Wednesday, June 10, 2015

True religion encompasses and is shaped by science

I am reading Brant Gardner's book The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon (a review here). Practically the first thing he deals with is the sociology of the concepts of religion, science, and magic. He points out that all three arise from similar impulses and processes, and that large parts of the differences are simply labels or perceptions. That said, I value refined and tested systems of thought and practice, and science as we know it today has created an astoundingly effective system for proving effectiveness. Religion on the other hand, seems more broadly prone to reliance on unproven authority, and to slip into the realms of what we call magical thinking. Yet I have always resisted the idea that true religion is magic. True religion should be testable, just like science.

I may have grown up a little in my understanding. I've certainly changed. I still view Mormonism as encompassing all truth. If it's truth, it's part of Mormonism. If it's error, it's not. If it's truth, we should welcome it into the LDS church, when it's error, we should let it fall away, or even cast it out (I am referring to ideas, not people--even people with funny ideas). But with my realizations over the years of the limitations of language, the inability of large organizations to be safe and good for everyone, and the difficulty of knowing anything complex with too much certainty, I have softened my expectations to a degree. At the same time, I have clarified other expectations. I want to come out a true Mormon, so I want to welcome truth--whatever it's source. Here is my aspiration:

Science is good at testing measurable, reproducible truths. My true religion will embrace these truths and change itself to accommodate them. Ignoring or not adapting to these truths makes religion the magical endeavor some believe it is. Religion can be good at telling us how the world could be. Religion also reminds us that there is more beyond what we can measure, and there always will be. That doesn't make it false or unimportant, simply complicated. I will seek out science that not only tells us how the world is, but gives us tools to understand what we don't now know. I will seek after science to make of the world the beautiful heaven God has told us it will become. I will look to science for tools to try the traditions of my fathers and show me where they have been false. I will trust that there is truth and reason in the traditions of my fathers, and use those traditions to guide my questioning and remind me to check twice, or thrice, or many times, when there is apparent conflict with science. I will not allow scientific authority to justify discarding tradition or the belief that there is something more, but when measurement can answer a question, I will accept good measurements and admit the error of my former beliefs.

I guess I believe in the magical. I do believe in the limits of science to know truth, and I even think it's scientific to believe so. I do believe that there is more beyond what we can measure, and I suspect infinitely more. In these regards I believe in magical thinking. At the same time, I fight the idea that anyone knows what those limits are. I refuse to believe some things are unknowable until it is proven to me, scientifically, that they are. I embrace the power of science to explain and demystify things that have long been the domain of religion. I'm reasonably comfortable with religious authority, but when it tries to set limits to my knowledge or understanding, I balk. I'm reasonably comfortable with scientific inquiry, but when it tries to tell me there is nothing beyond its powers, I rebel. Give me science. Give me religion. Give me no false limits. Let me build Zion.

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