To Eat Science’s Heart Out

Jim Burroway

September 1st, 2013

I don’t take enough vacations. I don’t drop out nearly enough and do nothing but read. I’m doing that this weekend, and nothing else. Before Returning to Jung’s “Answer to Job” at poolside this morning, I caught this at Kenyon Review by Amit Majmudar, which I find very relevant: if religion seeks to provide answers to the deeper meaning in life, why are writers fond of invoking a different authority, the authority of science, to make their arguments?

Now the natural conclusion we might draw from this—and I myself jumped to it—is that the sciences, enjoying the highest prestige in their long history, have become the true authority. Religions are desperate to corroborate their findings with the true Authority. The man in the saffron shawl, the man in the black cassock all look to the man in the white coat. This is why they appropriate the jargon and discoveries of science, drawing analogies whenever they can: As they once cited scripture, now they cite scientific studies. If poetry had the same authority as science, religious thinkers would be desperate to prove the Bible was a work of poetry, even though it’s in prose. (That would be an easier task than proving its assertions about the physical world.) So: Science is in the ascendant, and the relentless appeal to scientific authority proves the bankruptcy of traditional religions and the undermining of their scriptures. Right?

Right, but that’s not the whole story. We haven’t gone far enough. There is a larger phenomenon at work here, one with long precedent in the history of religion.

In some warrior cultures, the victor would remove and eat the heart of the slain enemy. The enemy’s prowess would enter the victor. It was ascendancy through incorporation.


September 1st, 2013



September 1st, 2013

First, I hope you enjoyed your weekend of reading and don’t even see this comment until at least Tuesday.

Second, just because somebody has to say it: *some* of the Bible IS poetry.


September 1st, 2013

Majmudar’s reasoning is a bit glib, but even if one accepts his logic, Jim, the title of your post seems to be backwards. Look at the last sentence you quoted, about “ascendency through incorporation.” The victor, it would seem, from all that came before in the quotation is Science. Therefore, it’s not Science’s heart that is being eaten by a victorious warrior, is it?

I’m just not sure you have completely digested Majmudar’s train of thought here – but since you end the quotation so abruptly there, I can’t tell where he was going with that idea. You may want to re-read the passage and clarify it in your own mind.

Jim Burroway

September 2nd, 2013

. My comment (and headline) pertained to the apparent motivation behind some religious factions who in reality have no more regard for science aside from its occasional usefulness when it can be exploited for a cause (in our case, the example of religious figures misappropriating social science for anti-LGBT positions.) I’ve always found that tendency fascinating.

I do think it is pertinent that Amit Majmuda does not claim that religions are necessarily informed by science or any other authority it turns to. Only that elements of those other systems are incorporated in a way to, in essence, bolster more or less what’s already there:

Religion’s absorptive, syncretic tendencies are busy appropriating scientific ideas (and twisting them to fit). The jargon of academic historical research, the jargon of theoretical physics—everything, if the past is any indicator, can and will be repurposed.

Timothy Kincaid

September 2nd, 2013

Without question, some of those within religion who feel a need that their teachings reflect natural reality will increasingly seek to prove that their scripture or their text aligns with science and controlled observation. Though a bit in reverse (“nature agrees with my teaching”), that is probably the impetus behind the Catholic Church’s centuries-old Natural Law. And it is likely part of the current noetic research.

But there are many others who approach religion as separate and other from the natural world and don’t seek to force them into alignment. And the desire by the former group to make their texts observably true will only deepen the divide between the two.

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