They rudely stare about
- Buy‘Religio Medici’ and ‘Urne-Buriall’ by Thomas Browne, edited by Stephen Greenblatt and Ramie Targoff
NYRB, 170 pp, £7.99, September 2012, ISBN 978 1 59017 488 3
It is still often proposed that religion and science need not conflict. Stephen Jay Gould held that they occupy ‘non-overlapping magisteria’: science deals with questions of fact, religion with questions of value and meaning. This is wishful thinking, because religions base themselves on factual claims. The god Yahweh promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants; Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon from golden plates received from the angel Moroni; Jesus of Nazareth is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will return to judge the living and the dead. Religion, whatever else it involves, has an irreducible core of supernatural belief. Devout persons can, for practical purposes, compartmentalise faith and reason without felt contradiction. But the Bible contains thousands of truth-claims, and at some point any normally curious believer will wonder: how do these square with the rest of my education and experience of the world? Which ones are to be understood literally, which ones metaphorically? Who decides, and on what grounds?