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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine


by Mike Neuenschwander ~ August 25, 2008.
Permalink | Filed under: Hybrid Vigor, Social Trust Online.

Karl Giberson wrote a piece for Salon a few weeks ago entitled “What’s wrong with science as religion?” The piece was largely in reaction to antics by PZ Myers, including his “great desecration” of a Communion wafer. But Giberson avoids being goaded into the “whose is bigger” contest of religionists and instead explores whether science can offer a suitable replacement for religion.

It’s a topic I’ve written on before (most recently in discussing Denise Caruso’s book, “Intervention”), but Giberson boldly goes where I didn’t dare in suggesting that “Science … has the raw material for a new religion.” But then he asks some hard questions of a scientifically rooted religion:

What would this new religion be like once it became institutionalized? After all, if religion fills a genuine human need, something has to fill the hole created by its passing — something that appeals to billions of people.

Could we be sure, for example, that this new scientific religion would not give rise to the extremism and aberrant behavior that plague conventional religions? Would concern for the diversity of life, for example, inspire vegetarians to blow up slaughterhouses, and run the local butcher through his or her own meat grinder? Would reverence for the cosmos reinvigorate astrology? Would appreciation for natural selection bring eugenics back out of the closet? In other words, if science dismantles the traditional religious content that people use to satisfy their impulses — many of which are quite passionate — will we really be better off?

Great questions. The questions remind the reader that religious exercise isn’t just about getting the facts. They suggest that those who insist on literalism in religion miss the point, as if strict literalism among a group of human beings is either possible or desirable.

So rather than attacking religions, I’d prefer to see biologists (such as PZ Myers) and other scientists approach religion as an evolutionary phenomenon. Clearly, religion is itself an important evolutionary adaptation for the survival of our species. The religions in the world today exist because they are the ones that enabled cultures to survive. Religions have been successful in coordinating activities and building foundations for trust for millions of people across the globe. And they have done this without requiring the laity to have Ph.D.’s or IQ’s over 150. Whether the stories today’s religions tell are “true” in the scientific sense is irrelevant; what can’t be disputed is that these religions have enabled cultures to survive and civilizations to thrive where others have failed.

Religions will continue to evolve, but they won’t follow a rational or scientific path. Religions are also unlikely to completely overpower the human propensity for “extremism and aberrant behavior.” So before rushing off to take scientific communion, consider this: if survival in nature depends on making rational, scientifically founded decisions, how did we ever come to be?

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