I recently watched a few highly entertaining youtube videos of Richard Dawkins debating various creationists. It struck me that Dawkins acts like an evangelical missionary. Listening to him express his passionate love of science is like listening to a born-again talk about his love of Christ. Dawkins fights religion with a religious zeal, embodying Carl Jung’s dictum: “one can only replace religion with religion.”
Science indeed is a kind of god, a god that Dawkins worships with reverence and zeal. Like traditional gods before it, Science God explains who we are and where we are going, gives us immutable laws, and presents itself as a final and ultimate authority. So if Science is a god whom atheists reverence, and who gives followers like Dawkins a profound sense of meaning and mission, how does Science God stack up with other religious gods? If Science God were put into a competition with Jehovah, Allah, and other traditional gods, who would win?
Below are my arbitrary judgements as an impartial Mormon. I say impartial, because as a Mormon, I am a truth collector, embracing all things that are true, whether embodied by the Science God, or the traditional gods. It doesn’t bother me if Science God beats out Allah and his headscarves or Jehovah and his 6 day creation. Our God is an amalgamation of all truth, a great whole which continues to add truth unto itself.
God as Explanation
People need explanations and gods give explanations for everything: how the earth was created, why we get sick, what happens when we die, why the sun circles the earth, etc. Ancient gods taught the people that seasons exist because Zeus casts Persephone into Hades for 3 months a year. But the new Science God explains that the earth rotates on its axis creating the seasons. On almost every front, Science God has shown itself to be vastly superior to the explanations of the old gods.
But while Science God does a good job of explaining “how” it doesn’t satisfy our thirst to understand “why.” And there are many mysteries which have yet to be uncovered. Theologists sometimes posit a “god of the gaps” which fills in these mysteries with doctrinal explanations. However science continually narrows the gap with better and better explanations as time goes on.
Winner: A tie. Science is great at explaining the “how,” not so good at the “why.”
God as Helper
We live in an unpredictable, dangerous world and people have always looked to the gods to help them live safe, fulfilling lives in that world. Ancients appealed to prophets and seers to help them decide when to plant their crops. But as humankind progressed, scientists became better at helping us plant and harvest our crops, giving us pesticides, genetics, almanacs with more accurate weather patterns. Like other gods, people put their faith in Science and it answers their prayers. They pray (and pay) the scientists to help them conceive children. So far, 5 million IVF babies have been born through the help of Science God leaving prophets and witch doctors in the dust.
Traditional religious gods claim to be able to perform miracles. However, the religious admit that these miracles only happen on special occasions. Only a handful of faithful have been genuinely healed by the Madonna at Lourdes, out of the millions that have visited her.
Winner: Science God. Since Science God came on the scene He has probably helped more people in more practical ways than divine miracles from traditional gods.
We all need authority and structure to keep civilisation peaceful and prosperous. Ancient gods gave commandments that kept people together and helped them get along. What kind of authority does the new Science God hold? Today we look to scientists for everything: we worship statistics, studies, and findings. Science sometimes changes, which undermines its authority. Yet as we have appealed to the authority of science, our lives have become longer, healthier, and more prosperous. Has the authority of Science God been as powerful or more than the authority religion has given us? Can scientific laws replace the ten commandments, or Jesus’ admonition to love our enemies?
Even though scientists don’t issue commandments, their research has revealed the importance of concepts like love, forgiveness, and friendship as key ingredients to leading happy lives. Those who follow the best science can live lives as happy and productive as religious people. The problem is that most people don’t follow the best scientific research, even if they know it is good. According to polls, religious people still lead happier lives than atheists. So science has an authority problem, even if it is persuasive rationally.
Winner: traditional gods. Traditional gods like the Born Again’s Jesus are persuasive enough in their authority that they help the religious lead happier lives than atheists.
God as Inspiration
Gods have always inspired their followers. They may speak with “a still small voice” or a “rushing mighty wind,” but with their voices they evoke a sense of mystery and wonder and speak peace to the troubled soul. Christ’s simple call to the disciples “come follow me” was so powerful that they straightway left their nets and followed him. These calls have inspired thousands of saints to give their lives and millions to follow their commandments.
Does the God of Science inspire such devotion? Apparently yes. Dawkins speaks with great reverence towards science and the beauty and meaning it has given his life. Other scientists have felt the call to science deep within their bones, a call as powerfully as any saint has felt. Einstein, Sagan, and others have spoken eloquently about the inspiration they gain from nature and its laws. Is it ultimately as powerful or profound as the inspiration given from other gods?
Winner: a tie. Both Science God and traditional gods can be deeply inspiring.
Final Tally? Choose you this day…
For me, its a toss up. Unlike Elijah’s contest where Jehovah knocks out Baal in the first round, in a modern contest neither Science God nor the traditional gods come away as clear winners. So how do we choose? I think most of us will choose the god which most closely reflects our individual proclivities, and which we see as the most “just” or “good.” Some people feel “called” to this or that, by some kind of internal voice, by their heart. This internal voice could be the same whether you become a nun or an atheist.
The Mormon God and Alliances with Other Gods
I didn’t want to include the Mormon God in the competition in order to give the other gods a fighting chance! Mormonism is arguably one of the most successful religions from a practical standpoint, ranking “most healthy by a landslide” on the religious health-o-meter.
But it bothers me that Mormons have a prejudice against Science God and prefer alliances with religions that worship traditional apostate gods. If Atheism is a religion, as valid and successful as any other, why should Mormons oppose it in favour of other apostate religions? There have been a number of articles on LDS.ORG in recent years defending traditional, organised religion in an increasingly secular world. Politically our members find themselves lining up with the Religious Right against scientific and expert opinion.
Should this be the case? Joseph Smith’s teachings on God separate us from traditional religion and bring us much closer to the realm of science. The revolutionary doctrine “all spirit is matter” cuts our ties with apostate religions which have centred their entire doctrinal foundations on the mystery of the spirit versus the flesh. And Joseph Smith’s teaching that matter cannot be created nor destroyed predates Einstein’s discoveries and reorients our place in the universe to coincide directly with the scientific view.
While scientists might scoff at some of our bizarre truth claims, at our doctrinal core we celebrate science and the search to bring all truth into one great whole. Our religious experience is an empirical one with a scientific dimension: we “know” things are true through personal spiritual experience, not merely believing in traditional dogmas. Scientists might have chemical explanations for our spiritual experiences, but they would not deny that they exist.
- Who wins a competition between Science God and traditional apostate gods?
- Is atheism a religion, as valid and successful as any other apostate religion?
- Should Mormons prefer traditional apostate gods to Science God?
- Do you agree that Mormonism’s unique doctrines on spirit and matter place it closer to science than apostate religion?