A skeptic, a devout Muslim scientist, and an expert in the sociology of religion examine an intriguing paradox: as the world becomes more scientific, extreme religions are gaining ground. More people than ever before are devout as measured by attendance in houses of worship. In the U.S. alone, on a percentage basis, three times more people attend a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque than did when the nation was founded.
Suddenly this thing rings, it breaks into my connection with God. It was not here 50 years ago.
-- Muzaffar Iqbal
Founder, Center for Science & Islam
But there are more direct ways that technology interacts with religion. Islamic scientist Muzaffar Iqbal laments the intrusion of the cell phone in the mosque, while skeptic Michael Shermer retorts that you can just turn it off. But Iqbal is talking about something bigger here, "a natural result of 8 or 10 hours of work-a-day routine with all these gadgets leads to a total disintegration of the inner concentration of our personality." Christian sociologist Don Miller dots the "i" in this argument as he talks about technology, efficiency, and its ultimate lack of ability to give our deeper selves meaning, a quest that unfailingly appears to be a universal need for all human beings.
The conversation moves to the difference between "fundamentalism" and "extremism."
Fundamentalists in all religions have received a tremendous amount of media time in recent years. Iqbal stresses that extremism is different from fundamentalism, a term which means returning to the basics or fundamentals of a belief. Is this just a semantics argument or does he make a meaningful distinction? Says Iqbal, "Extremists are people who have gone out. They have left the path. You cannot blame religion for that."
Religion answers a deep human need for ritual, connection, and inspiration. Ironically, the Skeptics Society holds their meetings on Sundays at Caltech. Shermer: "If ever there was a Mecca of science, it's Caltech, right?" As Shermer points out, Stephen Hawking deals with the deepest questions in the universe; why is there a universe at all, what was there before time began? "These are really traditional theological type questions." Are the people who buy Hawking's books really straying from religion when they embrace science?
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Donald Miller discusses modern views on religion including the concept of God.