Friday, April 30, 2010

Science, Faith and Reduction

A number of articles seemed to echo one another recently. I'll blog them in reverse order to my reading them, so first or last is Breaking Things Down to Particles Blinds Scientists to Big Picture
Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.
This resonated with me as I had just read John Stackhouse saying much the same thing about faith. From “All Religions Are the Same…” (except Where They’re Not)
What needs to be argued and not just asserted is that each of the major religions really does reduce down to moralism or mysticism without a loss to its essential character. And, in my view, most religions do not so reduce. Devotional (bhakti) Hinduism (the most popular form of Hinduism) doesn’t; Mahayana Buddhism (the most popular form of Buddhism) doesn’t; Judaism doesn’t; and Christianity and Islam, the most popular religions in the world, certainly don’t. (I recognize that there are moralistic and mystical varieties of each of the Abrahamic religions, but the majority of believers and of those religions’ formal traditions do not, I maintain, reduce their religions to mere moralism or mysticism.)
To get the full character of what he's saying you need to read the full post, it doesn't reduce to a quote particularly well.

Reduction of faith is often called Pluralism, though how you have many when everything is the same is lost on me. Brian J. Walsh touched on the idea of Principled Pluralism in Inclusive, Particular and Being Down and Out in Austin.
We need to acknowledge and affirm the plurality of worldviews in our society and find meaningful and respectful ways for various faith communities to make their contribution to the common good. Now I also happen to think, on anthropological grounds, that we are all members of faith communities, but that requires an expanded notion of faith that breaks through the religion/secular dualism that has been championed by Enlightenment modernity. I think that all people live their lives out of some foundational worldview or narrative that is, at heart, religious in character, even if that religion is self-consciously “secularist” or atheist.


So maybe what we need to talk about is just what do we mean by inclusiveness. If what we mean by inclusiveness is that we need to find ways to bridge the gap between various groups, whether Christian of various stripes, Muslim, Aboriginal, feminist, gay/lesbian, liberal or even neo-conservatives (a stretch likely for both of us!) to fight against poverty and to seek the common good, then of course, count me in.

But count me in as a Christian.

Let the various groups make their contribution – often on their own, but sometimes in coalition where that will be most effective – but let them make their contribution with their worldview clearly in the forefront, not hidden behind some veil of religious neutrality. That imposition of religious neutrality is, in fact, one of the oppressive legacies of the liberalism that I am opposing.
- Peace

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