The Other I

April 22, 2010

Does science do poetry?

I find the world as it is revealed by science one of the incredible, awe-inspiring, gob-smacking visions I have ever experienced.  I’m not special in this regard:  millions of others, scientists and non-scientists alike, do too.

I love science, I think like a scientist, and I find the scientific endeavour exciting and challenging without limits.  I get a lot of inspiration from it, and it has been a major influence in my understanding of reality and what I’m doing here on planet Earth.

But the methodology of science, by and large, the nitty-gritty of every day research, is pretty down to earth.  Although scientists may be poets, science isn’t poetry.  The methods of science do not use symbols and myth, allegories and parables.  In fact, science involves specifying in precise, clear, one-dimensional terms the variables it is using and the results it finds.

And so I wonder if this characteristic of the scientific method is one of the contributing factors in the spread of fundamentalist religious thinking.  Until the last five hundred years, the Judeo-Christian religions recognized the value of mythos, of fables, and symbols.  The scriptures were understood by saints and scholars alike to be filled with truth communicated through them.

Today, however, fundamentalist religions insist that the scriptures can only be interpreted literally, that God does not speak in symbols, has no poetic intent.

My question is the extent to which this might be the result of religious thinkers attempting to emulate science.

Scientists, of course, would be appalled at being so misunderstood.  And it was never their intent to eliminate symbolic thought from its role in human understanding.  Religious fundamentalists no doubt would be equally appalled by this blasphemous suggestion.

But I wonder.


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