Partners in Crime: Science and Religion and the Misconception That Neither is Needed
Albert Einstein is renown for cracking the code for how the universe works. He is the Moses of science. With all the advances he made with understanding relativity and physics, it was perhaps inevitable given his Jewish heritage there was going to be confrontations along the way with his religion.
It was in a letter in 1954 to Eric Gutkind, a philosopher, where Albert states his personal conclusion on the matter. Known as "The God Letter", Einstein openly denounces the idea of God or the supernatural. The stories are good teachings, yet also childish nonsense. He even goes so far as to criticize his heritage's religion, saying that he believes his own people have no specific importance that sets them apart from others. As far as he is concerned, faith is a weakness of mankind and his ‘faith’ is in science.
Overall, the famous scientist’s stance on religion is notoriously vague as he has at times defended it. Still, many people agree with him on this specific letter’s point. A common perception is that with further education, people will eventually abandon religion altogether. However, I feel these people and Albert Einstein are incorrect and have misunderstood people's' beliefs and the importance they play in strengthening rather than weakening them.
The Misconception of Going Backward
For most educated, Western people, the idea of being dependent on something other than themselves is humiliating, insulting, or humbling if it's ever accepted. It's superstitions and traditions that have little to no basis in reality and that science has replaced. Yet in July of 2016, news site, Al-Jazeera reported the exact opposite.
Rather than diminishing, it was rather re-locating outside of Western countries. Though those countries are seeing a drop in religious people, in other modernizing countries, religious belief seems to be increasing, despite education also being on the rise there. China alone that year had a total of 80 million reported Christians that year. And even within Western nations themselves, there are large portions of the population who don’t deny the spiritual, but just won't align with a organized affiliation.
If the belief in the supernatural is indeed a weakness, then why are we still holding on to it so far into the 21st Century?
What Einstein doesn't seem to understand or perhaps recognize is that the foundation of many of our scientific achievements came from devotion to religion. The Egyptians built monuments and pyramids to near perfect, mathematical precision because of their faith in preserving order and the Pharaohs. The Incas of South America developed their calendars because of their devotion to the Sun God. Vikings explored and conquered much of the UK and Western Europe to earn their place in Valhalla, and so on.
Some developments were begun for purely scientific and philosophical reasons, like in Ancient Greece. Yet at the same time, it exists along with the cultures that did them for religious causes. There wasn't a contradiction unless the two sides were at war.
"A society cannot grow properly without both sides of the coin"
The reasons why so many refugee cultures disappear after they disperse is because they lose their sense of who they are over time. What makes them unique or special in the world.
This is seen with many tribes across the world who flee from invaders to intermingle with other local groups to survive. The stories of the past and what brought the community together in the first place are what keeps the identity alive when their homes are gone, or even if the people die out.
Something I have often heard scientists say about what makes human beings unique is the cosmic material they are made from. Stardust, carbon, hydrogen and so on. However, that doesn't make them special. For the majority of people, it doesn't inspire them to think beyond the limits of their knowledge and experience and to create something completely from the imagination. It does not give the community or the individual identity: a name with meaning. It makes them part of a the universe as a whole, yet with no individuality. They are accidents, with no purpose and little cause for mourning if lost. Something like that will not bring comfort, focus, or inner strength when facing persecution or death.
True, you argue the same about faith in the afterlife, being equally pointless, but right or wrong, overall it worked more often than it did not where there was no faith at all. Case in point: take Judaism.
I have never quite understood why so many people over the past two thousand years have hated the Jews. Yes, I know the whole 'they killed Christ' routine, but many of the persecutors weren't exactly pious themselves. Religion maintained strong communal ties across centuries, lands, and time and endured arguably the single, most definite attempt to commit genocide of any people in human history.
This does not refute against science or education, contrary to what many people might conclude. What we are made of is still fact. The Earth is round and six billion years old. Again, its people who bring the hostility.
Belief inspires people to reach beyond themselves, to do extraordinary things they would not otherwise fathom or consider doing. Is this always good, god no! We have seen plenty of that. It is true that many religious people have tried to make the argument that science was not needed in light of these social priorities. Yet it also has led to extraordinary creations thousands of years old that are more resilient than their modern counterparts.
Has science inspired people, yes. Yet for whatever reason, not enough to move an entire civilization over the course of centuries. Look at the influence of Star Trek from the 1960's. There was a surge of people wanting to go into the sciences that lasted through the decade and into 1970’s because of that show’s presentation of a human society’s potential through science. Yet, by the 1980’s, people started not caring about new discoveries, unless it somehow directly impacted their life experiences. There was little to no care from average people to push their knowledge or challenge it. Almost a quarter of the way through the 21st Century, getting people to invest in scientific study is still like pulling teeth.
Despite obvious points of historical conflict, both faith and science have also coexisted and even complimented each other in the past as well. A society cannot grow properly without both sides of the coin: religion (or something filling that role) that inspires people to grow and imagine past their current limitations, and science to inspire the education to make that goal into reality.
None of these take anything away from Einstein's achievements. Yet to call people weak for searching for the will and strength to carry on in the face of hard life situations and find order to the chaos, is condescending. It doesn't exactly inspire open-mindedness either.
Is religious belief flawed? Yes, absolutely. Does it encourage faith in things that make no logical or scientific sense? At times, yes. Does it encourage lack of education to maintain status quo? Many of them do yes. And a whole host of other problems besides.
However, the fact remains that as fascinating as being made of stardust maybe and how old the Earth actually is, it doesn't inspire society to go beyond their limits. Science plays a part with innovation and understanding the workings of nature, so it's wrong to just toss it aside or think it plays second fiddle either. It's a equal partner for inspiration of imagination.
A tech student may make a breakthrough in prosthetic or robotic suits because he saw Ironman.
© 2019 Jamal Smith