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Science vs Religion

Entry 1116, on 2009-11-11 at 20:57:33 (Rating 3, Comments)

I recently read an article from New Statesman titled "Since the dawn of time" which opened with the statement: "Two hundred years after Darwinís birth, scientists still canít agree on whether evolution and religion can happily coexist". I guess it really depends on what kind of co-existence and what form of religion they are talking about, but in general I would say I agree with the camp who say they can't coexist.

Its not that evolution (or any other science) has shown there can't be a god (although it has lead to the rational conclusion that there is no evidence that there is one) and that religion in the most generic sense and science cannot both be right. Its more that the methodology of science and religion are opposite and its only possible for them to coexist if some huge compromises are made on one side or the other (or both).

The basic methodology of science is to devise theories which are then tested as thoroughly as possible. Nothing is ever accepted as final and everything is open to question. Religion is the opposite: most religions have ultimate truths, highly prize faith, and evidence is generally very arbitrary and subjective. So one person really can't believe in both these and remain rational. I know there are some quite successful scientists who do try (for example Francis Collins who I blogged about in an entry titled "Brilliant Stupidity" on 2009-09-22) but listen to their explanations of their religious faith and it soon becomes apparent their belief has no merit.

So if a scientist is really following the methodology of science he should reject religion because it is based on a totally opposite philosophy which almost inevitably leads to false beliefs and delusion. And a religious person should reject science because it gradually erodes religious teaching by showing religious myths aren't true (and leading to a "god of the gaps" scenario). Of course some people exist in the two "worlds" simultaneously: a rational one where they apply science and reason in their professional lives, and a fantasy world where they deliberately suspend logical thought and follow a religion even though they would never accept any other belief with such minimal evidence.

One related argument I have heard advocated is that, even if the two can't coexist in their pure forms, they should compromise to force some sort of compatibility. Many people say the uncompromising (some people use the word "fundamentalist") attitude of some of the "new atheists" (such as Richard Dawkins) leads to science being weakened rather than strengthened because many moderates will reject science if it seems to be threatening their faith.

I don't see any evidence that this is true though. The article points out that the percentage of people believing in some form of creationism in the US (a staggering 45% - how can people be so stupid?) has remained about the same before and after the appearance of the new atheism. And atheists rejecting religion show that there is nothing special about it and it deserves assessment and criticism just as much as any other belief system or theory.

In the past a problem with any debate concerning religion was that religion was seen as being above criticism. Why would that be? If a religion is as convincing as its advocates believe it is they should welcome investigation of it because that should lead to greater understanding and more convincing proof. But they do their best to prevent any form of objective consideration which to me suggests they have known its untrue all along.

The final question I want to mention is the value of truth. Is truth important? Most people would say yes. If it is how should we establish what is true? Clearly adopting a religion and accepting it on faith isn't a great way because how do we know we have chosen the right one or whether religion in any form is true? The only real way to establish the truth is to test the consequences of a belief in a fair way. That's what science is all about and history clearly shows it works extremely well (it does make mistakes but its good at correcting them).

So religion really has no merit at all except as a social convention or an easy answer for people too weak or lazy to find out what's really true. If truth is important then science should forget about what's popular or politically correct or socially acceptable and attack religion with everything its got. The truth always wins in the end and religion will be defeated. The time to give it special privileges has gone.

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