TA106 (Múller)


Commentary 54 (to Benjamin, C49)




By Henry (Zvi) Lothane
23 September 2009, posted 3 October 2009



Deriving religion from relegere, to read again, is another etymological hypothesis, but that does nothing to illuminate our exchange. I think you should stick to the points I made instead of bringing in other arguments which go beyond what I said.


Contrary to what you assert, there is a definition of religion vs. science.  Science is about the what and how of life, religion is about the "what for" of life, the purpose of life.


I did not say anything about the AFTERLIFE, you brought that up. Religion preaches a lot about the afterlife, but that is not my concern. I am only concerned with how science and religion, alongside law and order, are ways of assuring survival of mankind on this planet which is in a bad way, as science tells us.


There was recently a big splashy debate by Dawkins and Armstrong on religion in the Wall Street Journal, with letters from readers. Mine was not printed, so here it is:


"Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong, prominent thinkers about science and religion, miss the social functions of religion and science. For science, from the word meaning knowledge, and religion, from the  word denoting cohesion, are both mankind’s creations in the service of survival of societal life: the former assuring that we adhere to canons of empiricism and reason, the latter ensuring that we act ethically as individuals and societies.


Whereas Armstrong’s religion includes science, Dawkins’ science excludes religion. While rightly inveighing at a crude creationist anthropomorphism, Dawkins misses the fact that God is not a thing or creature, not even a symbol, as Armstrong puts it, but a concept, an idea. For theology God became an article of faith, for philosophy – a concept to philosophize with, as done by Descartes, Spinoza, Boyle, Berkeley. Dawkins seems to be unaware of his own reifying/deifying proclivities: “evolution is the creator of life,” “the laws of physics can make rocks and sand etc.” Thanks to the Hubble telescope we can see heavenly bodies in the act of creation, but the Big Bang theory is still just that, a theory, a scientific myth for our time.


Mankind has in innate need to believe in causality. We do not know what caused the universe to come into being or life to emerge from inorganic substances, nor have we been able to replicate this process in the laboratory. Nor do we know how the brain evolved into an organ able to generate the “creative intelligence of art and music.” Evolution and physics are nothing but theories about life in the “deeply mysterious universe,” as he put it. Dawkins’ quasi-religious devotion to such theories reminds me of the scientist who exclaimed: thank God I am an atheist.


            There have been other answers to the riddle of the universe. In Creative Evolution Henri Bergson argued against the mechanism of Darwinism. Popularized as social Darwinism and trumpeting the survival of the fittest, it paved the way for the emergence of 20th century dictators playing god and waging wars. Bergson argued for life as a value. Freud Freud argued similarly in his 1932 response to Einstein Why War?, calling for conquering the death drive with the life drive, or eros. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion Bergson saw the dual origin of a dynamic religion and ethics: in society, to protect itself against the selfish instincts of individuals, and in the example set by mystics, individuals with a unique ethical and spiritual vision. Faced with the continuing pressure from militant proselytizing beliefs, we need ethics for individuals, societies, and nations; we need to listen to the quiet but persistent voice of reason  and morality, practice tolerance towards the varieties of mythological experiences so that our peaceful coexistence upon earth has a chance to survive."




Henry (Zvi) Lothane, MD, DLFAPA

Clinical Professor Department of Psychiatry

 Mount Sinai School of Medicine

1435 Lexington Avenue New York, NY 10128(212) 534 5555

     e-mail <Schreber(at)lothane.com