On Science and Religion

May 28, 2008 — Leave a comment

This is being posted as my response to the Compatibility of Science and Religion debate.

People always argue that science and religion do not deal with the same phenomena, or the same aspects of human life. Mang had already done so so in this debate:

“Religion and science fulfill different aspects of human needs. In that sense they are orthogonal or at least do not occupy the same space or set.” – Mang

I disagree with this point entirely. Religion makes scientific claims: miracles, prayer, virgin birth are examples. These are ideas at odds with science and if you take them literally then you must rationalise them as either being metaphors or being against physics or biology. If they are metaphors then your religion is dealt a blow (virgin birth, for example). If they go against physics then they directly contradict science and you have some cognitive dissonance going on!

Religions generally all believe that there is a God or collection of gods in charge of the universe. This is a hypothesis that can be tested in science. If God is ‘up there’ interfering with our daily lives then we should be able to test that. If God set the universe in motion then we will be able to test that at some later time in future history.

You might argue that God is ‘outside testing’. This is surely incorrect since God must act upon things to make things happen. Prayer for example, can be tested and in fact has been. This leads me another point, which is that religion is willing to use science to prove itself.

The idea that religion and science do not overlap in our lives is easily bunked by the existence of prayer experiments, but also by the turin shroud, for example. If someone dug up the body of Jesus would religion back off saying ‘nothing to do with us’? If the prayer experiments had proved that prayer works (they didn’t by the way), then it would have been held aloft as proof of religion working. Rather what we actually have are religious people trying to explain why the experiments wouldn’t work.

Another point to tackle is a response to part of Todd’s comment.

“In many ways religion and science are quite similar: they each define a human culture, they each espouse a certain orthodoxy among adherents, they each inspire passion and sometimes ill feelings between practitioners who don’t operate the same way, they each reveal the best and the worst of human beings.” – Todd

This is true of all human endeavours. It is not something special about science or about religion that creates this similarly, it is something about people. Politics, social clubs, theatre groups, office staff, classrooms and even blogs all have different styles of operation with in-groups and out-groups.

It doesn’t achieve anything to try to say that science is just like religion based on the fact that both operate in similar social ways. They are innately different.

So to finish (for now) I would like to put to it you all that science and religion are incompatible as world views. In our everyday lives, most of us only dabble in the shallow end of theology or of science, never finding a need to really decide between religion and science. I think though, that when faced with the deep questions, you have to choose. Trying to fit both into your world, won’t work in the end. If it seems to be working, then you haven’t fully understood at least one of them.

I leave you with a cartoon spotted on Digg recently:

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