Science and Religion – Less than BFF

Science and religion are wholly and utterly incompatible. Today the religious ingratiate themselves with science at every opportunity as, quite rightly, they know they’ll look like quacks if they are seen denying basic science the way they used to. Deprived of their historical freedom to be pontificating tyrants disseminating ignorance, many have become yogis bending over backward to give science a reach-around. Scientists, on the other hand, are disproportionately atheists or some form of skeptics. This is not a moot point. It’s very telling.

To be clear, I’m talking about “religion” as taking literally any so-called holy book, though it’s even more dangerous to grant a book divine status while allowing that it’s only an open-ended metaphor to be decoded subjectively by some esoteric and arbitrary means that only certain people have access to. In effect, this both grants permission and emboldens people to do and believe whatever they want so long as it’s rooted in a religious text, even if it’s not actually in the text. It’s a shame that atheists can never be similarly licensed!

Actually it’s a shame people today are less acquainted with the bible than in past generations. I’ve read religious texts from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and some christian, hebrew and islamic texts, but I don’t have learned or memorized any the way even illiterate people once commonly did. People used to take knowledge of the bible for granted. There’s a lot to be said for having a common source for stories, parables, and morals, and the bible still informs our collective psyche in profound and surprising ways. I would never say a text is without value because its subject is religion, but it must be understood that all so-called holy books were written by humans and have no more divine authority than this article.

(Pictured: Buddy Christ of Dogma fame)

For a while, the relationship between religion and science was strained because every time a scientist made a proposal the church didn’t like he’d find himself affixed to a burning cross. Thankfully, people today who objectively study our planet no longer suffer the indignity of being called witches or heathens. The new term is scientist, and they are respected members of the community. In an encouraging sign of progress, we no longer threaten these people with death, no matter how much they might contradict a decaying roll of papyrus.

The amount of ground ceded to the secular can be gauged by comparing how the literal and dogmatic interpretations of the past are giving way to loose metaphor, or are graciously revised all together. Unthinkable in another age, pope benedict formally absolved all jews from deicide, as christ-killers, though he stopped short of thanking jews for producing jesus in the first place. Still, many current editions of religions look unrecognizable to their former selves. The concessions are encouraging. The religious used to sacrifice lambs to god, now they sacrifice their own traditions to appear relevant.

Yet there are people who actually think that the radically different accounts of the universe’s origin put forward by religion and science can both be believed at once. In the beginning god created the heaven and the earth. Presumably somewhere in Genesis some see evidence for both the Big Bang and String Theory. To believe this, you’d have to believe that for centuries the bible yielded no knowledge of the Big Bang or String Theory to any religious scholar…until scientists did their work. Coincidence? Miracle? No, but think: if a scientist is required to gain an insight into the bible that eluded religious scholars for centuries, isn’t the scientist a better religious scholar than the religious scholar?

Like religious books, religious scholars have their uses. Many are seriously intelligent, bookish people (how could they not be? Their only job is to read books and talk), but they are not infallible, and they have no more authority on “why” we live than anyone else. “Why are we here?” assumes something or someone had plans for us, and anyway it’s a ridiculous question. I make my own plans. That life requires something mystical is totally bogus. The only reasonable thing to do here is love. Simple! I love art, bagels, chess, hockey, whiskey, and sometimes even people. Can anybody ask for more in life than love? Yes: greedy and self-entitled without limit, those for whom love is not enough want an after-life too…presumably surrounded by people like them.

Religion is often diametrically opposed to itself, and only a non-religious perspective explains how this can be. Perhaps the most flagrant example is the appalling wealth accumulated in the vatican, the spiritual centre of a religion that professes to exalt the poor. By christian logic the vatican makes no sense. But evolutionary psychology explains how humans are subconsciously magnetized by great shows of status, and the vatican is nothing if not that. They could sell a Michelangelo and feed a starving country, but they don’t. But nobody’s all bad. In fairness, the vatican, the embodiment of christian charity, exhibits their art to students under 27 at a reduced rate of eight Euros, down from fifteen.

It astounds me that this religion, or any other, still poses and is taken seriously as a moral authority. The vatican’s exorbitant wealth is a scandal that cannot be exaggerated, and sadly the scandal isn’t diminished by the considerable, yet insufficient, attention it receives. If this were the church’s only scandal it would be enough, but it certainly is not: the only thing worse than a child rapist is a child rapist who believes he is spreading god’s word. If there is a bigger, viler act of hypocrisy in the world, I’d like for someone to please write it in the comment section below. (Candidate: senator fans who call Hagelin’s hit on alfredsson dirty after applauding the gruesome hit from behind on Tucker in game 5, 2002).

Jesus of the bible would sooner visit dark alleyways behind disreputable establishments where crackheads incessantly scratch their face and speak in tongues rather than visit the vatican. Jesus, who healed lepers in st. mark 1:40-45, would feel repulsed by the pope’s impossibly lavish surroundings and custom Prada shoes. Jesus would turn the crack into manna. Anyway, what would a miracle provide for the pope that he doesn’t have already? He lacks nothing. This comparison isn’t just an easy or vulgar calculation to offend people. It’s the truth that’s offensive, not the comparison.

But science and religion do have a relationship: science is religion’s battered housewife only recently emancipated. For years, religion would come home drunk after a bad day and beat science to a pulp. Now more sober and realising it is losing its dominant grip, religion has bought a dozen pretty roses for science and sits on one knee, begging forgiveness.  I know I slapped and imprisoned and burned you for centuries, but let that be behind us now. I love you. Let’s be together. I can change! But science is moving on. Unlike religion, science doesn’t have a redemption fetish. It values truth only. But religion is a persistent stalker, trying to appear credible by associating with science. Science needs a restraining order.

To be sure, I wish more people were inspired by books, the bible or otherwise. Let’s be clear about exactly who I hold in contempt: it’s not people who quietly derive inspiration and tradition and feel a more complete human being by living in accordance with religious teaching. I have admiration for those who live good quiet happy moral lives, and such a thing is so rare that it would be cruel of me to remove its source. I only have a problem the moment my opinions are devalued because they aren’t supported by an alleged divinity. I might be misguided, but my opinions are just as sanctioned by god as anyone else’s. I am tired of my world view being disqualified by the bogus remnants of Mesopotamia. In a recent discussion, I put forward that the whole fight over whether Francis Bacon or Shakespeare wrote all the plays is totally inconsequential; authorship doesn’t matter, a play by any other name would smell as sweet. I’ll add here that the only exception to this rule is when the author in dispute is god. Whoever they were, the author of every religious text was definitely one thing.

A man.

About Jeff Halperin

Jeff Halperin was a city hall reporter at the Toronto Standard, but his writing has also appeared at Maclean's, the Grid and elsewhere. He also writes on literature, Leafs, music, chess and more. Jeff's website is [here] For other PP posts by Jeff click [here]