Science and Religion?

(*Update: it seems while I was writing this, the post I am discussing vanished from the Savvygeek site – it may have been posted in error, but I think the comments made in it were common enough that they can be addressed anyway*)

There seems some debate recently about reconciling science and religion (or even if some thing is possible). For the record, this is something I have no major issue over, religion is (to me) nonsense so if scientists want to be religious it is no different than if they think socks and sandals look cool. I also see no driving reason for science and religion to be “reconciled,” nor do I have any idea how such a thing can take place.

Today I came across a post on Savvygeek called “Religion Vs Science” which made some points which intrigued me. Broadly the post is saying:

…I am concerned that there seems to be a constant divide between those who fall in one camp and those who fall in the other. And it is inhibiting any possible progress.

Which seems reasonable enough, but personally I think it is one of those truisms which seem true but aren’t. I do not think “not believing” in {Insert deity of choice} impacts a person’s ability to do science in any way, shape or form. However, there are a lot more comments on that blog I felt were worth talking about.

Starting from the top:

And to me, the two are not mutually exclusive, but actually dependent on the other. I believe God operates through the use of science and its laws.

This is an interesting take. Again, it seems reasonable enough but it actually says nothing of value so there isn’t really anything I can say for, or against it. Personally I do not believe god exists, let alone operates through science and it’s laws. It is possible that Thor or Tuatis exist and operate through science and it’s laws but it is unlikely. Oddly, I am fairly sure more people will agree with the second of those two similar sentences, than the first. Anyway, it continues:

To be clear, I am not at all proposing that atheists, agnostics, or other people are somehow “wrong” for believing – or not believing – the way they do. As far as I’m concerned, I have no more tangible proof that God exists than opponents do that the He doesn’t.

Now, this is a very reasonable person and I do actually feel a bit churlish taking some of the comments to task here. However this paragraph hints at something I see a lot and find unusual for scientists to say. Proving something does not exist is nearly impossible. This is especially so when the supporters of the “thing” refuse to make testable predictions and often redefine the interactions of the “thing” in question. For example, if I submitted an article to Physics Rev A claiming a particle called the “gibberishon” existed but was not detectable in any way shape or form, what would the response be? If I continued to demand the particle existed and people who thought it didn’t had to prove it didn’t exist, what would be the general response?

The set of things which can’t be proven to “not exist” is infinite. How could you prove the tooth fairy does not exist? You can create experiments which could prove the tooth fairy did indeed exist, but not the other way round. I seem to recall some one called Popper writing about this…

It strikes me as odd that non-believers are quick to paint religious people as being somehow less intelligent that they are; that those of us who believe in something greater are blind to the world around us.

Nothing could be further than the truth.

Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Einstein, and many other famous scientists all professed a belief in God, and I would be hesitant to call them unintelligent.

Again, all very reasonable although it is a fallacy to assert Einstein was a theist. Newton certainly was. However this is all a bit of a fallacy – an appeal to false authority. It is true that you can find examples of wonderful scientists who a religious (not all are Christian, how do you determine who is correct?), likewise you can find wonderful scientists who are not religious. You can find examples of clever people and idiots in both the theist and atheist camps (do such things exist?). It doesn’t really prove anything though. The claim made by some atheist commentators is that the “majority” of theists are less well educated than the majority of atheists. Finding a small subset of each group does not indicate what the general trend of the group is. Equally importantly, “atheism” as such, is a fairly modern trend so using historical examples of theist scientists adds no value. Pythagoras believed in a pantheon of Gods, yet that is not proof intelligent people believe in Zeus, in fact I doubt you can find anyone today who believes in the classical religions.

Why is it not possible that there is a middle ground? Is it not possible that there is a higher power who uses the laws and workings of science?

Note that I didn’t say “definite”, I didn’t even say “probable”, but “possible”.

That means that it is possible that a higher power doesn’t exist, as well.

Which brings us right back to the middle of the argument. And that is where people should be trying to be.

Again, the author of this post continues to be very reasonable and certainly is not “anti-Atheist” as some of the Christian blogs are. There are few issues with this “middle ground” stance though. Religion (especially the monotheistic ones) tend to be absolutist. For a Christian, God exists. There is no debate. There is no element of uncertainty. While it is actually “possible” that a higher power exists, it is equally possible that the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Thor, Toutatis, Zeus, Mars, Monkey, Ukko, Baba-Yaga (and so on) are this “higher power.” The set of things which may possibly exist in this context is infinite.

Trying to be in the middle of the argument achieves nothing. It is a false ground for a theist to take, as it includes the denial of their deity, yet it is the default ground for an atheist. I am open minded, if some one can prove God (or FSM, Thor et al) exists then I will accept it. I have yet to come across a theist who can say the same in reverse.

And proponents of science need to stop presuming that scientific theory is scientific fact, and that it somehow disproves millennia of belief.

It is odd that a scientist uses a term like “scientific fact,” as such a thing doesn’t really exist. Pre 1905 Newtonian gravity was a scientific fact… Scientific theory is just that. It is a theory. Saying something is “just a theory” is a trick used by creationists to try an confuse lay people into thinking the science in question is “more doubtful” than anything else.

Also, it is a fallacy to say science can disprove belief. Belief is by it’s nature irrational and generally means you take something as true without proof. Saying something has “millennia of belief” however does not in any way, shape or form mean it is “true” or a fact. For thousands of years, people thought the Earth was at the centre of the solar system. This was wrong. Some people may well still believe it though.

Belief is often immune from logic, proof and “facts.” This is the problem when it comes to mixing “belief” and “science.” The scientific method requires a certain mindset and way of looking at things. Not all theists can reconcile the irrational they except in one aspect of life, with the rational demands of science.

5 thoughts on “Science and Religion?

  1. I stand corrected, the post is still on Savvygeek but seems to be unavailable from the main pages (it is on port 8080 of the server so this may be a secondary area or something).

  2. Pingback: nullifidian » Blog Archive » Sitting in the middle

  3. Interesting take on what I wrote.

    Actually, I removed the post because it’s not exactly what I’m attempting to focus SavvyGeek on. It didn’t really fit the site.

    The point I was trying to make was that people’s beliefs or non-beliefs shouldn’t get in the way of cooperative progress.

    I do not attempt to be in the middle of anything, I actually am quite firm in what I choose to believe.

    But I do wish groups of people, and society in general could focus on the middle ground of accepting each other’s ideas, and not letting them stand in the way of mutual progression.

  4. Jeffrey, thank you for getting back to us and clarifying those points.

    A co-operative approach, in an ideal world, would certainly be much better than any conflict. This has the problem of demanding people sideline some parts of their chosen dogma though.

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