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  a 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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