Science; The New Super-Religion!
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Before we begin, PLEASE bear in mind that this article is just my opinion. I am not trying to denigrate those who are ‘religious’ or who believe in the archetypal Christian (or Muslim or Hebrew or Buddhist or whatever) Deity(s). Some people choose to believe in atoms and radio waves. If you choose to believe in these things, then that is your right and I would never (even if I could) try to take that right away. I myself am a scientist as well as being deeply spiritual. I believe in the interconnectedness of all things. I also believe in ‘awakening’ and being ‘aware’ and in ‘serving the universe with love’. I also believe that DNA is the fingerprint of a creator. Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter really what I do or do not believe in. This article is just a philosophical exercise, not intended to cause offence or distress.
Having said that I’m sure I will write something that does cause offence or distress to someone(s). If I do, I apologise in advance and ask you to comment on the article but to keep your comments polite and on point.
In this article I aim to explore what I think traditional religion is, where it comes from and what its purpose/advantage to the Human Race might be.
I will then compare science to traditional religion, highlighting where and how science trumps religion in terms of its benefits to Human development.
You can then make up your own mind. I’m sure that many of you will disagree with many of my comments and ideas, but if I have given you even one new pathway or idea to explore then I will consider this article a success and will wish you ‘Godspeed’ (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist) on your journey of exploration.
Spirituality lives within nearly every human being. This can be proven as a basic neurophysiological function of the cerebral cortex. What do I mean? Experiments show that when stimulated via trans-cranial electromagnetic energy, certain areas of the brain trigger a sense of ‘other’ in the human brain. In other words, test subjects report “being close to the spiritual world” or ”sense the presence of a higher power” etc. So it can be argued convincingly that spirituality or a need to believe in a higher power seems to be ‘hard wired’ into our very nervous systems and cerebral cortex. How does this translate into the physical world? Well, nearly every primitive culture has shown that it worships or reveres the wild world and its creatures. They worship the animals that give them food and they worship the elements (fire, air, water, etc) that affect the world around them. They probably worship the moon and the sun and the stars too.
This, to me seems only natural. After all, the ‘ignorant’ savage cannot truly understand his environment at the chemical or physical or environmental level, so he worships those things that, to him, are beyond his control in an attempt to gain some form of ‘partnership’ with his surroundings.
“If I chant my desires out to the air, then if I am lucky/good/obedient to the spirits then my desires/needs/wants will be heeded and the rains will continue to fall, the sun will continue to rise and the food-animals will continue to appear”. Since the savage knows (from bitter experience of hunger and cold) that HE cannot control the weather or the food supply, he has, logically, to appeal to unseen beings that have the sort of power he does not. The sort of ‘otherworldly forces’ that we see represented in cave-art and tribal imagery.
So we can see how spirituality – the desire to believe in ‘otherworldly forces’ is a basic Human motivator.
Perhaps more importantly, spirituality gives humans a sort of ‘meta co-operation’. What do I mean? Well think about the most basic human unit; the family cell. The members of that cell feel fairly comfortable with each other and trust each other because they know how they think, feel and behave (leave aside the sometimes twisted modern family that despises and lies to each other).
However when groups of families begin to live in villages, there can be an element of ‘strangeness’, since you no longer know the people around you as well as you know your own family and do not feel as certain about predicting how they will act or respond to any given situation. But, a commonly held spiritual belief that encompasses the whole village creates a sense of unity and familiarity once again. You feel that you can trust the other villagers because they think and feel just like you do, even if it is ‘only’ about the world around you/them and not about the other important issues in life. There is a bond and a rapport, which engenders widespread co-operation.
Of course, the village still needs a Head Man. Someone to direct and cajole. To maintain discipline and keep good order. The head man may also be the spiritual leader, but often a new role is created; the Shaman. Note that in primitive cultures the Shaman has a lot of power! This is because he controls the belief system of the villagers, and tells them what and how to worship.
Controlling someones’ belief system is a hugely powerful thing. The key is in the word ‘belief’, since it implies faith and faith requires trust. The person on the end of the Shamanic rituals is being controlled and manipulated by their innate need to believe in ‘otherworldly forces’ as well as their own trust and faith in the Shaman, and also the desire to ‘fit in’ with those around them that also partake in the Shamanic rituals. This is where the line between spirituality and religion becomes blurred of course.
So, the astute ‘spiritual leader’ (in my opinion, the term ‘spiritual leader’ is a travesty and an oxymoron; you should not need to be ‘lead’ when it comes to your spiritual beliefs and anyone who actually desires to lead and control large groups of people on their spiritual journey should, by definition be viewed with deep suspicion – this is of course different from the old lady who guides you through a mescaline trip for example – unless of course she also tries to manipulate you) uses the innate Human ‘need to believe’, combined with our trusting nature, against us. Yes, of course most Shamans or spiritual leaders would claim to be pure souls, simply trying to shepherd their flock towards the light and keep them safe from evil. Indeed some few probably are like this, but any pastor etc who is part of an established religion has to consider that he is operating in line with the wishes of his own masters and leaders and so can never be 100% ‘pure’.
In this chapter we have established that Humans have an innate desire to believe in otherworldly forces. We can see how this may benefit us but also leaves us vulnerable to manipulation and control.
Religion is the control and manipulation of individual spirituality. End of story, as far as I am concerned. Yes some religions claim to be a force for good in this world, despite having a history of supporting slavery, engaging in wide-spread torture, promoting fatal diseases and encouraging warfare and genocide. However I find that the only true good that comes from religious groups is when sub-groups form and take it upon themselves to (for example) help the sick in Africa, or rebuild earthquake-damaged property in Haiti. These groups temporarily devolve from the larger religious group and use their commonality (a particular set of religious beliefs) as a ‘trust creating mechanism’, both within the group and also ‘without the group’, i.e. they use the benign perceived image of religion to grant them access and support to the areas they want to volunteer in. There is nothing wrong with that in my opinion. In fact this sort of thing is probably highly laudable – if done without ulterior motive and conducted in line with the cultural and spiritual mores of the society in which the volunteer action is taking place.
Organised religion is the regimentation and hierarchical arrangement of separatist religions or diffuse spiritual beliefs into one overall belief structure. An example would be Christianity of course. This form of ‘uber religion’ takes ultimate control of the populace away from the Chieftain/Lord/King and places that power in the hands of the overall spiritual leader and his board of advisors. For example if the Pope decided (and he did) that the King of England was no longer a suitable leader for his people (because he dared to countermand the Pope) then he can excommunicate the King and open up the throne to any foreign King (that the pope considers to be a good Christian) and even support the invasion attempts to restore control of the English throne back to the Christian church and ultimately the pope himself. Of course this sort of thing doesn’t still happen in modern western societies, but it did... for hundreds of years, when religious power was at its zenith.
Organised religion serves another purpose though. Just as the residents in one village (with one set of spiritual beliefs) may distrust the residents of another village (with a subtly different set of spiritual beliefs)and therefore not co-operate with them, to the detriment of one or both of the villages, so the different religions distrust each other. This may be largely due to control, and dogma, not logic. You already know this, but have you considered the opposite, i.e. that organised religion may be essential for ultimate human evolution/social development.
What do I mean? Well some of the largest empires in the history of the world likely would not have existed without organised religion. Whether you agree with their motives or not, the simple fact that there was a single religious leader (or centralised body of control) that had the power to unite various factions/nations/people under one common set of religious beliefs, arguably caused more wars, destruction and empire-building than anything else in history. However this was only possible because of the sense of unity and common purpose that organised religion brings.
Empires create stability which leads to cultural development and ultimately new forms of medicine, architecture, design, philosophy, etc. All of these are vital in shaping and advancing the Human Race.
In this chapter we have seen that religion and organised religion provide a platform for human co-operation on a grand scale... even if they also lead to mass horror and destruction at the same time. In fact you could argue that without the stability caused by religion, science could not have developed.
Science: The new Religion
I once heard someone famous say “I am a man of faith, a man of science”. When questioned by an incredulous interviewer, the famous man explained “science is an act of faith. I mean, now many of you support science yet how many of you have ever actually seen an atom? Or an electron? Or a radio wave? How about an amino acid?”
That really got me thinking, and was the trigger for this article. Having studied a particular type of medicine at university, I would, in the past, have put myself squarely in the science camp. Indeed, if someone asked me right now, what I consider myself to be, my answer would be ‘scientist’ (note, NOT scientologist, haha.). This is because I believe science has to be the fundamental foundation of any good experimentalist/health advisor/coach/instructor/mentor/technician/architect/doctor/ engineer. In my opinion you MUST understand the science thoroughly before you can start to see the cracks in the scientific world. You have to have a decent understanding of something before you can supersede it and advance beyond it.
However since graduating university as a 100% hardcore ‘priest of science’, I have seen and practiced certain techniques that are effective yet highly controversial because they are unproven and seen as ‘radical pseudoscience’ by the scientists. After having my eyes opened further, my own view now is that science is like a set of golden handcuffs. It brings you vast knowledge and understanding, but it may also stop you truly thinking for yourself and stops you developing wisdom over knowledge. If all you have is the information in your text books and are unwilling to consider anything unproven by science then you are a slave to science. A mere drone; suitable only for rote learning and the mindless following of algorithms.
So many scientists I know will shy away from anything that is as yet unproven, even though it can be shown to elicit a positive effect. An example might be not using a certain supplement or nutritional approach that can be shown to be effective, simply because “the science doesn’t support it”. What they seem to overlook is that science can only focus on a certain number of things at any one time and just because science doesn’t yet back a certain thing, doesn’t mean that thing is not effective. This is what I call ‘handcuffed by science’. A single badly thought out or poorly executed scientific study can be the death-knell of a supplement, treatment technique or therapeutic drug. It can convince people that the thing being studied it worthless, when actually it may well have been the study itself that was worthless. If you only read the abstract of a study or lack the critical thinking skills to effectively evaluate the study, how can you know that the study was ‘bad’? You cannot, and unfortunately very few people (myself included sometimes) have the skills to properly assess a scientific study – especially if that study is (for example) a highly technical piece on some obscure chain of amino acids.
Of course on the other end of the spectrum we have crazy ideas and theories and ‘broscience’ where people ignore science almost entirely in order to dream up their own theories and practices, some of which may be highly unsound. This is potentially FAR more dangerous than blindly following good science, which is why I insist on knowing the science before I consider wandering off on my own path to wisdom. Ignoring science is very bad. Following science blindly is not so bad. The lesser of two evils...
Sure, science can and has, given me huge benefit to understanding the Human body and other things. I LOVE to see evidence that points towards certain things – though not as part of a confirmation bias. BUT I refuse to be handcuffed by science and railroaded by it. In my strong opinion, one should read and understand the science and then blend it with personal experience and insight to create a ‘real world’ solution. In fact, I will place higher importance (sometimes) on anecdotal evidence than I will on scientific evidence, because to do otherwise would be to let science handcuff me and limit my wisdom.
Science as Religion
Let me bullet point some ideas:
- Science really is an act of faith. Sure, some very basic theories can be proven by us personally but most are ‘hand-me-down’ from great scientists throughout the ages. Even if other scientists claim to have confirmed these results, how many of US outside ‘the priesthood of science’ have actually replicated these experiments to our own satisfaction?
- Science appeals to our innate need to believe in ‘otherworldly forces’. Gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and the weak nuclear forces... all mystical invisible forces that we ‘believe’ in because we are told they are proven by experimentation. Yet NOT ONE PERSON ALIVE has actually seen these forces... because they are invisible.
- Science has its priests and leaders and they feed us the information that we are to believe in. Sadly though, 99% of people are not educated/informed enough to really ascertain ‘the truth’ and so they simply believe what they are told to believe by the priests of science (the most ‘arcane’ of which are the medical professionals with their Latin terminology and confusing explanations of disease and injury) and act according to the instructions of the priests, assuming that the priests have their best interests at heart.
- Trust in science/trust in the priests of science can be manipulated almost as easily as trust in any other religious leader. How many medical professionals have authorised unneeded medication or surgery, in order to increase profits? How many pharmaceutical companies have buried evidence that might support alternative medicines or supplements, etc? How many times has science been deliberately misinterpreted to the advantage of the science priesthood?
- Science trumps religion from a co-operative perspective. In other words, there are Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus who put aside their religious differences... to believe in science and to co-operate and trust each other because once again they have found a common belief structure that guides them towards a common goal or belief.
- Science is seen to be ‘pure’ in as much as it is evidence based and therefore supposedly free from Human bias and manipulation. This is why intelligent people trust science so much more openly and freely than trusting religion.
- Science is far more credible than religion can ever be – unless God actually makes an appearance to the whole Human race.
- Science is based upon scientists and scientists are fallible, which is why science is fallible too. However many scientists would deny that and berate you for suggesting it. So why is it that you can find one scientific study supporting an idea and another study that completely undermines it?
- Much of science is dogma, just as religion is. How many doctors (or ‘science priests’) do not actually understand the material, but instead just repeat it parrot fashion? Quite a few in my experience. Having studied medicine, it is apparent to me that free-thinking is discouraged in science. You are told what to believe and that is effectively the end of it. Does that sound familiar to any churchgoers out there?
- Scientists can be extremely possessive over ‘the truth’ as they see it, often leaving little or no room for outside beliefs. They may have the arrogance to label anything that is yet unproven as ‘pseudoscience’, forgetting that there are many things in the universe that are still unproven and that just because we cannot see a thing, does not make it ‘false’. See the earlier point about scientists being fallible...
- What these same proponents of science seem to overlook is that science is (as mentioned earlier) fallible. For years the scientists were telling us that “fats are bad”. Then, just a short time ago they had an abrupt volte face and said “oops no, some fats are good”. Of course, people who can think and research for themselves already knew that fats are good, but that’s beside the point. The point as I see it is that scientists tell the populace what to think... and then make huge bloopers and errors. So whilst we are taught to believe that science is the answer, clearly it is not the ultimate answer.
So we can see that whilst science has a lot of the qualities of the old religions (uniting people towards a common purpose and allowing/facilitating advancement of the Human race), It generally lacks the highly undesirable qualities such as fostering bigotry and hatred and intolerance and conflict. This makes it ‘the next step’ in Human development, though it is far from perfect.
Science has a lot of parallels with religion such as a ‘priesthood’ that speaks in terms foreign to the lay person and a heavy reliance on faith and trust.
Many proponents of science think that science is truth... just as many priests would claim that about their own religion. Both are clearly wrong. Until scientists are perfect, science will always be imperfect.
Science can lead you but can also limit you. I leave it to you to decide if this is a good thing...or not.
I find it hugely ironic that science is now looking for... ‘The God Particle’. Generally speaking, science has derided religion for many years, looking down its collective nose at people who believe in some sort of creationist power or philosophy. And yet here they are, spending billions of dollars and utilising the finest scientific minds, all in a quest for something called ‘The God Particle’. If that doesn’t make you think, then nothing will!
Be strong in your beliefs – whatever they may be – but please keep an open mind!