Science v Religion: New v Old

Here’s another way in which religion and science are unalike. (Aside from one being a deference to the supposed wisdom of the ancients and to primitive myths about the nature of the universe and the centrality of humanity within it; and the other being, virtually by definition and practice, the best, ongoing, possible attempt by humanity to represent and understand reality as it is.)

It’s this: for religion, the oldest, earliest books are taken as authoritative, and nothing, to the fundamentalist faithful, can trump or supplement them. Whereas science does not venerate old books of any sort, except for historical interest (prime example: Darwin’s books); rather, the best thinking about any topic is likely to be found only in very recent books. That’s because the sum of understanding of scientific topics keeps expanding, and occasionally earlier ideas get revised, so that older books become superseded.

Thus, for example, Edward O. Wilson’s 2012 book The Social Conquest of Earth, which I’m reading now, both summarizes and supersedes several of his earlier books, including the Pulitzer Prize winner On Human Nature (1978). And Daniel C. Dennett’s just-published From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds represents decades of work on the topic, as captured in previous volumes like Consciousness Explained; but it’s not necessary to read those earlier books in order to understand the best current thinking on the topic.

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