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The Forum > Article Comments > The science of religion > Comments

The science of religion : Comments

By John Warren, published 17/3/2005

John Warren argues that the evolution of religion can be explained by science.

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John, we agree on much, that the physical world is a mechanism that may be freely described by the methods of natural science. There is no spirit in the machine. Religion has an evolutionary origin see my papers: http://users.bigpond.net.au/sellick/Evolutionary%20hermeneutics%20revised.htm, http://users.bigpond.net.au/sellick/Boyer%20rev.htm

Where we disagree is in the step you take when you say that religion and other aspects of human behavior can be explained in terms of the physical universe. While that is ultimately true, it is misleading because it assumes that higher levels of complexity may be explained in terms of low levels. For example, when you have something as complex as a nervous system its function cannot be explained by the activity of individual nerve cells, it is their connectivity, plasticity, inhibitory and excitatory states that constitutes a total functioning. Reductionism ignores complexity. It is an even a greater step to start talking about human behavior and culture as being reducible to lower levels of explanation. Can a symphony be reduced to physics and chemistry?

The other point at issue concerns your lumping all religion in with Frazerís analysis. Salvation comes from the Jews because Israel took a different path than that of native religion because instead of being a nature religion, the religion of Israel was based on its experience of history. It was thus not rooted in physics and chemistry, which is one way to view the world, but in the way events went among the nations and between individuals. It is based on real historical events even thought these became embellished with what we would call supernatural elements. Thus it was not dreamt up, but evolved with the experience of the nation. That is why it still informs us of what it means to be human.
Posted by Sells, Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:05:20 PM
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Excellent article John I would like to pick up on some points by Sells.
While reductionism can seem clumsy at times I donít think you can say that it doesnít take complexity into account without some qualification. There is a movement by some within science specially theoretical physics to come up with a differing methodology to reductionism, however I feel it is a bit early to say whether it has any real use yet. A notable member of this movement is Prof Davies who recently has written in New Scientist about this subject titled ď Higher laws and the mind-boggling Complexity of lifeĒ. So far reductionism have only failed when weíve not had a fully developed understanding of the complex systems we are describing. As Davies points out in his article he believes such statements to be worthless because even if you could reduce the complex system down to itís basicís you could not use it to make any useful predictions of outcomes. This line of reasoning is particularly important in the area of biological emergence because of the shear complexity of even the simplest life. Non-reductionit (for want of a better word) side step this problem by suggesting that there is a inherit likelihood of complexity (life) emerging from inorganic matter. A sort of contra to entropy if you will, in that when a system gets sufficiently complex it tends towards more complexity rather then less
Posted by Kenny, Thursday, 17 March 2005 12:38:32 PM
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The article by John seemed to me as a 'high browed' or a scientific view that there is no Creator God. One reason given is because people have visions and these can come from a chemical inbalance. As one with little scientific knowledge all I have to do is look outside and see a balanced (well once it was balanced) organised creation. I have read about evolution, how each creature came to what it is today and I try to understand how say sex came into being. There would have to be two units one sort of male the other sort of female who would have to evolve side by side. Then they came together, I ask why here, but together they came and tried to have sex.But because not all the many bits had been formed this coming together was a failure, so back to laying eggs or dividing their selves or whatever. So another twenty or so million years until two more units even more advanced found and recognised each other and tried to come together. I mean how many times did this happen? Yet if one were to look at the similarities between species surely there is strong proof of a master designer.If one were to look at mankind's brain and reasoning capacity surely one could see design.Yet strangely the Bible gives no proof of creation one is asked to accept what is written by faith.Many scientist have no proof of evolution they must accept evolution also by faith.Regards, numbat
Posted by numbat, Thursday, 17 March 2005 3:06:17 PM
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John Warren may be right about our minds natural ability to create and entrench god ideas in our worldviews and cultural heritage . I get the strange feelng, though, listening to all this desire for a simple rationale for what is really still beyond us , that we are taking our limited understanding of ourselves a little too seriously; "if we say we know, when we still don't know its wrong- Are we not asserting- we are and there is none other."
I'm reminded by the general tone of this discussion of those early Russian cosmonauts who, having arrived at space before all other comers, and as reps of the great reductionist culture of the 20 century declared - "He's not here , therefore He's not there".

Maybe when we collectively behave like children we should agree to wonder at the real limits of our knowledge, our arrogance instead of the more productive element of humility -scientific humility.
When we believe like children ( even as geochemists) paradoxically many of us can still only wonder and be willing to consider the possibility of worship . Maybe too, if it is in the blood, maybe none of us can exorcise it? Join me at http://graceware.blogspot.com After all , whatever it is, its a strong force to work its magic so effectively all those eons.
Posted by Sirhumfree, Thursday, 17 March 2005 3:16:03 PM
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I don't understand the issue - there is just so much overwhelming evidence for creation - after all its in the bible so it must be true. All those fossils, layers of rock, discernable climate change detected in antarctic ice, biological analysis on which we base our medical technology, carbon dating, common sense - that's just there to ......oh , yes to test our faith.
Posted by Ringtail, Thursday, 17 March 2005 4:33:51 PM
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We can see by the comments by numbat, Sirhumfree, Ringtail that religions niche is in the minds of the weak and stupid. No wonder we so many pointless debates with the GBís. Just because your not smart enough to understand it doesnít mean it is not true. It may well be beyond you Sirhumfree but not's beyond humanity.
Step into the light.
Posted by Kenny, Thursday, 17 March 2005 5:38:12 PM
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