A Truth Science and Religion Have In Common
The truth of this can be found in our origins. Strangely, at least two quite different origins have been spotted. One appears in sacred texts, the other in ancient bones and relics.
Genesis, the first book of the Bible, illustrates a religious perspective. It reports that humans will split up as nations and communities, but not as races. This was embraced by numerous splinter groups. For example, the Moravians, who in the 1700’s settled around Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were aghast at how slavery was so central to American life. Their abhorrence of slavery was attributed less by a belief in human rights than by its falseness according to Biblical authority. Scriptures, despite what they sometimes depict about human cruelties, nevertheless make no mention of human races.
Modern science derives the truth about race from different origins—from the bones and artifacts of our ancient ancestors. Science relies on the credibility of empirical investigations and demonstrations. Hypotheses and educated guesses need evidence and thoughtful explanation. When paleontologists keep finding ever-older remnants of humanoids, they show us that humans have too much of a mix of similarities and differences to be understood in terms skin color and facial features. Most researchers conclude that the very notion of four or five human biological types is too simplistic and misleading to be scientific useful. The myth of race, anthropologist Ashley Montagu and his colleagues called it.
Obviously these accounts have contrasting stories and explanations. But the universal reach of their common truth is remarkable. Every religion seems to embrace some variation of the golden rule. We should love our neighbor regardless. Although exactly who is our neighbor can be a contentious issue, sacred tales speak of the disputes in terms other than race.
Empirical sciences do not appeal to divine authorities. Instead, they appeal to the authority of empirical evidence and analytic thought. To understand how the earliest human societies began, flourished or disappeared, the appeal to race contributes nothing. Scrutinizing the physical remains of our forebears—their skulls and DNA samples, their art work and utensils—scientists do not detect Latino, Native American or African. They, like religion, discover human groups, communities, nations, collectives, cults, sects, orders or families, but no races.
This commonality has been obscured by the intelligent design/evolution trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. The disputants about school curriculum highlight only the shortcomings of their adversary. The charges and counter charges become predictable: Religion does not appeal to independent criteria. Science cannot account for the miracle of the eye or heart. Religion overlooks the obvious lessons of nature. Science fails to persuade of any higher purpose to human life.
Those who seek some reconciliation by noting the examples of scientists who believe in a divinity or religious scholars who find evolution compatible with theism avoid the main controversies. They hope the dispute will be resolved, or postponed, by greater tolerance or ideological compromise.
Such an approach is too passive. It fails to emphasize that humans have contrasting kinds of inquiry into questions about who they are, from where they came and to where they are destined. A religious inquiry relies on different presumptions and criteria than science. Because science cannot account for every question humans imagine, however, does not mean religion—disguised by some advocates as intelligent design—needs to be included in a science class. Nor does exegesis of, say, passages from Psalms or the Koran regarding proper human conduct, need discussion about the mating patterns of chimpanzees and monkeys.
Those who deride the truths of religion in the name of science undermine the value science places on curiosity. And those who demand that modern science include some mention of religion not only demean science—they do spirituality a disservice.
Dr. Hooke is a professor of philosophy at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, Maryland.
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This story was published on December 15, 2005.