Truth business

the force
Fiction is increasingly offering us the moral certainty science and religion are failing to

In an interesting recent blog post, theologian and philosopher of religion Dr. Taede Smedes tries to explain the anti-religious sentiments of an increasing number of commentators on the website, which aims at connecting people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds together. Smedes considers 2004 a tipping point concerning this development. He argues that the debates in the Dutch media about intelligent design in this period, changed the opinion of many people who from that moment on considered religion as irrational and backward.

The topic of the demarcation of science and religion is fascinating. Both domains are in the “truth business”: they are legitimated by the fact that they produce certain knowledge about reality, which can help people to ease psychological stress. Science was born as a result of the development of methods that attained more trustworthy knowledge than the religious institutions had done, which were from that moment on put in the defence. The reformation created the possibility of competing truth systems, and therefore in the early stages science can be considered as a deviant form of Christianity.

But recently, science is failing in its most important objective: to produce knowledge which enables people to ease their psychological stress. Since science does not produces certain knowledge which also contains moral certainty, people are becoming suspicious of science as well. Furthermore, the core of quantum mechanics – which is the most successful theory about reality ever developed by human beings – describes the foundation of reality as indeterminate. The threat of a statistical universe, which does not contain any certainty even metaphysically, but only possibilities, does not suit very well with the desire for psychological stability.

This week the box offices were crushed by the release of the new Star Wars movie (spoiler alert). If anything, Star Wars offers a universe with a clear moral distinction. The bad guys are depicted as fascists with a desire for order. If there has been any consensus about morality globally, it must be that the nazi’s were very bad. The desire for order contradicts the late capitalist demand for pleasure, consumption and exces. Very importantly: the public loves it in a way it rarely loved anything so unanimously.

I believe we are mistaken if we consider religion, science and fiction as distinct domains. They all do the same thing: generating knowledge to fulfil psychological needs. They do this by connecting us to a reality which transcends our everyday experience. Besides moral clarity, Star Wars alludes to the highly popular worldviews which assume “qi” or life force, there are practices of mindfulness and in a fascinating scene, time warps in a kind of shamanic travel of the main protagonist.

In conclusion: religion, science and fiction offer us stories – the kind of knowledge that has been structuring reality for human beings as long as we can remember. The demarcation between “religion” (and religions), “science” and “fiction” is ultimately just a conflict of stories. I see no objection to considering all stories true, even if they appear mutually exclusive. Every story is valuable, because all stories are the unique products of human creativity.