Saturday, October 25, 2008

Growing Conflict Between Science and Fundamentalist Religion

There may be little or no conflict between science and some religions. I'm a member of a local Unitarian Universalists congregation and I personally don't see any conflict between the teaching of that religion and science. However, there are some real and undeniable conflicts between science and some of the more fundamentalist religions. The conflict over accepting the facts of evolution is one of the more well known examples. But this is just a warm-up to the new conflicts starting to surface regarding the mind and morals.

Before Darwin, the existence of complex living things was one of the best arguments for the existence of a supernatural creator that directly intervened in the world. Once evolution was understood, we now know that complex life can be explained without the need of such a supernatural creator. This argument has been replaced by the existence of the conscious intelligent human mind in general, and our moral system in particular, as the remaining best argument for the existence of a supernatural creator. As we understand more and more about the physical basis for how the mind operates, this has generated a growing backlash by religious fundamentalists who assert that the mind is some sort supernatural thing separate from the physical brain. A good summary of this movement was recently provided in an article in New Scientist Magazine titled Creationists declare war over the brain

Going beyond the basis for consciousness, there is a large amount of progress being made in the last few decades understanding how human morals can naturally arise and how many of our moral "feelings" actually have their basis in our physical brains and were produced by evolutionary processes. Progressive religions will be able to deal with this just as they came to terms with evolution. But it is even more damaging to the claims of fundamentalist religions than evolution itself, and they would probably be fighting against this even stronger than evolution if they fully understood the scientific progress being made in this area. I expect that it will be only a mater of time before the science vs. fundamentalist religion conflicts shifts to focus on the natural basis of consciousness and morals.

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