Friday, March 20, 2009

Split Loyalties and Split Brains

In this post on Sandwalk atheist Larry Moran quotes Rev. Ambury Stuart, who is a climatologist and a Church minister. On the subject of religion and science Stuart says:

You have to think through a lot of stuff. It's not simplistic. You try and divide your brain into two bits: One bit you'll use on Sunday and the rest of it you'll use the rest of the week, and it doesn't work. It doesn't have to."

For Larry this is surefire evidence of the conflict between religion and science:

This is about as honest as you get. Stuart is telling us that the conflict between religion and science is real and challenging. You have to work really hard at reconciling science and religion. Many religious beliefs don't survive the challenge.

Funnily enough I agree with Larry Moran: there is, repeat, is, a deep conflict between religion and science - it’s just that I think the conflict is part of a more general cultural and temperamental clash. As I have intimated before the intuitive poetic/artistic mentality may be tempted to set its teeth against science:

Thoreau: You tell me [the colouring of the clouds] is a mass of vapour which absorbs all other rays and reflects the red, but that is nothing to the purpose, for this red vision excites me, stirs my blood, makes my thoughts flow… what sort of science is that which enriches the understanding, but robs the imagination?

Keats: Do not all charms fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy? Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings, conquer all mysteries by rule and line, empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine – unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made the tender-person’d lamia melt into the shade.

…and as I commented when I first quoted the above:

And so the apparently competing polarities of science versus art, analysis versus intuition, cold description versus beauty, demystification versus mystery, knowledge versus feeling, head versus heart are sustained. But why? Why is this polarization such a common theme? Why does the elementalisation that science appear to introduce grate so with the poetic mentality, a mentality that revels in unreduced experience? Why do people hark back to an imagined rustic idyll when life was more instinctual and intuitive? Why are the objects and activity of science regarded as soulless? Why is science’s analytically reduced reality considered so profane in comparison with the unreduced reality of the mystic? Is the analytical left-brain to be forever at odds with the intuitive right brain?

I have already made moves toward addressing these questions* but I have a feeling that I’ll be saying a lot, lot more about them in the future. I'm probably only scratching the surface of the mystery here.

However, let me just quote Gavin Pretor-Pinney who, with some jocularity, also comments on Thoreau and Keats:

I can see what Thoreau and Keats mean. But they do sound a bit like the arty kids in class taunting the science nerds. Having opted for all sciences at secondary school, I have painful memories of bullying classmates goading me for emptying the haunted air, and gnomed mine. OK, they might not have quite put it in those words, but the sentiment was the same.

“Bullying” is perhaps too strong a word for the pressures found in today’s hyperfeminised church favouring the intuitive over and against the analytic. (on second thoughts....!) Unlike Ambury Stuart, however, I am not going to act out of character and try to split my brain into two bits (left and right brain?) on Sundays. I am who I am, and I refuse to play the hypocrite in order to look “religious” by “swooning for Jesus” or selling out to inscrutable gut reactions. For me the quest to connect with the primary ontology of our world will always be temperamentally skewed toward the analytic. But that quest must be prepared look beyond the simple descriptive algorithms of natural law and statistics.

Characters of the Wild Web number 2: Sheriff Larry Moran - no one breaks the (scientific) law on his patch.

* See:

Uncommon Descent has a post on dualism here

1 comment:

mihalis-halkida said...

Good morning, I saw the page with enthusiasm, and sends a reply, Michael Greece