Another interesting article, perhaps you could call it a rant, from Connor Wood on the Science on Religion blog, this time about those who want to turn science and religion into a battle.
Creation vs evolution debate
Connor’s starting point is a recent debate between a christian creationist and an atheist evolutionist. Connor thinks the debate was a frustrating waste of time because he believes creationists are doing more harm to christian belief in the US than the so-called ‘new atheists’ are doing. I don’t know much about the debate, but that doesn’t matter, for the real topic of the blog is deeper and more general.
Why is there a science vs religion divide?
Connor suggests that non-theistic scientists have had a strategic reason to promote the science-religion divide in the nineteenth century:
Huxley and his friends knew that, if science was to become a profession on par with medicine and the law, there would have to be, um, professional positions for scientists to occupy. There would have to be seats in the Royal Society for the graduates of brand-new doctoral programs in physiology, biology, geology. How were they going to make space for those seats? By getting the clergymen and amateurs to vacate them, of course. By pitting the new scientists against the old clerics.
This has happened, and the result is that science and scientists have become, for many, the new “priests” of meaning and truth.
What’s wrong with this?
I don’t know Connor’s religious beliefs, or even if he has any, but he is unhappy about this for two main reasons:
- Science is poor at providing meaning. Atheist scientists tends toward nihilism, as famously expressed by Richard Dawkins:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
In the end, Connor argues, the general public won’t buy this grim vision – for most people, meaning is more important than science, he says.
- He also argues that science has overstepped its ability to know truth with statements like these. We don’t really understand the basic components of the universe – matter, energy, dark matter & energy, etc – so how can we make a definite statement on meaning? Much better, he says, to remain more agnostic.
Fundamentalist scientism led to fundamentalist anti-science
He goes on to argue that almost all sociologists agree that there was no significant christian fundamentalism until the nineteenth century, and it arose as a reaction to the more extreme forms scientism (the belief that not only does science provide good answers to questions about the physical world, but also provides answers to all questions, including questions of meaning).
The inference is that taking one of either extreme view (fundamentalism or scientism) only helps push the opposite side to greater extremes.
There are better things to do than argue
I’m not sure I agree all the details, but I agree with his conclusion:
But seriously, everyone: stop fighting this war. There are much, much more important ones to be fought.
Picture: Wikipedia and unkleE.