Mystery and Evidence‘s (Tim Crane. NY Times. 9/5/2010) opening paragraph immediately caught my attention.
There is a story about Bertrand Russell giving a public lecture somewhere or other, defending his atheism. A furious woman stood up at the end of the lecture and asked: “And Lord Russell, what will you say when you stand in front of the throne of God on judgment day?” Russell replied: “I will say: ‘I’m terribly sorry, but you didn’t give us enough evidence.’ ”
What do you think of Russell’s response?
By seeking to understand religion more fully, Tim Crane, Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and author of two books, “The Mechanical Mind” (1995) and “Elements of Mind” (2001), provides a more nuanced atheistic response. In particular, he investigates the significant differences between the way in which science and religion approach reality.
Science too has its share of mysteries (or rather: things that must simply be accepted without further explanation). But one aim of science is to minimize such things, to reduce the number of primitive concepts or primitive explanations. The religious attitude is very different. It does not seek to minimize mystery. Mysteries are accepted as a consequence of what, for the religious, makes the world meaningful.
This point gets to the heart of the difference between science and religion. Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world, but it does not try and do this in the way science does. Science makes sense of the world by showing how things conform to its hypotheses. The characteristic mode of scientific explanation is showing how events fit into a general pattern.
Religion, on the other hand, attempts to make sense of the world by seeing a kind of meaning or significance in things. This kind of significance does not need laws or generalizations, but just the sense that the everyday world we experience is not all there is, and that behind it all is the mystery of God’s presence. The believer is already convinced that God is present in everything, even if they cannot explain this or support it with evidence. But it makes sense of their life by suffusing it with meaning. This is the attitude (seeing God in everything) expressed in George Herbert’s poem, “The Elixir.” Equipped with this attitude, even the most miserable tasks can come to have value: Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws/ Makes that and th’ action fine.
Have you wrestled with the relationship of science and religion? How do you agree/disagree with Crane’s observations?
Note: Crane rejects Christianity due to what he considers the lack of factual basis for the central Christian doctrines (e.g., Jesus’ resurrection).