The Question of God

Science or Revelation?

Armand Nicholi: "The scientific method," Freud writes, "is our only source of knowledge." The Ten Commandments, according to Freud, come from human experience, not from revelation. Would contemporary science agree with this? Is the scientific method incompatible with the concept of revelation?

Frederick Lee: There are all sorts of philosophical schools, but one of the ones that seems to make the most sense in a sort of common sense way is that, you know, there is a truth with a capital "T." Certainly, that's true in the way we do science. We operate with the assumption that things work together in a coherent, unified way. And in an analysis of of the question of God, the first step is: "Does he exist, or doesn't he?"

Jeremy Fraiberg: The data are lacking.

Frederick Lee: Right. But I'm troubled by the idea that one can be willing to believe in something if it's not true.

Winifred Gallagher: But just because it's not scientific doesn't mean it's not true. If reality is sitting in the middle of the table and there's a wall around the table, then we all are looking through a different window. To me, science is just one of those windows. I can go over there and see the art window, I can see the religion window, I can see the music window of reality. I don't understand why science in our age by some people is regarded as sort of the be all and end all of reality.

Michael Shermer: Well, I'm one of those.

Winifred Gallagher: I know, but —

Michael Shermer: And the reason is because there's an actual method to find out whether it's real or not. At least a-

Margaret Klenck: According to who? I mean — real — what is real?

Jeremy Fraiberg: It's the only common objective standard. I mean, I can't quarrel with you if you say that you experience love or — or religion.

Doug Holladay: That's your experience.

Jeremy Fraiberg: That's your experience. The question is, I think, for me, anyway, in terms of organized religion: to what extent can somebody claim that their beliefs are true and that your beliefs are false. True for you or true for all? And if you want true for all, there has to be a common standard for evaluating those claims. Take a hypothesis or a theory, apply it to the facts. If the data doesn't fit the theory, you either have to discount the data, and somehow explain it away, or you've got to modify your theory. And that's how science works.

Margaret Klenck: But I think this is the problem. We keep making this be the criteria for understanding. If we can understand it, it's one thing. if we can't, it's another. And we keep making these enemies of each other.

Jeremy Fraiberg: But there's no other way to understand.

Margaret Klenck: Yes, there is. There are tons of other ways to understand. It's not rational, but rational understanding is only one way of understanding, and we have become such slaves in, in the West, and certainly in this country, to [it]. When, you know, when you hold a child, you are understanding things about that creature that you're not using your cognition for. I think a statistic that people have come up with is that we're one-quarter conscious and three-quarters unconscious at all times. And that both are functioning together in tandem with — with self-knowledge, without self-knowledge —

Michael Shermer: But isn't unconscious just another part of the brain that's operating? It's not some mystical force.

Margaret Klenck: We're not just brains. No, it's not a mystical force, but it's unconscious. We can't know it in the same way.

Michael Shermer: But we know it in a different way, a different naturalistic way.

Winifred Gallagher: I think the tricky part of this discussion and the sort of — the pink elephant in the middle of the table that we're not talking about — is really going to come down to experience.

Margaret Klenck: Yes.

Winifred Gallagher: And it's a very difficult thing to talk about with people who don't accept religious experience as being a real thing.

Jeremy Fraiberg: And that's the problem I think some people have with religion. If someone says, "I've had a religious experience and I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and rose from the dead," I can't quarrel with whether or not someone actually believes that. Perhaps they do. The question is whether I should believe it as well and whether or not the coercive power of the Church or the State should be brought to bear to get me to believe that same thing, or whether my life would be better for it.

photos of conversation participants