Science and religion are distinct disciplines: science explores measurable phenomena, while religion explores meaning and values. As Dylan Thomas wrote, science can tell us “everything about the wasp, except why”. The metaphysical “why” is the question religion is especially qualified to answer. The two need each other as science shows us how to live in the world in a practical sense, while religion shows us why it’s worthwhile. For me, there is no conflict between them, as religion needs science to understand creation as it really is, and science needs religion to provide values to guide in the application of data. When people use one discipline to answer questions that are within the purview of the other, misconceptions arise. Science without religion is dangerous; religion without science is misleading.
Creation myths are a good example of how misleading religion can be. Religions have told their followers how they and the world came to be since there were people to tell the stories, however these stories no longer serve this purpose. Although some of these ancient creation stories still can illustrate values for modern people, I consider science to offer a better creation story. Science shows us that all of creation is made of the same stardust, that we are all one. This is far more helpful for modern people than stories of Marduk or Jehovah, which were made by primitive people and offer ideas and meanings no longer relevant. These stories were given and have been supported by believers as immutable theology, and have not changed along with human society.
One scholar has proposed the possibility of defeasible religion, religion that would include science and whose explanations would change according to new scientific information. These beliefs and ideas would provide “provisional certainty”, which seems appropriate for living in a changing world. Although this type of theology is not likely to take hold in traditional religions, it certainly has a place in new religious movements, and it is this type of theology that I have proposed for Contemplative Wicca. I am glad to see that others have arrived at similar ideas and my response to this scholar is, yes, defeasible religious explanations are not only possible, but they currently are being worked out here, as well as by other pagans.
We need more work in this area so people can avail themselves of this new religious thinking so they can leave behind the old pain and error. My hope is that enough people will come to realize that all our religious understandings are imperfect and tentative rather than immutable, so we can progress toward greater tolerance.
Copyright © 2015 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.