Our world is defined by science. Empirical method demonstrates again and again and again that physical properties follow the same tired pattern without any divine intervention. Saturday was Rutgers Day. Instead of our usual visit to College Avenue to sample French cheeses, we went to the Busch Campus of science and engineering. There we were treated to a 90-minute physics lesson that consisted mostly of demonstrations for the kids with things blowing up, glowing, and being broken after being dipped in liquid nitrogen. Outside the building we watched a chaos pendulum which a grad student explained never followed a predictable pattern. Back in the day when I was subjected to religious rules stricter than any laws of physics at Nashotah House, I used to read about chaos theory. It is the most biblical of scientific ideas. As anyone who’s watched Jurassic Park knows, it means that ultimate predictability is futile. Well, there’s more to it than that, but I’m merely an amateur.
Returning home, I read an interview with Matthew Hutson, about his new book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. It is now on my wish-list, but I haven’t read it yet. Despite the fact that Hutson is an atheist, he recognizes that magical thinking is both healthy and unavoidable. A door creeps open for the scholar of religion here. We are able to see that non-rational thought is human, so very human. We don’t often think about how driven we are by our emotions. When we see a friend we ask, “what do you feel like doing today?”, not, “what do you think like doing?”. Visiting someone recovering from hard times we ask how s/he is feeling, not thinking. Emotion is, after all, built on the root of “motion”—it is our motivating factor. Seldom is it scientific.
Not to demean science. I have read science books and magazines on my own since I was a teenager. The truths that have been revealed through science are endlessly fascinating and pragmatic. They work in a way religions seldom do. Nevertheless, I became a scholar of ancient religions, studying them scientifically. In the Middle Ages it was said that philosophy was the handmaid to theology. Truth was revealed, not discovered. Reason, thankfully, began to show the way forward. The epithet Dark Ages gained currency for a reason. Science is our means of comprehending our universe, and yet, superstition is hardwired into our brains. I am glad for the scientific worldview even when the chaos pendulum still swings crazily, unpredictably before me. Seldom do those in my field get to consider themselves Renaissance women and men. The pendulum swings where it will.