Mooney’s argument is a standard one:
Across the Western world — including the United States — traditional religion is in decline, even as there has been a surge of interest in “spirituality.” What’s more, the latter concept is increasingly being redefined in our culture so that it refers to something very much separable from, and potentially broader than, religious faith.
Nowadays, unlike in prior centuries, spirituality and religion are no longer thought to exist in a one-to-one relationship.
This is a fundamental change, and it strongly undermines the old conflict story about science and religion. For once you start talking about science and spirituality, the dynamic shifts dramatically.
Really? Redefining the word “spirituality” undermines the old conflict story? Go on…
Spirituality in the sense described above does not run afoul of any of Dawkins’ atheistic values or arguments. It does not require science and faith to be logically compatible, for instance. Nor does it require that we believe in anything we cannot prove. Spirituality simply doesn’t operate on that level. It’s about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates.
A focus on spirituality, then, might be the route to finally healing one of the most divisive rifts in Western society — over the relationship between science and religion. We’ll still have our evolution battles, to be sure; and the Catholic Church won’t soon give up on its wrongheaded resistance to contraception. The problems won’t immediately vanish. But each time they emerge, more and more of us will scratch our heads, wondering why.
I am baffled. Even taking everything Mooney says at face value, I am unable to follow his argument.
He seems to be saying something like this: The word “spirituality” used to connote some sort of supernatural belief. When conceived of in this way, it is not something of which atheists will typically want any part. But it is becoming increasingly common to think of “spirituality” as any sort of deep emotional reaction to nature, and atheists can feel such things just as strongly as anyone else. A religious person might interpret these sorts of spiritual feelings in the context of a particular faith tradition, but it is not necessary to interpret them in this way. Thus, spirituality is something in which we can all participate, and that provides common ground among people of differing religious views.
That is all delightful. I mostly agree with it, though as it happens I stubbornly persist in seeing “atheist spirituality” as an oxymoron. My question for Mooney is simply this: What does any of this have to do with the conflict between science and religion?
As I see it there are three main grounds of conflict between science and religion. The first is that science sometimes uncovers facts about the world that conflict with long established religious dogmas. For example, science says the Earth is billions of years old, some religious traditions say it is more like ten thousand. If you are willing to abandon, or at least heavily revise, the dogmas then you can avoid this particular conflict. If only more people were willing to go this route!
The second is harder to define precisely, but it is actually the most serious issue in my view. It is that science reveals a view of the universe that is vastly different from what traditional religion teaches. For example, science says we are the product of billions of years of cruel and wasteful evolution by natural selection (aided by periodical mass extinctions, of course), and that humans play no special role in this process. Religion teaches that we are created in the image of a God who loves us. The heroic synthesizing efforts of philosophers and theologians notwithstanding, it is very hard to see these views as two sides of the same coin.
The third is the conflict between faith and reason. In principle there is no contradiction in relying on reason and evidence in pondering questions about nature, while relying on faith and revelation for nonempirical questions. In practice, however, I think it is very difficult for a scientist to find faith appealing. There is a reason that conservative religious belief is all but nonexistent among scientists, while nonbelief and liberal theology are the norms.
How on Earth does redefining “spirituality” relate, in even the slightest way, to any of these issues?