I've read through this article and many of the reader comments and maybe I am just too dense, but I just don't quite understand how we can get beyond this opposition between science and religion?  The author is suggesting a 'meeting of the minds' of some sort, that atheists must recognize that the human world we build is also established in mind and heart and spirit...  Honestly, I'm lost, so perhaps if this subject holds some interest to you, you could share your insight with me.




The Hidden Dimensions Of Science Vs. Religion


by Adam Frank
July 26, 2010
NPR - Blog



Have the extremes of the Science vs. Religion run their course? Is it time to step beyond the vision of Science and Spirituality as a one-dimensional spectrum? Is it time to say to those who fight from the poles of that spectrum “enough!” and move on?

This question drew sparks in the science blogosphere, last month. I was glad to see the issue raised. The extremes of the science and religion debate have had their say. They offer little to us anymore but a tired standard that fails to meet the most important challenge of our moment – the need to create something new.

In struggling to meet our challenge, we might call on a metaphor from science itself. To overcome the exhausted linearity of the science and religion debate we must, literally rise above it. We must go orthogonal and find another dimension for the discourse.

The poles of the debate are well known. On one side are the religious fundementalists brandishing scripture like bullies and willing to force their particular interpretations of their particular religions into textbooks and courthouses.

On the other side are … what? As an atheist myself, finding the right term is difficult but come to rest on strident atheists. Rather than offer my own definition of the term I'll turn to Albert Einstein. It was Einstein who railed against “the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source. They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional 'opium of the people' —cannot bear the music of the spheres.”

Of course the point must always be made that in domains of politics and policy strident atheists are infinitely more tolerant and less damaging than the gang hanging out at other end of the spectrum. But when it comes to the very real issue of imagining a language for reimagining culture, their stridency utterly fails to help us.

And help is very much what we need.


The religion and science debate is not just an academic exercise in polemics. We were born into a moment when the very project of civilization seems precariously balanced by the very behavior of that civilization (6 billion people and counting…). A look at the long sweep of history reveals the creation of new cultural forms will not simply be a matter of technology. The human world we build is established in mind and heart and spirit. It will come down to what we hold sacred. Yes those words spirit and sacred must be included however you choose to define it. And there, right there, is where we are called to rise above the polarities.

We do not yet have the language to express ourselves when we seek to both honor the practices of science and the experience of life justly called sacred. We do not yet have a vocabulary that can acknowledge science and its ethic of investigation as a bulwark against prejudice and bias while simultaneously acknowledging the existence of other “ways of knowing” beyond the deployment of reason and empirical investigation.

Thus we must go orthogonal. In mathematics orthogonality refers to line elements or vectors which are perpendicular, i.e., forming right angles. To move orthogonally to a line, like the linear spectrum of fundamentalist vs strident atheist, means to move into a new dimension. It means to move into a new space.

Metaphorically it means to rise above.

This is what our time calls from us. The extremes of the science vs religion debate hold nothing useful anymore. But the middle ground is simply that – a midpoint between two exhausted vocabularies. What we need is our own most cherished resource – human creativity.

Can we see what is best in existing traditions and ask why they remain inspiring? Can we see how science has freed us and ask if that capacity can be broadened and still allow humility. Can we honor our experiences of life’s sacred character without holding jealously to creed and dogma? Can we understand how science too calls us to those experiences?

In short, can we create not just middle ground but new ground.

In short, can we find nothing less than higher ground?


Check Out the 140 Reader Comments HERE:

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Science is the higher ground. There really is no debate here. Spirituality and the sacred are chimera. The last refuge of the cornered rat of religious conservatism.
I can kind of understand what he's getting at here, and even agree with him in some way.
It seems to me that he's saying that science alone is not enough to build a society, and I agree - science describes reality, but doesn't tell us what to do about it. I also think that - if by spirituality he means an Einsteinian awe of the universe and by sacred the base values - I agree with his claim that we need spirituality and the sacred to build a society.

That's a lot of "if"s, though, so if generous_mode=off I think this is just a lot of acomodationist hot air. Religion is a relic of humanitie's stupider and crappier past, and science has just gotten started on offering insights into life, the universe and everything. You can't say they are in the same dimension.

And anyone who thinks acknowledging "other ways of knowing" is a good idea should be treated with caution. The "other ways" are usually not of knowing, but ignorance and faith. I've never seen one different.
Is it all that passe? Just a media hype? I suppose I don't quite feel it's as innocuous as all that. Not when you see our history books in Texas remade to present our founding fathers not to be the secularists that they were. Where Intelligent Design is taught along with Evolution as a plausible, if not superior alternative. Where gay marriage is condemned, and women are not only having difficulty finding doctors and clinics who perform abortions, but also confront pharmacists who refuse to sell them birth control because it goes against their religious beliefs and hence their moral values. Not to mention that Obama's health care reform will not cover abortion, because he had to concede that option to appease conservative religious constituents. Where the likes of Sarah Palin is a plausible Presidential candidate in 2012. Not so insignificant if you ask me.

Maybe most of these issues are not per-say included in the Science vs Religion debate, but the mindset is the same.
Well, where are all these moderates who see no real conflict in science and religion and are not 'literalists', when they are needed to prevent the religious zealots from imposing their irrational beliefs on those who don't believe as they do? If most of America feels this way, then we should all be standing together not to allow our government to be corrupted by those who refute our constitutional separation of church and state. Is it really such a small minority that is somehow capable of demanding that their religious beliefs be respected and reflected in our society and in it's laws?

I of course agree with you when you said, "otherwise rational people will consistently hold to irrational, wrong, and even dangerous ideas and prejudices" even when confronted with the facts. But this irrational thinking is not the minority, it appears to me to be the majority of Americans, literal in their religious beliefs or not.

That most people are consumed with their daily survival and personal issues and not engaged in thinking about these issues, is a fact. Whether it is about Climate Change, their health, their personal finances, people prefer to live in a state of denial until issues personally impact their lives. But for those of us who try to keep at least one eye open, and do think about things beyond our basic comings and goings, we need to speak up and not just be complacent inadvertently allowing our country and our lives to be recreated in 'god's image.'
What large numbers of people are finally beginning to get it? Tea-partiers? Libertarians? Democrats? You know that if it weren't for the Party of No, we would have a better health care bill than the one we got. Obama is not George Bush.

The mentality of this country infuriates me, as does most of what you posted above, vespertilio (not because it is lies, but because it is true.) The country is dissatisfied with Obama because he is not accomplishing enough, so our reaction is to limit his ability to accomplish anything even more. It is a successful strategy for maintaining fascism by using the weakminded among us.

Bush and Obama do in fact stand in almost the same spot: President of a country fighting two wars, with a collapsed economy owned by the 1%ers, and a discontented population. But the difference of where they want to take the country is one of polar opposites. If more people are finally beginning to get it, they will support this government, realizing change is going to take a long time.

November 2nd will show if large numbers of people are getting it, or not.
Sidni, young lady , thanks for those comments!
How people brain-wash themselves to believe in woo and those right wing nut jobs!
Nobody says it like you do Adriana! Woohoo.... That's exactly what I came away with, but was trying to keep an 'open' mind if someone put up a comment that would enlighten or persuade me to think more along the lines presented in this article. Great response, thanks.
Adriana, we new atheists just want to get a word in from time to time and reveal our evngle of the more abudant life!
I agree with others - a bizarre and confused article. "The extremes of the science vs religion debate hold nothing useful anymore". Errr... didn't I see a thread in Current Affairs about a Louisiana school board wanting to introduce "Creationism"? Oh, but let's not be extreme, let's find a 3rd way - just a little bit of "Creationism" (i.e. some buffoon puts his head in the door of the science class, says "God did it", and walks off, job well done.)

There must necessarily always be a conflict between the 100%-convinced devout, and the skeptical and/or secular. E.g. If heaven is a real place, where we party for a trillion, trillion, trillion, [you get the idea] years, at which point the party is only warming up, what are we waiting for? Why shouldn't imbeciles fly planes into buildings, and why shouldn't we be OVERJOYED when little kiddies are murdered?

After all, if a day in heaven is better than your best day on Earth, what a WASTE life is. We are ALL better off DEAD. NOW. (Unless you're going down below of course, but most people don't think of themselves as "evil" - certainly not terrorists!)

The author confusedly and without explanation mentions the "sacred" several times, writing of "the experience of life justly called sacred." Huh? And "...other “ways of knowing” beyond the deployment of reason and empirical investigation."

I agree we shouldn't gratuitously bully or abuse the delusional. But the fact is, the mentally-ill person wanting to jump from the tall building and fly has "other ways of knowing", as does the terrorist, as does the creationist. So what is the responsible thing to do? Validate their beliefs in some way and show "humility"?

The fact is, everyone takes the "strident" (slur meaning "confident") atheist position on a thousand different issues. Think of the child who says "I have to sleep with you, because there's an invisible monster under my bed". Does ANYONE take a respectful or agnostic position? "You might be right Junior, I'm not in a position to say either way, so you best never go to your bed again. After all, I wouldn't want to take a chance - however small - that you'd be eaten by the monster."

What about our response to the mentally-ill person wanting to jump and fly - "Hey, what do I know? - do what you think is best" The terrorist? "72 virgins for killing people? Could be, could be, interesting thought...hey man, I respect your different way of knowing the sacred" Etc etc. Is this the author's "higher ground"?

It's unpleasant to have to disagree strongly with people - particularly when we are appalled or embarrassed by their beliefs (while we respect their right to have bizarre beliefs). But it's incredibly irresponsible to "honor" their "experiences of life's sacred character", especially where the "sacred" is harmful. And I've never met anyone who honors ALL delusions, or who seriously proposes this after considering the ramifications. The author is attempting to run from harsh reality, and does this by avoiding discussing any pertinent difficult issue raised by religion.
That ground would be the presumption of naturalism- what we find around us as due to natural causes to whick supernaturalists ever strive to overcome as Einstein overcame Newton, yet Newton's laws stil apply..
I'll make a thread on this soon.

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