Lying for Science? Trying to portray science and religion as compatible

A subset of the scientific community endorses misrepresenting science as being compatible with religion in order to attract religious people to science and scientific thinking. Lets be clear about this: science and religion are not compatible. Religious faith runs in stark contrast to everything that science stands for. Science is about having beliefs that correspond to evidence, and being honest when you just don’t know. Not about having beliefs based on arguments from ignorance, authority, social concensus (if most of my peers believe it, there’s got to be something to it), or easily argued against personal experience.

We can debate about whether or not framing science as being compatible with religion is a worthwhile effort in the grander scheme of things, but lets be clear: they’re not compatible.

A common attempt to reconcile science and religion is theistic evolution. Many religious folk are well aware of the overwhelming evidence for evolution and have no interest in denying its factuality. However, they manage to keep God in the picture by positing that God perhaps directed evolution, or set the universe in a way that evolution was possible, and so forth. This type of belief is necessarily based on invalid reasoning. Firstly, looking strictly at evolution, positing a God is superfluous. Evolution provides an explanation for the existence of apparent design without a designer. So why are we still keeping the designer? When humans discovered the germ theory of illness, most people abandoned the theory of witchcraft. Today we simply subscribe to the germ theory. That’s it. We don’t say that witches are directing the germs, or that perhaps they were the initial creators of germs or that they played some role in making the universe habitable to germs. None of that. Why do we make these sorts of concessions for God? Sure we don’t know how the universe got here or how the first cell originated, but to posit God based on this is nothing more than positing witches for illness: it’s an argument from ignorance. An argument from ignorance is not a good reason to believe in anything. It’s merely a signal that one needs to get real and just admit that they don’t know. It’s also a cue for investigation if people are so curious.

Larry Moran covers a recent effort to lie for science by the US National Academies (of Science, Medicine and Engineering), in which they attempt to present evolution as being compatible with religious thinking. Maybe one can bend and contort religion enough to make it compatible with particular scientific findings—e.g., by completely ignoring or describing as metaphor contradictory parts of given holy books—but no amount of contortions can make religious faith reconcilable with science, short of either proving the reality of a particular God or destroying the faith altogether.  

Advertisements
Comments
14 Responses to “Lying for Science? Trying to portray science and religion as compatible”
  1. Rob M says:

    “Lets be clear about this: science and religion are not compatible. Religious faith runs in stark contrast to everything that science stands for. Science is about having beliefs that correspond to evidence, and being honest when you just don’t know. Not about having beliefs based on arguments from ignorance, authority, social concensus (if most of my peers believe it, there’s got to be something to it), or easily argued against personal experience.”

    I agree that science should not be misrepresented in order to make it compatible with religious belief–I found movies like “What the bleep do we know?” stimulating, but upon learning that the whole movie was backed by the cult of JZ Knight (a spritual medium who claims to channel a thousand-year old warrior spirit named Ramtha), all of the movie’s “scientific” claims were undermined. That doesn’t mean that I don’t consider the movie to carry a positive message, and appreciate its attempt to get people interested in the possibility that science and religion are not contradictory.

    Its a pity that most attempts at drawing science and religion together involve exploiting the uncertainty in the field of quantum physics as a free pass to produce speculative quantum nonsense. However, I don’t think you can simply sweep away the possibility of a link between science and religion by citing these easily rebuked examples. Although I prefer to subscribe to the scientific/philosophical approach to understanding life, I refuse to write off other approaches as nonsense because I don’t think I have enough evidence to do so. I consider it intellectually prudent. Yes, evolution is a fact, and yes, denying evolution at this point is intellectually foolish, but so is denying that science and religion will ever work together to explain something for us. To do that, I think, is to exploit the many uncertainties still abound in our current scientific paradigm by stomping away anything that hasn’t been scientifically proven with the blunt instrument of skeptical doubt. I remind you that lack of evidence to support a hypothesis does not count in and of itself as evidence that said hypothesis is false. It just means its uncertain. Taking that uncertainty as evidence for whatever you choose to claim is the mistake, regardless of whether you are a religious zealot, new age hippie, or scientist and skeptic.

    Despite people’s tendency to misinterpret religion and take it out of context to encourage bigotry, violence, and ignorance, religion (and even new age beliefs, which are another form of it) have a lot of positive things to offer. While I don’t believe in astrology, I enjoy reading Rob Brezny’s “Free Will Astrology” because of his entertaining and insightful way of giving you a weekly project for self-improvement. I may choose to ignore the Bible’s commands to grow my beard and stone adulterers, but I think its “love thy neighbor” mantra as an insight most of us would be better off absorbing. It’s probably my “Jordan Peterson” background talking, but I think the insights of religion and mythology should not be treated with a childish pat on the head, but rather should be seen as a sophisticated attempt to understand and enrich human psychology. There is real value in some of the intuitive conclusions reached by peoples and civilizations of our past.

    I hold out hope for a day when humanity uses science and history as a vehicle to distill the world’s many religions into a system of values that encourages the development of wisdom, temperance, non-violence, and general realization of the potential of every human being. I believe the scientific paradigm is slowly shifting, despite the expected resistance, in this direction.

  2. Tired says:

    Hmm, perhaps they are compatible because they are engaged with fundamentally different domains of inquiry? I get it, hate-mongering is fun. Not hating religion is about as taboo as emo music. Ignorance about the nature of the phenomenon of religion (ignorance which is evidenced by asserting that the primary function of religion is epistemic) is not a good foundation from which to argue against it.

    If these scientists want to win some sort of ‘fight’ against the fundamentalist movement in the southern united states, they might want to avoid hypocrisy.

    I’m going to go shoot myself in the face.

  3. Sirius says:

    How to respond? How to respond?

    I’ll start by saying that I believe your underlying assumption requires more than just assertion to make it true. In other words, you may not simply say that science is incompatible with religion without proof or qualification.

    For example, which religion. A Buddhist would rightly smack you across the face for such a bold, dismissive assertion because his religion, by and large, does not conflict with [even Darwinian] science in any significant way.

    If you were to qualify your assertion with what you’ve actually stated to say that Darwinian science is not compatible with Judeo-Christian-Islamic bibliocentric religion, well, you might have a case. And what you have here is the old face-off between creationism and Darwinism.

    Another tack: The basis of scientific though rests on the Christian idea that God created the world, that reason is therefore reliable, that we can discover how the world works. Darwinism substitutes an uncannily benevolent mechanism of natural selection for God.

    Food for thought,
    Sirius Knott

  4. ronbrown says:

    Sirius:

    Here is a cut-and-paste from my later posting entitled “Discussing the Framing of Science with Matthew C. Nisbet: Are the National Academies lying to Americans?” (https://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/01/06/85/)

    “Science and religion are incompatible. Science is about having beliefs that correspond to the evidence, following evidence rather than authority or personal preferences, and being honest enough to admit when one does not know something. Does anyone recognize religion in this description?

    Religion, on the other hand, relies on faith (i.e., belief on insufficient evidence), arguments from authority (e.g., the Bible, the Pope, or my Priest says…; millions of people believe this and have for a long time so it can’t be foolish, and how dare you for saying that it is!), arguments from ignorance, the selective and hindsight-informed reading of ancient scriptures, easily rebutted arguments from personal experience, and people’s need for community and a sense of meaning and purpose, a set of needs which is fully understandable but does not constitute evidence for supernatural beliefs. Does anyone recognize science in this description?

    The two are clearly irreconcilably distinct.”

    Regardless of whatever the roots of science may have been, the very tenets of science disqualify beliefs based on faith. Religious beliefs need not be contrary to science. For instance, the Buddhist practice of meditation has been found to be beneficial using the methods of Western science. When rational enterprise validates the products of a religious tradition, these products cease to simply be religious practices or beliefs. They become parts of our rational worldview an practices that happened to have originated within a religious context. If there were actually good reason to believe in this or that God the concept of religious faith would not even exist. It just would be a rational belief to hold.

  5. Eddie says:

    I would phrase it a little differently. Faith is belief lacking reason (not just some but any) where as science is knowing things through evidence. Religions are based on faith ergo they cannot be compatible with science.
    “Religion has no place in public schools the way facts have no place in organized religion.” -Superintendent Chalmers (Simpsons)

    But I think what some people are alluding to is that the religion which follows (I use the term loosely) from the initial faith (god, Jesus, Odin, good, justice etc) can give a semi-compatible worldview to science. Example: God is omnipresent (faith part, no reason). Therefore god must be the sum total of the universe, ergo God==universe. Now I base a religion on God is the universe so I must discover all the laws of physics and the natural world to know the “mind of God” and all my decisions must be informed by natural laws and evidence. The religion would be compatible with science but the faith that gave rise to it is not (being faith).

    The point is that religions start with some faith as their axiom and since this axiom is nonsensical and intellectually dishonest we say it is not compatible with science, but that doesn’t necessitate that the ensuing religion will not be compabiblish with science (although it usually is). Since faith gives an arbitrary starting point to one’s logic you can arrive at any conclusion so it is incorrect to state all of them will lead to incompatibility. The initial faith an the religion are separate.

    I’ve often joked with Christian-raised friends that only the clergy or atheists know anything about the philosophical underpinnings of the religions. This acedemic version of religions is what intelligent but deluded religious people try and sell to themselves to satisfy their own cognitive discidence. Most religious people don’t know anything about their religions founding faith, just the resultant religion.

  6. Eddie says:

    Damn, thought of a simpler one! Some people consider sports to be a religion (the faith is my team is best) and this religion is certainly compatible with science. These problems are often caused by incomplete definitions of words, here religion and compatible.

  7. Sirius says:

    RonBrown and Eddie,

    You both make interesting points, but I [of course] disagree:

    It’s reductionist to suppose that religious thinkers have blind faith, bolstered by authority claims, et cetera ad nauseam, but do not rely upon reason at all. A reasonable faith takes scientific evidence, authority claims and arguments [of whatever sort] and examines them in light of their worldview or bias. [Yes, we all have a bias. Stop pretending as if you don’t.] My bias states that I examine natural evidences, authority claims and arguments [termed natural revelation and philosophy] in light of supernatural revelation. Your bias suggests everything must be weighed in light of natural revelation. Richard dawkins made a similar argument, which I addressed here:
    http://http//siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2007/11/21/the-faith-of-richard-dawkins/

    I’d also like to comment upon the example of God’s omnipresence. God as the sum total of the universe ergo God is the Universe is properly pantheism, not theism. God exists outside the universe as well. As such, He is not bound by the laws of the universe and can interfere in its workings if He chooses [Deism suggests the opposite specifically because it supposes God must must be bound by those laws]. We call this interference a miracle.

    Science itself is the inevitable result of theism. God has created the world. Man can know the mind of God by studying the order of creation through reason and observation. God also requires faith. Knowledge destroys faith, but it also destroys free will. Determinism [or predestination] is the outcome if we had undeniable knowledge of God [i.e. If He was standing right in front of us, faith would be destroyed and supplanted by undeniable knowledge]. So we must believe that God is, based on Pascal’s “too much evidence to ignore, but too little to be sure,” and believe that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.

    What rationale can an atheistic scientist give for his efforts? If the world is here by chance, how can we trust its laws? if reason emerged by chance, how can we trust it as reliable? If we cannot provide a basis for its reliability, what is the point of science? The theist can claim a reasonable basis for science [stated above], but it must include elements of both reason AND faith.

    Here’s more on this: http://siriusknotts.wordpress.com/2007/12/08/why-darwinists-argue/

    What say you?
    –Sirius Knott

  8. ronbrown says:

    Sirius:

    I skimmed through your post—I say this not to come off as disrespectful, however. I say this for the same reason why I don’t plan to have this conversation any further, (though I do disagree with your position). Really, I just don’t have time to keep doing this. I already spent a whole lot of time having one of these debates with a person named Colin on this blog. I owe a reply to another person named Scott. And I’ve had a number of mini-debates on this and related topics throughout the blog. I honestly cannot keep doing this.

    I will say this, though: my bias is to not trust claims of a supernatural being unless the evidence is overwhelming (as the claim is nothing less than overwhelming, itself). Your bias, as you admited, is toward the supernatural. You start out giving a particular set of religious beliefs an unreasonable degree of plausibility and then go from there. This is very unreasonable. What if I did the same thing for the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    That a supernatural being that inspired a book (one book out of many books said to be from the creator) created everything is an extraordinary claim that creates questions no less daunting than the one’s it supposedly addressed (e.g., How did God come to be? If God always was, how do we know this? How did God create all this? Where did God get the ideas to create all from if they had never existed before—what did he have to go by?).

    And that knowledge prevents free will is just bullshit. It only prevents free will if we assume that we have all knowledge and it is a deterministic universe, in which case we had no free will to begin with, we just know it now (which was bound to happen). We’re not going to know everything that has ever happened up to the present (and even if we did, that wouldn’t mean that we knew what would happen next), but that doesn’t excuse holding patently irrational beliefs.

    You are, of course, welcome to respond to this but I may or may not reply because, really, I just can’t keep investing so much time into all of these debates.

  9. Sirius says:

    You may’ve misunderstood.

    Knowledge of God [and by this I mean He’s standing right in front of you and you’re eating a chocolate bar he just handed to you sort of knowledge] destroys faith, but it also destroys free will. How can I deny reasonably deny God exists when He’s standing in front of me? How can I reasonably reject Him and His ways in the physical presence of such overwhelming deity? Free choice is gone. There is only one choice in the presence of undeniable deity: you fall to your knees and call Him Lord and God.

    It’s only bunk if you reject Christianity outright. Even rejecting it doesn’t disprove it.

    The point is that where God is concerned, faith is a requirement in order to guarantee free will. In full revelation, we’re assured Biblically, he’s not like any other evidence you’ve encountered. He’s undeniable. Such a deity would require the element of faith if He wanted also the existence of man’s free will.

    In all of your very good questions, you forgot one: Why do we even suppose there’s a God at all? How did we come to comprehend a being such otherness? How can we comprehend of a God who has always been, who was not created and who created us in His own image? A God who is omniscient, omnipresent, et cetera ad infinitum? Why do we reason? Why do we wonder?

    These are big questions, which are properly beyond the scope of scientific inquiry, but where have all the philosophers, theologians and thinkers gone?

    My beliefs are only “patently irrational” if you’ve ruled out the supernatural as a possibility from the outset. We’re not bleedin’ Vulcans, man! We reason, we wonder, we think, we dream, we feel, we believe…. On what basis shall we enthrone reason and reason alone when faith, imagination, aesthetical considerations and emotions are so much a part of our thinking? Relying on reason alone is “practically irrational.”

    You see, the reason I reject a purely materialistic [and therefore an atheistic] philosophy is because reason alone cannot account for the world I live, much less account for itself. Life is much more than this crude matter. I embrace a philosophy and, yes, a religion that explains all of these things. I call it Christian orthodoxy.

    –Sirius Knott

  10. ronbrown says:

    Sirius: Do you not find it curious that everything you just said could also be said of belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

    Your beliefs are not patently irrational because I have ruled out the possibility of the supernatural from the outset. I’ve done no such thing. Your beliefs are patently irratonal because the evidence is so weak for your particular beliefs. The range of possible beliefs one could potentially hold is infinite. That you have selected just one based on remarkably incomplete evidence is what is patently irrational.

    Reason alone cannot account for the world we live—at this time, and very possibly forever. That I can agree with. But that in no way provides a solid basis for saying that the Bible is anything more than fiction.

  11. Sirius says:

    To state a thing is one thing. To prove it another.

    You have stated that the Bible is fiction…

    On what basis?

    And on what basis do you claim that my beliefs are irrational? And which beliefs are you refering to?

    You’re the one who believes in Flying Spaghetti Monsters, after all.

    ;]

    Sirius Knott

  12. Jude Jackson says:

    Ah! I have just posted a contrary argument. Please feel free to check it out.
    http://www.judeajackson.wordpress.com

  13. Robotczar says:

    The christian bible is a fiction because it says things that are demonstrably not true. (A non-scientist could assert that it is fiction because it disagrees with the Koran.) And, evidence suggests it was written by people at different times, in different cultures, who contradict each other. Their statements reflect their cultures and its goals. Also, the contents of the bible were selected by other men who had their own cultural goals. Books written by equally faithful people were rejected. What made them fiction? Lastly, the events reported in cannot be verified in the manner than actual history is verified.

    You invented a concept of free will and need to invent a god to support that concept. That is not really any kind of evidence or even logic that scientists (or rational people) would accept. I could just claim that you have no free will, so your god doesn’t exist (i.e., he is not standing right in front of you).

    It is also important to understand that the scientific perspective expect people making assertions to prove them, it does not try to prove non-existence of proposed entities, including ghosts, fairies, grey-skinned extraterrestrials, unicorns etc. From the scientific perspective, one must find some evidence that these things have some reality. If I assert a creature that must hide all evidence of itself so that we believe it exists, then I am just playing a word game which once again shows that science and superstition are incompatible by definition,

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] two are clearly irreconcilably distinct. So yes, I do think that the National Academies are lying. However, I do not think that these are malicious lies, or lies meant to oppose secularism. I […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: