Sunday, January 26, 2014

Albert Schweitzer And My Kittycat George, And Science And Religion And Art

I gather that Albert Schweitzer claimed that science cannot tell us why we love our children. Some scientists would disagree. Some years ago I wasted a part of my life arguing with a particularly unpleasant theologian, who at one point claimed that science's explanations were robbing life of its wonder. I said I disagreed, and used the example of the big beautiful lazy silly wonderful loving cat I had at the time, George, who would often sit in my lap and purr while I sat at my computer and engaged in these Internet fooferahs. I said that the fact that I had learned that George's DNA was very similar to mine had increased my sense of wonder and awe about life, and about how amazing George and other living things were, not decreased it at all. My point is that I think that people, possibly including Schweitzer, who are afraid of losing something precious and beautiful if science makes them lose their religion, are simply underestimating science.

(I say "possibly including Schweitzer" because it's not clear whether or not he actually believed in God. I'm coming more and more to the position that if a person lived in the 20th century or later in Europe or the Americas, and therefore had the option of announcing that he or she didn't believe in God, and it's not clear whether or not he or she did, as in the case of Schweitzer, and the case of Einstein -- then it's not particularly important what he or she believed in regard to God. Because if it had been terribly important, and essential to understanding other things he or she had said, he or she would have made his or her position clear. If, that is, it had been possible to do so. Quite often such a thing is not possible, simply because a person is a true agnostic who leans neither one way nor another, has no clear position on God's existence, and simply doesn't know what to think about it.)

These fooferahs rage, with atheists such as myself on one side insisting that there is an inherent conflict between science and religion, and on the other side believers, who either are scientists or claim not to be completely ignorant of science, insisting that that there is no such inherent conflict. You know, if they just said "science and art" instead of "science and religion," and made all the claims for art which currently they make for religion, I'd completely, enthusiastically agree with them. Religion and art have one very big thing in common, of course: in both pursuits it's essential to constantly make things up. In both pursuits make-believe is an irreplaceable part of the process. Grasp that, and suddenly it makes perfect sense why one is so much more likely to encounter religious believers among great artists than among great scientists.

The huge and essential difference between art and theology, of course, is that artists have the common decency to admit that they're making things up, and theologians don't.

But just change one word, say "art" instead of "religion," and I'm on board, 100%: Yes, people with no feeling for art are dead inside. Yes, art makes life worthwhile. Art gives life meaning. It offers essential comfort. It offers joy. Yes, there is no inherent conflict whatsoever between science and art, in fact, there's a lot that they can do for each other. All of the things which these yutzes keep claiming for religion, if they'd make those claims for art instead, boom, suddenly I'd have no problem with them anymore.

One word, guys. That's all I'm asking for.

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