More on science and religion, or Stephen Jay Gould’s error

“Our failure to discern a universal good does not record any lack of insight or ingenuity, but merely demonstrates that nature contains no moral messages framed in human terms. Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people. The answers will not be read passively from nature; they do not, and cannot, arise from the data of science. The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.” (Stephen Jay Gould, 1994)

Science and religion don’t need each other

There are two common mistakes. One mistake is to claim that science and religion are in eternal conflict. The other mistake is to claim that science and religion are different but complementary, as if both are needed to achieve a complete sense of truth—as a sort of yin and yang. The second view is particular popular among modern Christians who don’t want to oppose science. But there is a third view: science and religion can ignore each other.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and morality

In modernity, the universal validity of the law comes into question. The law is no longer simply God’s law or the monarch’s law or a reflection of Nature; the law is contingent, and it is not the same thing as justice. The law, like religion, is also only one function system among several. Justice is an idea, concept, aspiration, or topic of conversation, but the law is what society actually uses to stabilize normative expectations. Ibsen and Chekhov shared an interest in the question of morality–specifically, how a morality based on social hierarchy, or stratification, cannot survive in a functionally differentiated society.

Religion as function system

All social systems attempt to resolve a paradox. For religion, the paradox is that immanence needs transcendence and transcendence needs immanence; thus immanence must precede transcendence and transcendence must precede immanence. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Each assumes the prior existence of the other. This is a logical dead-end, which was why philosophy treats paradoxes as logical errors and religion just appeals to an authority to answer the question. The way this religious paradox is resolved by using time. We privilege transcendence and say that it came first. First we have a transcendent God or creator, and this God creates the world. . . . But resolving a paradox in this way simply un-asks the question of how each one can precede the other.

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