Entries from June 2009 ↓

Comment: Science & Religion Incompatible

Lawrence Krauss in his Internet article God and Science Don’t Mix argues that there are fundamental incompatibilities between science and religion in seeking explanations to the world. He also argues that it is quite rational (and reasonable) for scientists to apply materialist techniques from scientific research to existence in general. Science has been so successful at producing reliable knowledge so it seems reasonable to apply similar (no God) approaches to life in general. Even religious scientists seem to face conflicts on specifics in this area. In a panel with two highly-regarded religious scientists, Krauss described how he posed to them how they reconcile the virgin birth with basic knowledge of biology. They attempted to describe the birth as having important mythic qualities but presented no explicit defense of this core Roman Catholic belief.

See my previous post on this topic.

Alex McCullie

Comment: Atheist Science vs Divine Religions

Two popular “science versus religion” debates have raged recently in blogland. Firstly, science is accused of having an atheistic agenda by excluding supernatural explanations in its purview. Secondly, some historians have weighed into the debate by saying that the traditional conflicts between science and religion have been grossly exaggerated.

Despite many writers emphasising the ability of science and religion to coexist, I see science and religion as fundamentally incompatible and likely to clash when attempting to explain the same phenomena.  I should clarify that by “science” I am referring to a diverse range of secular research activities from physics to history, and, importantly, where there are no theological imperatives.

Over the last 500 years science has embodied a naturalistic or materialistic methodology, in which scientific research seeks physical explanations using observations and reason.  Prior to the enlightenment thinkers and scientists like Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton saw scientific research as a means of discovering God through his work in nature – a sort of natural theology. Since then, however, science has moved towards a secular approach indifferent to any supernatural beliefs. So, despite critics attempting to brand science as atheistic, methods of science work independently of religious beliefs rather than denying them. Scientific knowledge is built on empirical research with mathematical and logical reasoning. Despite all its failings, science tends to be open, self-critical and, therefore, self-correcting.

Religion derives its explanations from revealed knowledge – scriptures and interpretations by religious fathers and authorities – combined with personal reflection and feelings. More than science, religion emphasises tradition and continuity, where religions comfortably base current day prescriptions on sacred texts often thousands of years old. By contrast science emphasises new knowledge and new developments where a 2000 year old scientific work may be admired as an interesting curiosity. It would not be taken as having any scriptural authority. So scientific thinking has much less respect for the past than the revered approaches taken by most religions.

Many have argued the philosophical merits of science taking a physical approach to its research and avoiding and supernatural explanation. Put simply, the underlying assumption of science that all things are knowable in theory contradicts religion’s comfortable embrace of the “mystery”. However I prefer pointing to the success of the scientific project. No other method offers anything comparable to producing reliable human knowledge. Our lives inexorably depend on and have been improved by the understanding and technology that flow from scientific endeavours.

Clashes between science and religion are inevitable. Science provides natural descriptions and explanations of our world. More and more science explores all aspects of our existence, even areas seen as traditionally inaccessible such as mind-body dilemma and human moral behaviour. By contrast religions provide prescriptions and explanations claimed from divine authorities through sacred ancient texts, inspired historical and modern-day interpretations and appeals to personal feelings and reflections. As science seeks to provide natural explanations for religious “mysteries” and thereby directly threaten religious beliefs, there will be clashes. The on-going evolution verses creation debates exemplify this type of conflict and that will continue on many other issues as well. One can imagine clashes will continue over human morality and free-will as well  human similarities to other animals to name only a few.

Finally people should to actively resist any attempt to “infect” science with religious beliefs. Deferring to religious mysteries and sensibilities will impede the independence and progress of science and return science and our thinking to being the “hand-maiden” of particular religious traditions. Simply put, science does not need religion and is infinitely better off without it. We should resist its intrusions where ever possible.

Alex McCullie