Monday, December 26, 2011

Non-overlapping?

Let me posit a difference between religion and science.

Religion: Future>Present>Past

Science: Past>Present>Future.

Let me explain.

Religion, as it has traditionally been understood in its institutional guise, begins with the dream of a comforting future. An escape from the apparently inescapable reality of death.

Which impacts our daily lives in the present. Determines, for example, codes of morality, inspires great deeds of goodness or mayhem. Mandates rites and rituals.

Appease the gods and live forever.

Which requires a story to satisfy the human need for context. So we look to past reports of foundational miracles. Christ rising from the dead. Muhammad's night flight to Jerusalem. Joseph Smith's encounter with the angel Moroni.

Science, on the other hand, begins with the past. With sequences of events that appear to be causally related. The causal connection is affirmed or refuted by experiment. If such-and-such occurred in certain circumstances in the past, does it also occur in the present?

We devise quantitative "laws of nature" that express our consistent experience with the past.

Which can be extrapolated to predict probable futures.

Stephen Jay Gould called religion and science "non-overlapping magisteria." But they run in opposite directions in our minds. The a priori future of religion is not the same as the a posteriori future predicted by science. Nor is the a posteriori past promulgated by religion susceptible to the a priori examination of science.


The opposing intellectual streams of religion and science may be non-overlapping, but the "real" worlds they hypothesize are sharply divergent. Some folks manage to hold both worlds in their minds simultaneously. To me this smacks of cognitive dissonance. For those who can pull it off, more power to them -- as long as they don't restrict my freedom to dissent.