Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Science and Religion, A Greater Unity

I read Philip Meyer’s essay on science and religion in USA TODAY (February 25, 2008) with a great deal of sadness. “Religion,” Mr. Meyer wrote, “is about the mystery. Science is about figuring out what works in the material world. There is no danger that science will ever deprive us of the mystery.”

Mr. Meyer’s uses the analogy of a circle to explain his position. Draw a circle on a piece of paper. Everything within the circle is the realm of science. Here we use the scientific method where we seek to validate or disprove various ideas and hypotheses. Everything outside the circle is the realm of religion. Assuming an infinitely large piece of paper, as the circle of science and reason grows, the outside mystery remains in tact.

The problem with his analogy and with his reasoning is that he limits religion to the realm of unreason, and, as the circle of science grows, it is saying that the realm of religion is actually the realm of ignorance or the not-yet-known. While Mr. Meyer’s analogy does allow religion to continue, it does so only in the area of that which cannot be known. Religion is reduced to pure fantasy and speculation, forever retreating against the advances of science.

This kind of thinking lumps religion with every pseudo-science and wacko theory people can think of. While some may find it comforting to place Christianity, for example, outside the circle of knowledge, others will be troubled that Christianity is forced to share its realm with astrology, Scientology, ghost hunters, and psychics. As bad as this sounds, it gets worse.

To make his point clear, Mr. Meyer shows how a young earth creationist who believes that the Bible shows the earth is only 6000 years old can get along with a geologist who can prove that some rocks are 3.8 billion years old. All the creationist has to say is that when God created the earth 6000 years ago He made the rocks 3.8 billion years old. Since the geologist cannot prove that God didn’t do as the creationist says He did, the science of geology is no more or less valid than the theology of creationism. This is insane.

If the only criterion for determining what is true is the inability of science to prove it false, then all untestable ideas from astrology to the Flying Spaghetti Monster are equally valid. And while this may salvage religion, the religion it saves is a joke and largely irrelevant to life.

Science and religion can work together. Science can help religion see what is; religion can help science see what it might mean. Meaning and wisdom are the focus of religion, and these need reason no less than science. Splitting religion and science into two camps does a disservice to both.

5 comments:

Ray said...

Science doesn't have any boundaries. People who attempt to place boundaries on science have merely replaced science with something that makes them feel good about their chosen bias. Science is about pushing away obstacles that obscure the facts. Whatever folks think they are protecting by shielding evolutionism from inquiry, it isn't science. Science has always thrived on freedom of inquiry and once the choke-hold of Darwinism is released, science will once again thrive.

Jeffrey said...

I generally say that I admit that God could have created the world 6000 years ago to look billions of years old, but why would I worship a God who did that to us?

Patrick said...

And why would I worship a God that was unable to detect the illusion of a billions of years old Earth? Is science the new chosen bias? Maybe science and religion are brothers after all. Maybe both are outgrowths of our collective inability to deal with the unknown and with uncertainty. Big Bang or Creationism. Are they really that different? The Big Bang may have more "facts", but the Creationists have the better story. I don't buy either, and neither weighs in on any of my daily decisions. What's the fuss all about? The future comes crashing in on us at every moment. How are you dealing with it?

Aron said...

Instead of seeing science as approaching solely the material world, I prefer to see science as method of inquiry with its own biases of approach. This might mostly overlap with what we consider the material world, I prefer staying open to the multiplicity of life rather. I certainly sense of dualistic point of view, here.

Joanne said...

Ray says,

"Science doesn't have any boundaries. People who attempt to place boundaries on science have merely replaced science with something that makes them feel good about their chosen bias."

One could just as easily replace the word Science in Ray's comment with the word God.

Whether it is science or religion or atheism, etc., people will defend anything that soothes their dissonance and complies with the distortion of their own biases. People choose to live lives based in fear rather than in the limitlessness of love (of God).