Introducing The Cubit, RD’s New Religion & Science Portal

Search the internet for “religion AND science,” and you’ll find plenty on creationism, Richard Dawkins, and the so-called “God spot” (where the brain seems to process religious experiences). You will also find heaps of commentary, most of which assumes either that Religion and science can never peacefully coexist, or that Religion and science get along just fine.

Here at The Cubit, Religion Dispatches’ new religion and science portal, we view much of the religion-versus-science debate as hopelessly myopic. Yes, humans are a product of evolution, global warming is real, and vaccines do not cause autism; but religion and science nevertheless remain diverse, messy, and ever-evolving concepts. When we typecast them as epistemological sumo wrestlers locked in an eternal struggle, or portray them as happy lovers, we overlook their far subtler interactions and dull the impact when meaningful sites of coexistence or conflict do appear.

The Cubit will be skeptical of dogmatic rhetoric, whether it’s found in religious sermons, scientific triumphalism, or feel-good compromises that ignore the critical distinctions between religion and science. We will examine the pieties of secular liberals every bit as critically as those of religious conservatives, and we won’t shy away from the politics of power that underlie so many of our science-and-society debates.

Drawing on a diverse group of experts and sources, The Cubit will cover old standbys like creationism and the cosmos, but we’ll also tackle gluten purity laws and GMO debates; the ethical hazards of Silicon Valley; the neuroscience of human identity; interpretations of sexuality; techno- (and traditional) apocalypticism; animal rights; and more. In short, whenever science, religion, technology, and ethics are entangled, you’ll find surprising and provocative perspectives at The Cubit.

cubitWhy The Cubit?

The cubit is an ancient unit of measurement, based on the length between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger. Ancient China, ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and other cultures independently made the forearm a standard of measure. And why not? It’s convenient and ubiquitous. When you lift a hammer, it’s already sitting at the end of a cubit.

We chose this humble unit for two reasons.

First, the cubit is an intersection; it’s where the human body meets the material world. In the Bible, it’s where divine law (“build this ark, Noah!”) meets physical form (“and do so using the measurement of your arm”).

Second, the cubit is a human measurement. Many cultures did try to standardize the length of a cubit, but when you return to the origins of those standardized measurements, there had to be a specific person’s actual arm—physical, unabstractable, imprecise (and perhaps a little hairy).

So the cubit is both a symbol of the relationship between science and religion and a reminder that scientific findings come, ultimately, from the work of actual people. The holy grail of science may be to uncover the laws of objective reality, yet human-driven science—like religion—remains subject to human concerns and flaws.

Who we are

Andrew Aghapour is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he studies religion and the brain.

Michael Schulson is a freelance writer in Durham, N.C. He has covered religion, science, and culture for The Daily Beast, Aeon, Salon, and Religion & Politics, among others.

Both Andrew and Michael have written about religion-and-science issues for RD, covering robot theology, multiverse theory, Katie Couric’s reincarnation episode, and the effects of analytic thinking on religious beliefs.

  • DKeane123

    Oh this should be very interesting. Can’t wait.

  • Katie Larsell

    Wondering? Where is this “portal”. I put The Cubit into search since you don’t have a link on the page and got nothing that looked like a portal. Odd to make this announcement with no link to it. Is it coming? Am I not techno enough to figure it out? It sounds very very interesting.

  • Jim Reed

    This is good timing, exactly what we need now. The issue has become the move of humanity off the earth, into space, and soon to Mars followed by everywhere in the solar system. We can start with a clean slate because religion will make the trip, but at the same time much, or possibly even most, of religion will be obsolete. In space there is no room for end times, at least not in the sense that our religions currently see it here on earth. It will be clear Jesus is not returning because we will be gone anyway, so there wouldn’t be any point.

    It is time to speculate now on what will soon be. In space people will need to cooperate, much like they do right now on the space station that currently welcomes everyone except China.

    Once we sort out what this move to space will mean for society in the short run, there is the next more interesting question of species. When we are living in a low gravity environment like space or Mars, the human species will start to split into two species, for earth gravity and for low gravity. This is a significant change that will cause evolution to happen faster than any evolutionary change on earth ever did. Could be even faster if we add a little genetic modification to the mix. How will religions deal with the different species of humans? This might be a question that nobody ever thought about before, so figuring it out might be a real opportunity.

  • Jim Reed

    The cubit is an ancient unit of measurement, based on the length between the elbow and the tip of the middle finger.

    Why is our new symbol a fist?

    it’s where the human body meets the material world

    Oh. I guess that could work

  • Whiskyjack

    Looking forward to this discussion.

  • Jim Reed

    5 or 6 years ago Lauri Lebo was the science ambassador on RD, and she was opening up the discussion of evolution and religion. Back then there was big resistance to evolution from the religion front, and she seemed to be crushed and ground up and thrown out. Today it is a different world because evolution has won that battle, and nobody questions any more except the most blind spots of fundamentalist Christianity, but they are now ignored because they have lost not only the evolution battle, but probably every other battle too. This should be a new age for the discussion of religion and science where some things can now be accomplished. We have reached a point where the only place that religion still questions science is the monetary politics of climate change and that is only because of their Republican allies.

  • DKeane123

    I’m not so sure about public opinion and evolution. Of US adults 60% say that humans had evolved over time (so 30% are still creationists – a significant number). Of the 60% that “accept” evolution, almost half say it was guided by a supreme being. So we still have over 50% of the country thinking along some form of creationism (instantaneous versus guided). Considering the unfathomable amount of waste and suffering involved in God guided evolution – would honestly rather it was an instantaneous creation myself – otherwise God is a monster.

    http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

  • Jim Reed

    At best, creationism might get around all the wast and suffering of the distant past, but couldn’t fix all the waste and suffering that will be involved in future evolution.

  • Jim Reed

    At the intersection of science and religion, and the intersection of humanity and technology, is the question of what is a human and what will humans become. Science and technology open possibilities for making us better. At the lowest level might be a wearable computer, like google glass. Beyond that, the computer could be a little more integrated into our biology. Computers could help our brain control an artificial limb or hand. We are in the early stages of using the computer/technology interface to recover some eyesight or hearing. Once we have the connection between the brain and something, only software is the limit, and software might have no actual limit. If a computer interface can begin to feed some eyesight into the brain, then it could also feed in anything from the internet. Once technology can help the brain control an artificial hand, then the brain could also be programmed to control anything in the world. How can religion deal with expanded human/technology capabilities? Maybe it can’t deal with it, and can only get out of the way, and after the fact come up with ways to explain to the congregation how it all fits together.

    After dealing with the new human/electronic reality, then we can start to work on the new genetically modified humans. This will be tough for religion to explain, but hopefully by the time that question comes up religion will understand they have no control over what humans will become in the future since they got it so wrong about what humans were in the past.

  • Marian L Shatto

    I’m wondering the same thing. Two days later, and there still isn’t any link to content other than this announcement. It appears that this may have been posted prematurely. It all sounds as if it could be very interesting, but I’m not impressed with “teasers.” Leave that to the commercial websites.

  • Jim Reed

    I would have to wonder how religion fits into a discussion of science and religion. It is clear how science works. Science is done by scientists who check on each other. Questionable things are decided through experiment. Scientists do all they can to avoid being deceived by anything untrue.

    How would religion fit in? You can’t go by the ancient holy scriptures because their misinformation is where this whole problem started in the first place. Listening to religious leaders would be questionable since their primary responsibiilty is to grow the religion. A vote of the entire congregation wouldn’t help much because they have already voted by joining a religion, and that is why the religious world is so divided. The major religions take pride in their domination, and the minor religions take pride in having a small footprint that shows everyone else is wrong, and they are the one true church. If religion can’t enter into the discussion based on the people, or the leaders, or the scriptures, how would they fit in?

  • Rev. Jake Harrison

    “Religion and Science” and using the “cubit” as a pivot; both are interesting ‘comparisons’.
    Science cannot possibly be classified nest to “religion” or even compared; “science” is produced through the process of elimination to reach a ‘logical conclusion’ about the object at hand. For just one example, the science of “biology” will/has changed over time, with the information obtained through experimentation. Disease was “proved” to be “biological” after many “religions” referred to “disease as a Deity/God’s punishment”—for transgressions of the philosophy of the belief system being referenced (some still do).
    Religion is and has never been anything more than an invention by Human beings to explain and describe the answers to “questions” THOSE Human beings wanted to know. It was not until fairly recently that intelligent minds began to ‘question’ the explanations that “religions” were “invented” to provide, that the “facts” were discovered and the questions answered.
    Science always creates “new questions” with each new discovery or revelation; while “religions” which require ‘unquestioning belief/faith/compliance” requires the “believer”———–to accept the “belief” in order to benefit from it.
    Ironically both “religions” and “science” are Human inventions, hopefully humanity will learn from its past mistakes and “outgrow” the need for “Deities/Gods” and whatever guidance they believe they provide and stick to the proven “scientific approach”……………abandon the concept of Gods and Deities as much as they have “stone tools”.
    Humanity and the rest of the life forms on this planet seem to have little hope of much of a future without that approach.There ARE NO GODS that are going to save humanity from themselves; only humanity can do that.
    The news here on this planet lately reveals some urgency to that change.

  • Jim Reed

    We must either solve our human based problems here on earth, or expand to Mars.