A Little Judo

Michael Metzger

Judo emphasizes winning by leveraging an opponent’s weight and strength. Japanese for “the gentle way,” you exert less energy while your opponent expends most of theirs. Learning a little judo might be the way to go in the religion and science debate.

Science and religion have been at odds since the nineteenth century. That was the era when positivism reared its persuasive head. It’s a philosophy relegating religion to the realm of the weak. Faith became a 98-pound weakling. Science became Schwarzenegger. It’s strong enough to deal with facts and solve big problems.

It’s no surprise that this wall of separation has worked well for scientists who debunk religion. It has however troubled those who take religion and science seriously. Many try to resolve this by arguing for a connection between the two. The results to date have produced a few but not many “wins.” Learning a little judo might improve the results.

Judo would urge religion, the weakling, to leverage science, the Schwarzenegger. Start with The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, a researcher in neuroimaging. He writes how the brain’s two hemispheres are waging a winner-take-all contest. If the right wins, or “gets in first,” the two hemispheres operate in a reciprocating fashion. If however the left gets in first, it shuts out the right. McGilchrist says this is our present state of affairs – the left is winning but creating a serious problem.

Neuroimaging reveals that only the right hemisphere has “direct contact with reality,” being broadly vigilant and seeing things “whole and in their context.” The right transmits our experiences to the left hemisphere that’s “narrowly focused.” It “re-presents” these experiences in categories that may or may not align with reality. To ensure they do, the left’s categories must be recycled to the right for review and modification. When the right hemisphere gets in first, it rebinds the left to the-way-things-actually-are. The result is genuine knowledge. But if the left gets in first, its categories go unopposed. Uh-oh.

McGilchrist says the “unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere” doesn’t know that it “is ultimately dependent on the right. It seems to have no awareness of this fact.” This describes modern science. It has created categories, many of which are not aligned with reality. It’s also unaware that it “has blocked off the available exits, the ways out of the hall of mirrors, into a reality which the right hemisphere could enable us to understand.” Modern science is trapped in a hall of mirrors and doesn’t know it.

These are findings that the religious community would be wise to leverage. We’re learning how only the right hemisphere rebinds the two. Rebind is from the Latin, religio (re + ligament), our word religion. Ligaments hold together joints. Neuroscience reveals that only religion holds together the two hemispheres. When religion leads, full-orbed, genuine knowledge results. Authentic knowledge is religious in nature. But there’s more.

The Latin word for knowledge is science. Neuroscience reveals that both hemispheres contribute different aspects of knowledge, but genuine knowledge – science – requires religion rebinding the two hemispheres. Science goes unopposed when it omits religion. It can raise good questions but can’t see the big picture without the review of the right hemisphere – religion. The strength of neuroscience indicates that, without religion, science can’t ask the Big Questions.

Albert Einstein reminds us “you can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Positivism creates an unlevel playing field. The good news is the weight of neuroscience is revealing positivism to be unplayable. If the faith community learned a little judo, they’d leverage findings from neuroscience to reframe what is, at this point, a religion and science debate that’s not as productive as it could be.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike


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  1. Not sure how this fits with a middle course Mike. Unless the context is pretend we have what we ought, when actually it is as it is.

  2. A question: Is the association of science with the left brain and religion with the right an actual finding of neuroscience or analogy in this argument?

    A response: I agree that people of faith need to learn judo-like skills. Currently we too often lob artillery from our fortresses, retreat all together to safe havens, or just give up and comply with secular culture leaders. Judo is the best approach for the underweight, outnumbered, and seemingly unarmed.

  3. Science (i.e., knowledge) is attained in both hemispheres. The act of rebinding (i.e., religion) is done by the right hemisphere.

  4. These are distinction are drawn solely from neuroscience. Two different kinds of knowledge (i.e., science) are drawn from the two different hemispheres. Full-orbed knowledge requires binding the findings of the two hemispheres, and repeatedly rebinding the two types of knowledge being discovered, getting closer and closer to the truth. This rebinding function (i.e., religion) happens only in the right hemisphere.

  5. On message, Is this a challenge to our discernment of wisdom and empowerment ? Truth and spirit ?
    Is there a part that the physical, emotional, spiritual and volitional, also contribute beyond just the rational ?
    Unforced rhythms of grace dwelling in the person not just the mind ?

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