Clinging to relevance

14 12 2010

I have been thinking about the relationship between religion and science lately. It has always been a strained, complicated relationship. To be honest, I really have never understood the conflict. They seem to deal with two very separate areas of human thought. Then it struck me, this was not always the case. During the Dark Ages, the church dictated what science could and could not say. Today, we have a battle for relevance between science and religion and religion is losing.

There is a long history of religious institutions acting as a road block to scientific or social progress. The Catholic Church censured Galileo for his scientific conclusions. Baghdad was the center of scientific discovery on Earth for centuries until conservative Islamic forces took hold. Then there is the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, claiming that it is sinful because it prevents new life. (This seemed like an odd argument, seeing as that is the explicit purpose of contraceptives.) In 2009, the Pope went as far to say that condoms help spread the AIDS virus. He said this on a trip through Sub-Saharan Africa, where about 22 million people are infected with HIV. There are a host of other examples.

Really, what we can see here is a religious establishment, centuries old, that is finding its ship in shallower and shallower waters. With the increasingly educated global population and the persistent advance of scientific knowledge, it is harder for them to maintain previous public opinions. There is little religious leaders can do about this trend except try to modernize their respective faiths much as possible.

In a world where fewer and fewer of our problems can be solved with faith and spirituality, religion can no longer offer us the advice or insight we need. If anything, it is doing the exact opposite at a time when we cannot afford many mistakes. Humanity needs clear thinking and a sharp turn toward rationality if it is to survive.

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