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Monday, January 11, 2016

Postmodern science and religion

In realizing that we are transitioning to a postmodern world, I have tried to describe postmodernism in distinction from modernity. I created a frame to do this:


Here I describe modernity as a moment when science and religion are separated. In fact Karen Armstrong teaches that there was no religion before modernity since the religious was interwoven into the very fabric of pre-modern culture. In modernity we separate the sacred from the secular, religion and the state; and in Weber's words, we witness the "disenchantment of the earth."

In the "original thinking" of pre modern humanity, there was no separation. religion was integrated with every day life including the arts and sciences. According to the myths, original thinking was in touch with the earth, its rituals and all its spirits. Consciousness was not in relation to the world, the spirit not just connected to matter, mind not just entangled in the universe. Consciousness, spirit, mind is world, matter, the universe.

How did the separation of science and religion happen? It happened when religion refused science as threatening to its institutions and control. Religion imprisoned scientists as heretics. Religions sanctified political economies that were in competition for power. Religions fought wars against religion. Religions denied science in the schools as a political effort to destroy religion.

And science rejected religion as standing in the way of human aspirations for meaning, community, and life itself. Science denied transcendence and mystery even while exemplifying it. Scientists denied the gods even as poetic representations of the transcendence of the human spirit. Scientists became religious atheists and dogmatically denounced religious sentiments and beliefs.

Now in postmodern religion and science, the material universe is once again becoming the spiritual universe. Science and religion are accommodating each other and unifying in the postmodern age. What does this mean in the language we speak that is so modern? How can we possibly capture this meaning in a language that pits open faith against careful observation, the desire to discover against the desire to create, the word against the speaking, the objective against the quest?

I think the only way is to recognize the limits as well as the infinite possibilities of our existence in the world through thinking, speaking, acting with imagination through media we collectively create.

And that is what the postmodern turn makes possible. The postmodern affirms both religion and science. It recognizes that humans need to embrace both mystery and faith in order to pursue science--the careful observation of the universe, the transcending of conventional beliefs and doctrines, the opening to the world as it presents itself to us.

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There is one more factor that is important to the postmodern reconciliation of religion and science. That is the acceptance of the finality of death. Death must be accepted. True death--not the pretense of everlasting life in some preternatural realm--makes possible the ongoing circle of life. Are we willing to pass on and allow newness into the world? This is difficult for religionists and scientists alike. We have so many expressions of expectations of immortality either by divine assumption into some supernatural realm or by technological cyborgism or uploading of brains.

My own thinking says to both Rick Warren, Christian believer in the soul going to heaven and resurrection at the time of the awakening, and to Ray Kurzweil, AI scientist developing the technology for immortality, give it up. Accept and allow death so that new life can happen.  The courage to live is also the courage to die. Pass on. That is true transcendence and faith.

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