My Problem with Religion (continued)

“Should we continue to rely on faith
that was created in much simpler – and more ignorant – times?”

By George Snider

At the same time, I have become less and less enchanted with Western religions’ concept of God, leading me to question the confession of faith that I make on Sundays when attending church.

As those who know me can attest, I am neither a mathematician nor physicist, so my understanding of our physical world is that of the armchair scientist – and it is difficult to keep up.

Until very recently, the universe consisted of 100 to 200-billion galaxies, each with billions of stars. Last  October, NASA announced that a team of English scientists, combining data from the Hubble space telescope with mathematical modeling, now believes that there are trillions of galaxies – formed at various times during the nearly 14 billion years since the Big Bang and unevenly distributed throughout space. Space itself is expanding at an accelerating rate, propelled by dark energy and filled with dark matter. Astrophysicists can now observe the universe within moments of its formation and can predict its likely demise some three billion years from now, as the fabric of the cosmos tears itself apart.

On other equally mind-blowing fronts, scientists have confirmed the existence of gravitational waves proposed by Einstein a century ago, along with evidence that the Higgs boson (the so-called “God particle”) actually exists, allowing particles to acquire mass. Black holes, formed by collapsing stars and able to devour everything within their gravitational fields, have been confirmed within the last several decades. The structure of atoms is now quite different from what we learned in school, and the tiniest particles can act in extremely curious ways – for example, existing in two states at once, interacting without touching, materializing out of nowhere and behaving in other peculiar ways.

In short, science has come a long way, baby, from those early days when ancient astronomers began to speculate that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the sun around the earth.

Not so Judaism and Christianity, which hold on to very old beliefs. Over the course of a millennium before the Common Era, God changed from a being who held fireside chats with Abraham to a more distant God who spoke through burning bushes, angels and prophets. A spiteful, vengeful God gave way over the centuries to a more compassionate deity who (in the Christian faith) sent his only son to save mankind. In the fourth century C.E., with the adoption of the Nicene Creed, God morphed into the Holy Trinity and it is the idea of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that Christians affirm today.

“Is God taking care of only human beings
 (and particularly those who believe in Him/Her/It)?”

Science of course became an increasingly thorny issue for the Catholic Church over several centuries, as a growing array of scientific data began to conflict with traditional religious teachings. The denial of science culminated in Galileo’s famous trial in 1633 for his heliocentric assertions. But since his heretical notions were exonerated nearly a century later, both Catholics and Protestants have largely left science to the scientists and religion to the clerics.

Thus, despite our current understanding of a highly complex and mathematical universe with no “up” or “down,” God (in English theologian Karen Armstrong’s words) is still “the old man in the sky.” And where heaven is remains open to question, as does the long-running debate as to whether God / the Holy Trinity exists inside or outside of spacetime. And last, is God taking care of only human beings (and particularly those who believe in Him/Her/It), or is God presiding over all those trillions of galaxies with their billions of stars and “heaven knows” how many planets capable of sustaining intelligent life?

A Challenge to Readers. I say this with no malice aforethought to God. Countless millions of people believe in a monotheistic God and countless other millions in a variety of deities and divine states. A goodly number of us find sustenance in prayer, and many study the Bible or other religious books for spiritual guidance. Religion defaults to faith in that knowledge which “passeth all human understanding,” but that to my way of thinking is a cop-out.

If science almost daily can open new doors to the workings of the very large and very small, should we continue to rely on faith that was created in much simpler – and more ignorant – times? Can’t we begin to rethink what God is in the 21st century, as opposed to in the fourth?

Please take up George’s invitation and comment by clicking here. Can you share George’s discomfort, or start the “rethink” even a bit?

[Return to home page if you wish, but first, see below.]

Here is the famous passage by Carl Sagan, relayed by Bill Stott.

Our Blue Dot

To hear Sagan read this famous meditation, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p86BPM1GV8M

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot….

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1994

 

Please comment here. Thanks.

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  • Bill Stott January 11, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    Sorry to be Bill Stott clogging up the airways again. But . . .

    I’ve always loved and frequently sing the “Big Blue Marble in Space” song, only the first and last verses, which are:

    The earth’s a Big Blue Marble
    When you see it from out there
    The sun and moon declare
    Our beauty’s very rare

    Our differences, our problems
    From out there there’s not much trace
    OUR FRIENDSHIPS THEY CAN PLACE
    While looking at the face
    Of the Big Blue Marble in space

    I would change “earth” in the first line to “world” and “not much trace” to “not a trace.” But the big problem is, plainly, the line I’ve put in CAPS. And until I was writing this note, I couldn’t–I mean over years!–figure out how to improve it, as I’m sure the original ITT lyric writers couldn’t.

    But how about this?

    Our differences and problems,
    Our religion, sex, and race–
    From there, there’s not a trace,
    Looking at the face
    Of the Big Blue Marble in space.