Why this
universe? Because we couldn't exist in another one.
> Apples and oranges, folks. The notion of science being better than religion, or religion being better than science, is non-sense when each stays within the bounds of what it can explain.

I agree that it's apples and oranges, but I don't feel that religion "explains" anything. It used to be that faith was our only guide, and that nothing in
the universe made sense without being ibued with a divine spirit. What seemed inexplicable (like forces at a distance) was attributed to the hand of God.
History has shown nothing but a retreat from this spiritually-centered world view to a mundane one. Where those who practice science in one way or another
converge on plausible explanations for the most fundamental questions, distinct faiths have only found common ground, or brought all humanity closer to a
state of mutual understanding, where they have abandoned their most dogmatic principles. More often then not, what influences this transition from religious
dogma to ecumenical liberalism is the supplanting of old, mutually exclusive mythical ideas with unifying principles bestowed upon us by science.

What science perhaps can never do is tell people how they ought to feel. I see no fatal problem with faith (so long as it isn't imposed on me or anyone else,
by means violent or otherwise) because I have known and sometimes loved perfectly rational, intelligent, informed people who practiced religion and derived
great joy in it. Religious faith has inspired such movingly beautiful creations of literature and music and art, I would feel deeply saddened if it were all
suddenly taken away. What will inspire future creators to compose another requiem mass, write another Upanisad, move with the grace and serenity of tai chi.
I have participated in Latin masses, Bhuddist chants, read part of the Pesach Hagadah. I even helped organize the Divali celebration at my college and adapted
part of the Ramayana as a play. To lose religion seems a terrible thing to me, and at the same time, I cannot truly understand it or be a part of it, and I
predict it is slowly dying. But the rise of fundamentalism in many parts of the world in reaction to this trend is even more disturbing. I do not feel a sense
of pride in our country when I know kids in Kansas aren't being taught evolution.

Perhaps we can strike a balance between the need for accurate, scientific theories to guide us into the future, and the redemtive and joyful aspects of faith.
I'm not hopeful that this can be achieved, and I can't imagine what the world will be like bereft of one or the other.




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