Category Archives: religion

Japanese zen art – just go away

Japanese zen spiral -- it's a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward.

Japanese zen spiral — it’s a cartoon about meditation. It looks like a monk and a spiral, and note that both ends point inward. Cute.

The purpose of art is not generally to show the world as it is, but to show a new, better way to look at the world. As such, my take on Japanese zen art, is that it is a very cool, fun way to say “just go away.” What follows are some nice (to my eyes) examples, with my commentary.

As with most Japanese art, the zen art looks simpler and more free-form than western religious art. In a sense that is true: there are far fewer lines, but the paintings take as long to make, to a good estimate, since they only appear to have been made with casual ease: flicks of the wrist and waves of the hand. In actuality the artist had a vision of what he wanted, and then made free-hand waving copy after copy until he had some correct, free-looking ones ready for delivery. Because of this, you can look for a meaning in every wiggle — something that you would not do with US free-form abstracts, or with religious paintings of the 1600s. Take daVinci’s last supper — the grand layout is clearly planned and meaningful, the details of the wrinkles, not really. With these, though, no detail is accidental, and the non-accidental sense, as I see it, is “just go away.”

Buddhist Master. I can imagine this work is effective at keeping guests from over-staying their welcome.

Buddhist Master. Art like this keeps away guests.

Take the spiral at left. It’s sort of cool, and claims to be an allusion to meditation. Mystic, no? As I look carefully a the spiral, the first remarkable thing I see is that it circles in on itself at both ends. At a simple level, I think that’s an allusion to the inward nature of meditation, but note that, at the top end of the coil there’s a wiggle that looks like a face. I take that to be a monk’s face, looking away. The geometry of the coil then suggests the legs and thighs of the rest of the monk (sitting?). If that’s the image (and I think it is) the fact that the monk is facing away from you, leaving you behind suggests to me that the owner has no desire to have you join him. I see nothing in this that would cause another person to want to meditate either. There is nothing attractively persuasive as in western religious art. Here’s an essay I wrote on meditation.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I also imagine these artists living on an industrial treadmill, making painting after painting in his shop and throwing most away because, for example, the monk’s back extended past the paper. Western expressionism also sometimes puts many paintings on a single canvas, but the hidden image stays, at least in a sort-of half shadow. And the wiggles strive to be less learned, even if the faces of some western religious art is distant –even more distant often. At right, above, you’ll find another popular zen-art approach. It shows a zen master in nearly full face. As with most zen art, the master (Buddha or a disciple) looks calm -ish with a sense of the put-upon, as if he were Christ carrying the cross of you being there. Perhaps the intent was to make you go off and meditate, or to see society as worthless, but I think the more-likely message in the master’s look is “why me Lord.” The master looks like he isn’t unhappy with life, just unhappy with you being there. I imagine that this work was placed in a noble’s living room or study for the same reason that many American today put up a picture of Yosemite Sam, sometimes (for those who don’t get art) “Keep Out! This means you.”

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don't touch, the moon seems to say.

A monkey looks at the moon in a well. Don’t touch, the moon seems to say.

As with the Warner-bros. classic, there is a flowing look to the brushwork, but a fair amount of detail. As with the Warner Bros. cartoon, the casual lines seem to serve the purpose of keeping the viewer from taking offense at the message. Sort of like, “Don’t go away mad, just go away.” Cool, but I also like Western cartooning.

As one last example, at left you’ll see a painting illustrating a zen parable. in this case it’s the parable of the monkey’s and the image of the moon. Shown is the moon’s reflection in the water of a well — moon is that big round face. A monkey is about to touch the moon-image, and as we can expect, when the monkey touches the image, it disappears. There are several understandings to be gained from this, e.g. that all is illusion (similar to Plato and his cave), or suggesting that it is better to look at life than to interact with it. Which is the main meaning? In this picture, my sense is that the moon seems put-upon, and afraid. Thus, the lesson I take from the picture is one of inaction: “don’t touch the reflection.” Once again, the choice to depict a frightened moon rather than an impassive one, seems to be the painter’s way of saying “please go away.” Very cool image, but as messages go, that’s the one I see in most Japanese zen art.

Robert Buxbaum, August 17, 2017. I’ve also written on surreal art (I like it a lot, and find it ‘funny’) and on Dada, and conceptual (I like it too, playfully meaningful, IMHO). If you like zen jokes (and who doesn’t) here’s a story of the Buddhist and the hot-dog vendor, and how many zen Buddhists does it take to change a lightbulb? Four. See why.

Heraclitus and Parmenides time joke

From Existential Commics

From Existential Comics; Parmenides believed that nothing changed, nor could it.

For those who don’t remember, Heraclitus believed that change was the essence of life, while  Parmenides believed that nothing ever changes. It’s a debate that exists to this day in physics, and also in religion (there is nothing new under the sun, etc.). In science, the view that no real change is possible is founded in Schrödinger’s wave view of quantum mechanics.

Schrödinger's wave equation, time dependent.

Schrödinger’s wave equation, time dependent.

In Schrödinger’s wave description of reality, every object or particle is considered a wave of probability. What appears to us as motion is nothing more than the wave oscillating back and forth in its potential field. Nothing has a position or velocity, quite, only random interactions with other waves, and all of these are reversible. Because of the time reversibility of the equation, long-term, the system is conservative. The wave returns to where it was, and no entropy is created, long-term. Anything that happens will happen again, in reverse. See here for more on Schrödinger waves.

Thermodynamics is in stark contradiction to this quantum view. To thermodynamics, and to common observation, entropy goes ever upward, and nothing is reversible without outside intervention. Things break but don’t fix themselves. It’s this entropy increase that tells you that you are going forward in time. You know that time is going forward if you can, at will, drop an ice-cube into hot tea to produce lukewarm, diluted tea. If you can do the reverse, time is going backward. It’s a problem that besets Dr. Who, but few others.

One way that I’ve seen to get out of the general problem of quantum time is to assume the observed universe is a black hole or some other closed system, and take it as an issue of reference frame. As seen from the outside of a black hole (or a closed system without observation) time stops and nothing changes. Within a black hole or closed system, there is constant observation, and there is time and change. It’s not a great way out of the contradiction, but it’s the best I know of.

Predestination makes a certain physics and religious sense, it just doesn't match personal experience very well.

Predestination makes a certain physics and religious sense, it just doesn’t match personal experience very well.

The religion version of this problem is as follows: God, in most religions, has fore-knowledge. That is, He knows what will happen, and that presumes we have no free will. The problem with that is, without free-will, there can be no fair judgment, no right or wrong. There are a few ways out of this, and these lie behind many of the religious splits of the 1700s. A lot of the humor of Calvin and Hobbes comics comes because Calvin is a Calvinist, convinced of fatalistic predestination; Hobbes believes in free will. Most religions take a position somewhere in-between, but all have their problems.

Applying the black-hole model to God gives the following, alternative answer, one that isn’t very satisfying IMHO, but at least it matches physics. One might assume predestination for a God that is outside the universe — He sees only an unchanging system, while we, inside see time and change and free will. One of the problems with this is it posits a distant creator who cares little for us and sees none of the details. A more positive view of time appears in Dr. Who. For Dr. Who time is fluid, with some fixed points. Here’s my view of Dr. Who’s physics.  Unfortunately, Dr. Who is fiction: attractive, but without basis. Time, as it were, is an issue for the ages.

Robert Buxbaum, Philosophical musings, Friday afternoon, June 30, 2017.

Edward Elric’s Flamel

Edward Elric, the main character of a wonderful Japanese manga, Full Metal Alchemist, wears an odd symbol on his bright-red cloak. It’s called a Flamel, a snake on a cross with a crown and wings above. This is the symbol of a famous French author and alchemist of the 1300s, Nicholas Flamel who appears also, tangentially, in Harry Potter for having made a philosopher’s stone. But where does the symbol come from?

Edward Elrich with Flammel on back.

Edward Elric wears a snake-cross, “Flamel” on his back.


Current symbol of the AMA

A first thought of a source is that this is a version of the Asclepius, the symbol of the American Medical Association. Asclepius was an ancient Greek doctor who, in 85 BC distinguished between chronic and acute disease, developed theories on diet and exercise, and cured parasitic snakes under the skin by wrapping them around a stick. In mythology, he was chosen to be ship’s doctor on Jason’s voyage, and was so good at curing that Hades told Zeus he revived the dead. Zeus then killed him and set him among the stars as a constellation (the snake-handler, visible in the winter sky between Scorpius and Hercules). Though the story shows some similarities to Full Metal Alchemist, the Asclepius symbol don’t look like Elric’s Flamel. Asclepius had two daughters, Hygeia (hygiene), and Panacea (drugs?); the cup of Hygeia, below, is similar to the Asclepius but not to Ed’s Flamel.

The cup of Hygia, the symbol of pharmacy.

The cup of Hygeia, the symbol of pharmacy.

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Staff of Hermes, symbol of the AMA till 2005

Another somewhat-similar symbol is the Caduceus, symbol of Hermes/ Mercury, left. It was the symbol of the AMA until 2005, and it has wings, but there are two snakes, not one, and no cross or crown. The AMA switched from the Caduceus when they realized that Hermes was not a god of healing, but of merchants, liars, and thieves. Two snakes fighting each other is how the Greeks viewed business. The wings are a symbol of speed. The AMA, it seems, made a Freudian mistake picking this symbol, but it seems unlikely that Flamel made the same mistake.

The true source of the Flamel, I think, is the Bible. In Numbers 21:8-9, the Jews complain about the manna in the desert, and God sends fiery serpents to bite them. Moses prays and is told to put a bronze snake on staff as a cure – look upon it and you are healed. While one might assume the staff was a plain stick like the Asclepius, it might have been a cross. This opinion appears on a German, coin below. The symbol lacks wings and a crown. Still, it’s close to the Flamel. To get the crown and wings, we can turn to the New Testament, John 3:16-17. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up … “that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” The quote seems to suggest that the snake itself was being lifted up, to holiness perhaps or to Devine service. In either case, this quote would explain the crown and wings as an allusion to Jesus.

German coin, 1500s showing Jesus, a snake and cross on one side. Christ on the other. Suggests two sides of the same.

German “taller” coin, 1500s showing Jesus on the cross on one side, a snake on the cross on the other. Suggests two sides of the same holiness.

I should mention that Flamel’s house is the oldest still standing in Paris, and that it contains a restaurant — one that would be nice to visit. Flamel died in 1418. His tomb has this symbol but was found to be empty. A couple of other odds and ends: the snake on the cross also appears in a horror story, the curse of the white worm, by Bram Stoker. In the story (and movie), it seems there are serpent-worshipers who believe it was the serpent who died for our sins. If you re-read the lines from John, and take the word “Him” to refer to the serpent, you’d get backing for this view. Edward might have adopted this, either as part of his mission, or just for the hell of it. The following exchange might back up Ed’s desire to be controversial.

Roy: I thought you didn’t believe in gods, Full metal.

Edward: I don’t. That’s the thing. I think they can tell, and it pisses them off.


As for the color red, the color may allude to blood and or fire. In this direction, the Salvation Army symbol includes a red “S” on a cross with a crown and the words “Blood and Fire.” In the manga, life-blood and fire appear to be the ingredients for making a philosopher’s stone. Alternately, the red color could relate to a nonvolatile mercury compound, red mercury or mercuric oxide, a compound that can be made by oxidation of volatile mercury. Flamel claimed the symbol related to “fixing the volatile.” Either that’s making oxide of mercury, or putting a stop in death.

Robert E. Buxbaum, February 9, 2017. I’ve also opined on the Holy Grail, and on Jack Kelly of Newsies, and on the humor of The Devine comedy. If you have not read “Full Metal Alchemist,” do.

Of grails: holy, monetary, and hip

The holy grail is pictured as either a cup or a plate that Jesus used at the Last supper. It either held the wine or the bread upon which he said: this wine is my blood and this bread (or cake*) is my body. The British have a legend, or made-up story, that this cup or plate made it to England somehow, and because of divine grace was revealed to king Arthur. The story is important because it underlies the idea of divine grace favoring the English crown  — that God favors England, and English royalty over other nations and the common folk.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

A George III coin, engrailed for decoration and to keep people from carving off silver.

What makes this item holy is that, by oral tradition, but not the gospels, Jesus’s blood was saved into the same plate or cup that he’d used at the last supper, but what about this plate or cup makes it a grail.

As it turns out, there are many unholy grails on runs into. The edges of many US coins are engrailed. That is, they are decorated with cut lines at the edges. They are there for decoration, and to make it unlikely that someone would cut off a piece. I suppose these coins are monetary grails, though I’ve never seen them described literally that way. They are engrailed, and one can presume that the holy cup or plate was engrailed the same way. Perhaps as decoration like on the coins, or perhaps for some aspect of use.

The grille on the front of a Ford is not only for decoration; it allows air to flow through. Some plates, and most broilers have grilles like this to that allow crumbs or gravy to drop through.

The front grille (or grill) on a Ford. It allows air to flow through. Broilers and some plates have through-slots like this; did The Grail?

The front end of most cars include a grille, or grill, an area cut all the way through to allow air to flow to the engine. Some plates and most barbecues are made this way to allow crumbs or blood from the barbecue to flow through. If this is flow through grill were the holy grail, it might have held Jesus’s bread, but not his wine or his blood.

And finally we come to an entirely modern type of grail, or grill, the one on the mouth of some rappers. The point is not entirely decorative, but to make one think more highly of the rapper. Clearly, a person with teeth like this, is a person to be respected. Clearly successful, the idea is make you think of the fellow as chosen by God to be a leader. There is a certain magic in wearing a grille.

Wholly Grilled, not the holly grail.

Wholly Grilled, but not the holly grail.

Robert Buxbaum, July 8, 2016. One of my Grad School chums, Al Rossi, tells me that, in the original Greek version of the gospels, Jesus says ‘this cake is my body.’  The normal version, ‘this bread’ comes from the Latin translation of St. Jerome. He also tells me there is no comment about this being Passover. As for how Jesus could celebrate passover with bread or cake and not matzoh, he claims it’s an example of having one’s cake and eating it too, as it were.

Abraham ROFLed; Sarah LOLed.

Something is lost, and something else gained when the Bible is translated into modern terms. Some grandeur is lost, some weight, but what is gained is a sense of intimacy, a personal relationship to the events and people.

Consider, for example, Abraham’s reaction when God reveals that he will have a son (Gen. 17:17). The King James translation is “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” There’s grandeur, but the event is distant from me.

Similarly, The Living Torah, “Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. ‘How could I become a father at the age of 100?’ he thought. ‘And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?'”

I don’t find this translation relatable either. To me, it would be better to say that Abraham did the first ROTFL (Roll on the floor laughing): “Abraham ROFLed, how grand to have a son at 100 years…” It brings up a pleasant image: of Abraham as a man of red face and good humor, a hearty companion, and a good host. Someone you’d want to visit, not a stick-in-the-mud who you visit because he owns the last hotel on the road to Sodom.

Not totally the way I see it: Sarah looks stunned, but at least this captures a jolly Abraham.

Not totally the way I see it: Sarah looks stunned, but at least this captures a jolly Abraham.

And the same with Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Her home is full of dusty tourist guests, and she feeds them steak. Do you see a silent martyr, or a jolly sort who genuinely likes guests. This is important because we are to learn from these stories, Too often the doctors of the religion seem to want martyrs, but my read of Genesis is that sh’s jolly.. Sarah listens to the tales of her guests, and when one says she will have a child at 90, she LOLs (laughs out loud, Gen. 18:12) “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘I’m old and my husband is too, will I have fun!” If God wants something weird Sarah is up for it. To her, it sounds like fun. And after that, “Will I nurse a child?!.”

I note that these are the paradigms of humanity, individuals that God loved, and spoke to at length. So lets do the same, be open to the positive, weird future, wherever God takes us. Let’s behave as God himself does. For, as we find Psalms (2:4), “He, who sits in the heavens, laughs; He mocks those who plan against HIm.” Now, ask the doctors of your religion, why are you so serious, when “He, who sits in the heavens, laughs”

Robert E. Buxbaum, January 12, 2016. This is my third essay on religion, all of them, I guess on the lighter side. In the first, I note that science and religion are opposites, In the follow-up, that secular philosophy and religion are uncomfortable competitors, and now that God likes the jolly (you probably prefer the jolly, too.)

Sept. 11, 1683, Islam attacks Vienna.

In the US, September 11 is mostly known for the attacks on the World Trade Center, 2001. But world wide, I think, it’s mostly known for the Battle of Vienna, 1683. Based on his interpretation the religious command to take over the corrupt western world, the Dar al-Harab, for the world of Islāmic peace, the Dar al-Islam, Caliph Mohamed IV, broke the Treaty of Vasvár in 1682, and sent his army to attack Vienna, something Suleiman the Magnificent had tried in 1526. They besieged the city and attacked unsuccessfully on September 11, 1683, a day that would live in infamy.

The forces of Mohamet IV surround Vienna, September 11, 1683.

The forces of the Caliph surround Vienna, the city of good wine, September, 1683.

Mohamed IV’s army was 150,000 strong, led by Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha. The army spent a year getting to the city while they conquered, or subdued Rumania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary. During that year, Emperor Leopold I and Charles V, Duke of Lorraine left Vienna nearly defenseless, and scoured Europe for allies. Vienna was left defended by just 24,000 under command of Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. By the time Kara Mustafa arrived Leopold had gotten a pledge of financial support from the pope, and signed a mutual defense treaty with the Polish-Lithuanian League, and with Saxony, Baden, Bavaria, Swabia and Franconia, a good years’ work (Louis XIII of France said no).

Kara Mustafa reached Vienna on July 14 1683, but did not attack. Instead he laid siege to the city, and to nearby Perchtoldsdorf (Petersdorf). Perchtoldsdorf surrendered, but Vienna did not. Kara Mustafa then massacred the entire Christian population, perhaps as many as 30,000 people in the city square, and took their booty. This move may have pleased the Caliph, but did nothing to encourage the Viennese to surrender. Vienna held out until September, 1683 when the liberating armies of Leopold, Charles V, and John III Sobieski (Poland) arrived. Kara Mustafa attacked on September 11, but it was too late. In the counter attack, the Islamic army was defeated and put to flight. Kara Mustafa was put to death by the caliph for his failure.

Cavalry fighting at the Battle of Vienna, 1683

The Polish cavalry at the Battle of Vienna, 1683

The loss at Vienna was the beginning of a long retreat for Islam. Over the next century, Hapsburg rulers captured Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary; Russia conquered the Ukraine. The victorious Viennese built churches, established a feast day (Day of the Holy Name), and created crescent-shaped rolls, breads in the shape of the Moslem crescent symbol (or so the legend goes).

My reading suggests that, to this day, believing Moslems find the churches, breads, and festival offensive at some level. My guess, too, is that Osama bin Laden picked September 11, 2001 as his response to the offense. As a teen, Osama traveled in Europe, and his bookshelf included, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (Paul Kennedy)”, and similar titles suggesting he would have known about the date and its significance. It seems likely (to me), that the date of the US embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya, September 11 2012 was similarly planned to match the earlier Sept 11’s, and not, as Ms Clinton claims, a response to a Jewish-made, Hollywood film.

It is clear that not every Islāmic thinker understands the obligation to battle our Dar al Harab to be one of armies, swords, and bombs. Even the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has explained that the popular slogan, “Death to America,” does not mean “death to the American people,” but “death to U.S. policies and arrogance,” That is, a war of ideas. He claims this struggle is “backed by reason and wisdom,” i.e. by the Koran, and he should know.

"Muslims against Crusaders" chanting during the two minutes of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) silence, 2010.

“Muslims against Crusaders” chanting during the two minutes of Remembrance Day (Armistice Day) silence, 2010, “Our soldiers are in paradise, yours burn in Hell.”

However it is fought, the aim of the war is fought for our benefit: to save us from eternal Hell, and make our present world better, a part of the Dar al Islam, the Moslem world of religious peace. Even at our best, our infidel Dar al-Harab is considered evil because we go about independently competing in a world of chaotic commerce. Each infidel (as they see it) trying to wrest wealth from his fellow in an economic struggle that can only be ended by Caliphate-controlled charity. That the Dar al-Islam has been in turmoil for the last 1000 years is considered a slight embarrassment. To me, it seems more like Aesop’s fable of the toad physician who could not heal himself.

I note that many religions have the same jaundiced view of commerce, and have fought over it. What I find somewhat humorous (ha ha) is that Islam = Sholom = peace, and that there is a pattern of war being used to enforce peace on the unwilling.

If you find errors in my thinking, please tell me; I’m an engineer, not a historian or a theologian (Islāmic or otherwise). What little I know of Islam comes from my meagre translation above, from some history, and from public comments, e.g. by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Just so you know my biases, my sense is that a world of economic chaos is a better, more satisfying world, than any world of statist religious rule. I’d say that G-d likes entropy in all its forms, and that chaos is a gift. Let us thank God for Wine (Wiine = Wein = Vienna).

Robert E. Buxbaum, Friday, November 13, 2015.

Science is the Opposite of Religion

Some years ago, my daughter came back from religions school and asked for a definition of science. I told her that science was the opposite of religion. I didn’t mean to insult religion or science; the big bang for one thing, strongly suggests there is a God -creator, and quantum mechanics suggests (to me) that there is a God -maintainer, but religion deals with other things beyond a belief in God, and I meant to point out that every basic of how science looks at things finds its opposite in religion.

Science is based on reproducibility and lack of meaning: if you do the same experiment over and over, you’ll always get the same result as you did before and the same result as anyone else — when the results are measured to some good, statistical norm. The meaning for the observation? that’s a meaningless question. Religion is based on the centrality of drawing meaning, and the centrality of non-reproducible, one-time events: creation, the exodus from Egypt, the resurrection of Jesus, the birth of Zeus, etc. A religious believer is one who changes his or her life based on the lesson of these; to him, a non-believer is one who draws no meaning, or needs reproducible events.

Science also requires that anyone will get the same result if they do the same process. Thus, chemistry class results don’t depend on the age, sex, or election of the students. Any student who mixes the prescribed two chemicals and heats to a certain temperature is expected to get the same result. The same applies to measures of the size of the universe, or its angular momentum or age. In religion, it is fundamentally important what sex you are, how old you are, who your parents were, or what you are thinking at the time. If the right person says “hoc es corpus” over wine and wafers, they change; if not, they do not. If the right person opens the door to heaven, or closes it, it matters in religion.

A main aspect of all religion is prayer; the idea that what you are thinking or saying changes things on high and here below. In science, we only consider experiments where the words said over the experiment have no effect. Another aspect of religion is tchuvah (regret, repentance); the idea is that thoughts can change the effect of actions, at least retroactively. Science tends to ignore repentance, because they lack the ability to measure things that work backwards in time, and because the scientific instruments we have currently do not take measurements on the soul to see if the repentance had any effect. Basically, the science-universe is only populated with those things which can be measured or reproducibly affected, and that pretty much excludes the soul. That the soul does not exist in the science universe doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Another main aspect of religion is morality: you’re supposed to do the right thing. Morality varies from one religion to another, and you may think the other fellow’s religion has a warped morality, but at least there is one in all religions. In science, for better or worse, there is no apparent morality, either to man or to the universe. Based on science, the universe will end, either by a bang or a whimper, and in that void of end it would seem that killing a mouse is about as important as killing a person. No religion I know of sees the universe ending in either cold or hot death; as a result. Consistent with this, they all see murder is a sin against God. This difference is a big plus for religion, IMHO. That man sees murder as a true evil is either a sign that religion is true, or that it isn’t depending on the value you put on life. Another example of the moral divide: Scientists, especially academics, tend to be elitists. Their morality, such as it is, values great minds and great projects over the humble and stupid. Classical religion sees the opposite; it promoting the elevation of the poor, weak, and humble. There is no fundamental way to tell which one is right, and I tend to think that both are right in their own, mirror-image universes.

It is now worthwhile to consider what each universe sees as wisdom. An Explanation in the universe of science has everything to do with utility and not any internal sense of having understood, as such. I understand something only to the extent I predict that thing or can do something based on the knowledge. in religion, the motivation for all activity is always just understanding — typically of God on the bone-deep level. This difference shows up very clearly in dealing with quantum mechanics. To a scientist, the quantum world is fundamentally a door from religion because it is basically non-understandable but very useful. Religion totally ignores quantum mechanics for the same reason: it’s non-understandable, but very precise and useful. Anything you can’t understand is meaningless to them (literally), and useful is mostly defined in terms of building the particular religion; I think this is a mistake on many levels. I note that looking for disproof is the glory-work of all science development, but the devil’s work of every religion. A religious leader will grab on to statistical findings that suggest that his type of prayer cures people, but will always reject disproof, e.g. evidence that someone else’s prayers works better, or that his prayer does nothing at all. Each religion is thus in a war with the other, each trying to build belief, while not removing it. Science is the opposite. Religion starts with the answer and accepts any support it can; fundamental change is considered a bad thing in religion. The opposite is so with science; disproof is considered “progress,” and change is good.

These are not minor aspects of science and religion, by the way, but these are the fundamental basics of each, as best I can tell. History, politics, and psychology seem to be border-line areas, somewhere between science and religion. The differences do not reflect a lack in these fields, but just a recognition that each works according to its own logic and universe.

My hope in life is to combine science and religion to the extent possible, but find that supporting science in any form presents difficulties when I have to speak to others in the religious community, my daughter’s teachers among them. As an example of the problem that come up, my sense is that the big bang is a fine proof of creation and should be welcomed by all (most) religious people. I think its a sign that there is a creator when science says everything came from nothing, 14,000,000 years ago. Sorry to say, the religious leaders I’ve met reject the big bang, and claim you can’t believe in anything that happened 14,000,000,000 years ago. So long as science shows no evidence of a bearded observer at the center, they are not interested. Scientists, too have trouble with the bang, I find. It’s a one-time event that they can’t quite explain away (Steven Hawking keeps trying). The only sane approach I’ve found is to keep blogging, and otherwise leave each to its area. There seems to be little reason to expect communal agreement.

by Robert E. Buxbaum, Apr. 7, 2013. For some further thoughts, see here.