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Davidson Loehr

Other important clarifications are needed in the “science vs. religion” debates. Some current books and articles are on the theme of a “God-gene,” or the idea that we’re hard-wired for “religion” or “God.” No. We need an abiding sense of identity and purpose. Traditionally, religion and philosophy have claimed this discussion, but they are only vehicles, and the wheels are coming off those vehicles. Science — by which I really only mean knowledge supported by demonstrable empirical data — is a better vehicle for these questions. The question isn’t about a “line” between science and religion. Rather, it’s about knowledge (science), asking if there are any areas where it can’t go. Probably not. But we certainly have enough empirical data to have a good sketch of who we are and how we should live, based on empirical data going back hundreds of thousands, and millions, of years. Religions really don’t have a lot to contribute at this scale. As Frans De Waal likes to say, “They’re just too new.” 


Another clarification regards mystical thinking. It occurs in religion, science, poetry, everywhere. In mystical thinking, the wish/need is father to the certainty, and only data that can be used/bent to prop up the need/wish are accepted: so “the data prove my mystical thesis!!” But no. In science, I think this mystical style of thinking comes up when people want to say that we are somehow the point of it all: everything pointed towards wonderful Us. 


My background — my Ph.D. — is in the areas of theology, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of science, and Wittgenstein’s language philosophy. I went into religion because, in 1979, it seemed to be taking our enduring questions more seriously than any scientific field, and focused more on them than the rest of the humanities. But times have changed. Those who preach and teach religion, I think, have no idea of how irrelevant they are to today’s world, and the questions of (especially) those under 30. Sciences hesitate — or just refuse — to take on these enduring questions about who we are (the nature of human nature) and how we should live (a question that comes up in all social species). Pity, because the most relevant sciences have strong empirical data that can sketch a better answer than our religions can today.