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Are Science and Religion Compatible?
Posted: 19 August 2007 10:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 136 ]
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Hello all,  Reading through just the last page of this thread I began to wonder, amidst valiant efforts to find compatible ground to define terms, how the word “compatible” is being defined?

Paul Kurtz in Skeptical Inquirer [March/April 2002] offers an essay entitled; Are Science and Religion Compatible”. Paul writes; “I think religion and science are compatible, depending on what is meant by religion”.

That issue of SI wasn’t even a Religion and Science special issue. I’ve just reread Paul’s piece and recognize many points that have been elucidated by others, especially of late. I’ve always appreciated Paul’s approach to inquiry. He adamantly has defended science and reason. 

Recently Paul has highlighted the efforts of others such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Hitchens, and the undeserved “respect” given by society to religion. Norm R. Allen Jr., has also written “In Defense of Radicalism” [free inquiry June/July 07], pointing out “moderates (atheist) should not stand in the way of the outspoken atheists who are taking atheism and naturalism to the masses in a way that’s seldom been seen in this country”.

To be sure, there is a great deal I agree with in such best selling books (is this what is meant by “seldom”) as The End of Faith, The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, and I also have been an “outspoken” atheist for twenty years. These days I have found myself increasing at odds with approaches advocated by Harris, Hitchens, and (sadly) Dawkins. In fact, it would appear Harris has painted “moderates” of both religious and non-religious as a threat to civilization (almost literally).

I fear I’m getting to far off topic. It’s just when I see the debate on “compatibility” broached it wonders into “anti-religious” rhetoric where secular scientific rationalism is replaced with “conversational intolerance” (Harris’ advocated approach). On the occasion I have spoken out on such matters, it is said, “there’s room for more then one approach”. True, and I’m not about to “stand in the way” (as if I could), but nor will keep quiet about my skepticism towards “approaches” I feel are irrational, and possibly harmful in the long run.

[ Edited: 19 August 2007 11:00 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 20 August 2007 09:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 137 ]
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Good comments.  Here are a few dictionary definitions of compatible:

‘Capable of existing or performing in harmonious, agreeable, or congenial combination with another or others: compatible family relationships.

Capable of orderly, efficient integration and operation with other elements in a system with no modification or conversion required.’

Looking first at the history of religion/science in the west, it appears the response of the early churches was that since ‘God’s’ word was absolute, science must be wrong, subservient and controlled.  Fortunately the Pope’s last army was disbanded around 1871 when they gave up their ‘empire’ and retired to Rome to ruminate in wealth and splendor.  So recent Popes allow that perhaps the theory of evolution is correct, although it is their ‘god’ which ‘created’ evolution.  Religion’s claim to absolute truth because of a book of myths is lame to me, but unyielding.

Science and religion could be compatible perhaps, but what to do about this attitude of being ‘absolutely’ correct?  Science never claims to be absolutely correct, but rather always open to revision upon presentation of new evidence; real, verifiable evidence.  Religion already has a power structure based on the past, and whether you believe that a god or a bunch of con men wrote the Bible, it still says in Deut 17 that I should stone my neighbor for bowing before the moon.  And if I don’t, infinite woe will befall not only me, but my family and descendents. (Deut 28:58)  Hmmmmm….. 

In practice though, isn’t it really a matter of power and persuasion?  My beef is with religion promoting their beliefs in science classes.  School boards are the front line in the belief/non-belief battle, where otherwise rational people succumb to their mythological beliefs, while the real evidence of evolution is disparaged and ridiculed.  Compatibility breaks down when education of children is concerned. 

Which is all understandable to me from the perspective of anthropology.  My feeling is that religions are anachronisms, that in time will not be considered evidence or basis for rational decisions.  But today they control the world’s populations….

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Posted: 20 August 2007 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 138 ]
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Corynski, Thank you for the thoughtful reply to my post, and back at ya, good comments. 

Let me first start out by saying that I agree with your views almost in their entirety.

You’ve hit upon what I believe is the essential underlying feature of the Science and Religion “compatibility” problem. That is; Religions presumption of “absolute” claims to truth, or knowledge, as apposed to Science’s open ended methodologies that only assumes a provisional declaration to tested claims.

The “absolute” stance then would preclude an acceptance of evidentiary dissentient views. There are, in my opinion, many claims found in Religions that deserve scientific scrutiny, thus relegating NOMA into an unworkable framework for scientific inquiry. Perhaps, the question then becomes for me a “domain” specificity problem (“problem”; being the only word to come to mind at the moment). A progressive inquiry into where in fact the “domains” of Science and Religion can share common goals is a worthy endeavor. The historicity of Religious political dogmatic persecution is continuing in a trajectory that is mitigating tyrannical actions that are viewed as abhorrent to much of humanity. This fits well I believe with Dawkins “evolving moral Zeitgeist”.  This trend I believe will continue, especially since the advent of scientific thought is well established on an unprecedented level throughout the modern world.

Science I believe is an invaluable tool to inform society. That is why battling over issues such as evolution is necessary. Though, I view other areas, such as stem cell debates to be more a matter of questions involving morality. In this regard, the ethical, moral, and informed opinions of the secular must be heard without recourse to Religious slander.

The obvious way, I think, to foster persuasive arguments as secularist in the market place of ideas is to keep defending science and reason. Also, just by doing science and maintaining informed reason. Paul Kurtz it seemed, at least for a while there, was proclaiming that secularist need to stand loudest for what we are for, to beware of finding ourselves voicing only what secularist are against. This message it seemed was echoed in Richard Dawkins favorable acceptance of the term “Bright” (leaving aside the debate of the term). A coming together of people who share common ideas. People that often feel left to their own devices in a world dominated by Religious view points. I saw the same attitude in Richard’s piece, “Atheist for Jesus”. I may not agree with all he offered there, but I understood and welcomed the challenge.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 139 ]
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i still think that the compatibility issue depends on perspective. Edward O. Wilson just wrote a book called The Creation; An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. It’s written in the manner of a letter to a Southern Baptist preacher and Wilson appeals to him for support on preserving the biosphere by saying regardless of our views on how The Creation came about, we all have a stake in preserving it. In that sort of sense the two - Religion and Science - can be compatible.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 140 ]
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Zarcus

Enjoyed your comments. 

A progressive inquiry into where in fact the “domains” of Science and Religion can share common goals is a worthy endeavor.

Agreed, but from the outset it appears both would claim ‘everything’, the whole territory.  In methodology they seem opposed: the scientic method versus revelation, sacred scripture, ancient revered mythology and intuitive worldviews, distinctly different approaches.  And then the concept of ‘reasoning’ gets muddled when faultless deduction proceeds from fallacious premises.  I think of Pyrrho, 360 BC, at these moments:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrhonism

Science I believe is an invaluable tool to inform society.

Agreed.  Reason and science are so young compared to ritual and religion, that it’s hard to imagine reason replacing belief soon, and without confronting the issue of morality, as you mention.  Ayn Rand is a hard pitch these days I’ve found, but I think she’s right and wrote well.  But it seems apparent to me that religious moral teaching is very weak, considering that the religionists fill the prisons, not the atheists.

secularist need to stand loudest for what we are for, to beware of finding ourselves voicing only what secularist are against.

Agreed again.  But one large difference exists.  While religion has evolved into a more complete social involvement of individuals and communities, skepticism and unbelief are more solitary pursuits.  And while we gather for solidarity, we have no ‘something unseen’, no magic, uniting us.  Reason alone allows me to witness the magic and miracle of nature, and it seems sufficient. 

Skepticism and atheism have such a bad reputation.  Why?  Because they have no music?  But I still go to hear Handel’s Messiah.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 12:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 141 ]
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corynski - 20 August 2007 12:20 PM

Skepticism and atheism have such a bad reputation.  Why?  Because they have no music?

I dont know what youre talking about. I cant wait to see Rage Against the Machine and Smashing Pumpkins at Voodoo Music fest!!!!

Whether taking that comment literally or metaphorically, it’s simply not true. I see music in atheism and skepticism all over the place.

“Charles Darwin had the nerve to ask. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” - R.E.M

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Posted: 20 August 2007 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 142 ]
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Ooops, I better expand my horizons I guess….

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Posted: 20 August 2007 12:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 143 ]
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zarcus - 19 August 2007 10:56 PM

Hello all,  Reading through just the last page of this thread I began to wonder, amidst valiant efforts to find compatible ground to define terms, how the word “compatible” is being defined?

The problem with answering “are religion & science compatible?” is that a couple different issues have to be hashed out before you can make a serious claim.

1. You pointed this out Zarcus, we have to agree on our definitions of religion & science.  This semantic problem is, in my opinion, the main reason why this argument can’t be answered on any universal terms.  I find similarities in this regard to the debate on Pluto loosing planetary status.  It broke down that once you defined planet to include Pluto’s qualities you had to accept some 60 other objects in our solar system as planets.  The task of universally defining religion & science would be much more difficult and I think many people who would need to be involved in that decision are afraid to do it.

2. If you can agree to take one dictionary definition or think you can agree on the “world view” then the other issue becomes, whether you take this statement to mean A: presently or B: potentially compatible.  (A: presently) I tried to make the point that presently all religion & all science are not compatible.  This is where the discussion diverges again. 

3.  What is our definition of compatible?  My measurement of compatibility was based on acceptable satisfaction of everyone.  If you measure compatibility in the sense of survivability of human life then science & religion are presently compatible, since the earth is still habitable by humans.  (B: potentially) If you ask “are science & religion potentially compatible in the future” then the views on this will diverge and rely on our ability to speculate & predict the future.  The question shifted to, “is science & religion’s compatibility necessary”?  I found this new question more relevant because it takes into account our actions on behalf of our beliefs.  People will act according to their best understanding and not always wait for the truth or the facts.  In this dialog we can ask “according to your best understanding how are you going to act & why”?  Personally, I am contemplating acting out Hugo Drax’s plan from Moonraker.  Just kidding :grin:


Another thing, you mentioned how you don’t condone the aggressive stance on religion vs. science that Harris, Hitchens & Dawkins take.  I would like to point out that there are 2 factors at work here. 

1.  These authors aren’t primarily motivated to convert all religious to atheism.  They all recognize that secular progress takes time and they aim to convert those on the fence and give confidence to those in the closet, so to speak. 

2.  The media has latched onto their stories because they are edgy, controversial & get them better ratings than the authors who want to “get along”.  I also think that if the only way to get media attention on these taboo topics is via controversial discussions, then so be it.  Where would equal rights & discrimination be today if MLK didn’t make it a public controversy?  I think we would all agree that if Harris, Hitchens or Dawkins adopted Malcolm X’s strategy over MLK’s we would have a solid reason to disassociate ourselves from their ideas.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 12:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 144 ]
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Yes, as truthaddict points out there are ways in which religious and atheist ideaologies can co-exist and even work together or shared agendas. There are fundamental differences between the outlooks, and conflict is inevitable and appropriate, but I think to say incompatible goes too far.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 05:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 145 ]
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I’m impressed with the responses thus far stemming from my initial post on this thread, and recognizing I’ve entered the big leagues, I’ll do my best to respond to some great points.

TruthAddict Wrote;

Edward O. Wilson just wrote a book called The Creation; An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. It’s written in the manner of a letter to a Southern Baptist preacher and Wilson appeals to him for support on preserving the biosphere by saying regardless of our views on how The Creation came about, we all have a stake in preserving it. In that sort of sense the two - Religion and Science - can be compatible.

I agree TruthAddict, and so, I would assume, does Paul Kurtz. In Free Inquiry [Feb/Mar 2007], Paul writes in a review of E. O. Wilson’s book The Creation;

“This book makes important recommendation not only for secular humanist, given the damage to our global habitat, but for all human beings who share a common planetary abode with other forms of life. We have no alternative but to heal wounds…This means that we need to bring together religionist and scientist..”

Corynski Wrote;

Reason and science are so young compared to ritual and religion, that it’s hard to imagine reason replacing belief soon, and without confronting the issue of morality, as you mention.

This point is vital and speaks to the understanding that science and reason have been the spokes in the wheel of evolving human acceptance of rational moral norms. Religion has guided with what are universal, and often reasoned, values. Bold departures of inquiry informing greater awareness of values, ethics, and morality have been noted. There is no reason for me to accept that this will end.

Corynski Wrote;

While religion has evolved into a more complete social involvement of individuals and communities, skepticism and unbelief are more solitary pursuits.  And while we gather for solidarity, we have no ‘something unseen’, no magic, uniting us.  Reason alone allows me to witness the magic and miracle of nature, and it seems sufficient.

I’m with you here completely. I don’t need “Religion”. “We” are great in numbers, and I’m quite happy in my perspective that the solidarity will continue. A steady increase in “We” is marked on the evolving scientific mind. I came to Atheism through science and reason.

TruthAddict Wrote;

I cant wait to see Rage Against the Machine and Smashing Pumpkins at Voodoo Music fest!!!!

Who do that voodoo that you do. I’ll quote my mother of some years ago to respond; “you will go to hell listening to that evil music”. So there.

Retrospy Wrote;

If you ask “are science & religion potentially compatible in the future” then the views on this will diverge and rely on our ability to speculate & predict the future.  The question shifted to, “is science & religion’s compatibility necessary”?

Outstanding question. My answer would be; Religion has no choice. Secularist must find common ground now in the same sense that Religion can not hold back scientific discovery.

Retrospy Wrote;

1. These authors aren’t primarily motivated to convert all religious to atheism.  They all recognize that secular progress takes time and they aim to convert those on the fence and give confidence to those in the closet, so to speak. 
2. The media has latched onto their stories because they are edgy, controversial & get them better ratings than the authors who want to “get along”.  I also think that if the only way to get media attention on these taboo topics is via controversial discussions, then so be it.  Where would equal rights & discrimination be today if MLK didn’t make it a public controversy?  I think we would all agree that if Harris, Hitchens or Dawkins adopted Malcolm X’s strategy over MLK’s we would have a solid reason to disassociate ourselves from their ideas.

Well said Retrospy. I would agree “controversial discussions” must be heard for secularist to respond (the proposition, “God does not exist” alone, is controversial for many). Best selling authors usually garner media spotlights no matter if they are shelling self help Shamanism, or if they are brash. I’d argue the attention recognized by secularist is attuned to greater clarity because of recognition and acceptance of the arguments proposed by the author’s. The attention brought is positive and deserving, the approach forwarded is irrational. The Religionist are, and will continue to answer in kind, with media pandering spiraling up the stairway to heaven.

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Posted: 20 August 2007 06:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 146 ]
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Timing is everything… well almost.

Michael Shermer, and Scientific American has posted the Skeptic article for the September issue Scientific American.

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=13&articleID=423C1809-E7F2-99DF-384721C9252B924A

Michael Shermer spoke well of the rational approach for science in the Beyond Belief 2006 conference. Missed at the conference was Paul Kurtz, perhaps at the November Beyond Belief conference [ http://www.tsntv.org/ ] we shall see Paul, Joe Nickell (yes Joe, we need you to be heard, always wondered why Joe is not listed as a Humanist Laureate), or possibly Kendrick Frazier.

What has been missed is Michael’s views in the continued dialog forwarded from the Beyond Belief conference. Sam Harris has told his readers to dismiss Scott Atran because he declares he has been disreputably misinterpreted. Well, Sam, Welcome to science. This sort of sophomoric gainsaying for reasons unrecognizable to a casual observer should be scorned.

Michael Ruse’s embarrassment of the recent developments on the science and religion front lines is well received by me. Embarrassment is the wrong word, it’s more a shake of the head, and question those who say I’m in a closet or being to quiet.

Excerpt from Michael’s Scientific;

~“Whenever religious beliefs conflict with scientific facts or violate principles of political liberty, we must respond with appropriate aplomb. Nevertheless, we should be cautious about irrational exuberance. I suggest that we raise our consciousness one tier higher for the following reasons.”~

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Posted: 21 August 2007 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 147 ]
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Compatibility is also a matter of presentation. I find Harris more palatable than Kurtz and Dawkins because Harris’ tone is more even and he is less inclined to beat dead horses. So while Harris does indeed make the point that even moderate theism is still wishful thinking, which threatens civilization if you get enough of it, he’s making more objective arguments in my view than his predecessors. I think he has quite literally moved non-theism into a phase where the theistic world can no longer ignore us, and he has done it mainly by not hyperventiliating and by staying focused on the reason we all claim to value.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 148 ]
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zarcus - 20 August 2007 06:36 PM

Timing is everything… well almost.

Thanks Zarcus,  I love hearing from Mike Shermer.  If other readers havn’t taken a weekend to listen to the ‘06 beyond belief conference I highly recomend it.  http://beyondbelief2006.org/watch/  I would love to hear from Paul Kurtz in ‘07.  I am always on the lookout for new debates & lectures.  The Science network website is new to me and seems to have a nice supply of videos I havn’t seen.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 149 ]
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PLaClair - 21 August 2007 09:30 AM

Compatibility is also a matter of presentation. I find Harris more palatable than Kurtz and Dawkins because Harris’ tone is more even and he is less inclined to beat dead horses.

Excellent point PlaClair.  I have much admiration for Harris’s candor.  He is so controlled & precise he borders on robotic.

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Posted: 21 August 2007 09:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 150 ]
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great comments, ya’ll!!

ye are kicking ass and taking names!

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