[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
How can anyone believe in religion? It’s so ignorant and obviously fake. I’ve always backed science since I was a little kid, and now I’m proud to say that I’m studying to be a molecular biologist in college. The thing is, I’m surrounded by a lot of religious idiots at this school, and whenever I try to explain to them how believing in a man in heaven who rose from the dead and all that superstitious BS is literally causing the murder of millions of people, they argue back and tell me that “science is evil and is playing God,” and that I should develop my “faith” before I blow up the world.
What is the best way to finally get through to these ignorant people and explain to them simply and finally that they’re wrong? If they would just give in and accept the scientific future, they would see that they don’t need religion to enjoy life.
Thanks for your feedback,
Dear Enlightened Scientist,
Science versus religion.
I’ve always found this to be one of the most unnecessary arguments in contemporary society. Why does it have to be one way or another? I may not be the most mature or educated person, but when I see highly esteemed academics twice my age arguing about this, on and on, it puzzles and concerns me. Arguing about whether science or religion is better seems about as futile as arguing about whether day or night is better. Both have their qualities and shortcomings; neither can (nor should) be expected to replace the other. They are two sides of the same coin, and they both emerged out of — and are aspects of — a fundamental search for reality.
Both science and religion came from mankind’s desire to know. Both are striving for truth. Science wants to understand truth. Religion wants to experience it. Science wants to get at truth from the outside in. Religion gets at it from the inside out. Science gives us the how; religion gives us the why. Science gives us the means to an end, religion gives us the meaning of that end. Science wants to bring comprehension to the universe. Religion wants to bring tangibility to the intangible.
You say your argument is that science has never killed anyone like people have been killed in the name of religion. While people may not murder each other “in the name of science,” we do know that nuclear bombs, chemical weapons, eugenics and biological experimentation can also contribute to death and killing in an endless variety of ways. Both science and religion can be used as a method or justification by those who want to cause pain and suffering and break the rules of common sense and humanity. And even if one has a more extreme body count than the other, it doesn’t mean that one should exist and the other shouldn’t. None of the crimes that humanity has committed against itself mean that science is evil or that religion is bad. All it means is that people can do horrible things to each other using all sorts of convoluted reasoning.
Ultimately, it seems that when people complain about the harm of religion, they’re often simply complaining about people behaving badly. They’re talking about their dislike of people behaving barbarically. As much as the truth of God may be beyond description and intellectual grasp, the truth of human cruelty and ignorance is all too familiar and measurable. And when people claim to talk about the evil of science, they’re actually just complaining about those unfortunate scientists who lack the ethical tools or moral integrity to guide and refine the use of their discoveries. Both religious people and scientific people can behave badly. A closed-minded scientist can be a jerk just as easily as a devout religious person can be a fool. No mode of thought or set of beliefs should be blamed for the lack of character in a particular individual. Nor should the vast array of benefits found in both science and religion be thrown away just because some people behave poorly in spite of them.
So your complaint really shouldn’t be with religion or people who are religious, but simply with the unfortunately all-too-familiar shortcomings of the human race. Any religion that promotes hatred is not really a religion at all. And any scientist who cannot live with the spirit of brotherly love in his heart has more problems to investigate inside himself than in the material world. Every person who feels it necessary to battle over the definition or location of truth is neither in possession of any truth to begin with, nor do they have the possibility of experiencing any truth while existing in a prejudiced, spiteful, and unloving state of mind. We must do better than this. We have to grow.
Out of all the principles we should tirelessly strive to live with, gentle kindness, flexibility of spirit, open-mindedness, and a type of pure and unconditional love are the most crucial — especially when we feel most compelled not to behave that way. We simply cannot claim to be real human beings until we can learn to live with the other human beings around us, no matter how religious or scientific they may or may not be. Learning to live with one another remains our first and most urgent challenge, and it starts with each of us honestly working at it from the inside. It’s much easier and much more tempting to lash out and attack everyone else we think is wrong, but we must start much closer to home. We can’t fix the world until we fix ourselves first.
Someday, maybe science or religion really will claim dominance and beat the other once and for all. But until then, it seems that we each have plenty of work to do personally and internally, in order to become more gracious, more tolerant, and more humane human beings.
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