I skipped out on my folklore class last night to attend the “debate” between PZ Myers and Loyal Rue. It was too tempting, considering that the venue was across the street from my class and my prof was rambling aimlessly. It turned out to be a great intellectual discussion about defining religion and science and whether or not they are or can be made compatible.
It seemed that their differences were largely semantic. Rue argued that religion is not by definition incompatible with science, but that in most of its currently practiced forms it tends to contradict science. He believes that we need to create a new religion based on the cosmology of modern science and a progressive and just morality which respects the freedom of the individual.
The problem I (and PZ) have with this argument is that in our culture, the word religion is inextricably linked to supernatural concepts. Although it is important for people to have a unified understanding of the world and where we fit in it, I think it’s unnecessary to call this new story a religion. It adds unnecessary baggage to a great thought.
Another interesting topic, brought up by Greg Laden, had to do with the origin of morality. I wasn’t satisfied with the discussion on this point. Laden seemed to be arguing that morality, though not necessarily from religion, is entirely social and has no genetic component. I’m not quite comfortable with this. It seems awfully close to the idea that many religious people have that there is no morality without faith. Personally, I think ethics and morality come from genetic and cultural sources. It’s reasonable to believe that kin selection and reciprocal altruism have shaped our minds in such a way that we easily learn the ethical system of our culture.
I considered bringing this up, but it was sort of off topic and they wanted to move along. It was altogether a thought provoking evening, although I wish they would plan these events on a day other than Thursday so I’m not so inclined to skip my class. ;)