Religion’s Compatibility with Science

In very broad strokes, religion can be compatible with science. But you can’t really take the details of current religious texts too seriously (barring extraordinary evidence emerging). So what does it mean for someone to “follow a bible” and still believe in science?

Take creation myths, for example. Can you believe a deity created man directly? Can you believe in a great flood? Miracles? Not really, at least not entirely. Science has a pretty detailed map of how man developed, contradicting creation myths. Barring evidence, creation myths are the opposite of science. Same with the great flood. While it sounds like a heavily watered-down account of a mass extinction, unless ancient scientists had their accounts heavily bastardized, it’s just another myth.

As for miracles, science rejects them absolutely. A miracle to science is either a false account, a major coincidence (low-probability event), something that is not yet understood, or some combination of these. Science rejects the genuine meaning of the term, though. That’s something like, “an event that defies coherent reality entirely in favor of the whims of some preternatural scheme or order.” If reality makes sense at all, it must be consistent. Half-assed realities make for bad avant-garde films that inevitably punt on so many details as to make them unwatchable.

Can we even believe in an agent infinite in time?

Maybe. We know the universe has a long lifetime, if not infinite. We know some things about what it really probably means for something to exist in time. Namely we know it changes. Time requires change, insofar as the thing itself must change, or at least its surroundings change relative to it.

So there may be some specks of dust in the universe that are almost its age and have not changed, except their position has. Their environment has.

Can the same be said of a deity? Could a god exist in rigid, unchanging form? And, if so, what does the fact of the universe changing do to the properties of that god?

Books like the Christian bibles depict their gods as having emotional states. That would require some sort of change. A common claim in religious debates is that gods and deities are timeless, but that would seem to preclude interactions. A modified argument might state that gods are over time, or beyond it, but can still act within it. But acting within it is still a temporal change.

Rigidity is not obviously a feature rather than a bug, either. The ability for change is one of the greatest forces science knows. The principles of evolution are surely too powerful to be ignored by a deity, and yet there are many theists that deny the power of evolutionary systems (which, so far, it appears all systems are).

When you have a good grasp of the reach of science, what room is left for gods? Some does remain. Sustainable religion is something more akin to a moral code. But even that is chewed by science, so that it must not make proclamations against behaviors without reason. What remains is the ideal of a being having greater insight and cognitive capacity than man making moral decisions based on more-perfect knowledge.

Religion is about 1% compatible with science. When you strip away its historical inaccuracies, its prejudiced pseudomorality, what’s left is mostly something like the Golden Rule or a bit of sentiment about man’s place in the world being to do good and be kind.

And what of a personal relationship with a specific deity or deity-proxy? As long as it stays in the confines of your skull, it’s your business. Unless science can see it, you probably won’t get the benefit of the doubt from the science-minded anymore than someone that claimed to be in telepathic contact with extra-terrestrials. But if it gives you joy to play hyper-chess with Gleep-glorp, and you’re not harming others or blocking their rights, don’t let us stop you.

The notion of trust in a god is still interesting. Due to the superstitious nature of man, having trust is important. In a world where governments, institutions, individuals, and systems can and do break down, having a trust that some fabric is forever unstained appeals to us. But that trust often ends up in the hands of religious zealots. And they, in turn, often cause or contribute to the very calamities that the trust is meant to protect from.

Religion is a nice social activity. If treated as such, rather than as a lifestyle that dictates behavior, it is fine. 99% of the time, that’s all it appears to be used for. Folks, aspiring to be better, getting together and helping each other. That’s wonderful. It’s only when it becomes a cause for mob ethics, anti-equality, and the like, that it really starts to be a problem. And most of those behaviors are provoked not by religion, but simply use the religious groups as their shield.



Crude cartoon of a buddha with flamboyant coloration.
This cartoon insults some or all of the gods.

Cartoons really make us angry. All their funny little shapes and colors, insulting the myriad true gods. Like Hobbestrial of the Second Tiger Realm (salmon be unto him), turned into nothing but a stuffed animal to amuse a child. These cartoonists suck all that is holy out of the world and must be stopped.

The very idea of cartoons, simplistic representations of reality meant merely to amuse and insult, is at odds with everything we stand for as a people. We are deep people with deep needs and desires and only the spirit of the true gods can nourish our blighted spirits.

But how do we stop these diabolical pensmen? With their three-panels and their thought bubbles, how can we cease their blasphemies? Should we place banana peels in their vicinities? Surreptitiously put matches into their shoe-seams and ignite them? We have not the technological know-how, nor the ingenuity, but the gods will give us insight!

Yes, with the gods’ help we shall defeat these reckless painters of satire. Maybe we should buy billboard space and exhibit the worst of their crafts in public, to raise awareness. Or wear t-shirts bearing their work inside a circle with a crossbar. But we will await instructions from the gods. They know best, after all.

Over the centuries, we have dealt successfully with so many forms of insult and oppression against the gods. We have ended Vaudeville, we have stopped the telegraph, the use of witchcraft, the carrying of pocket potatoes, and bloodletting is all but vanished. How did we do it? By the gods, of course.

And soon the gods will instruct us on how to make the cartoons of today the powdered wigs of the past. They will bless us with their unfathomable wisdom of how to rid the world of cartoons. We have tried violence (oh, so much violence we have tried; you would think we’d try something else, but the hint from the gods, we do not seem to get it). We have tried canceling our newspaper subscriptions. We have even tried laughing at the cartoons until they feel bad and go away. Nothing has worked.

But surely the gods will come through. They must. It is either us or the cartoons, we cannot live in harmony with them. And surely the gods will choose us, for we do not insult them. We do not make the gods look bad. The cartoons do that.


If Environmentalism were a Religion

One thing you hear from proponents of carbon pollution and climate change is that environmentalism is a religion. It’s a silly argument, of course, but to show how silly something is, it is often best to take it to its logical conclusion. This post is a short, simple attempt at that exercise.

Before that, do they really mean they believe environmentalism is a religion? What they seem to mean is that it constitutes an unchecked belief in the primacy of the environment, a faith-based worldview that prefers the maintenance of the environment, that divides actions into sins and acts of virtue on the basis of how they apply to the environment, etc. So, yes. They apparently do believe it is a religion.

What results would come from recognizing environmentalism as a valid religion?

Start with employers. Employers typically have to make reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs. So Environmentalists would get Earth Day (22 April) off. But is that all? There are quite a large number of days dedicated to specific environmental issues. Some are more notable than others, like Arbor Day (last Friday in April). Some wouldn’t fit the bill at all, like Bike-to-Work Day (third Friday in May), as taking the day off would defeat the purpose.

Employers also might be required to take pro-environment steps to meet the religious accommodation requirements. Now, a truck driver probably couldn’t force an employer to replace a carbon-fueled truck with a H-powered truck or an electric truck, but to the extent that they could make modest changes to reduce the environmental burden, it might be required.

To the extent that it does not present an undue hardship on the employer, an Environmental religion practitioner would have the ability to proselytize during work. Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to not supply certain drugs for religious reasons. Environmentalists might be able to use those laws or similar laws to refuse to sell environmentally harmful products.

It would also increase the cost of compliance across the business world. Lawyers cost money, and they would be needed to deal with the increase in issues related to the Environmentalism religion. Public employees may also have additional religious rights that various governments would have to make accommodations for.

It should also be noted that given the Hobby Lobby decision, which did not establish a sweeping revision, but may point to further rulings in the future, Environmentalists might gain the right to not pay for childbirth and related healthcare, if they believe overpopulation is a burden to society and an affront to their religion.

Beyond employers, other current and future laws protecting religious freedom would also cover an Environmentalist religion. School vouchers and tax credits could be used to send children to Environmentalist schools. They would be eligible to give invocations or prayers at government meetings.

There is a massive interplay of regulation that would also have to be considered. For example, if a drug company had an environmentally intensive manner for the manufacture of a drug, would an Environmentalist be allowed to violate the patent protection to have it manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner? The issues go on.

Environmentalism is not a religion, but if it were it would result in a number of changes in society that the people who currently, naïvely claim it is a religion would no doubt bitch about. The same applies to any other silly claim that some thing x is a religion.


Legal Boundaries to Prayer

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in the case, Town of Greece v. Galloway. The case examines the constitutionality of legislative prayers.

The crux of the disagreement comes from the question of how a prayer can be non-sectarian. The prayer giver’s religious background surely must taint the prayer with that viewpoint, the appellant and their coterie argue. They seem to rely on the historical aspect to defend the constitutionality in doing so.

The appellee argues the contrary, that there can be clean prayer, free of denominational frictions that would put off all but the staunchly non-religious and the pure minorities believing, for example, in true polytheism.

Several examples come to mind that support the latter. The first being pseudocode in computing. Pseudocode represents the equivalent of the non-denominational prayer, the secular invocation.

In computing we have various languages with various syntax and conventions beyond. But psuedocode exists to express computational ideas in a way that avoids the rigor and trappings of any particular language.

Further, we see examples of pseudocode that belie their origins from a real language. The use of an odd var or an int or of a particular way of writing a name (eg, open_door() versus openDoor()). But still, it remains pseudocode.

Another example comes from the Spanish-speaking priest. The priest gives mass in Spanish, prays privately in Spanish, reads the Bible in Spanish. But when asked to give the invocation for an English-speaking legislative body, the priest may give the prayer in English.

The priest does not believe that her gods will not hear her English prayer. Or if the prayer lacks certain accoutrements of her typical prayer in a sectarian context, she does not worry that the gods will ignore it.

No, we understand and expect that public prayer, meant for public purpose and public consumption, will be constructed appropriately.

That said, the question arises of what remedies or tests might be drawn to the task of both allowing these public prayers while limiting their sectarian nature.

One option would be to adopt a test similar to the so-called Miller test of obscenity cases. This would be ill-advised, as that test violates itself in ways that appeal to the prurient interest.

A test asking whether the prayer taken as a whole appeals to sectarian concerns, and uses patently sectarian language, and lacks serious secular spiritual value? We need less of this sort of hand-wringing law.

We wanted them to behave, we really did. Just a good, clean, non-denominational quasi-Christian prayer; just what we ordered. But there, in the home stretch, they started ranting about the golden hemorrhoids from 1 Samuel and now we must all be rebaptized in the ink of the First Article of Amendment.

Another option, even less appealing, would bar invocations and prayers entirely. No reminder of the higher purpose in legislating, just right into passing laws that benefit the corporations that funded the campaigns. Talk about bleak. Imagine how bad things would get! Prayer must be the only thing preventing the federal legislature from outright gridlock… oh.

But still, barring prayer would lose something important. The ability to add some timid poetry to the start of a legislative session. The occasion to pause and reflect, to acknowledge the judgment of the generations to come.

Computing attempts many other options. Whitelists, blacklists, graylists. Bayesian filters. Maybe a few prayers would be barred for sounding like they wanted to help you enhance your genitals. Most would probably slip through.

The whitelist could employ an official governmental prayer writer, and maybe some committees appointed to determine the secularity of the written prayers. A blacklist would work better for specific prayer givers who had offended in the past.

Rotations. “We’ll split up the week. You can have lymphoma, tuberculosis and —” It might have worked for Jack and Marla, but the court seems to acknowledge that requiring such a scheme, imposing it, would not. It smacks too much of separate, but equal.

Guidelines seem to be the order of the day, but the court may not place them in their main decision, instead trying to suggest that legislatures adopt some common sense in the concurring opinions. Guidelines to be offered to prayer givers, such as, “Just say no — to overtly religious calls in your prayers.”

I’m starting to think the aforementioned example of a Spanish priest may be the best remedy of all. Have the prayer be given in a language few, if any, understand. Nobody can claim to be offended if the prayer gets beeped out in Morse code, or belched out in Latin.

All rise, bow your heads, and make sure your tray tables and seatbacks in their full upright and locked positions, for the opening prayer.


That ‘Religion’

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Those, my friends, are the terms of use listed on a webpage of some religion. And there is a big problem with that religion. I don’t know what religion it is because I cannot legally read the text I’ve pasted without plausibly violating their copyright.

“Copyright?” you say.

A religion predicated on copyright. There could be nothing more antithetical to the idea of religion than one that requires an army of lawyers to keep itself in operation. And there is nothing more disgusting to anyone that has a hope of copyright and intellectual property reform than the tactics undertaken by this religion.

Go ahead, friends, ask them politely for a free copy of their holy scripture. See what they say! “What would you like to change about your life?” (Gee, I hope that isn’t copyright too…) Say you’re doing a school report on major world religions? You get a free Bible, free Koran, free Torah, free pocket constitution… it has long been a tradition of any institution that seeks to promote ideas and the actions behind ideas to distribute freely their literature.

But not this religion. They are in the business of making money hand over fist. They are in the business of religion and if that’s not sick it’s certainly demented. But should it be a surprise? That they received tax-exempt status (501(c)) around 1993 after years of trying. So now they have their cake and eat it too. Must be nice, even if it’s mean.

The thing is, we owe it to ourselves to shut them down. They should have to pay taxes or should stop making money. The whole concept of a non-profit organization is that it doesn’t make money. They can have revenue, but the main goal is to keep operating expenses low and maintain a stable treasury. They do no such thing.

And it’s especially sick that they seem to believe I am not entitled to call myself one of them and start my own unaffiliated denomination. If they are a religion they surely can’t be entitled trademark protection and to exclude all they see fit, or can they?

Anyway, just thought I’d rant a bit about the bogeymen in business suits wielding their e-meters as they try to find the door to OTIX.


(But let’s suppose for an instant it said that I wasn’t authorized to download and retransmit that very copyright notice. I wouldn’t know anything about that and would kindly ask you to check that you’re in the right universe.)