Humans have learned much over the last two thousand years. In the past, we made incorrect guesses about the orbits of stars, today we build machinery that replicates their fusing atoms' behaviour; we used to speculate about the nature of blood, today we routinely replace failing organs; a thousand years ago men on horseback spread the news, today we employ the light-speed of electromagnetic waves.
All such progress depended, and will continue to depend, upon one thing—the ability to identify and root out faulty assumptions and replace them with facts. In other words, progress necessitates recognizing that the universe (and all that it contains and everything that happens) is rational. Once we do this, we realize that all situations can be analyzed and treated logically. Then, given enough time and effort, almost anything becomes possible—even by-passing emotionally-charged, long-standing, religious differences.
We have employed a rational approach in every field of human endeavour except religion. There, we fight new understandings, progress, and each other. No time has ever been more appropriate than the present to investigate alternative ways to meet our religious needs. Religions are not beyond betterment; they can incorporate new understandings, they can be redesigned. The rational approach can be used, even in the field of religious belief.
Science and religion have not always been strangers to one another. In Ancient Greece all speculative thought was considered to be philosophy; science and religion were (and often still are) speculative in nature. Both might profit from a tighter union for both address aspects of the same problem—our lack of knowledge. Most spiritual religions attempt to explain the creation of the universe and the planet’s organisms; many scientists work on exactly the same questions. However, religion and science operate at different ends of the knowledge gap. Religion starts at the “big end” with all the answers, usually declaring at the outset that a supreme being created all; science works at the “small end” and begins by asking questions, slowly building an understanding of the whole from a thorough examination of its parts.
Religion and science have another feature in common: both are founded upon a belief. While the belief held by religions is invariably made clear for everyone, the belief held by scientists is usually overlooked—however, it is just as fundamental and important.
Scientists, without exception, believe that all of the universe’s behaviour is rational, i.e., that effects follow causes which follow effects (the causality discussed in Thinking And The Universe). Religions, apparently sensing that some aspect of this belief counters theirs, invariably state (in one way or another) that some parts of the universe are not subject to rational inquiry.
Because science and religion are both based upon a belief, I suspect that unifying these beliefs would fully unify science and religion. Although not its intended purpose, the last half of this book seems to be showing how this might be brought about. Essentially, the belief that heads both disciplines is that which is used by each to make purposeful decisions. Religious beliefs regarding a judgement day and an afterlife influence behavioural decisions made by followers. Scientific beliefs that the universe is causal or rational determine the accuracy of solutions proposed by scientists. Both beliefs provide the “purpose” needed by the decision maker to make a choice about how to act—the religious in order to enter heaven, the scientist in order to have his or her findings accepted as valid.
To my mind, there is no reason for the purpose that heads scientific inquiry to be any different from the purpose that heads a religion. The problem is—how might such a joint purpose be stated? “To seek the truth,” might be accurate, but this is too simple a statement to have any practical utility. (The purpose proposed toward the end of What Purpose Can We Use? may be a more useful one.) I leave this as a problem that some readers might like to take up. What a foundation for future civilizations to build upon would be created, should scientific and religious purposes become one!