Monday, 17 February 2014
THE PERCEIVED CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND FAITH
Detail of a window Lichfield Cathedral by Griffith 2012
There has recently been much discussion across the Internet regarding a televised debate that admittedly I did not see, between a scientist Bill Nye and a creationist Ken Ham. The reader should perhaps make note of the fact that until now, I had never heard of either. The basis for this debate was it seems the perceived conflict between science and religion, specifically the ongoing and futile debate of creationism versus evolution as a scientific theory.
I find myself bemused as to the point of such a debate. They generally highlight what the differences are between the two camps rather that what they have in common. However, I am of course in a very favourable position. I do not perceive or experience a personal conflict between science and my own religious beliefs, they exist both separately and complementary. I find watching a sunset a spiritually moving experience, in the full knowledge that the sun is a ball of fire many miles away.
I can only assume that the Christian representative here is of the literalist school of thought and as such he would naturally fail to see the esoteric value of the Bible, which in my opinion should be interpreted in a Gnostic context and not as actual history. The early books of the Bible are an attempt by a nomadic culture to make some sense of their world, providing a legal and moral framework for their existence. They were on the cusp of developing into a civilisation but were not yet civilised themselves, the wonders of the Solomonic civilisation lay in their future.
The literalist school of Biblical studies fails in their interpretation, because they fail to appreciate the cultural and historical context of the books they claim to understand. This unfortunately means that certain outmoded legal judgements that may have been of enormous value to a nomadic proto-culture, are inappropriately imposed upon a developed Western World.
Interestingly, during my time working within the interfaith environment as part of my charity work for the Pagan Federation, I met several Humanists. I did not meet Christians of the evangelical or literalist school. They do not approve of Interfaith Dialogue and decline to participate.
The premise of this debate is built upon the suggestion that there are people who believe that science and spirituality are in conflict, that they are incompatible. That some Evangelical Christians may actually believe that the Earth itself is flat, that it was created in seven days and that their Truth is the only Truth. They choose to reject science. There are others who may seek to accommodate their spirituality with science, possibly adapting and diluting their belief to gain scientific acceptance. Some elements within the New Age movement may be representative of this group.
As previously stated, I belong to neither group nor body of thought. I do not see science and nature, science and spirituality as being in conflict. I see them in parallel and perhaps even at times, complimentary. I am aware that the Earth is round and that we orbit the Sun, that the Sun is one of many stars within a galaxy that is in turn, part of an infinite and expanding universe. I am even aware of the theory, that there may be more than one universe. None of this changes my being a Polytheist. None of this changes my spirituality, in that I derive wisdom, insight and inspiration from the Sacred Land, from works such as the Edda or from other but related Mythological Streams.
Both participants in this debate most likely left in the genuine belief that they had ‘won’ their argument. So whilst the rest of us quietly forget this nine day wonder and move on with more important things, the supporters of each delegate will I presume, hotly debate the result for a very long time.
I recognise Christianity as a valid comparative spirituality and while I am aware that that many within the Craft incorporate elements of esoteric Christianity, taking what may possibly be called a 'Gnostic' approach. My own approach within a Pagan religious sphere is perhaps edging towards an idiosyncratic construction, reflecting certain English cultural themes. That is not to say I ignore or am unaware of the Christian influence upon English society over the past two thousand years and therefore upon my path. Rather that I am perhaps more aware of what lies beneath the veneer and as a result the actual Christian influence upon my own path is and remains negligible.
This in no way devalues Christianity and I find the fashion in some Pagan circles to denigrate true Christian teaching, as much a puzzle as the perceived conflict between Science and religion. Perhaps when criticising Christianity they refer not to the teaching but the interpretations of a few who may indeed fail our society.
It is said that Pilate asked of Christ, ‘What is Truth? Is your Truth the same as mine?’ This search for Truth whatever Truth is, it is in a sense the history of civilisation. Are there therefore, factual and scientific truths that differ from poetic Truth? Perhaps I am in a truly fortunate position, whereby I recognise elements of this ‘Truth’ in science and religions, this being no mere New Age platitude of ‘it’s all one’ because as a Polytheist I neither seek nor desire religious syncretism. Rather it is an awareness of a thread of common humanity throughout and that Truth can manifest in many different ways, that there can be different Truths.
The literal interpretation of any sacred text, whether it is the Torah, the Gospels, the Koran or the many and varied Pagan Mythologies, is an error. So much is lost and so much is ignored by those that fail in a more esoteric interpretation. The door to wisdom is allegory, the key is metaphor and sadly the pearls of true gnosis; are overlooked by those that do not have eyes to see.
Detail of a window Southwell Minster by Griffith 2011