This I Believe

Harriet - New York, New York
Entered on January 3, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

I am fascinated by the renewed debate between science and religion in this, the fourth century since the Enlightenment. I myself am a believer in science, but I disagree with some others of my persuasion who claim we have made a rational decision while the other side base their choice on nothing but faith.

I propose that we all come to our belief systems by the same subconscious mechanisms. We choose to believe in God or Science or both or neither to satisfy emotional imperatives that remain hidden from awareness. We are all looking for the same few subconscious needs to be met—most conspicuously, freedom from fear of the unknown, a sense of belonging, and, of course, the meaning of life.

Science makes me feel secure because it is concrete and verifiable, whereas my friend, Eloise, finds her safety in the existence of a supreme being and a religious hierarchy. Jacob is in awe in a church with sunlight streaming through stained-glass windows, while Barbara, a biochemist, gasps at the exquisite functional simplicity of a cell wall.

My spiritual friends think I am losing out on an important source of comfort by rejecting belief in an afterlife, but I prefer to get the most out of my years on earth and die feeling already fulfilled. I think that they are not taking responsibility for their own lives by relying on God, while they say that I suffer from an inability to accept support. We are each using our beliefs for our own purposes, me to feel independent and them to feel connected.

Although the tenets of science are determined by objective methods and those of religion come from spiritual enlightenment, the fact is that my preilection for science involves a good deal of faith. For example, I simply accept the physicists’ explanation of string theory because it is so intellectually satisfying even though I cannot possibly follow the mathematics, just as my Catholic friends accept that the priest praying in Latin is bringing them into relationship with Christ.

It has been hard for me to write this essay in a fair-minded way because of my strong bias, but this is further proof to me of my premise. Trying to convert one another by logical argument is foolhardy. While our unconscious holds sway, we can never be persuaded to give up the convictions that make us feel good—as the public relations experts are well aware.

So let us not conduct the science-religion dialog on a level that is meaningless. Let us acknowledge that, when it comes to core values, we are operating from a part of our minds that will not easily be changed.

I believe we humans are still driven a lot more by instinct and genetic predispositions than by, what Kurt Vonnegut derisively calls, our big brains, a burdensome organ used mostly to justify and build on our primal choices.