Friday, November 15, 2013

Poets, Priests and Scientists

Wilderness Poetry

It's Friday, and so this evening I will be sitting in front of my TV set watching the HBO program, "Real Time with Bill Maher." I find the program to be very witty and quite funny with one major exception. I get a little crazy when Mr. Maher goes off on one of his famous "anti-religion" tirades - an argument that represents the ever -growing and very popular wave of world-wide "atheism."  

It's not that I think religion should remain above criticism - far from it. I criticize religion all the time. My problem with the standard anti-religon argument as presented by Bill and many of his other "atheist" compatriots is that the argument is simply old and tired, based on outdated and faulty propositions. 

The "du jour" anti-religon, "atheist" argument has a rather standard format: 

Science is the only way to find truth. Scientists apply logic and academic rigor in viewing the world and they offer "critical" explanations for how things happen. Religion, on the other hand, is little more than an adolescent fairy tale. Religious people are often referred to as "deists "- people who foolishly accept a ridiculous dogma about a superhero God living somewhere up in the sky creating and controlling the world and all that is in it.

Maybe (just maybe) if it was 1950, this argument might have some teeth. But it's the 21st century and the argument is actually quite ludicrous.

Yesterday I was in a conversation with a 21st century quantum physicist who, in one simple sentence, summarized it all, "The scientists of today are not the scientists of previous generations." 

The new scientists of our own day are just as rigorous in pursuit of the "truth" as their forbearers, but today's string theorists, quantum physicists, neuroscientists and the like, have all made enormous advances in the scientific venture and they have uncovered a brave new world. Today's scientists have looked at a world of sub atomic ever-changing complexity and have uncovered a world of astonishing mystery - black holes, dark energy, with about 5% of it that can actually be explained. 

 I sometimes wonder if today's scientists have not, in fact, become the new theologians of our own new age - the new priests and poets of a post-modern era. 

The priests and theologians in the religious institutions of our day are prone to presenting doctrine and offering answers to the questions of life.  They develop surveys about trends and then come up with the 10 keys or 5 strategies for growing a dying church. But when I talk to a quantum physicist, he tells me of his wonder at the "magic" of looking into an atomic microscope - encountering an ever-evolving world of incomprehensible complexity, a complexity that is filled with far more questions than answers. So I wonder who the real priests and poets are today?

The other day I listened to an NPR program about "Contemplating Mortality," in which a well-respected man of science, a renowned Hospice physician, related his experiences of treating people on the verge of death.

The physician affirmed his belief in science and the scientific method. He was, after all a celebrated doctor, who regularly relied upon all the treatments known to medicine used for  healing and prolonging life.  But we all die, and medicine has its limits.

In that NPR program, the Hospice physician (who was probably not a religious man) talked about the "sacred"moment  he inevitably experiences when, medicine no longer is an option as he stands at the bedside of someone near death with the family all gathered around for those final hours and moments.

It's a sacred moment
an experience of being infinitesimal and yet being infinite
vulnerable and yet unshakably confident.


As I see it today's scientists may indeed have become the priests, the poets and the theologians of a new era -inspiring us to explore the infinite and to venture into mystery. 

I have this kind of wild fantasy that Bill Maher will read my post today, call me, and we will enter into a new-era dialogue about religion and science. Probably not, but who knows?


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