Adding to the Mystery

Adding to the Mystery January 14, 2013

One reason that some religious believers feel threatened by scientific advances is the belief that, as the mysterious becomes less mysterious, God’s existence or at least God’s involvement in the universe is disproved. But as those who’ve dug deeply into the mysteries of the universe, as we find answers, they lead on to new mysteries which ultimately lead sooner or later to the mystery of existence itself, why anything at all exists. That isn’t proof of God, but it does leave permanent room for mystery that will forever point beyond what we can observe into the unknown.

I thought of this when seeing this bookstore’s effort to make sure its “Mystery” section lived up to the name:

My own view is that actual mysteries are mysterious enough. No need to try to make them more mysterious than they really are! And so I thought that this is a nice parable of what some religious believers do, trying to prevent mysteries being identified and solved so as to leave room for God. But the truth is that, even if you exhaust every book on the shelf, there will always be more mysteries…

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  • Philip

    I think it’s rather more personal: religious knowledge is easily come by (read the book, there is is), while scientific knowledge is difficult (hardly anything in science is accessible without a knowledge of maths, for example – maths is hard). And yet, religious knowledge does involve a huge commitment – years and years and years of study. I believe that to become an ayatolloh, for example, takes close on two decades of study. To become a Catholic priest takes something similar, and rabbis, of course, spend even longer.

    So, you have people (religious scholars) who are genuinely and deeply committed to their knowledge. Committed in terms of emotion (they are believers, by definition) and time. And they see scientific conclusions that challenge what they know, in all areas, cosmology, psychology, sociology, you name it. So are they going to go back to the beginning and start again? No way.

    This, of course, describes only one strand of thought in religious communities – call it rejectionism. There are also those who accommodate themselves to science. The Big Bang is identified with Genesis 1, or Deuteronomy didn’t really mean it about stoning adulterers. Call this accommodationism. The problem is, science ignores both. Cosmologists don’t think they have a lot to learn from Genesis 1, and social scientists don’t spend a lot of time pondering Paul. So what is the role of religion in a scientific age? I can’t say I really know.

    • What you wrote is certainly true of dogmatic approaches to religion which consider religious faith to consist of the claim to know certain things to be true about transcendent realities. What you wrote applies less well, or perhaps not at all, to the vibrant mystical approaches to religion one finds across all major religious traditions, which emphasize the mystery of the Ultimate rather than dogmatic claims to knowledge about transcendent things. They also tend to emphasize not only mystery, but personal transformation.