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Can science and religion coexist peacefully?
kowalskil
Can science and religion coexist peacefully? This is a good question to start an interesting discussion. See how it was answered by many smart people at my website:

http://csam.montc...otmix.html

Please share this link with others, when appropriate. Thank you in advance.

Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University, NJ, USA
 
Skeeve


Forum Admin Notice:
Moving thread: The Rant Room > The Lounge

Edited by Skeeve on 12/04/2010 16:09
"The world is my country, and do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine
 
JohnH
The short answer is yes. I find few fundamental problems between science and faith. One should remember that during the medieval period islamic areas furthered the scientific advances of the Greeks while the church suppressed science in europe.

It is around the edges that science and religion have problems. Social scientists that strongly believe that god determines human behaviors may be an example.

None of this should be construed to suggest that I do not think a belief in god cannot thwart science. I am only suggesting that scientists can be theists and it will not interfere with their science.

This is different from strict believers in the religious texts. Those people could be perfectly competent in physical sciences. I think they would tend to fail miserably in social or biological sciences.
 
Photon
Yes, science and religion can coexist peacefully, but I think some significant compartmentalization needs to take place in an individual purporting to adhere to both disciplines, since they arrive at knowledge about the universe in distinctly incompatible ways.

Religion is based on faith, a belief in the unseen, belief in something for which there is no objective evidence, and in some cases, belief in spite of falsifying evidence of the belief.

Science is concerned with systematic testing of hypotheses, wherein explanations that generate predictions that are in conflict with observations need be revised or discarded. In this way, hypotheses that are known to be incompatible with observational reality are not retained as valid models for what is most likely true.

A person CAN be an effective scientist, and a religionist, but I do not think that the rigour of systematic testing that is inherent to scientific investigation can be brought to bear on the claims of the religion, without those claims falling apart, due to lack of correlation with observations. So, in order to maintain religiosity, a person must compartmentalize their thought processes, so as to not disturb the inviolate precepts of the religion, lest they lose them altogether.

Now, even though science and religion CAN coexist, I don't think compartmentalization is particularly healthy, or honest, at least if one values determining that which is most likely true. But I also believe that I shouldn't force this opinion on others, and compel them to critically analyze their religious beliefs. It would be easier if everyone were rational, but that is a fantasy. There's comfort in humanizing myths for some too.

But that doesn't make those wacky beliefs true.
 
JohnH
Photon, you may be wordy but you hit on much of the things that I think about when dealing with faith and science. But you skirt, as I did, some of the significant problems with theism and science. When dealing with biological and social sciences theism can be very damaging.

A theist can have the intention/propensity to find intelligent design in the ability of some trees to last for thousands of years. A theist could also find a godly intention in altering climate so as to kill those trees.

A theist could ignore the social/economic conditions that lead to poverty. It could after all be god's will.

The physical sciences are one thing. One can easily see a theist understanding that the tensile strength of a particular steel as gods will without question.

Why a particular mole behaves as it does may be much more difficult. Observation of that behavior may be accurate. Interpretation of that observation may be adversely affected by theism.
 
seeker
The problem as I see it is the religion and science involve completely incompatible types of thought. Religion only survives by the kind of unquestioning acceptance that is anathema to scientific thought. You are literally trying to reconcile a school of thought that requires its adherents to question everything (science) with a system that requires blind obedience.

I would disagree with Photon and John that compartmentalization could be a solution to some sort of coexistence. The problem with that is when you get to irrational beliefs like the divine right of people to rule a particular land you end up with atrocities like the Trail of Tears, Nanking Massacre, or the Holocaust.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
Doubting Thomas
I agree with Seeker. While many scientists may be able to compartmentalize their beliefs, in the end they have to realize that religious beliefs are totally unscientific.

But the way I see it in modern America is that science and religion are having a hard time coexisting well. We have Christian fundamentalists who are constantly trying to ban stem-cell research based completely on religious reasons. They want to ban a certain medical procedure based on the same reasons. Many of them outright deny the validity of evolution and would be agreeable to banning it from the classroom in favor of Christian creationism. Like Seeker explained above, their adherence to a rigid dogma that is not to be questioned will hold us back from making scientific discoveries.

Luckily, science doesn't care about religion or what religion thinks. Science will still move forward (in free countries not hindered by theocracy) and will find answers to the great questions of the universe. And as it does so, religion dies just a little bit more.

*edit* Oh and have you ever noticed how interesting it is that Christians, who claim to be following a religion of peace and love, are always in favor of science developing new weapons with which to kill people, but they're against modern science making people able to have sex (make love) without consequences?
Edited by Doubting Thomas on 12/02/2010 11:33
You're just jealous because the voices are talking to me and not you.
 
catman
Science and religion can sign a truce with one another, but their methodology is so opposite that they can never comfortably coexist as equals. One will always try to dominate the other. It's faith vs, reason, revelation vs. the scientific method. There can be little real mutual respect.
"If I owned both Hell and Texas, I'd live in Hell and rent out Texas." - General Sheridan
 
seeker
Something else to consider. When we treat religion as having equal validity to science we are tacitly accepting superstitious notions like demonic possession, racial superiority, intelligent design and whatever else people read into the bible. It then becomes impossible for science to have a real impact when it suggests things that religious people don't want to believe like global warming or the need for birth control.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
Seeker, I must be stalking you tonight. I agree but disagree. We atheists tend to see the bible as a whole document and force christians to defend all of it. Christians on the other hand can reject most of Leviticus and embrace the "Sermon on the Mount". Is this attitude fair on our part. In any general sense yes it is fair. Is it fair in all cases, I might be able to cut some slack to some christians. Yes they cling to a belief in a false god. But some have chosen to ignore the more vile aspects of the bible. In some cases there is only a belief in that false god with the acceptance that they have no idea what that might mean. I make this argument about christians, it applies equally to anyone who believes in god or gods.

The argument that belief and non belief demand different ways of thinking is valid. I do not think that this means all believers must therefore not understand science. I think it is only those who find the bible to be completely or mostly true who will have their science conflicted.
 
Theory_Execution
I agree with a lot of what has been said here. But I do not agree with Photon that the opinion of a critical look at ones beliefs should be forced on to people, as and when those beliefs influence their interactions within society.

No idea should get a free pass no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes one feel.
 
seeker
JohnH wrote:
Seeker, I must be stalking you tonight. I agree but disagree. We atheists tend to see the bible as a whole document and force christians to defend all of it. Christians on the other hand can reject most of Leviticus and embrace the "Sermon on the Mount". Is this attitude fair on our part. In any general sense yes it is fair. Is it fair in all cases, I might be able to cut some slack to some christians. Yes they cling to a belief in a false god. But some have chosen to ignore the more vile aspects of the bible. In some cases there is only a belief in that false god with the acceptance that they have no idea what that might mean. I make this argument about christians, it applies equally to anyone who believes in god or gods.

The argument that belief and non belief demand different ways of thinking is valid. I do not think that this means all believers must therefore not understand science. I think it is only those who find the bible to be completely or mostly true who will have their science conflicted.


I wasn't implying that belief is monolithic. There are literally thousands of Christian sects, many with completely incompatible doctrines and all of them based on readings of the same book. What I'm saying is that all treating any doctrine as legitimate essentially treats all of them as legitimate because they are all based on the same reasoning process. If divine revelation is responsible for the way the most moderate Christians interpret Christianity and you accept their view as equivalent to a science based world view then it becomes that much more unlikely that any objection can be raised when the same process of divine revelation is used to justify a Christian who decides to blow up an abortion clinic.

The problem is that you give credence to an unreliable thought process when you accept results from it.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
Seeker, you raise an excellent point. If I may paraphrase, a thought process that starts out flawed because of faith is flawed throughout. Please correct me if I have not captured your opinion in general or in subtlety.

I must say something specific about your abortion clinic bomber example. Is that not something like "some atheists have done evil things therefore all atheists are evil".

The judgment of any human's actions should be independent of the professed beliefs of that human. Much like there should be a consideration of how a person acts regardless of what their political beliefs are. I self describe as an anarcho-syndicalist. I would never blow up a building. I also almost always participate in elections even if they are grossly flawed. In the minds of true believers I am very flawed by being a pragmatist.

The religious views of scientists are not as important as the results of their science. It is important to ignore that which is not pertinent to result obtained.

I could readily accept the peer reviewed studies of a biologist on the subject of biological remediation of toxic waste even if they were an advocate of intelligent design or even creationism.

I will agree that the thought processes of a theist are flawed from the beginning. That does not mean that they do not have expertise.

To suggest otherwise is equivalent to the argument that atheists have no morals.
 
seeker
John - That's more or less right. What I would suggest is that if a killer saves a baby from being hit by a bus he is still a killer. Just because the flawed thought process occasionally gives a good result we shouldn't be too quick with praise because it is just as likely to give a very poor result.

Suggesting that atheists have no morals is in no way equivalent. Atheism is not a belief system per se and doesn't offer any advice on morals one way or the other. The statement is a bit like saying great chefs all read Proust, its a non-sequitur.

The one thing that all religious people have in common is the acceptance of unprovable assertions as true. There is no such commonality with atheism. At best the only statement true of all atheists is a degree of non-belief.

When you get to religious doctrine though it is quite another story. The reason I used the abortion clinic example is because those kinds of acts are doctrinal.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
JohnH
Subtlety, ah subtlety, Seeker we are dancing around the edges of things even though we are mostly in agreement (I think).

I would begin with, there is a difference between a killer who killed their spouse in a jealous rage and one who killed for the pleasure of killing. Both are killing but one is understandable, if not acceptable, and one is heinous.

There is a difference, I will admit, between morals and socially acceptable behavior. Morals implies (whether I like it or not) an outside agency. This you and I may agree with. I regret my choice of terms but you must also admit that the word itself has certain connotations that have been applied to atheists. Because we lack an outside agency to enforce our behavior that behavior should be suspect. I would assume we agree here.

The belief in the unprovable is regrettable. It does not necessarily disprove the science of the provable. I assume that you understand there can be a difference. This whole discussion is about whether or not science and religion can coexist peaceably. If we can conclude that science demands a lack of faith are we not making a moral (I use the word consciously) judgment.

I will make no comment about doctrinal actions. Other than to say that they are generally reprehensible. One should be cautious as an atheist from doing the same.
 
seeker
JohnH wrote:
Subtlety, ah subtlety, Seeker we are dancing around the edges of things even though we are mostly in agreement (I think).


If we fully agreed on everything we'd have nothing to talk about. I think we agree that being a Theist or Atheist isn't necessarily an indicator of the personal quality of any particular individual. The point I'm making is only that the Theist starts with a set of doctrines imposed by religion. One could argue that the Atheist does as well since society in general is grounded in religion but the Atheist has, at least, rejected some part of that religious grounding.

JohnH wrote:I would begin with, there is a difference between a killer who killed their spouse in a jealous rage and one who killed for the pleasure of killing. Both are killing but one is understandable, if not acceptable, and one is heinous.


There are certainly degrees and contexts, a killer during wartime is often called a hero. The point is that those actions aren't measured as much by the result as the intent.

Consider the movie Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle has worked himself into a state of mind that makes him want to commit a violent act. His first notion is to kill a gubernatorial candidate but he can't pull that off so he ends up raiding a hotel to rescue a teenage prostitute. Ostensibly he ends up doing a good thing but it is still a psychotic break that only results in a good act because he is unable to commit the bad act.

JohnH wrote:There is a difference, I will admit, between morals and socially acceptable behavior. Morals implies (whether I like it or not) an outside agency. This you and I may agree with. I regret my choice of terms but you must also admit that the word itself has certain connotations that have been applied to atheists. Because we lack an outside agency to enforce our behavior that behavior should be suspect. I would assume we agree here.


An interesting statement. I'm not a believer in the notion that morals are objective, they exist only within a societal context and are entirely subjective. As such I'd argue that morals doesn't imply an outside agency but is more of an internalization of societal rules; that is why people who regard themselves as moral can still see themselves that way while practicing all manner of deception and prevarication.

JohnH wrote:The belief in the unprovable is regrettable. It does not necessarily disprove the science of the provable. I assume that you understand there can be a difference. This whole discussion is about whether or not science and religion can coexist peaceably. If we can conclude that science demands a lack of faith are we not making a moral (I use the word consciously) judgment.


I do think though that some moral judgments can be made. Is it moral, for example, to continue to deny the effects of global warming or poverty or any number of issues simply because one believes that 'God will just destroy it all anyway" (In case you don't catch the reference I'm paraphrasing James Watt, Reagan's former Secretary of State).

JohnH wrote:I will make no comment about doctrinal actions. Other than to say that they are generally reprehensible. One should be cautious as an atheist from doing the same.


The great strength of religion is that it can mobilize adherents with fanatic zeal to accomplish certain goals but it certainly is not the only way to accomplish that kind of mobilization. I would suggest being wary of anything and anyone that gives advice on whom we should hate.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
 
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