I am not a fan of Stephen J. Gould’s proposal that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria.” Science — gee, it is so grand and does so much for people. Religion — gee, it is so grand and does so much for people. If we keep them more than an arm’s length apart, we don’t have to recognize that they conflict in many fundamental ways. And everyone can keep pretending that the Supernatural Emperor ain’t buck-naked.
Our current culture plays favorites with religion, treating it with kid gloves. Critical thinking, gee, that’s for all the other areas of life. Unfortunately, many scientists and science-writers persist in excluding it from critical thought. A recent geological study — geological! — provides a case-in-point.
In brief, the study asserts that Jerusalem sits atop a type of limestone that readily forms caves through which water flows and springs can bubble. This is an important reason why King David chose the area to build his city.
It proved to be a wise decision. One of David’s successors, King Hezekiah watched as the warlike Assyrian horde, a group of vastly superior warriors toppled city after city in the region. Fearing that they’d soon come for Jerusalem, he too took advantage of the limestone bedrock and dug a 550 meter-long (1804 feet) tunnel that rerouted the spring’s water inside the city’s fortified walls.
The Assyrians laid siege to the city in 701 BCE, but failed to conquer it. It was the only city in history to successfully fend them off. [source]
Anyone familiar with the Bible stories (some of it historical) knows that an essential theme is this: Something good happened because our god intervened to help us, pleased as he was with our loyalty to him. Or, Something bad happened because our god punished us for our infidelity to him. It’s all about me, me, me. Or we, we, we.
The author of the study, Michael Bramnik of Northern Illinois University, does make a brief nod to this all-too-common phenomenon:
“Surviving the Assyrian siege put it into the people’s minds that it was because of their faith that they survived,” Bramnik said. “So when they were captured by the Babylonians in 587, they felt it was because their faith had faltered.”
The real reason the people survived? The human engineering that brought water into the city. In a sense, you could say that what made and continues to make Jerusalem a holy city is the delusional thinking of people. Make that self-centered, delusional thinking. For when something good happens, it is all about me (and my people and our special relationship to our version of the one god); when something bad happens, it is also all about me.
Earlier this month I made a post in my Sunday Sacrilege category, “Nothing by the Hands of a God.” In it I proposed that there are three types of events that tend to be attributed to the work of a god. Bogusly so. The third is certainly relevant here -
3) The work of men and women.
An army is victorious in battle against its foe. Why? Not because they had greater numbers, better weapons or whatnot, but because they had a god on their side. An impressive cathedral is built. Not by human hands alone, but human hands doing the work of their god. The poor are fed. How? By people doing their god’s work.
What’s the unnecessary variable in all of this? A god. People do works they attribute to a god. Yet the works can be fully explained without a god.
The title of the science article above read, “Bedrock of a holy city: the historical importance of Jerusalem’s geology.” Why do people persist in referring to a city as “holy.” Sure, religion claims it is so. But what are those claims based upon? Does science have anything to say about the claims?
It seems to me that the bedrock of religion consists of mis-attributions for objects and events in the natural world. And delusional conclusions drawn from these (my god loves me and wants all people to do x, y, and Z).
How long do we keep pretending that science and religion do not overlap . . . and are equally grand?