Philosophy 111 – Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2002)
Religion. Freud. “A Philosophy of Life”
[Students and professors, please read.]
Some, like Freud, think science and religion are in conflict with eachother, and others (as I do) think these two are compatible. I do not hold the same assumptions about religion that Freud does (for example, that religion prohibits thought), so it is easier for me to see how science and religion are not by definition in conflict with eachother. Some also, like Freud, think religion is not, as religion claims, revealed by God, rather that it is invented by man to fulfill the human need for fatherly protection and direction. I think neither science nor religion escape the influence of psychological processes developed from the time we are born, specifically in the areas Freud mentions, of ethics, God-concept, and cosmogony.
Whatever motivates us to rest on the answers provided by religion is the same motivating us towards scientific inquiry. Freud mentions that when science and religion come up with the same rule, they have come up with it for different reasons. While both religion and science agree there are natural consequences for our actions, only religion sees that there are supernatural effects as well. When science asks religion “why do you think this act is wrong, science can find no harm in it,” usually the answer is spiritual and not founded in what is observable to science (for example, rules pertaining to ritual). But when science and religion come up with the same rule, it is for similar reasons, not different reasons (as Freud suggests) –rather, it is usually only when they disagree on the rules that their reasons differ. I am curious how he thinks their reasons differ for the same rules. Nevertheless, the application of the findings of science to how we proceed ethically is not unaffected by the same psychological processes which effect religious thought.
It is said in various circles that people will see God as they saw their earthly father. If their father was strict and unforgiving, they will have those issues to struggle through with God. If he was absent and uncaring, they will see God that way. If their father was loving and supportive, they will have a more positive God-concept. Some scientists reject the existence of God, not on lack of scientific proof of God’s existence, not on scientific proof that God doesn’t exist, but based on their own relationship with their fathers. Atheists would not proclaim themselves as such if they did not have a God-concept to reject.
Our childhood experiences not only shape the way we conceive of God, but they shape the way we think about the world in general, and what questions scientists ask when they grow up. Science and religion tackle many of the same issues. The scientific method can be applied in many religious issues, as it is applied in Freud’s chosen profession. Religion and science, asking many of the same questions, are both equally influenced by the developmental aspect of psychology. “Why should a cosmogony be a regular component of religious systems?” Freud asks — the answer is: the same reasons scientists are interested in the origins of the universe–the same reason they come up with theories like the Big Bang. It is humans who think up theories to test, humans who design such experiments, and humans who interpret and apply the results.
I do think Freud makes some good observations about the deep needs that religion meets in people, although I do not feel this is a sufficient argument against religion–what is the point of religion, or science for that matter, if it does not meet a need? I do appreciate his view that science does have an influence, in application, on the way we conduct our lives–“Those who disregard its lessons, so it tells us, expose themselves to injury,” — I think the same logic underlies general religious ethical principles.
“A Philosophy of Life.” The Philosophical Quest: A Cross-Cultural Reader, Second Edition. Ed. Presbey, Gail M., et. al. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 2000. 135-139.