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Science And Religion

Guest billmc

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Guest billmc

(To Joseph: Please feel free to move these posts or to delete them if they don't fit with the methodology of this forum. I'd like to discuss the subject of science and religion, but rather than just kick-starting the subject with, "What do you think of science and religion?", I thought I'd start it with a blog-style vignette and then ask others to add to the discussion. So this is sort of a book discussion...without the book. :lol: )


Science and Religion – Part 1


Yes, I know this subject has probably been beat to death, but I wanted to share a few of my thoughts about this from a Christian Humanist perspective, mainly because both subjects are important to me and are part of my life.


The subject of science and religion tends to polarize people. While some think that the two can be harmonized, most people in the circles in which I travel would like to keep them separate. This is especially true amongst what I would call the fundamentalist Christians and the fundamentalist atheists. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens feel that religion and science have nothing to do with each other and that religion should be eradicated from humanity if we are to mature as a species. They can easily rattle off the harm that religion has brought to our world and, in this, I applaud them. History has shown us that religion can be a force for oppression and evil. Of course, so can secular humanism, especially when it attempts to rest solely upon the notion of “survival of the fittest”. At the same time, fundamentalist Christians insist that science must always be subjugated either to the Bible or to the teachings of the Church. Some religions even teach that the material universe is either an illusion or evil, and that the “spiritual” realm is the only reality in the cosmos. I don’t hold to either of these views.


Many liberal Christians that I know of try to circumvent the tension between these two methods of acquiring knowledge (the scientific method of observation and the religious method of revelation) by insisting that science and religion simply address two different realms of knowledge or truth. They say that science is a good tool for helping us to understand the material world, but that it fails miserably to offer us any answers as to life’s meaning or purpose. They say that religion is a good tool for helping us to find meaning and morality or connection, but that it fails miserably to help us understand the material realm. There may be some truth to this way of looking at science and religion, but for me it is a little too dualistic.


It’s my opinion that both of the fields need to remain humble and teachable. Both science and religion have the capability to make us and our world a better place. I don’t know that either one or both together can make a heaven on earth. But both can certainly be misused to create a hell here and have done so occasionally.


I’m not convinced that science and religion should be thoroughly mixed together. While there is some overlap, they both come from different time periods in mankind’s evolution when we tried to understand ourselves and our world through different methods. Religion, though springing from natural observation of our world, attributed the natural world to a supernatural cause and effect. Science, also springing from natural observation of our world, attributed the natural world to natural cause and effect. So though I don’t think the two should be thoroughly mixed together (such as Creation Science tries to do), I do believe that they can balance one another.


This post is getting rather long and I have more to say, so I’ll continue in Part 2…

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Guest billmc

So here is what I think about science and religion: they shouldn’t live in the same house, but they should be neighbors. They shouldn’t sleep together, but they should communicate. And because they should be neighbors and appreciate what both bring to the neighborhood, they shouldn’t try to kick each other out of that neighborhood. They should look for the best in each other and try to work together to make the human neighborhood the best that it can be.


For me, science has a lot of knowledge, but not yet much wisdom. It knows how to split an atom, but it doesn’t always do it for the betterment of mankind. It knows often how to create a cure, but it has trouble eradicating the side effects. Religion, at its best, can admonish science to use its knowledge towards compassion, towards unity, toward personal, social, and ecological betterment.


Religion, again at its best, has amassed a good deal of wisdom in telling us how we should treat each other and what makes for a good world relationally, but it becomes irrelevant when it tries to say that all knowledge is contained in an ancient book written by superstitious people or when all knowledge comes from some authoritarian church leader through what is called divine revelation. And I believe religion fails when it insist that this world is irrelevant, pining instead for a future heaven of harps and streets of gold.


I stated in my first post that both science and religion are interesting and important to me. When do I look to science for insight? When do I look to religion for advice? To be honest, it depends upon what I am facing at the time. I don’t relegate science to only the material realm and religion to only the unseen realm. Instead, I face the hard work of endeavoring to use discernment. I ask myself whether my faith or science would help me deal with whatever has come up in my life. And if one or the other offers me an easy, pat answer to my situation, then, being a good skeptic, I am all the more suspicious. And I allow each to have a voice to my circumstances.


I play the piano as a hobby. I’ve noticed that most of the time it is not a good idea to play two adjacent keys together at the same time. It creates disharmony, tension, conflict. But put just a little space between the keys and beautiful harmony can be the result if I know when the appropriate time is to play the keys – sometimes together, sometimes in succession. I believe that science and religion can bring harmony to humanity, but just like my piano or the separation of church and state, they serve us best when we have both…but give them each their space.


Can we do that? I believe so. As a Christian Humanist, I allow some of Jesus’ wisdom to speak to areas of my life that need to be changed for the better. But I don’t pray for physical healing when I know that medicine has a much higher success record at curing whatever malady I may be afflicted with. As a Christian Humanist, I look to science to help me understand how we got here and why we are different from one another. But I don’t examine a strand of DNA in order to learn how to better get along with my family. I need both science and religion. But I don’t allow either to dominate the other or to silence the other. Instead, I want them to live as good neighbors. In my opinion, religion is an indelible part of human history and will not and should not be eradicated. Until religion really learns to “love thy neighbor” embodied in science, the war will continue. Until science understands and respects that religion is its mother, the war will continue.


Let us work for and wage peace – not just among humans, but between science and religion.

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Hi Bill,


This is a topic that has often made my head hurt. But allow me to share, in response to your thoughts, where my thoughts have taken me.


I think when it comes to physical explanations, science must trump religion. I would qualify this by saying that not all 'scientific' ideas are really science - some may be implicitly philosophic, ideological, or faith-based (in fact in some sense you cannot even start doing science without having some metaphysical assumptions about reality-as-is). Secondly, I would point out that many conceptual artifacts of religion are simply old cosmogonies and mythologies that have been updated by the new cosmology discovered by inductive reasoning. Also, as I'm sure you're already aware, these cosmogonies and mythologies need not be scientific in order to have truth value. Thirdly, even though science is a few centuries old and has matured a great deal, the same big important religious questions still remain as they have for thousands of years.


I think we need to remind ourselves that science is a specific methodology, with precise steps and measures. If it were not, and were universally and equally applicable to all possible questions, realities, and dimensions of life, it would surely be useless. Science's usefulness comes from the fact that it does have limitations and that it excludes some types of information/knowledge over others. Therefore, it can have well-defined application and well-defined things to say about the universe. It turns out that the most general and inclusive ideas also happen to be the least useful and provable in the positivist sense. In the world of science, you might call them 'not even wrong'.


I don't really think that religion and science come from two different periods of mankind's history, if one is meaning more than simply in the sense of chronology. Religious questioning, as you indicate, remains an intense part of human existence, and also as you mention, in many cases the two fields overlap - as in the field of theoretical physics, where the line drawn between 'science proper' and metaphysics is often blurred. This only serves to prove the point that science and religion cannot really be intrinsically separated, because mankind is interested in questions of ultimate truth (technology is only a byproduct of the scientific enterprise - all the great minds driving science have been in search of real truth - reality as it is), which science as a methodology - and any methodology or system of thinking - are utterly incapable of providing.


I think you are absolutely right by seeing religion as pertaining to 'wisdom'. Wisdom is not science - science cannot furnish us with values, meaning, purpose, or ultimate happiness, that certain something most of us feel is missing in our lives that prods us along the religious path. It cannot provide us and bring us in touch with what is most important and most real in life and in ourselves. In quasi Zen Buddhist terms, it cannot show us our true face.


Your reference to music is very fitting in my opinion, because music is simultaneously a very physical phenomenon and yet has its own 'spiritual' dimension which science, though in some sense applicable, does not satisfactorily capture or do justice to in its full reality. I see the whole world like this.


In general I have simplified this whole thing in my mind by saying that science deals with a particular dimension of existence - the quantitative. What can be measured can be processed by scientific method. And in this sense, as philosopher Stephen Jaki has pointed out, since everything we encounter in life is seemingly measurable in some way, science is virtually limitless in its application. Jaki therefore argues for the 'limits of a limitless science'. Because, even though light frequencies are measurable, the color yellow, as such, is forever beyond the reach of science. Limitless in its application, yet restricted by its very methodology/application. By the very fact that it can be applied to reality, it shows that it is not reality, and is not complete. Reality is more than abstract quantity. It is beyond concepts. Reality sees, smells, hears and is audible; it is conscious, experiential, and all around qualitative. It somehow becomes endowed with meaning: we discover our values, we experience beauty, ugliness, the sacred and the profane. There is something deeper about existence, being, than science is capable of doing justice to, even though it (science) is limitless in its possible applications as a methodology.


Peace to you,


Edited by Mike
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The topic is fine in this section and open to all who have no problem with the 8 points.

JosephM (as Moderator)



a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. b. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.



a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.


To me, the two are in a way closely related. The first deals primarily with phenomena, form and that which can be observed and identified although it can be theoretical in explanation. The second deals primarily with the formless that is believed to be the source and continuity by which all that is observed by science exists and is maintained.


For the most part, IMV, religions, were based on institutionalized fodder since it seems to me that most perceived founders never wrote a word themselves nor advertised institutions. It seems to me, Jesus was no exception to this and according to the NT, followers weren't even called Christians until over 30 years after the death of Jesus. When is a religion born? I think not with the original man and his teachings but rather with institutions capitalizing on followers who may not have had a genuine subjective experience of God and the supernatural them-self. It seems to me when one has had that experience, it is just a matter of time before the subject while reverencing a supernatural power that is all in all, finds little continued need for a religion per se.


It seems to me, the potential for both religion and science to make this world a more amiable place is always present though not always exercised. Perhaps this is because many try to make one exclusive of the other which at this point in time seems to me to be in alignment with the consciousness of mankind. It is my view that in time and possibly through much suffering, men and women will work the two together and in the end find less of a need for either.


Just one man's view,


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To me, the two are in a way closely related. The first deals primarily with phenomena, form and that which can be observed and identified although it can be theoretical in explanation. The second deals primarily with the formless that is believed to be the source and continuity by which all that is observed by science exists and is maintained.


I like this so much I probably shouldn't add anything. :D


Science deals with the forms and religion with the formless.


I agree with you Bill. Religious warriors are protecting the meaning and purpose of the cosmos and science is protecting the scientific method. If I believe that the meaning and purpose of the cosmos doesn't exist - it is what it is - then there is not much to say.



Edited by glintofpewter
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I think the form/formless dichotomy is useful in thinking about this issue too. Science can never answer the question 'what is reality' or other metaphysical questions like 'is the universe a unity or multiplicity' because it can only deal with forms and concepts. Questions like these cannot be answered with conceptual thought - their answers (if there is an answer) must be experienced. In this sense, no quantity of thinking in the world will get one closer to reality, any more than a million volumes explaining the mechanics of the eye can ever replace the firsthand knowledge of what sight is. Knowledge about something cannot replace intimate knowing. Knowledge in the biblical and mystical sense means union. While Buddhism, for instance, affirms that everything is one - that is only conceptually. When it comes right down to it, they will not affirm that reality is either one or two or three. These are all conceptual categories that get in the way of what's really going on.


All that said, I'm also reminded, in thinking about form vs formless, of the Heart Sutra, which says that 'emptiness is form, form is emptiness' - or, perhaps in this context we could justify translating 'formlessness is form, form is formlessness'. Science does not analyze a reality separate from the spiritual one in my view. It simply asks a different question of reality. Religion, to me, asks 'what is my true self?', science asks 'how does the world work, what is the best explanation for why phenomena are the way they are'. It seems to me that the former is concerned primarily with the formless, and the latter with form. But it is the same reality.

Edited by Mike
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