Response to Werner’s Thought Experiments — Will Science Replace Religion?

Stephen Nowlin/ Regarding Werner’s call for thought experiments on the future of the science-art enterprise, and my query on how science might someday replace religion. Werner asks “Do you have a sense of how this might work in practice?”

Good, modest little question, Werner — kinda like asking for simple operating instructions on how to transform all of human history! But an excellent experimental thought challenge. So everyone please forgive me at the outset for the hubris of even imagining how such a massive change might actually happen . . .

A first humble step might be to stop casting the argument in terms of religion vs. science, and engage it as supernatural-world vs. natural-world. This makes it an academic pursuit rather than one pointedly antagonistic to belief. Then get over the NOMA hurdle, discard it and recognize that ontologically religion and science essentially account for the same deep-seated human desire — an emotional relationship to one’s existence, escorted through by a sense of the profound and meaningful.

Whether we recognize it or not, the path of this central and unavoidable discourse which will ultimately lead to a battle for the ascendancy of one paradigm or the other, began at least (and has continued culturally at the creeping pace of continental drift) in the 15th and 16th centuries when early science shook the church to its foundation by locating the Sun at the center of the known universe. This now well-worn story of science history was culturally cataclysmic at the time, and I propose the fault-line was further expanded in the aftershocks of late 19th and early 20th century artists locating transcendent aesthetics in the contemplation of real objects, rather than in art’s traditional fictional depiction of objects. As metaphor, those transcendent sensations in response to actual real objects referenced how new scientific knowledge of the real was prying us loose from the glue of ancient inherited fictions — i.e. advancing from the supernatural to the natural is analogous to moving from the pictorial to the real.

Sci-art continues that vector of change in all its permutations, and is what over time can transform the stereotype of science as a mechanical pragmatic-only world view into an emotionally resonant and profoundly symbolic one as well — and thus further history’s incursion by science into the ontological archetypes traditionally claimed as rewards of religion only.

2 Replies to “Response to Werner’s Thought Experiments — Will Science Replace Religion?”

  1. BTW — No, science/natural cannot replace religion/supernatural’s eternal life and reuniting of loved ones in heaven — it will have to bravely prevail without those myths. But science may conceivably someday shatter the authority of such seeming absolutes as aging and death . . .

  2. So, just as religion in the 15th century survived (notwithstanding a couple centuries worth of grumbling) getting the rug pulled out from under its core belief in Earth as the center of God’s universe, so could religion survive the total and inevitably obvious exit of “supernatural” from human believability. The human responses to sensations of transcendence, existential meaning, spiritual fellowship, meditation, and even the concept of “God,” are all no less divine (in the adjective sense of ‘deeply wonderful and meaningful’) if their origin is credited to our highly evolved biology instead of the supernatural. “God,” if understood as the substance and symbol of our emotional comprehension of cosmic physics, is no less available to the humanitarian structures and human needs provided by religion, than are the anachronistic and debunked superstitions that so seriously erode its effectiveness now (and make it dangerous in a world that must progress in order to survive). Churches could flourish without the supernatural. However, their congregations would have to come to grip with one essential consequence: when a biological organism’s life ends, it ends. It does not wake up and continue living for eternity in another dimension.

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