The Sciences

An Armistice In The Religious Wars

The IntersectionBy Sheril KirshenbaumDec 2, 2009 11:17 PM


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Nicholas Kristof--co-author of the moving book Half The Sky and voice that inspired Silence Is The Enemy--has a thoughtful Op-Ed in last week's NYTimes entitled The Religious Wars. He touches on a topic that we've discussed for years here at The Intersection and in the most controversial chapter of Unscientific America:

Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes. * * * * * Whatever one’s take on God, there’s no doubt that religion remains one of the most powerful forces in the world. Today, millions of people will be giving thanks to Him — or Her or It.

Another new book, “The Faith Instinct,” by my Times colleague Nicholas Wade, suggests a reason for the durability of faith: humans may be programmed for religious belief, because faith conferred evolutionary advantages in primitive times. That doesn’t go to the question of whether God exists, but it suggests that religion in some form may be with us for eons to come.

Science indeed proves that earth is billions of old, that evolution explains biodiversity, and that impulses in our brain can account for behavior. Yet science also has its limitations. 'Faith' is not synonymous Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or the teachings of any specific religion. In the end, despite all of the clamor from both extremes--and perpetual insistence that there is one way to live, to think, and to be--the truth is that we can only define faith for ourselves. I share Kristof's hope that the coming crop of books marks an armistice in the religious wars moving away from both religious intolerance and irreligious intolerance.

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