One great irony of the human experience is the conflict between religion and science. The ‘human experience’ is essentially the act of awareness. The act of awareness allows us to explore our universe, to ask why and how, to speak in metaphor and allegory. But the human experience is also primal, seeking first to survive.
My dog is not aware of time, or of her imminent death. She travels life along the code embedded in her DNA – hard wired to follow a single path. Her decisions do not belong to her. I do not hold her accountable when she barks at the mailman. When the mailman approaches I restrain my dog, not out of punishment, but out of my own awareness of her ingrained need.
This brings us to the conundrum of humanity and religion. Compelled by my DNA, I ask: Why is this so?
Why do humans make similar observations and come to different conclusions? The answer is probably epigenetic, the ghost in our genes. It appears that we are born with a fluid DNA, yet to be programed by experience. The human potential is channeled along the back roads of our existence until we finally strike out on the superhighway of our life. The back roads of our youth program our understanding of love, of fear, of anger, of forgiveness – and ultimately of our survival. The superhighway of our adult life is the outward expression of of that programming.
The subtle emotions of our youth, programmed by our environment, tip the balance of decision making as adults. Whether born into an Alaskan Inuit family or a tribal existence in the Amazon, we are programed for survival – The Alaskan child learns to respect the power of nature, as does the child of the Amazon. One fears a polar bear, the other a crocodile.
Children born into the chaos and uncertainty of poverty develop a different emotional bias than a child raised in affluence. Children raised with criticism develop a different survival system than children raised with praise. Given that survival is the most powerful fundamental force in decision making, these emotional biases become powerful influences.
Religion and science are presented when we are deemed intellectually able to understand – and often after emotional bias has already been introduced. Thus our interpretation of information is often charged with the primal interpretation of how that information impacts our future survival.
A child raised in chaos, whether in poverty or affluence, will often become an extremist, seeking the solid ground of certainty. The certainty of science, or the certainty of a literal faith system each provide a sense of safety. The child of chaos might choose either – but they seldom choose both – for the mix of science and religion, on surface examination, seems chaotic.
People of brilliant intellectual capacity study the same data and arrive at different conclusions. The following video is an interview by Sally Quinn with Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Mr. Collins is both a man of science and of faith – but he readily admits that he has experienced discomfort when confronted with faith. Thanks to the Washington Post for providing this service.
I suspect that his discomfort is rooted in his epigenetic programming – some deep sense of threat to his survival if the wrong choice is made.