Science, testing absolutely all thoughts, all works, has already burst well upon the world—a sun, mounting, most illuminating, most glorious—surely never again to set. But against it, deeply entrench’d, holding possession, yet remains, (not only through the churches and schools, but by imaginative literature, and unregenerate poetry,) the fossil theology of the mythic-materialistic, superstitious, untaught and credulous, fable-loving, primitive ages of humanity.
Malta is a majority-Catholic country, adjust for size and it is one of the most Catholic countries in the world. A lot of us are Catholic in deed as well as in name: in 2004 an estimated 53% of Malta’s Catholics attend Sunday services weekly and are active in the religious scene, be it in feasts, catechism, or charities. Crowning this dirge of dry facts is the truancy that Malta’s constitution, whilst guaranteeing religious freedom, declares Malta a Roman Catholic country. This, all in the 21st century. And I don’t mean derogatorily – not yet, at least.
I bring up the 21st century because it is a unique century in a rainbow of ways. We can cite many endemic phenomena to our times, that can make the under 40’s among take periodical pride in being born in this very age. We can call this the safest age in history, (ignore the media sensationalists whilst you consider this), there are no wars between major countries, slavery is officially abolished in all countries, the death penalty is more and more restricted, we live in a time of Rights Revolutions, from LGBT to even animal rights, an age when blood sports are dwindling, and the primitive barbarity of ISIS have shown us how much we’ve evolved (in the Middle Ages ISIS beheadings and executions would have drawn big crowds – now we have GTA and Call of Duty to harmlessly indulge these impulses).
One thing, above all else, that makes the 21st century beautifully unique is something we seldom pause to consider: we live in a scientific golden age. Our civilization is predicated on science and technology. The Social Media revolution is entirely science-based, our medical care is getting better and better as our biology improves, our economies are reliant on the IT sector spearheaded by the likes of Google and Amazon, and our knowledge of our origins, both biological and astronomical are more advanced than in any other point in civilization’s history. Consider this: a nine-year-old child has more access to knowledge than Isaac Newton had.
And the more science advances, reaches more and more nooks and crannies of life, society, politics, and medicine, it inevitably comes into conflict with the old strongholds of religion. The frontlines are drawn on issues such as abortion, fundamentalism, IVF, homosexuality. In each of these cases and others, one feels that religion is fighting a losing battle.
Take abortion; I am on the whole anti-abortionist. But I have no religious sentiment – I don’t need any to come to my conclusion. Ethics enables me to argue that where killing can be avoided it ought to be. En masse abortion is a social byproduct created by women’s sexual rights not keeping up with the contraceptive revolution. It’s incredible to think that, in the 21st century, women can be as promiscuous as men without being shackled to pregnancy and children. Religion can’t accept this new status quo. Women have gotten harder to keep on a leash (50 Shades aside). Which is why the church is full-on against contraceptive.
But with abortion, as in anything else, logic must intervene. If the mother is either physically or mentally incapable of safely going through with the pregnancy, then abortion cannot be shackled. In many cases pro-abortion is being pro-life, the mother’s life. After all, if the mother lives another day, she can always have another child.
With IVF religious opposition boils down to human dignity vis a vis his soul. Here religion acts on base impulses we all have, it tries to tell us that such procedures are ‘un-natural.’ But when it says ‘un-natural’ it implies that the ‘natural’ is desirable. Raiding a neighbour’s village is ‘natural’, rape is ‘natural’, revenge killings are ‘natural’ – visit any primitive tribe you like, these things are all norms, all over the world. Does that make them desirable? Reason must triumph over the baseness of our earth-trodden souls.
As an addendum to the ‘natural’ point: homosexuality, science is discovering, is a more natural phenomenon than our gut reactions might have hinted at. Dolphins do it, lions do it, monkeys do it, even fruit flies do it. So with the ‘natural’ argument used by the church, it either needs to understand nature better, or stop trying to have its cake and eat it too. Here is a clear case of science expanding its empire, forcing religion into the state of vassaldom. Science lighting a path, extinguishing the darkness that faith feeds on.
Religion, to its credit, is fighting back. Fundamentalism is on the rise, be it moronic Creationism in America, or twisted Islamism in the Middle-East. These are mind-viruses that infect those people who are terrified by the prospective future being written by science. They look and science and think of genetically-modified babies, synthetic meats and nuclear disasters. They want to turn back the clock to the days when simple, homely, familial ol’ time religion held sway. The rise of fundamentalism today is equivalent to the counter-Reformation movement of the Catholic church in the 16th century. And the scientific revolution has a fight on its hands.
For those who are afraid of what science signifies, let me give you an idea of the kind of harmless poetry it instills. Here are some of the most astounding facts and discoveries this thinking-process has uncovered:
We are made of star-stuff. The carbon, calcium, nitrogen, etc that make up your body, were all made in the nuclear cores of stars, forged from simple hydrogen and helium, and when that star died, its supernova exploded all those elements into space and eventually, into your mother’s womb when you were being pieced together. Countless stars had to die so you could be made.
Photons can take 40, 000 years to travel from the core of the sun to its surface – but then it only takes it 8 minutes to get to earth. The sun is 8 light-minutes away from earth, so if it were to (somehow) die, we would only notice 8 minutes later. Incidentally, what makes a photon a photon? That is, what makes light the fastest thing in the universe? Well, light is mass-less. It has not an iota of mass. Why is that? We now know that light has no Higgs boson going through it, does no mass is possible.
Human beings are descended from fish. Specifically a fish called Tiktaalik (amongst others), which is the first fish to ever make the move to land, and thus is the ancestor of all land-living vertebrates, be they T-Rex’s or your sister. What proof do we have of our fish ancestry? In the womb, human embryos at an early stage actually has gills and a forked tail.
I could go on, but instead, for the sake of blog-demanded brevity, I will include some videos at the end of the blog that most inspire me.
Where does all this leave us in Malta? In Malta, the scientific revolution has not filtered through as much as you’d like it to. This is clearly not helped by ‘Fortress Church’ that is as ingrained here as the bastions of Valletta. The Catholic mentality that is still wide-ranging has made the populace skeptical. General interest in life sciences, astronomy, evolutionary psychology, ethics and so on limited to a restricted, elitist few. I exclude technology from the rest: technology is related to business and entrepreneurship, and that is something we are historically very dedicated to.
We do of course have some excellent scientists, ranging from cardiologists, to inventors, a researcher in CERN, forensics, and biologists – and these are internationally renowned. And yet, their level of recognition is nowhere near the recognition enjoyed in Malta by the likes of Joseph Calleja, the world’s foremost tenor, or Cardinal Prospero Grech in the Vatican. And this is unjust. It doesn’t encourage our children to break through that firewall and make a career in science.
We do need to ask the question: are science and religion incompatible? I think in Malta, they just might be. Because one seems to want to exclude the other. Both are philosophical systems that help answer existential question innate to all human beings: why are we here? What happens after we die? What is happiness? Whatever the flaws of science – and of course they are there – it is a system of thinking that keeps you on your feet, keeps you asking questions, hunting. Science admits it can never know everything. But it inspires you to ask more, to know more, to refine your questions and answers, get closer to the satisfactory, away from the lowest common denominator. Religion tells you all the answers before you’ve even asked a question!
Videos to watch:
Measuring the speed of light: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMKE5YGLnmc
Death of the universe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Untoik6c_gs
Pale Blue Dot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PN5JJDh78I
The most astounding fact: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0azoN7t3UhM
We are going to die: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOXMjCnKwb4
Wonderful World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8WHKRzkCOY