11.7 Summary and Further Discussion

Religion is a comprehensive, and vital, energizing force in every society. It encompasses beliefs and the reason for being, knowledge, and a world view. It has the power to transform behaviour through its ethical imperatives--though it is not the only such transforming force. It can be viewed philosophically, historically, artistically, psychologically, socially, morally, economically, or personally. Each of these approaches contributes to the total picture for religious activity, though none are sufficient alone to explain it.

The major world religions today include Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Of these, some are more philosophical and cultural, or even strictly national. The Western notion of religion may not always be applicable to certain patriotic or cultural expressions such as Confucianism, Hinduism, and Shintoism. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are monotheistic and in the same tradition, and the last two are the largest and most aggressive today. Besides them, only Buddhism claims to be universal and has had some missionary history. It is uncertain whether the "New Age" syncretism of fragments from scientism, Buddhism, and Hinduism is a religion in the same sense as some of these.

Science and the Industrial Revolution both came about in the crucible of European Christianity, and the Protestant reformation was a critical factor in the development of both, sharing key elements of their world views for nearly two centuries, until the rise of scientism in the late nineteenth century coincided with a retreat of Christianity into defensiveness and nominalism. This new world view became progressively more important up to the mid-twentieth century when it began to come under pressure due to internal inconsistencies, the failure of doctrines of progress, antitechnology sentiment, some resurgence of conservative Christianity, and the imminent passing of the industrial age.

The debate over origins was selected as representative of a typical and likely permanent world view clash. Suggestions for debating these topics were made, and it was asserted that such debates, properly conducted, are healthy.

Research and Discussion Questions

1. Research and discuss in detail an approaches to the study of religion mentioned in the section one. First attempt to encompass the entire phenomenon of religion under this single heading, then discuss the extent of limitations, if any, to this approach.

2. Research at least three additional religions other than those mentioned in the text. Summarize their principal beliefs about God, humanity, and ethics. Are they universal? missionary? Attempt to determine the extent to which they are cultural phenomena or philosophies rather than religions (in the more comprehensive sense). In each case, be sure to assess their followers' prospects for living with and utilizing machine-age and information technology.

3. Research and discuss in much greater detail than in the text the history and beliefs of Islam, particularly as these interacted with Europe during the time of the scientific and industrial revolutions.

4. What was the effect of the plague ("black death") on (a) the scientific and industrial revolutions; (b) the Christian Churches in Europe?

5. What role did Irish-led monasticism during the dark ages have in the preservation of western learning?

6. The author indicated that the printing press was one of the most important technical innovations. Research and discuss in detail the history and effects of this device on both religious and scientific institutions. Why is the advent of personal desktop publishing seen to be of equal or greater importance today?

7. Some have suggested that the age of the printed word or verbally modelled communication has passed and that the future belongs to visual communication or images. What are some of the aesthetic, religious, social, and scientific consequences if this is true?

8. Consider the suggestion that secularization (the separation of religion from daily life, politics, and work) will no longer be an operating premise in the fourth civilization, either supporting this with a detailed argument or attempting to refute it.

9. Examples were given of the way in which institutions (scientific and religious) can take on a life of their own and become something very different than what they started as due to their mutual interaction with society and technology. Research and describe this process in detail with one or two specific institutions of any kind.

10. Write a detailed biography of one of the scientists mentioned in this chapter, or another of your choice who made revolutionary contributions to the development of science. Pay particular attention to his or her religious beliefs and how these affected the science that was done. Now do the same for a religious figure of equivalent stature, paying particular attention to his or her world view as it related to science and technology.

11. The author argues that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scientism has played the role and achieved the status of a religion. Refute this argument.

12. Research and discuss some of the cosmological models for the origins of the universe (continuous creation, big bang, and so on). Why were previous models abandoned and the big bang generally adopted? What are weaknesses of the theory?

13. Research and discuss paradigms for the evolution of life (spontaneous generation, inheritance of acquired characteristics, gradual uniform natural selection, punctuated equilibrium). What experimental or other evidence caused the first ones to be abandoned? What is the evidence for the last?

14. What are the differences between what a creationist paradigm predicts will be found in the fossil record and what a natural selection paradigm (both slow and punctuated equilibrium versions) predicts will be found there?

15. A slogan once found in textbooks on animal evolution was "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny". Find out and explain what this means, and why it eventually came to be criticized as misleading.

16. Obtain from the library a text on evolution (or a first year biology text) published in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. Make a brief summary of the principal arguments and evidence used in each decade for evolution, and try to account for the differences.

17. Do an actual calculation of the probability that if a thousand monkeys were set to typing at random, one of them would, in under 100 billion years produce all the works of Shakespeare in a contiguous piece within the text.

18. "The absence of nascent (developing) organs refutes the notion that others are vestigial (remnants)." Either develop this argument further, or refute it.

19. Several court battles have been fought over the creation/evolution issue. Research this history and summarize the arguments made on both sides and the conclusions of the court in each case.

20. Research and assess the numerical extent of religious faith in the modern world. Which is the fastest growing religion in the world as a whole? In the West? In information-age countries? Why?

21. The author asserts that fragmentation of beliefs is a religious expression corresponding to the phenomenon of specialization in the machine age. Research this trend in the literature and summarize statistics supporting the conclusion that this fragmentation has taken place. Alternately, argue that no such fragmentation has occurred and support that conclusion with data.

22. Give detailed examples of the Western Christian assimilation of and redefinition by the surrounding culture.

23. "God is dead." What does this mean? Either support this thesis or refute it.

24. Read some of the creation/evolution debate literature and analyse the quality of the arguments on both sides of the criteria in this chapter, or on the basis of criteria you develop yourself.

25. What are additional examples, besides those in the text, of the adoption as dogma of a fixed view or model of the universe into either science or religion? Show how the idea came to be discarded.

26. What are UFOs? What evidence is there they are visitors from somewhere else? What factors contribute to beliefs that they are/are not?

27. Research the topic of cold fusion. Define the term and give a brief history of its initial discovery and the aftermath. Now, research later literature for subsequent references. Is there anything to cold fusion? What do you think of the initial response of the scientific community?

28. Who is Uri Geller?

29. Very recent trends (see Bibby's Restless Gods) may show an increase in religious interest by younger North Americans. Research this suggestion and comment on it.


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Internet resources:

Leadership U. Origins. <http://www.origins.org/menus/design.html> (2002 07 11)

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises