Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.
Nov 23, 2014
Logic and Logos: Essays on Science, Religion and Philosophy – the book I comment on below – is quite different than the books we’ve looked at previously in this series.
For one thing, its author – the mathematician William S. Hatcher – was one of era’s pioneering explorers of the relationship between science and religion. Of the scientifically informed thinkers in the latter half of the 20th century who rejected the widespread 19th century perspective that science was the replacement for religion, only the physicist Ian Barbour seems to have preceded him. Hatcher’s first publication on the topic – “Science and Religion” in World Order in 1969 – only slightly lagged Barbour’s ground-breaking Issues in Science and Religion published in 1966. (An edited version of Hatcher’s Science and Religion is the first essay in The Science of Religion, Baha’i Studies, 1980).
The book is also different in that it explores the Baha’i perspective on science and religion – one elaborated in the writings and talks of `Abdu’l-Baha 100 years ago and first enunciated by Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith. It provides an organized, eminently readable and comprehensive overview of a powerful Baha’i principle.
Professionally, Hatcher was a mathematician with a mathematician’s love for Platonist philosophy. This, plus the fact that he was as Baha’i, brings a unique perspective to his descriptions. Being a logician and philosopher, he was conversant with modern positivism (often called logical positivism). Positivism was a widely influential Austrian / Anglo-American philosophical perspective that shaped the views of many American and British scientists and philosophers in the 20th century.
For me, Hatcher’s writings hold a special place in my life. They are what introduced me to the topic of science and religion as young physics student. They have sustained and fed my interest in science and religion since I was a youthful Baha’i in the early 1970s.
Science, Religion, and Ways of Relating to Reality
Logic and Logos was published in 1990, but contained materials published in Zygon and various Baha’i publications in the 1970s. He starts by saying that we engage with the world in two different ways:
On the one hand, there is the enterprise of relating to reality by constructing mental models of it. We ‘fill the gaps’ in our immediate experience by using our imagination to conceive of what the structure of unobservable reality might be like. We articulate these mental models in the form of theories whose validity is then tested through further experience.
Systematization and generalization of this ways of thinking leads to science. But it is not the only way of engaging:
On the other hand, our recognition that we ourselves have sprung from the unknown and unobservable, and will return to it at the moment of our death, inspires in us an appropriate sense of our limitations — of being encompassed by a reality greater than ourselves. We have an acute sense of the transcendence of ultimate reality, and also of the inadequacy and relativity of our theories.
Systematization and generalization of this way leads to religion. There is both a constant tension and a continual dialectic between these two ways of engaging – these two “articulations”:
We might say that science is based on a ‘minimalist’ articulation of reality. In science, the universal law of cause and effect, which is embedded in the very structure of things, is modeled by the logical connection between hypothesis and conclusion in our theories…
Religion represents rather a ‘maximalist’ articulation of reality, an articulation that seeks to capture as much of it as is humanly possible. Religious discourse is thus laden with multiple, deep and subtle meanings. Central to the religious enterprise — our quest for transcendence — is the phenomenon of revelation …
Why then is there a conflict between these two seemingly complementary “articulations”?
The Conflict Between Religion and Science – and its Resolution
The conflict – Hatcher says – is due to a misplaced association of materialism with science. Materialism has long been with us, but it is only recently – in the last several centuries – that it has become an influential point of view:
It is only in the modem period that the materialistic view has become linked to a prestigious and highly efficient natural science. This prestige of science forces people to take seriously any pronouncement that is put forth in its name. All of this contrasts sharply with the pre-modern period in which the materialistic view was just one among many competing views and had no particular natural or obvious superiority over others.
This widespread popular acceptance of materialism is
… due not to any inherent philosophical superiority of that view but rather to the immense prestige of the science in the name of which the materialistic view is put forth … [T]his prestige of science is due essentially to its evident technological productivity and efficiency.
The “technological productivity and efficiency” of science, Hatcher believes, is due to the scientific method (which “can be practiced with success independently of any particular religious or cultural orientation.”) This method is “self-conscious common sense”. According to Hatcher, it
… systematically invokes certain types of experiences. This is experimentation (the conscious use of experience). Instead of relying on naive reasoning, one formalizes hypotheses explicitly and formalizes the reasoning leading from hypothesis to conclusion. This is mathematics and logic (the conscious use of reason). Instead of relying on occasional flashes of insight, one systematically meditates on problems. This is reflection (the conscious use of intuition).
Religion is different:
The importance of religion on the other hand derives precisely from its goal and its contents rather than its method. Religion treats of questions which are so fundamental for us that every human being is obliged to realize the importance of answering them. Some of these questions concern the purpose of man’s existence, the possibility of life after death, the possibility of self-transcendence, the possibility of contacting and living in harmony with a higher spiritual consciousness, the meaning of suffering, and the existence of good and evil.
Once we realize that the basis of science is its method and that the basis of religion is its object of study, the essential move toward resolving the religion-science controversy seems obvious and logical: Apply scientific method within religion.
Some Implications / Conclusions
There is much more in the five chapters in the book than I can discuss here. Rather than failing at doing so, let me summarize Hatcher’s basic message: It is very clear. Science and religion are completely compatible and can – and must – work together.
And there are a lot of implications to this messages – big implications that are all about setting the stage for important tasks that society needs to accomplish in the future. I’ll look at just two.
If science is method for ascertaining truth, not a worldview, then several things follow:
1. Science writing that is speculative, metaphysical, or ideological must be seen as just that, not as an authoritative pronouncement of science.
For example, 19th century pre-scientific evolutionary thought gave rise to a wide variety of views as to how society was supposed to work best, where we come from, the proper role of social institutions, the purpose of life and its meaning or lack of, etc., so forth, and so on. But if we take science as a method, not as a worldview or a metaphysics, then we can simply listen to the stories that some people tell with ears sophisticated enough to hear them for what they are – just stories.
Sometimes those stories are thrilling and informative – Richard Dawkins and E.O.Wilson can do astonishingly well. But very often – too often in my opinion – they are simply creation stories – narratives aping those found in the Bible and simply mirroring their author’s theologies, ideologies, and metaphysical preoccupations. In such cases, they are holdovers from a simpler bygone age when religious stories were a substitute for science.
2. The method of science can be applied to religion. We can use it to understand religious myths, superstitions, ideologies, to clear up misunderstandings, to recognize outmoded secular practices, and to clean religion from what ails it. (There is, of course, the need for a spiritual revival if this is to be successful, but as any Baha’i will tell you, that is what the main thrust of the Baha’i Faith is all about.)
Doing this – purifying and sweeping away the cobwebs from religion – is a long-held dream of the founders of modern science and of the European enlightenment. Science – considered as Hatcher considers it – revives and resuscitates that dream.
In the next blog, more discussion of books
This is the 25th in a series of blogs on the modern science and religion literature. The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked in Japan for 10 years before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.