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Are Science and Religion Compatible?
Posted: 01 May 2007 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I keep hearing DJ ask his guests this question, so I thought a little discussion of it here might be appropriate. The asking of the question almost seems to presume an adversarial relationship between the scientific outlook and religion. Certainly there are specific claims religion can make about reality that science can prove are false, or at least unlikely. Some would go so far as including the very possibility of the existence of gods in this category, though I am not convinced of this myself. And, as some have pointed out, religion doesn’t always require a god anyway. But the deeper issue is, since neither science nor religion is going away any time soon, what is or should be the relationship between them? So some questions to start with:

1. Is the fundamental outlook of all religions incompatible with scientific naturalism? Why and in what particulars?

2. Can some varieties of religious belief be fully compatible with a scientific outlook (or only compatible by Orwellian doublethink or by ignoring of key elements to one or both systems of thought)?

3. If religion and science are theoretically incompatible, what does this mean for their practical coexistence? Clearly religious believers can function as scientists, so should we attempt to illustrate the incompatibilities as part of an effort to move people away from religious belief, or should we encourage scientific thinking, even among the devout, and tread lightly around theoretical/dogmatic differences in the hopes that the scientific thinking will prove superior in the long run and subvert or replace religious thinking naturally? Or, failing that should we aim for some kind of peaceful coexistience between science and at least the less extreme varieties of religious belief (maybe not NOMA, since that seems to be nearly universally condemned here even by admirers of Gould such as myself, but at least an agreement to disagree and get on with practical business)?

[ Edited: 03 July 2007 01:04 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 01 May 2007 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It seems to me that humans are complex and often inconsistent, but that’s not a failing.  We all have likes and dislikes, positive and negative emotions, desires and antipathies.  Science must be free of any of these, and we can do science quite effectively by recognizing the needed separation.  It isn’t so much cognitive dissonance as it is just choosing what part of our thinking we want or need to use in a particular situation. 

However, when there’s an overlap we have to consider any disagreements and decide either to believe one or the other, or to separate our ideas so we operate efficiently but differently in each sphere. 

Because I reject the need for religion doesn’t make me a better (or worse) scientist than someone who accepts religious tenets. 

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Posted: 01 May 2007 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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We all have likes and dislikes, positive and negative emotions, desires and antipathies. Science must be free of any of these

I think I understand what you mean in that the methodology of science compensates for the biases induced by these emotional responses. But I actually think that in many ways such human feelings play a valuable role in science. Curiosity, awe and wonder, personal talents and proclivities, even anger (say at an inefficiency or a disease) all serve as sources of motivation and inspiration for scientists, so science doesn’t necessarily need to be free of these, it just needs to compensate for their influence on the conclusions of empirical research.

Otherwise, it sounds like you’re saying religion and science are compatible as long as people separate the magisteria of religion (consolation, ultimate meaning, etc) from the intellectual business of practicing science. Eh?

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Posted: 01 May 2007 12:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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1.  I don’t think the fundamental outlook of all branches of Christianity are compatible.  My aunt, who is doing better, but still in the hospital, and I went around in circles the other day about homosexuality.  She believes it has not been scientifically shown that there is any possibility of a genetic componant to it and it is a sin regardless if God made them that way.  Yeah, I tried that approach with her and she insisted “no way”.  She insisted they could be cured of homosexuality, even though you will not find it as a mental disorder in the DSM-III clear though the DSM-IV.  I offered to bring her the scientific studies on it, but she just would not hear of it because it was against God’s will for anyone to be homosexual even if it is genetic.  Therefore, the Episcopal church (she is Church of God, but wants to believe I am still going to church and can not accept that I’m a Humanist.) should not be ordaining gay bishops.  I’m like why not, if God made them that way and they want to serve humanity in the way they feel is best for them, I see no problem.  To her there is a problem regardless and those people need to be saved and cured.  rolleyes There was not playcating her religious beliefs.

That’s only one example, but concerning Evangelical-Fundamentalists, no science and religion are not compatible and they prefer to be anti-intellectual no matter what you say about it. Nor will they even believe that this or that has been shown by science to be this or that.  They want to believe the whole world was flooded and Noah is completely true.

My aunt nor my mother understand how science gets half the things they do when it says such and such in the Bible.  They can’t even see why I believe science even insist, I kid you not, that the world was made 6000 years ago, not millions of years ago.

Now back to the Episcopal church, if you remember in one of the news articles a conservative bishop called homosexuality demonic.  If even a high church refuses to be educated, how much chance is there that science and religion can go together?  IMHO none.

I won’t touch the other religions, because I do not know enough about them to really make a firm definitive comment, but from what I know of Islam, the answer if probably no there too.  Some Jews seem to be progressing, but it’s probably the more liberal and open-minded Jews who are the ones that are more accepting of science.

2.  It maybe possible because I have heard some of the more liberal Christians say they read science and say to themselves, “Oh so that is how God did it.”  I can’t say they are being closed-minded with that statement, but I can’t say they are being completely open either.  They are being more open then the Fundamentalists.

3.  No, I do not think we should tread lightly around religious dogma.  I think scientists should be open and honests about their findings. I really do not know how to make a peaceful co-existance with science and religion, when I feel it is imparative that scientists be open and honest about their findings.

The problem is getting the religious extremists to listen.  I can only hope the Fundie that walked out of class today when I was talking about science and refuting C.S. Lewis’s ideas about science walked out because she had some place to go and not because of what I said about my knowing how the neuro-chemistry of the brain works when we experience awe and wonder does not prevent me from enjoying the pleasures of music, art, and alike.  I can still experience the awe and wonder of the universe even though I know how the external triggers affect the brain and cause us to feel transcendence.  Even Harris can experience and enjoy the awe and wonder of the universe, as did Carl Sagen.

Still, given the on going behaviours I’ve dealt with from her, it would not surprise me if her walking out was not coensidental.  Not surprising, the prof said, “I think Lewis would argue that with you.” I told her, “Well, if he were alive, I’d be glad to debate him on that issue.”  LOL  Hell, I’m ready to debate him on his statement of Atheism being too easy even, which is one of the points in my paper too concerning him not being a true atheist.  However, the person who walked out today, refuses to debate anything with me even if the prof stands there allows the discussion/debate.

The others, who are younger, have more tolerance though, so I think there is hope for the next generation and generations following them.  They did not attempt to debate or refute me, but moved on to genetic selection.  So, IMHO, it is in the education of this generation and future generations that will change things, not spoon feeding the religious and tip-toeing around their religious dogma and convictions.

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Mriana
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Posted: 01 May 2007 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Mriana,

Whew, so tell us how you really feel! :D :D

Lots of important issues. I guess I wonder if specific examples, like bible-based homophobia, necessarily mean science and religion cannot be compatible. One could argue that science has nothing useful to say about moral questions relating to homosexuality anyway. I sometimes think the effort to find a biological basis for homosexuality is a trap we’ve fallen into, because we are trying to justify it to religious bigots. People are what they are, and the biological basis of such behavior is interesting, but it doesn’t really have any bearing on whether they are entitled to be what they are.

In more general terms, I would extract from the specifics you give the general principle that the rejection of knowledge acquired through reason and science in favor of the “knowledge” of revelation and holy text is a religious principle which is incompatible with science. I would absolutely agree with this. So in that sense, certain kinds of religion are incompatible with science. I might still say, then that other kinds may be compatible without Occam’s

choosing what part of our thinking we want or need to use in a particular situation.

if they give primacy to empirical knowledge over revelation. This, of course, seems to lead towards a God of the Gaps, and ultimately deism, since you can’t believe in a god directly responsible for how things work in the world if everything your tradition or holy text says it does is proven false by science.

3. No, I do not think we should tread lightly around religious dogma. I think scientists should be open and honests about their findings. I really do not know how to make a peaceful co-existance with science and religion, when I feel it is imparative that scientists be open and honest about their findings.

Suggesting that believers and non-believers may find common ground and agree to agree or disagree in specific cases but coexist peacefully regardless always seems to draw the charge of pandering to religion, giveing it privileged exemption from tough questions and criticism, or generally being intellectually dishonest. I’m not convinced this is necessary, but that may be because I don’t go as far as Dawkins in what I think science can say about very general religious notions, such as the existence of a creator. Specific claims about reality can be proven false or extrememloy unlikely, as I said above, and I don’t suggest for a moment that scientists should hesitate to do so. But do we really think science invalidates all religious beliefs so thoroughly that religion must necessarily be extinguished by scientific wisdom? On a philosophical basis, Im not yet convinced of this. And on a pragmatic basis, religion ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, so some form of coexistence is necessary. This then leads to the question of the most effective and appropriate way to deal with the conflicts that do arise. I guess all I’m saying is that I believe it is possible to be honest intellectually as a scientist and a non-believer and still not expect or even desire the elimination of the religious point of view. But then, I moved out of South Carolina and back to CA, so I’m less frequently confronted with the extremes of intolerance you have to deal with. grin Than ks for such a thoughful and detailed response!

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Posted: 01 May 2007 02:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Mriana,

Whew, so tell us how you really feel! :D :D

Oh no, you might start calling me an atheist, an infidel, a heretic, or worse yet, anti-Christian, then start hitting me over the head with a Bible.  LOL  Now you see why I get into so many disputes with Evangelical Christians. I don’t hold back.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Suggesting that believers and non-believers may find common ground and agree to agree or disagree in specific cases but coexist peacefully regardless always seems to draw the charge of pandering to religion, giveing it privileged exemption from tough questions and criticism, or generally being intellectually dishonest. I’m not convinced this is necessary, but that may be because I don’t go as far as Dawkins in what I think science can say about very general religious notions, such as the existence of a creator. Specific claims about reality can be proven false or extrememloy unlikely, as I said above, and I don’t suggest for a moment that scientists should hesitate to do so. But do we really think science invalidates all religious beliefs so thoroughly that religion must necessarily be extinguished by scientific wisdom? On a philosophical basis, Im not yet convinced of this. And on a pragmatic basis, religion ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, so some form of coexistence is necessary. This then leads to the question of the most effective and appropriate way to deal with the conflicts that do arise. I guess all I’m saying is that I believe it is possible to be honest intellectually as a scientist and a non-believer and still not expect or even desire the elimination of the religious point of view. But then, I moved out of South Carolina and back to CA, so I’m less frequently confronted with the extremes of intolerance you have to deal with. grin Than ks for such a thoughful and detailed response!

I’m not trying to say religion will go away over night, but I do think we should not pander to the religious reich either.  I mean come on, the world is not 6000 years old, Adam and Eve did not populate the Earth by themselves, the whole world did not flood, not to mention, Gilgamesh was a flood story, Tiamat and Marduk got into a fight just as God and Lucifer did, not to mention Mithra, Krishna, Horus, etc were god/man stories, the list of evolving myth to current religions goes on and on.  Today’s beliefs are just past myths evolved into current religious ideology.

Like I said, I truly believe education is the key to ending the belief in mythology is the key, but it will take time because current ideology has been so engrained into people.  They were scared into believing it years ago by seeing people killed as heretics for even questioning religious beliefs and now they don’t even question them at all.  It’s time we try to get people to question what they believe and why, as well as show them there is an alternative without loosing any moral ground.  I find it really sad when people believe or have convinced themselves that one can not be moral without being religious or that they can not be spiritual, experience awe and wonder about the universe, without being religious.  This simply is not true, but I’m preaching to the chior.

You are very welcome for the thoughtful and detailed response.  It comes from years of thought and dealing with such things though.

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Mriana
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Posted: 01 May 2007 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“Mriana”][quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Mriana,

Like I said, I truly believe education is the key to ending the belief in mythology is the key, but it will take time because current ideology has been so engrained into people.  They were scared into believing it years ago by seeing people killed as heretics for even questioning religious beliefs and now they don’t even question them at all.  It’s time we try to get people to question what they believe and why, as well as show them there is an alternative without loosing any moral ground.  I find it really sad when people believe or have convinced themselves that one can not be moral without being religious or that they can not be spiritual, experience awe and wonder about the universe, without being religious.  This simply is not true, but I’m preaching to the chior.

Before we make claims about the causes of religiosity, we need much more study and observation. It seems a little premature to me to claim that fear of being killed as a heretic is what engrained religous beliefs in people.

If we are going to prefer science over religion, then we should be scientific about it. Perhaps the threat of death helped the religious gene flourish. But it would seem in such a case the gene already existed—thus the initial popularity of the religion that eventually became the religion of the state. It is also my understanding that most of the people killed in the name of religion were not killed for rejecting religiosity, but for choosing different belief systems.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Well, if you take Dr. Tarico’s thoughts, based on primative thought, it was better to believe that there was a wild cat about to prey on your family than not believe and a family member or youreslf be eaten due to disbelief.  If you believed there was a wild animal out there and you were wrong, you only lost some sleep, but if you did not believe and were wrong, someone was dead.  I’m paraphrasing because I don’t want to get up and get her book to get an exact quote, but you get the idea.  She related this to the idea of religion. She says it’s a fear related such primative thought and stated it was safer to believe in God than to not believe and risk being wrong.

In all honesty, this sounds like she is also including Pascal’s Wager in her line of reasoning, but I can also see it as relating to primative thinking.

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Mriana
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Posted: 02 May 2007 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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One solution to conflict between religious writings and science was taught over 800 years ago by Maimonides, the Jewish scholar: if science appears to conflict with scipture, it is because scripture is not properly understood.

Interesting that Judaism, which owns the Bible, has a long history of acceptance of interpretive understandings of holy writings, while the Johnny-come-lately Christian fundamentalists have not made that step. Perhaps they should read the Bible.

I think that religious education, that is, the study of all the world’s religions - including the varieties of Islams, Judaisms, and Christianities, would do more for opening people’s eyes than science education. I owe that to an observation by Susan Blackmore in the Point of Inquiry podcast in regard to such a program in English schools. Comparative religion would till the soil, so to speak, allowing the scientific outlook to take root.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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So it sounds like a theme emerging is that religion can be made compatible with science by interpreting it’s texts as metaphor, or by not taking literally or seriously all aspects of a given dogma. Does science make any concessions to religion?

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Posted: 02 May 2007 12:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t know. The closest thing I find that is true in the Bible is the saying, “Remember you are dust and dust you shall return.”  (OT)  In other words, you degrade and return to the earth as furtilizer after you die.  So, cremation just speeds up the process.  I have yet to find anything else that science makes concession to in the Bible.  Unless you want to put all the various flood myths together and say, yes floods happened here and there every once in a while in the past just as it does now days, but there was never a world flood anymore than there is today.

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Mriana
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Posted: 02 May 2007 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Mriana,

Well, by concessions I don’t, of course, mean that the science of various holy texts is truthful. Instead I wonder if we might say that religion does anything useful for people that science does not, is it in any way better than science at anything? Certainly science is better at explaining the world and our place in it, so to be compatible with science religion must give up it’s claims to revealed truth about the nature pf the physical universe. But is there anything science can or should give up to religion? As I said in my original post, clearly the NOMA doctrine is unteneble in its totality, but might it not be partially true, true enough that there is a place for some religion (or “spirituality” if that is a more palatable word, though of course it might not mean the same thing) alongside science?

Ok, I’m playing Devil’s Adovocate a bit here, since I don’t personally feel spirituality and religion are the same, nor that we need religion to achieve meaning or consolation. But you and I are probably not representative samples of humanity, so I’m interested in ways religion and science can coexist agreeably, since I suspect they’re going to have to for some time to come.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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OK.  In some respects it can be, but it is the social aspects and rites of passages, which if you may have noticed Humanist Celebrants pick up some of the slack here with Naming Ceremonies (in the Christian Church they have baptism, Jewish Cercumcision, and other religions have other things), Weddings, and Funeral Celebrations - all non-religious, yet it fills that need for people.  So, some emotional needs are fulfilled by religion.

I don’t know if you listened to Epsteins’ podcast on PoI or was it the HNN (I forget which one) not too long ago, but he explained some of this far better than I could.  If it’s not on PoI, then I is on HNN (Humanists News Network).  Let me know if you can’t find it on PoI, I post the link to HNN’s Podcasts.

OK I was just PMd and was told it was not on PoI.  They asked me to post the link for everyone, so here it is:  http://www.humaniststudies.org/podcast/  It’s Podcast #17 HNN Podcast: The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard Like here, you can listen to it on site or download to listen at your convience on your comp or iPod.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Is science compatible with dungeons and dragons

Are religion and science incompatible? Hmm. Well it seems that we are giving an awful lot of unwarrented credit to religion as being something implicitly valuable. A system of beliefs based on faith in a mythology and a system of investigation based on testable hypotheses are two different things entirely. Are science and music compatible? Are science and cartoon animation compatible? I guess so, but it seems that when we are investigating the way the natural world works there is no room for religious BELIEF at the table of reason and rationality. We are trying to establish varifiable facts and “FAITH…. in what you know just ain`t so” is no way to conduct such investigation.

So, religion can be a rich exploration of philosphical ideas, literature and mythology. It can be a fascinating source of information (albeit often wrong) about consciousness, human trial, meditation, dogmatism, tolerance and intolerance, history and even the shifting moral zietgiest of morality. But there is no room at the table of scientific inquiry for religion or poetry or art or dungeons and dragons. Science is in and of itself the method by which we can investigate this natural world, religion is an artifact of (human—- the only kind?) language.

What do we do to shift the deluded away from their narrow world view? I agree with Dennett and Blackmore, that a compulsory world religions curriculum be taught to all students everywhere—- and that education be given to all people everywhere. Its hard to take religious mythology literally when one is achademically exposed to all the various religious opinions.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 04:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’m not sure how to understand religion being an ‘artifact of language’, as I find it hard to imagine how the discipline of science or most things I ponder daily could exist without language. The reality of the world, of course, would still exist, but would ‘science’?

What would be more likely to exist without language—superstition/religion or science? Personally, I have no idea. My understanding is it is pretty hard to determine when humans started using spoken language. Of course, this discussion will get pretty convoluted when we have to figure out what archaeological finds can be included under the umbrella of science or religion.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I suppose my point was that science is the method for investigation, it is a process like building a table, step by step, first this then that. Like makeing a fire or creating a universe (jk). surely science wouldn`t be communicated without language but the method may still exist (of course I don`t know either)—If I throw this object up in the air it will come back down, every time. But Religion seems to come from that “whose there” instict that Dennett and others have talked about. It is the idea that we give intention and agency to anything resembling an animate object. I suppose I meant that without the language to rehearse in our minds and the language to pass on to others we wouldn`t create ghosts and gods and we certainly wouldn`t create holy texts. But you`re right its pretty hard to imagine a world without language. (maybe the first step is stopping the imagining)

But wait I just thought of something. It really isn`t hard to imagine. Because we are experienceing a sort of secondary version of the world in which the brain goes about its business of keeping the body functioning and it also creates a “you” to be the passenger. What I mean is your brain percieves and readys itself for firing off responses before you are even “aware” of them. so next time you have an impulse for one of the 4 f`s (fight, flight, feed or sex), that is life without language. It is only later that you start to use that big brain to reason and second guess and plan and fantasize. This is another topic though.

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