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Science on religion looks at
science vs religion

February 15th, 2014

God creating science

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

3 Comments

  1. That’s interesting. Here’s my perspective.

    Science (and technology) has had phenomenal impact on life over the last 150 years. It isn’t surprising that this influences the world views of those, especially in the ‘west’, whose lives have been so obviously improved/impacted by good health, cheap food, thrilling transport and the altered reality of the various modes of modern entertainment.

    It isn’t sensible to claim that the stress this places on underlying perceptions of purpose and meaning has come about because of political power-games in the 19th Century. I prefer to think that it is more like Jesus’ warnings that a ‘rich man’ will find it as hard to enter the kingdom of God as a camel to go through the eye of a needle. We are ‘rich’ in material benefit which is not simply financial, but technological.

    This certainly doesn’t mean that science/technology is evil, just as money isn’t evil.

    But where the latest science and technology becomes the priority of our existence then we have obviously traded-in our passion for each other and for God so that we might have more stuff instead. If our stuff is a tool of our passion for God and each other we have potential for great good. But our error is where we place our faith in the stuff ahead of in God. Just like ‘the *love* of money is the root of all evil’.

    Some atheists nearly capture this idea from their other perspective. For example John Gray in ‘Straw Dogs’ notes that the generally believed idea that humanity is ‘making progress’ is completely without foundation in a materialistic, scientistic and humanist reality. Of course, given their atheism, this conclusion is only unremittingly pessimistic. See http://rationalist.org.uk/articles/939/going-nowhere-laurie-taylor-interviews-john-gray

    So, whilst I agree that the war between science and religion is an utter waste of time and energy, I think the war over our passions is central. And, incidentally, science has nothing to say about that.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t aware of John Gray before, but it was interesting reading some of his stuff. Thanks.

  3. I think science and religion work in different realm; so there is no contradiction in science and religion if correctly interpreted.

    No founder of a revealed religion like Buddha, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Socrates, Jesus and Muhammad ever opposed science or scientific endeavors.

    Religious people have served science very much; this fact cannot be denied.

    Religion is a path that leads to God; this path is not physical or material; so science has nothing to do with it.

    I think everybody reasonable must have to agree with it.

    Thanks and regards.

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