A Calm Storm

The blog of Sholeh Samadani Munion

Recent news

I read an article today alerting me to a slightly disturbing facet of Facebook’s new marketing campaign: your online purchases at external sites are being shared with your friends on Facebook.  Not only would you possibly be endorsing products (and not getting paid for it), but your privacy would be invaded.  There is an opt-out option, but from what I understand it is not very clear.

I rarely make online purchases, especially since I am in Israel, but there are many people who use the internet for much of their shopping.  How many consumers are aware of how much tracking goes on?  According to this study, many Americans are not very aware of how their habits are tracked and used to market to them.  “People think privacy notices mean certain default protections. Consumers don’t understand that privacy policies are just notices. They don’t guarantee any rights.”

The other article I read today was called “Taking Science on Faith”, and it mirrored very closely a chapter in my father’s new book.  The following paragraph from the article sums it up nicely, I think.

“Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.”

Science and religion do not need to be in conflict!  They have a lot more in common than parties in both camps like to admit.  😉


6 thoughts on “Recent news

  1. Hi Sholeh,

    I just came across your blog and was intrigued by the article you cited. I decided to comment because I take issue with the implications of what you say: “Science and religion do not need to be in conflict! They have a lot more in common than parties in both camps like to admit.”

    The very essence of science is to believe only in those things that we are justified in believing (and being open to those beliefs changing), while being skeptical about things that we have little or no evidence for. Religion is quite the opposite at its core. It is to believe despite the lack of evidence; in practice, it is usually based on fear (of God) or just to have a belief in something rather than nothing.

    I don’t see what’s wrong with suspending our beliefs about things for which we have no evidence or good reasons to believe. The author of the article you quote states, “both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.” That is true. Science does not pretend to give a complete picture of reality at this time. But what it does say about reality is justified by good reasons and evidence. Religion, on the other hand, claims to explain the very attributes of the foundation of existence itself (“God”) without any such reasons or evidence to justify it. So the similarity that the author points out is a very redundant one. It’s like saying, “Both kittens and lions fail to jump through brick walls. Therefore their strengths are equal.”

    I was surprised to see that the article ended thus, “[science’s] claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.” What is it that science or scientists have faith in (that is, what do they believe in without any evidence or compelling reason)? Science cannot say there is a God or that He sends Messengers to earth, nor can it say with certainty that such a thing is not true. It humbly acknowledges its ignorance and persists in the quest for answers by way of searching out evidence.


  2. Just to give you a little bit of background: I have been a Baha’i for my whole life, but have also grown up in a family of mathmaticians and scientists, so for me the belief in the harmony of science and religion is an inherent part of who I am…from the cradle, haha. 😉 I simply don’t see them conflicting in any way…which is probably a bit of a clash from what many people in the world believe.

    Sure, I agree with you that science cannot say there is or is not a God. 🙂 I think perhaps the article is flawed in some ways, but I do believe that there are some similarities between science and religion, that was the point I was trying to make.

    Religion, on the other hand, claims to explain the very attributes of the foundation of existence itself (”God”) without any such reasons or evidence to justify it.

    I would have to disagree a little bit. Yes, religion is mostly faith, but honestly, if it didn’t make logical sense to me, I wouldn’t be a Baha’i. 🙂 I think you are defining science as it should be…unfortunately there are scientists who insist that one must prove the existence of God in order to justify belief in God. By the same token there are people of faith who become dogmatic or irrational. Balance, there must always be a balance.

    I’m curious…is your family from a small village in north-western Iran near Tabriz? Your last name is familiar to me.

  3. Hi Sholeh,

    I recently checked out your dad’s book on Amazon to treat myself this winter and, later today, I was directed to your page by an advertisement on Facebook.

    Interesting post! I always appreciate your reflections on the relationship between science and religion, so thank you for raising the topic.

    I had some questions, if you would entertain me, on your analysis of the harmony of science and religion. My only question is, supposing it was ever to happen, what would conflict between science and religion look like for you? That is, what would it take for you to believe that science and religion were indeed at conflict? Would every religious person have to reject every scientific discovery? Or would it be sufficient to show a consistent and sustained oppression of scientific reasoning and discovery by religious people? Would it be enough to cite the tension between the Bahá’í Faith and modern science regarding the nature of homosexuality, the biological origins of humanity, or the possibility of life on every planet in the universe? Would any of those suffice?

    The reason why I ask is that I want to be sure we aren’t just playing word games. I want to be sure we aren’t just defining “science” and of “religion” in a way so as to preclude, merely by stipulation, the possibility of conflict. I mean, surely you wouldn’t take seriously the person who said Israel and Palestine were “not in conflict” just because by “Israel” what he meant was the true Israel that was not concerned to encroach on the land of Palestine, and by “Palestine” what he meant was the true Palestine that had no animosity for Israel. Surely, it would be too much to ask of you to take such arguments seriously, since they vitiate the very meaning of the words under discussion. No?

  4. Nope, none of those reasons would suffice for me. People may have problems with each other’s definitions, so conflict arises there. But some people like peanut butter and others don’t. People can have all the opinions they want to have. 🙂

    For example, in the Writings it is very explicitly stated that there is a possibility of life on other planets:

    The earth has its inhabitants, the water and the air contain many living beings and all the elements have their nature spirits, then how is it possible to conceive that these stupendous stellar bodies are not inhabited? Verily, they are peopled, but let it be known that the dwellers accord with the elements of their respective spheres. These living beings do not have states of consciousness like unto those who live on the surface of this globe: the power of adaptation and environment moulds their bodies and states of consciousness, just as our bodies and minds are suited to our planet.

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 113)

    Regarding biological origins of humanity and the nature of homosexuality…well, I don’t think that science has those figured out well enough for us to have any sort of useful discussion on the subject.

    Plus, your example of Palestine and Israel is not applicable to the case of science and religion. 🙂

    Here are some definitions for you:

    sci•ence –noun
    1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
    2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
    3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.
    4. systematized knowledge in general.
    5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.
    6. a particular branch of knowledge.
    7. skill, esp. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.

    re•li•gion –noun
    1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
    2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

    They each fulfill their purpose, and both, IMO, are essential to humanity’s progress.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to reply, Sholeh. I appreciate your careful thoughts on this matter.

    If you wouldn’t mind, your reply raised for me some more questions that I was hoping you might answer:

    Do you agree that the definitions you provided allow for the possibility that religion and science will conflict? For example, if scientists and religious people disagree about what is true, they will conflict. Or would that not count as “conflicting” in your view?

    Also, Could you please tell me why my example of Palestine and Israel was not applicable?

    The purpose of that example was to make sure we avoided word games. I thought that, in reapplying your defence of the harmony of science and religion to a situation where we manifestly know that there is a conflict, we might be able to test your reasoning. If it was sound, then we should not be able to apply a similar argument to say that there is no conflict between Palestine and Israel. If, however, your reasoning could be applied to argue that Israel and Palestine were (like science and religion) not in conflict, then we might have a good reason to suspect that the reasoning was simply playing with the meaning of “conflict,” “science,” or “religion.” Do you think that is a reasonable test?

    By the way, the Bahá’í writings don’t just say that it’s possible that there is life on other planets; whose possibility scientists are divided on. No, the Bahá’í writings stress that there is in fact life on other planets — on all planets. This latter suggestion presents us with a scenario whose possibility that almost all biologists reject.

  6. By the way, even if you do not acknowledge the validity of their evidence, do you at least agree that scientists believe that they have enough knowledge on the biological origins of humanity and the nature of homosexuality to contribute to a useful discussion on the subject? Insofar as you disagree with scientists that they have good reasons, do you not agree that you are in conflict?

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