Religion and science

Ed Farrell (ewf@INREACH.COM)
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 20:24:25 PDT

Clyde Davenport wrote, in response to others:

>I comment:
>While this definition does have explanatory value, it
>suffers from two weaknesses. One is the extent to
>which people who inhabit a religious world view separate
>the material and the natural from the spiritual and the
>supernatural. I would tend to suspect that they are
>able to inhabit such a universe because to them the
>spiritual and the "super"natural are not hidden or
>obscure but rather are apparent in daily life. We need
>not confine ourselves to shamanistic types of religion
>here either, but can see this phenomenon in medieval
>Christianity in Europe. There is not only the book of
>scripture, but there is also "the book of nature" from
>which we can see the workings of God.
>The second problem is again the problem of science
>vs. religion. Science is concerned precisely with hidden
>obscure forces in relation to the ordinary experience
>of people. Gravity is not a tangible force to us. We
>rather experience physical weight. We have no experience
>of atoms, molecues and genes. These hidden entities
>are only revealed through science. We could probably
>make the same point for many of the abstract theories
>of social science. In other words, in dividing the world
>into nature and supernature, the material and the spiritual,
>the apparent and the hidden are we not being influenced
>in part by the scientific worldview ourselves?
I would like to add some thoughts to this ongoing discussion.

If I understand Clyde Davenport correctly, he suggests that the
religious may to varying degrees regard the natural and
supernatural as unseperate, because they see into, or act, in
both arenas. He sees this propensity in religions such as
Christianity (at least in its medieval varieties) as well as
shamanistic religions. He further suggests that the very idea of
the separation of natural and supernatural is under the influence
the scientific world view, and that this separation is possibly

I partly agree with this. I am a little uncertain of what is
meant by separation. I would agree that for the religious the
natural and supernatural may be apparent in daily life and thus
unseparated in experience. However, the natural and supernatural
are indeed separate in the manner in which a person is informed
of them. The individual is informed of the natural world
primarily through the senses and our interpretation of them, but
is informed of the supernatural world through faith and the
direct intervention of supernatural agency(ies). (Buddhist belief
is an apparent exception to this, of which more later). In this
respect, I think the natural/supernatural separation is an
absolute one, even though the religious may act in both realms in
daily life. The supernatural, as understood by most religions, is
by definition ALWAYS apart from sense and science; where science
uncovers hidden things and obscure relations they are always of
the natural realm.

I think the separation of the natural and supernatural has been
more of a religious distinction than a scientific one. The
mainstream, modern, scientific world view tends to regard the
supernatural as either a set of diverse but related mental
fictions or manifestations of the natural world that are not
presently understood (or some combination of the two). This
extinguishes rather than distinguishes the supernatural. It is in
religion, on the other hand, that the distinction is really
crucial: without it, the supernatural might be interpreted as
something other than it really is, with possibly dire

The notion of possible "dire consequences" associated with
neglecting or misinterpreting the supernatural is universal in
religion (so far as I know), and so I propose that any definition
of religion would be remiss without reference to the notion of
reconciliation. Religious are always called to do more than
incorporate the supernatural into their world view; they must
also act on the basis of faith. More than this, the actions they
are called to make are for the purpose of bringing the religious
into "right" relations with the supernatural. This purposive
action in behalf of supernatural agencies is at the heart of
religious experience. However, religious approaches to
reconciliation differ both in the nature of what must be
reconciled and how reconciliation is accomplished.

Name: Ed Farrell
Date: 08/15/96
Time: 20:24:25