• Question: What are your views on religion

    Asked by joealder to Cassie, Karen, Sofia, Tommy on 21 Nov 2013.
    • Photo: Thomas Doherty-Bone

      Thomas Doherty-Bone answered on 21 Nov 2013:

      So the moderators are happy for me to answer this? This is a huge question. OK, here I go, brace yourselves, I might shock some of you (and maybe your parents if they want you to follow a particular faith).

      Religion is a collective behaviour of humans, which bases faith around a deity (“god”) or multiple deities (polytheism). I have yet to see a proper appraisal of it, but the benefits of such behaviours function to persuade people from killing their neighbours or to make stronger cohesion to repel outer threats. I separate this from a basic belief of a god or spiritualism, which is an individual think, religion being the collective. Religions also evolve, just look at Christianity, many “species” (denominations) of churches “speciating”, some going extinct, but a clear chain of events and heritage. If someone is born in Western Europe or America, they are likely to be brought up Christian; if someone is born in the Middle-east, they are likely to be brought up Muslim; if someone is born in India, it is likely they will be either brought up Hindu or Muslim; in Nepal a child is likely to be brought up as Buddist; if one was born in Scandanavia in the Dark Ages, you will be brought up worshipping Thor. There is great diversity in religion, not all of them are the same, but all are faith based.

      As faith is based on the acceptance of something in the absence of evidence, while science is the use of evidence to ascertain facts, the two are supposed to clash (though maybe people get a bit eager about this and jump up and down hoping for a fight). There are many examples when in the absence of good science, bad things have happened, and religious organizations have been involved with many of these, though not always because they are religious.

      What do I think of it? I was brought up to be Catholic, but as I learned more about it at school, I loosened up to a generic Christian unhappy with many aspects of Catholic dogma, then considered other religions, then an agnostic (as in a 50:50 certainty of an existence of a deity) unhappy with organized religion, and then I chose to live my life without the thought of a heaven or god judging or incentivising my actions. Later on I realised the latter was descriptive of an aetheist, my certainty about the presence of a caring/conscious god had gone from 50:50 to 5:95.

      Being religious never stopped me considering science, and when I work with religious people, they very rarely counter any point I make with a theological point, or try to overrule a point based on faith with conviction. An exception might be when one local African man said he would prey a risky endeavour to introduce exotic fish to a lake would go well, but I pointed out that this could be hazardous for the unique biodiversity of that lake and gave examples of when this has gone bad in other places. Newton was very religious. Some of the early Enlightenment scientists were vicars, even Darwin had trained to be pastor. There are still problems though. It can make people think that their misfortunes are allowed by their deity. This is bad as it stops people thinking they can achieve or even think for themselves. Working out what is right or wrong is hard to do, even scholars of religions put down their core texts and debate how to judge this (I have a lot of admiration for clergymen, Buddist monks and imams, often very good chats as these are scholary people). Most of us will have read a section in the Bible and said, “well it says that, but I don’t agree with that and will do this instead”, such as eating meat on a Friday. We already have an idea what is right or wrong without being religious.

      So there you are. I am aethist. I do not like religions or even the belief of spiritualism, but they are normal human behaviour and we need to be aware of that and be patient. It is fashionable for aethists to be confrontational with religious people (it didn’t have any effect on my faith, when I had it), but I find it better to let people find out, ask you questions, hopefully they will extend the same respect you have them. And maybe they will make up their own mind. I did.

    • Photo: Cassandra Raby

      Cassandra Raby answered on 21 Nov 2013:

      So a lot of people will assume that scientists aren’t religious and that scientists always dislike religion… but that isn’t true. There are a lot of scientists that enjoy having their faith, and use religion as a reason that they want to discover more about the natural world.

      I think religion can bring both positive and negative aspects to life depending on who is interpreting that religion. It can often bring people together, and provide support and meaning to groups of people. Or historically it has been known to limit scientific progression (think of Darwin having trouble convincing people of natural selection).

      An example of how religion can be useful to science and conservation was given to me at a scientific course. This was explaining that if you want to work with the natural world, then you have to work with the people in it. A good way to do that would be to consider their religion, understand it, and then highlight the features of that religion allow people to realise how important work with nature is. Usually religion expects people to show that level of care with the earth.
      So although I am actually atheist I think it is important to understand and appreciate religion, as it is such an important aspect of modern life.

    • Photo: Sofia Franco

      Sofia Franco answered on 21 Nov 2013:

      Tough one! I think religion comes from the need of believing in something greater than you and making a difference between what is right and wrong, helping you create your own values…in that sense, I think most religions are very similar, they just look for different ways to explain things, coming from different backgrounds, but they all expect you to be the best you can be according to what is accepted. I respect all religions, as I think they are important vehicles for building up values and for people to feel a part of something…I do not identify myself with any in particular (as long as your values are correct and you act in conscience, being considerate and respectfull to others, it doesn’t really matter, does it?), but I think this is a matter of personal choice, as I don’t think science and religion are incompatible! As long as you consider where the other views come from and are open for discussion, it can actually be a very useful exercise in tolerance 🙂