The Holy Scientific Debate

Why the war between the soul and the atom is a lost cause

The existing rift between the proponents of spontaneous evolution and their impassioned counterparts among the world’s established religions breaks down for a very simple reason; both camps are crippled by animosity and blinded by an absolute conviction in the nobility of their own cause. In one corner, the self-proclaimed champions of science and reasoned argument rail against the deprivations and inconstancies of holy scripture. In the other, men of God rebuff with equal energy the many assumptions enlightened thinking must continue to make in order to claim it has the upper hand. The irony is that both camps rally around what is essentially a belief in the superior likelihood of their opposing views, not the absolute truth of those views. One camp plays down the significance of ultimate causality as secondary to the knowledge we have already acquired, reasoning that to know the form life takes, and the course of its progress, renders the question of why to a role of secondary importance. The other reverses this argument, choosing instead to subordinate what can be empirically known to the greater question; namely the observation that to attribute purpose and intention to atomic structure is itself a betrayal of logic. The likely truth — and this should really be obvious to any person of sound mind — is that the answer is trapped in plain sight, floating in a vacuum of mutual hostility. No premise of modern science negates the possibility of the soul; just as belief in a realm outside the physical does not invalidate our efforts to master the structure of the world around us. To claim conscience must take a form that lends itself readily to the instruments of science is as asinine as giving pride of place to petty superstition as the last word on the plausibility of a higher power.

Religion has much to answer for, to be sure. In its name and beneath its banners great cruelty and grave injustice has been visited upon believers and heathens alike. Just how much of this we might have been sparred had the divine taken a less prominent role in human affairs is a matter of speculation. But it should also be admitted that militant atheism and the political trends that adopt it perform just as poorly when given pride of place. It is also fair to point out that “science” has traditionally fared little better when exposed to the deprivations of the human character. Eugenics — to site but one example — had no difficulty picking up where religion left off when it came to the question of who shall inherit the Earth. And while it could be argued that religion — at least in the West — has been tamed by the rise to pre-eminence of secular compassion and political freedom, it is no less true that the human sciences have suffered an equal and opposite upheaval in the hands of its own masters. Like the house of God in its time, those who today worship at the altar of the mighty brain as the source of good and evil enjoy no less of a monopoly, positioned as they are between the power of the state and its patrons and the ignorance of the common citizen. No less a contributor to the decline of religion than Karl Marx once observed that religion was the opiate of the masses. In a twist of irony that even Marx himself could surely never have imagined, opiates have now become the opiate of the masses.

All the juxtaposition of science and religion — at least as it has played out to date — can really teach us is that the human experience seems destined to be dominated by the few in one form or another, and that those who assume the mantle in any given sphere seem equally vulnerable to some form of megalomania, whether their power is derived from the divine, the political or the scientific.

The case of religion, however, is a peculiar one. I would argue that the question is not whether religion is wrong or right in what it claims, but why it is assumed that the view of the divine as it exists for most people of faith today is itself a legitimate take on the subject. If considered from a strictly neutral point of view — a difficult task, to be sure — it is not the overarching question of what man is that religion seems to be fighting for, but a very narrow and unlikely interpretation of it; an explanation that has overshadowed by simple weight of numbers the more important question. This unfortunate situation is reinforced by the antagonists of organized religion, who seem determined to pick holes in the absurd rather than confront the elephant in the room.

If we can discard the obvious falsehoods on both sides of the argument, it should quickly become apparent that in their essential forms neither evolution as we understand it, nor the possibility that man is spiritual in nature, are mutually exclusive. In many ways the very words “religion” and “science” , and the common belief that they are understood to antagonise each other, present a false choice. If man really is a composite of animated matter and spiritual cognizance, the God of Abraham and the acolytes of Benjamin Rush are equally guilty of fostering a climate in which this vital question can never be truly explored, much less answered.

At the core of my argument then sits this fundamental proposition; absent the obvious fiction of an all-knowing God and the equally absurd idea of an ape evolving to split the very atoms it is made from, can we not set aside for a moment our need for controversy and examine the facts as we see them in the clear light of day? It is my sincere belief that many already suspect — if only in the unformulated confines of their private thoughts — that the truth in this debate must lie somewhere in the middle. Let us then set aside both our superstitions and our need to believe that authority is synonymous with benevolence, and look to the future as one in which the greatest freedom there can be is not the freedom to speak one’s mind, but to know it is our own and let it explore the world as we see it, not as we are told it must be seen.