Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Religion Matters according to Huston Smith

Scientism is the enemy of culture and knowledge according to Smith. In order to further advance the knowledge of our civilization we must put away our strict bias toward science as the only haven for the answers to our great questions. We must, once again, as before the scientific revolution spun off in to scientism, allow the humanities to make their own attempt at an answer. Philosophy and religion are now seen more as pagan ritual than educating practice in the modern society. Smith purports that a civilization which is able to view things from both a quantitative (science) and qualitative (art) perspective will be much better off than the one in which one discipline is so greatly outweighed by the other, as is now the case.

Scientism is the idea that science currently has, or will have in the future, the answers to all possible questions. If the question cannot be answered by science then it is not applicable to humanity. Scientism rose out of the modern period and became substantial during post-modernity. Science began as natural philosophy. The universities at the birth of science generally contained two main fields of study, theology and mathematics. So in essence the original scientist was a religious person, or at least one who studied religion. Where this shift from the natural philosopher to the atheist, or at least agnostic, scientist occurred is not quite clear, but what is clear is the profound effect it has had on the worldviews of the people of the world.

Why this shift occurred is obvious. The world was becoming more and more dependent on science and its direct offspring engineering for the physical betterment of man. The universities and similar places of education needed to follow suit in order to keep up with the pace of the ever changing world. Science and engineering programs began getting the best and the brightest students as well as the most funding, in the state-run schools at least, whereas before the humanities would have received these priorities for they were far more likely to make one knowledgeable of the world. Not long after it came to be that religion was actually being completely ignored in the educating of the youth, especially with the widespread use of public funding for education in comparison with the much more traditioned parochial schools. Then there came the time where-upon religion was even outlawed to be taught in a philosophical or theological sense; we are already well passed the potential of religious teachings in the classroom. Then there is the long fought evolution versus creationism battle in the public institutions of America. Initially there was an ignorance of the creationist viewpoint in the schools, followed by complete intentional segregation of the two. Although it does seem as creationist do seem to be making a comeback into the public school systems, at least in a theological sense this is good.

With science at the forefront and religion on the backburner it is quite obvious what change occurred. No longer are people asking the metaphysical or ethereal questions. If the potential answer does not include numbers or data or results, then in no way can it be depended upon as definitively factual or even remotely relevant. This is what Smith means when he refers to science as quantitative and religion as qualitative. Religion answers these questions with words. Words are quality. Numbers are merely quantity.

The problem with this dependence upon science is that there are questions on which science cannot answer. What is love? What happens when one stops his mortal functions on Earth? What exists outside the realm of this world? Is there a greater being, a higher power? Science cannot quite grasp these questions. These questions cannot be quantitatively answered. To correctly respond to such inquiries requires a much more "from the heart" approach. Without this approach there will continue to be a gap in the heart of man always demanding on its being filled.

Smith's solution is a joint effort between science and the humanities. Science must give up its stranglehold on society's questions and in return it will receive recognition for it being able to answer more precisely the questions which religion and philosophy can only answer with generalities. Science believes that it does not need religion and philosophy and that they are quite in much greater need of it. However, there do exists those questions on which science cannot find ground to stand, and for this it does need religion and philosophy.

Smith does suggest that the bridge between the two disciplines may begin with the problem of cognitive psychology. That is, what connects the flesh of the brain with the mind of the man, the mind-body problem. While science directly concerns itself with that which is material, the flesh, religion and philosophy concern themselves with the immaterial, the mind. If it can be explained how the material and the immaterial interact and coexist all in one, then the reunification may soon begin. It must be noted, however, that in the three centuries since this problem was first introduced by Descartes there has been absolutely no progress made, so an answer may well be far off in to the distance (183).

Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. 1st. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001. Print.


  1. In reality, no single religion could guarantee us a place in Heaven. In the end, what matters is how we a treat other people.:,;

  2. actually it doesn't matter what Religion you may have, as long as you treat the other person right.`''

  3. it doesn't matter what religion you have, just do good and avoid evil-~;

  4. religion is a good thing since this is our only connection to a higher being*;'

  5. what matters most is the good deeds that we do on our fellow men, it does not matter what religion you have as long as you do good stuffs ':*