Monday, November 14, 2011

The Bonfire of the Vanities

"Vanity of vanity, all is vanity," saith the Preacher, king in Jerusalem. "Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards." And much of this wisdom was the profit of painful years, for the Preacher pondered much, and the words of the wise are as goads.

I long ago figured out why religion is trouble. The stakes are very high. If religion describes reality ontologically, then disciplines like the sciences and mathematics, which limit their outcomes and scope of knowledge by their own rigour, cannot claim a monopoly on truth.

And yet, it is by their obvious stranglehold on description, manipulation, prediction and control of reality that science and mathematics have gained their hard-won prominence and domination over the souls of men. A scientific or mathematical theory, absent a 'falsifying dream' (as Hughes's Hawk Roosting has it), has great powers to describe, explain, or predict. It is on the basis of these powers that we are masters over reality as we know it.

But mastery over reality as we know it is never 100%. As the old school joke goes, "The more we know, the less we know we know." Science and mathematics are the guiding daimonia of technology and engineering, and humans will gladly forsake those daimonia for these material fruits of application.

That is why science as religion and mathematics as technology are uncomfortably true to life. No scientist knows anything except what he knows — this is the curse of the empirical and the rule of epistemology; no mathematician knows anything except by what he believes through the working of his rules — this is the curse of the logical and the rule of rationality.

It is only the religious who believe that not only do they not know, but that they cannot know, and what they cannot know is nevertheless of the greatest significance. And if they are right, the brightness of science and mathematics is like a light without lenses or augmentation; it is like using nothing but the visible spectrum and calling it 'diagnostic radiology'. In fact, it is worse; it is agnostic radiology.

This is why there are more and more people willing to blacken religion with the radiation of reason. It is the only way to preserve the new monopoly — by destroying the old one. But which one sees more? Which one is of greater value to humanity? Both might contend that they are the only truth. But the key question we have to ask is, "Can anything be supernatural and still be true?"

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Blogger Aegle said...

You have *got* to install a LIKE button. : )

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 4:19:00 pm  

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