Science and Religion

A decent sized cor­ner of the inter­net is con­sumed with argu­ments over athe­ism, belief, evo­lu­tion and cre­ation­ism. More often than not it seems to be a less than civ­il discussion.

So much ener­gy and band­width expend­ed for an argu­ment that is both unset­tleable (new word!) and nonexistent.

Nonex­is­tent? OK. Clear­ly the arg­ment exists. But it should­n’t. Sci­ence and reli­gion are two com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ways of look­ing at the uni­verse. Sci­ence is sys­tem­at­ic knowl­edge of the phys­i­cal or mate­r­i­al world gained through obser­va­tion and exper­i­men­ta­tion.

Reli­gion is a set of beliefs con­cern­ing the cause, nature, and pur­pose of the uni­verse, esp. when con­sid­ered as the cre­ation of a super­hu­man agency or agen­cies, usu­al­ly involv­ing devo­tion­al and rit­u­al obser­vances, and often con­tain­ing a moral code gov­ern­ing the con­duct of human affairs.

Although the dic­tio­nary leaves it out, an impor­tant and com­mon ele­ment of reli­gion is devine rev­e­la­tion. Sci­ence relies on obser­va­tion and exper­i­men­ta­tion. Sci­ence is one obser­va­tion away from chang­ing a the­o­ry. Reli­gion is not.

Unset­tleable, definitely.

Sci­ence has made amaz­ing progress in its under­stand­ing and expla­na­tion of the uni­verse. This has been accom­plished through mil­lions of obser­va­tions, thou­sands of the­o­ries and pre­dic­tions, and tens of thou­sands of exper­i­ments and tests. (very unsci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, I made those num­bers up).

This is how sci­ence works. Every claim in sci­ence is sub­ject to ver­i­fi­ca­tion from oth­er sci­en­tists. Any claim that has not gone though such ver­i­fi­ca­tion tends to not be giv­en much credence.

Sci­ence tells us the uni­verse is about 14 bil­lion years old. Sci­ence tells us that life on earth began mil­lions of years ago and slow­ly evolved to the scene we have today, includ­ing us.

But can sci­ence tell us this is the ulti­mate real­i­ty? No. And it nev­er will be able to. It is my under­stand­ing (and I may not be stat­ing this exact­ly right) that no sys­tem of math­e­mat­ics can be proven to be valid from with­in that sys­tem. The only way to prove valid­i­ty is from out­side the system.

At this point, sci­ence views the uni­verse as a math­e­mat­i­cal sys­tem. It fol­lows that the valid­i­ty of that sys­tem can only be proven from out­side the uni­verse we inhab­it. Which can nev­er hap­pen. Even if some­day we found a way “out” of our uni­verse, then all that has hap­pened is that we have expand­ed the uni­verse we inhab­it and all the prob­lems of valid­i­ty still apply.

It may be pos­si­ble for sci­ence to deter­mine the ulti­mate truth of the uni­verse. It is just that we can nev­er know such truth has been reached.

Sci­en­tists should not be so cocky. It can­not be proven that the uni­verse was not cre­at­ed this morn­ing and is only four­teen hours old (but even if this was true, evo­lu­tion would still be the best avail­able expla­na­tion for how life has come to be the way it is. Evo­lu­tion is how life on earth works.)

Believ­ers are no bet­ter. Most of them have the Word of God. They believe every word of the doc­u­ment and there is noth­ing left to dis­cuss. And why should there be? It is the Word of GOD!! If I believed a giv­en doc­u­ment was the Word of God, I would­n’t be so open to dis­cus­sion either.

Reli­gion is (most­ly) about the one thing sci­ence can­not address: ulti­mate real­i­ty. This is why reli­gion will always be with us no mat­ter how many books the athe­ists write.

Ground zero of this argu­ment is the the­o­ry of evolution.

The prob­lem is that believ­ers do not want their chil­dren taught evo­lu­tion. Sci­en­tists do not want cre­ation­ism or intel­li­gent design taught as alter­na­tives to evolution.

Schools exist so that our chil­dren will grow up to be adults capa­ble of con­tribut­ing to soci­ety in a pro­duc­tive way. My pre­vi­ous post talked a bit about how the econ­o­my suf­fers when edu­ca­tion is poor. An adult who has an under­stand­ing of sci­ence is like­ly to be bet­ter able to con­tribute that way, if only in an abil­i­ty to under­stand the issues of the day. Cre­ation­ism and intel­li­gent design are not sci­ence. To teach them in sci­ence class is to con­fuse stu­dents about what sci­ence is and how it works.

It is some­times argued that before the teach­ing of evo­lu­tion a state­ment should be read to stu­dents that there are alter­nate expla­na­tions. I sug­gest some­thing close to this.

Sci­ence is one method of look­ing at the uni­verse. When look­ing at the uni­verse in a sci­en­tif­ic way, evo­lu­tion is the best avail­able expla­na­tion for how life has come to be. This is a sci­ence class, evo­lu­tion will be taught. There are oth­er ways of look­ing at the uni­verse that have alter­na­tive expla­na­tions, specif­i­cal­ly reli­gions. See your reli­gious leader (or reli­gious text) for details.

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