Human history is a footrace of ideas. Ideas surge forth when embraced and employed by large numbers of people, while others fade back into the pack when they are abandoned for new concepts and beliefs.
The primary contenders in our era include, but are not limited to the body of ideas broadly described as science and religion. Science basically holds that there are organizing principles or laws which govern all of creation while religion modifies this belief slightly by adding that the principles or laws of creation are designed, if not managed by a God or group of gods who oversee(s) the creative process.
Religion and its body of ideas had pulled well into the lead in the centuries leading up to the scientific revolution, which took place in the early modern period. But the social and intellectual changes of the Renaissance (which arguably precipitated the scientific revolution) and the subsequent Age of Reason (ca. 1840-1880), coupled with the slow, but steady tide of scientific developments going as far back as the 12th century gave the scientific approach a second wind.
All who are alive to read this as of the day of its publication were born into the world in a time where science appears to have pulled ahead of religion. But the race is far from over! Just as the proponents of science seem to be codifying its discoveries into dogma, the churches appear to be employing a new tactic in an attempt to pick up their pace: vulnerability.
Two recent declarations by leaders of the Catholic and Mormon churches, for example, give evidence that the highest levels of leadership are seeking to reinvigorate the notion of personal agency in a body which has become stiffened and weakened by and reactive to dogmatic, if not cultic thinking. Like doctors experimenting with the injection of platelet-rich plasma into the site of an athlete’s injury, the leaders appear to be administering a dose of their founders’ pure philosophy, namely, the need for deep personal questioning in the pursuit of truth (as opposed to inflexibly demanding the acceptance of church dogma).
Whether this “pick and roll” strategy will work (where religion, long criticized for its use of superstition and fear as motivating tools is now embracing a dose of reason to gain momentum in the race toward enlightenment) is yet to be seen, but it sure is making the race interesting! Moreover, it appears that now, more than ever, science is getting a taste of its own medicine. Having long chided proponents of religion for their mindless subservience to the party line and cultic following of ungrounded beliefs, science appears to be suffering from the same of the same maladies. The objective foot of science has been shod by by iron-fisted money interests, confusing its outcomes with subjective and decidedly unscientific aims.
As with the ancient quarrels between philosophy and poetry, the contest between religion and science continues to shape human history, while consuming a great deal of our time and energy. The question, I suppose, is whether or not the race is taking us to a worthwhile destination. The bulk of the body of humanity is caught up in the contest, with each individual rooting for one side or the other, so I think it is important to ask ourselves whether we are running to the answer or from it.
This, to me, is more important than worrying about who is likely to win.