31 January 2007

I find the most recent email from Sam Harris to Andrew Sullivan to be quite interesting because I think they are both advocating the same point. It is the height of fundamentalism to apply knowledge, religious or secular to the wrong sphere. Religion is the search for answers that cannot be known. Science is the search to understand all that is knowable about our world. The domains of these two types of knowledge have changed drastically in the past several centuries. Science has made great gains and the mystery of the physical world has been greatly reduced. Also we can see what things are within the bounds of science but we do not yet have the answers for. Responsible religion would recognize this and seed, happily, that these things are no longer within the domain of religion.

This however does not mean that the religious myths loose value. Myth is not about logical truth, it is about explaining the things we cannot know. To use creation myth as an example. The book of Genesis states that God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. Now modern science can tell us with some certainty how the universe was formed, how stars were born and how this very planet grew and developed. The presence of the logos based explanation does not remove the need for Genesis completely. It removes the need to use Genesis as an explanation of how, but not the why.

The religious fundamentalist will persist that Genesis is a complete explanation of how and why. The secular fundamentalist insists that because he can explain how there is no greater why. The rational person accepts the scientific how, and may choose to believe a religious explanation for why in order to enrich his feeling of identity.

Genesis is a simple case, because the origins of the planet can be scientifically determined. The life of Christ is more complex. We have no reference to his life outside to the Gospels, which makes determining truth, as Sam Harris uses the word, impossible. Furthermore all normal evidence shows that the virgin birth, resurrection, and assumption into heaven are untrue. To claim in the empirical sense that they are would be bad science. That does not prevent you from having a religious discourse about what those stories make you think about the world, and how what they make you think should effect how you act in the world.

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