Infinite Regress: It’s turtles all the way down

Probably at least since the 18th century, there has been a lot of talk about what science and religion have in common.  The commonplace argument is that science and religion are both seeking truth but in different ways. There is even a popular thriller–Angels and Demons by Dan Brown–that expresses this view. The great dream is to unify or harmonize religion and science. Another misconception is that for centuries people turned to religion (and/or myth) to try to understand how the world works or how it was created but now that we have science, which is a better way of answering the same questions, people are leaving religion behind. But none of this is true. Society has clearly not left religion behind, and religion has never been about understanding the world. No one goes to religion seeking to understand how the world works or to gain knowledge of reality.

Religion has always been about trying to halt infinite regress, in all of its varieties. It halts infinite regress in the law and politics, among other areas. It’s about positing an outside for this world, a place from which to observe the world objectively by a God or gods. Religion provides an uncreated Creator. It puts a floor, or ground (Meister Eckhart’s Grund), under everything. For Vedanta the ultimate ground is Brahman, and the particular soul (atman) is a bubble in the ocean of Brahman. Without this concept, religion tells, we are left with turtles all the way down.

Religion’s two-sided form is immanence/transcendence. For the religious system,  God, the Creator, or the Divine is transcendent. That is to say, it is noncontingent. The other function systems (law, economy, politics, art, education, science, medicine) have no use for the immanence/transcendence form.


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