Sunday, July 15, 2007

Faith, Reason and Science, Part IX: The Domains of Science and Religion

John Wilkens, an Australian philosopher of biology, has a quite outstanding essay of the conflict between religion and scinece. Here are some highlights:

There are basically two popular views of the relation between science and religion. One is the All-Or-Nothing view: science is either entirely subsumed under religion, or totally excluded from it. The other is the view that each has their own special role - Stephen Gould called it the Non-Overlapping Magisterial Authority (NOMA) view. Both are, in my opinion, quite wrong, both factually/historically, and prescriptively.

Science is a process undertaken by human beings. Religion is also a process undertaken by human beings. They are conceptually distinct, but human beings are not driven by conceptual niceties. Rather than seeing religion and science as isolated endeavours, or as the same thing, it is best to expect that science and religion will have their own domains but that these domains will occasionally overlap. As I like to say it, religion and science jostle each others' elbows for space on the dancing floor of human activities.

. . .

Religion has often tried to constrain science, and always will. Conclusions that do not cohere nicely with some doctrine or suggest a consequence that is regarded as unpalatable will be attacked by largely scientifically ignorant religious authorities. Religious views that do not fit the consensus social opinions of those who are scientifically literate will be attacked as dangerous or foolish. The issue is not, therefore, whether science and religion are in conflict, for they always are to some extent. The issue is whether or not they are improperly affecting from without the development of their own traditions. Scientifically literate religious people will try to amend their own traditions from within; that is entirely appropriate in my view. And while it is every person's right to disagree with this or that social view, I think that change of religious views in favour of a more liberal relationship between science and religion will not be achieved by critics from without those traditions. Atheists are too easy to caricature, by the religious, just as the religious believers are too easy to caricature by atheists. Instead attacking in the "name of science" any religion is simply going to harden resistance to the modern world.**

What I want to see is that religion tends to its own business and doesn't use the secular structures and its majority of the populace to control the way science investigates, nor the conclusions it will reach. Reality is not orthodox. Likewise I would like to see that those who do science or promote it (as it surely should be, being the only successful epistemological innovation of the past 200,000 years) avoid trying to limit or denigrate the role of religion in a society. Religion is here to stay, and if we (whoever that eponymous "we" may be) insist on it going to get a reasonable society, we are in for many centuries of bitterness and disappointment. Science is here now and we should incorporate it into our society in a positive fashion, not a negative one.

Read it all here.

1 comment:

Phil Snyder said...

I like to think that science and religion are two sides of the same coin. They both answer questions that we ask. Science is very good at answering "what" and "how." Religion answers "who" and "why." All answers are necessary for understanding. To put it another way, science is the search for facts. Religion is the search for truth - the meaning behind facts.
Facts without meaning are almost useless and lead to all sorts of abuse. Meaning without facts is nothing but whimsy and is also virtually useless. You need to understand what things are and then why they are that way. Science gets into trouble when it is used to answer "why" or "who" and religion gets into trouble when it tries to answer "what" or "how."

Phil Snyder