In What Ways is Science Like Religion?

James Drake’s “The Lengua of Nahuatl (Triptych)” #1362–#1385, 2015. Charcoal, graphite, ink, collaged photos on paper.

A key reflection might be: in what ways does the contemporary experience of science, of technology and of an empirical, evidence-based world view actually (and perhaps inadvertently) fulfill many of the traditional functions of religion? In what ways, in short, does science as a paradigm of thought perform the same essential tribal binding and reflexive psychological roles that religion once did, merely under different constraints and with new forms of expression?

Science exists alongside the persistent presence of more archaic belief systems and, for all it’s explanatory power, seems unable to wrest much of humanity from the comfort and solace that those perspectives bring. What is interesting in this sense is that science as an additional component or degree of freedom to this technologically-facilitated social complex is one that can (but does not always) exist in parallel to the faith-based, the mythic and the magical.

I have no doubt in the veracity of science, but as a cultural phenomenon it is as bound by ritual, tribal biases and cognitive grammar as were the Eleusinian Mysteries or any other formalised, experience of ritualised spirituality. Is science – as culture – a new kind of thing or just an old thing, altered?

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