In the course of trying to plan out a novel, I am trying to create and document a religious form for its inhabitants. Originally this was supposed to take a non-mythological form, all based around rational thinking. But the more I reflected on it (and this is the domain of theological psychology; my thoughts being further prompted by a printed article in The Economist: http://www.economist.com/science/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875666), the more I realized that without the dogmatism of something unquestionnable, such as the Will of God for example, there is an inherent possibility to throw each and every rule out the window at any given point. This can be for the better or the worse, but the point is not there.
A “faith” based in the scientific methods cannot form a religious community: it forms a democratic one, in which the majority voice of the people wins it over the rules their predecessors have laid down; whereas in a properly religious community, any decision of what is right or wrong can be deferred to the Supreme Being(s).
Up the Faction Ladder
As a community grows larger it becomes harder to moderate the interactions between the disparate groups within (which I will call factions). The larger the community, the more sparse any interaction between an individual and any other becomes. There are a select few who will be the most frequently contacted, and this grouping around any one individual becomes a faction. Whilst within a faction, a level of mutual and self-initiated respect is upheld by each and every individual, this becomes less so as the group grows.
As such, each faction appoints (or is appointed) a leader (implicitly, the leader in a group of friends is the most popular person), and each collection of factions elects a leader to the rank above (think from community to neighbourhood representative), to moderate at different levels the interactions between the now dispersed entities. This deference of responsibility goes up and up, until we reach a point where we need an authority that everyone agrees cannot be questioned. That authority is “God” or “the gods” or “the Natural Order”. The interpretation of how to behave in the light of such Truth is the basis of our sense of morality, the practical derivative which we use to guide us through our actions, and keep the group as a whole running relatively smoothly, with the idea (and system) of justice present to smooth out the creases.
In a religious society, the morals are defined and passed down through the generations as truths not to be questioned, rules not to be broken. They are firmly engrained into our belief system (thanks or due to our parents) and as per this definition, anything that is different is a “wrong” way of doing something. This exclusiveness is what has allowed small communities to develop through time into vast states, even Empires, united under a relatively homogenous way of thinking (at a very broad level mind you). It is, as anyone should be quick to point out, also the source of many woes.
On the other hand, science allows for the questioning of the model at hand, which is constantly updated with the latest information, refactored to take into account as many facts of the world around us as can be perceived, and also allows us to infer new possibilities that can reside hidden in the cosmos, attainable only by the power of our minds.
The argument against a faith based on science
So, to come back to the original problem: why can there not be a religion based on scientific principles?
Democracy is based on the aforementioned ideal of encompassing every known truth about the state of the world, by deciding that the desire that is expressed most widely is the one to adopt at any given time. Bis repetita placent. The problem here is that each person has their own reality, their own values derived through the ancestors to its current form and influenced by the world around us. As each person evolves socially and experiences the world around them differently, each person therefore splits back into their factions, leaving a heterogenous, divided collective of factions, decreasingly united by the number shared of moral values as we zoom out to the larger communities; values which, by the nature of their not being scientifically quantifiable, can only in social analysis carry equal weight.
The result is that no one set of moral values can be applied to a group of people, short of creating a dogmatic rule – one solution is religion, which speaks to the heart, another is political system, which speaks to the mind; and whilst any leader in a political system may be questioned by virtue of their being merely human, the Supreme Being(s) itself/themselves/Himself cannot. The closest a person can come to this is by becoming a dictator, and even that person cannot keep the illusion of the divine for long.
In both cases, such ruling dogma can be seen as a tool for a purpose: to maintain cohesiveness amongst a large group of free-radicals who would otherwise be in a state of chaos; and as a tool it can be wielded for both beneficial and degenerative purposes. The ideal would be a benevolent dictator: one who would remain unquestioned – not merely by the awesomeness of their power, but also in the belief that what they are doing is truly and sincerely in the interest of all.
Such a belief is maintained in a religious community. Those who hold faith in their religion do not question, because they earnestly believe in the benevolence of their Supreme. In a political system? I do not believe there can be such an individual, because it would be hard for all people to believe in a powerful human being’s earnest good will, since it would require a purity unheard of to hold out against the temptation to abuse such power.
In conclusion, and to wrap up with Apalmia once more, I am going to have to give the Apalmians some supernatural Supreme Beings at some point, if only for the sake of being able to give them a certain level of homogenous identity which would not be short of drone-like had there not been some deity involved.