Science and Church

Scientific ethical guidelines lead to meritocracy and democracy, but they often present conflicts with religion.  Democracy embodies the fundamental features contained within religion i. e. it allows stable groups and mitigates conflict.  However, democracy lacks the transcendent enforcement procedures embodied in religion: punishment under Rule-of-Law is not as persuasive as burning forever in hell. 

Even in the earliest human communities, culture was probably formulated because of the quest and acquisition of knowledge, and its adoption as a survival strategy within the local gamodeme.  Wilson [2002] sees the acquisition of religion because of this kind of selection pressure: combining individuals into a cohesive group that were cooperative and fraternal. Joseph Campbell has eloquently stated that the power of myth and legend, as a way of understanding nature, lies at the root of much of human philosophy. Science, in sharing a common urge to trace the history of the Universe back to the beginnings of time and matter, follows this knowledge quest and thus reveals its links with many other aspects of human enquiry.  Oden [1997] lucidly pointed out the early Christian religion was forged out of competing systems, many of which were actually adaptive social conditions. It was not until long after Jesus the Christ was executed for treason that Christianity developed its present fundament based primarily upon a written collage of hearsay, myth and legend founded upon revelation and authority. Historically, the need for religion as a means of social control placed it as a necessary evolutionary pre-cursor to modern political systems.

It is ironic that the foundation upon which modern scientific logic arose was in efforts to understand the wondrous way in which god worked. The seekers of this understanding were specific theologians and true believers who questioned reasoning based upon revelation and religious authority.  Resistance by the Church followed when the theological hierarchy realized that the discoveries of the enquiring seekers were undermining the basic tenets of orthodoxy and authority.  Thus began the modern alienation of Science and Church; and, attempts to confine the spheres of scientific enquiry.

Many religious leaders today are little different from those of two centuries ago: they find modern knowledge a threat to their power-over-the-people. Failure of our educational system to impart to our people modern science knowledge has placed science and numerous groups into conflict. Because religion IS rooted in a belief in the super-natural, and because many individual members of humankind have been conditioned to believe in a supernatural interfering god, placing our society upon a scientific basis will be a difficult road to navigate in any community dominated by religious interference. Some would argue that this definition of religion is too simplistic but when all of the superficialities of semantics are removed this is the content that remains: it is a belief in the super-natural.  The greatest danger for the future, is that science and society in general will diverge over this basic difference, and the process for establishing a system of knowledge for our descendents compromised.

The disparity between scientific knowledge and religious belief-systems could become a critical problem in the medium-term future [300 years]. As indicated, this future will see humankind greatly modified by genetic intervention and eventually an artificial consciousness will be created and implanted into a robotic descendent. To achieve this future science will seek input from philosophers and the humanities to understand the essence of our humanity. From a scientific viewpoint, religion can be seen merely as a product of Darwinian evolution of the cultural gamodeme. As such, religion does contain an evolved wisdom that is important to the definition of our humanity.  However, if religion continues to distance itself from science, religion will be contributing by default to a future that may exclude its wisdom from the essence of humanity.

In a world in which insufficient education is provided to an increasing population, the appeal to authority, revelation and charismatic leaders finds willing followers. Quite recently [since at least Fall, 1973] there has been a frightening renewal of a politically charged religious fundamentalism. Some put this date beginning with Jerry Falwell’s 1979 manifesto but I first felt its pulse in the Fall of 1973, on and around the campus of Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. More problematic still is that Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all showing a tendency towards regaining their old militancy and, perhaps most surprisingly, so does Hinduism. This militancy thrusts part of its attack at science because science is viewed as a pillar of secular reasoning.   

The mid-seventies saw the rise of the religious right in the United States of America. Using the ‘Peril in our Midst’ approach of the European communists from the 1950 and 1960 period, the educational system is one of the first to be infiltrated. The history of communist infiltration into the schools and workplaces of Europe, during the middle part of the last century, is the model, which religious fundamentalists follow to infiltrate the social system. Today, infiltration of fundamentalist concepts by zealots is occurring at all levels of society.  Amongst the anti-science advocates, are ‘sputniks’, which have infiltrated into the core of political decision making on education. Ranging from a Secretary for Education; a Representative on the House Education Committee, and a  Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee [Forrest, 2002] to hundreds of individuals who have acquired a position on committees that oversee educational issues. Pennock [2002, p: 755-777] calls these  “Stealth candidates” and notes that they ‘got themselves elected to local School Boards and to State Boards of Education and then worked to change science curriculum standards to include creationism or to gut any evolution component’. The infiltration method works because of lack of oversight of the law that separates Church from State.  At the local governmental level the failure to remove stealth candidates such a Georgia’s Superintendent of Education [Ms. Kathy Cox] leads to widespread promulgation of beliefs that reject scientific facts such as Evolution, and the age of Earth and the Universe. However, the lack of oversight penetrates even deeper. For example, I am aware of one small college in the eastern United States where three professors connected with the Earth Sciences, including the Department Chairman, question the fact of Evolution.  Such a failure of our higher educational system, in both the training and hiring process, would be laughable if it was not a manifestation of an educational cancer.

The ‘sputniks’ [RUS: fellow travelers] in our midst attempt to erect  ethical, economic and pseudo-scientific barriers to progress based upon their own moral values. They are aided by the lack of understanding that exists about what nature is, and how it effects our every action within modern society.  This needs immediate attention by the people through rectification of our educational system. The knowledge problem is so immense that government is probably the only secular organization that can tackle the ignorance that is penetrating society. This requires a rigorously enforced ethic of separation of Church and State as a pre-requisite to educational reform.