Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Real Conflict Between Science and Religion

The supposed conflict between science and religion is not only bad history, it also goes unsupported by on-going polls of the religious beliefs of scientists. As the story goes, empirical science uncovers inconvenient truths that religious people resist in a losing battle. But if there was a conflict between science and religion, and furthermore if science has uncovered findings inimical to religion, then one might expect a small and dwindling fraction of scientists who are religious. But a recent poll showed that a majority of scientists (51%) say they believe in God or a higher power. And that is up from the 42% who responded similarly almost a century ago in 1914.

The problem is not so much that religion conflicts with science as it co-opts science. Evolutionary thinking was mandated by leading theologians and religious thinkers in the Enlightenment and Darwin's arguments for the truth of evolution followed suit. As David Masci, senior researcher at the Pew Forum, writes:

But although evolutionary theory is often portrayed as antithetical to religion, it has not destroyed the religious faith of the scientific community.

Indeed not.

But this is not to say evolutionists are predominantly religious today. For Darwin, as Richard Dawkins famously put it, "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Ironically, the religiously motivated and justified theory of evolution has fueled atheism and today the camp is split. Here there is a conflict as the atheist evolutionists and theist evolutionists argue about their differences.

But as Henry Kissinger described academia, the battles are so fierce because the stakes are so small. From the outside the conflict between atheist evolutionists and theist evolutionists is rather meaningless. For the atheists, in spite of all their bluster, are no different than the theists in their religious beliefs. They call themselves atheists, but their convictions about god are as strong as anyone's. (see examples here and here).

So yes many evolutionists are atheists, but as usual the theology rules. Evolutionists are either theists who hold strong religious convictions or atheists who hold strong religious convictions. Either way the science suffers. I guess you could say there is a conflict between religion and science after all.

31 comments:

  1. Hi Conrelius, sorry to ask another question. But could specify how or in what way sience suffers. Thx

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  2. All that said, the Provine study showed that 78% of evolutionary biologists are pure naturalists (no God and no free will).

    They are attracted to that field because it supports their religious beliefs, I suppose.

    I encountered an example of this while teaching a course on the University of Toronto campus on the intelligent design controversy, a couple of years ago.

    A student who had decided to become an evolutionary biologist met me for coffee beforehand.

    We discussed various topics and I suggested that he, by all means, attend the session on information theory (not given by me). It would help him understand the design perspective more easily.

    That evening, as it happens, I myself was speaking on the history of modern creationism, as covered in By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg 2004), but I reckoned that would be less useful to him.

    Well, so far as I know, he didn't attend. I'd like to be mistaken. He did write a denunciation of design and of me, without knowing the least idea what he was talking about.

    Rejoice, Canadians. You may be paying his inflated salary for the rest of your life, while he holds forth about things he has chosen to know nothing much about. Or speculating about how the giraffe got its long neck or why humans are often altruistic - strictly according to a now largely exploded Darwinism.

    Darwinism is the GM of biology - kept afloat by administrative intervention and your money.

    Of course, life could be safer that way - but not more illuminating.

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  3. There is no conflict between science and true religion but there is disharmony between science and Intelligent Design.

    For all practical purposes, a proof is any completely convincing argument. And the problem with Intelligent Design is that most scientists are simply not persuaded that the highly ordered physical reality we live in and obviously exists is the work of an Intelligent Designer. It could very well be, and I believe it's likely, that most scientists are being unreasonable in denying the existence of the Designer but it is the nature of science to be extraordinarily skeptical.

    I don't want to see the standards of science lowered so that the whims of the Intelligent Design movement would be satisfied. According to Dr. Michael Behe, astrology is a scientific theory. I refuse to be taken there. I believe that the standard of what is called science must be raised higher than it is now.

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  4. Shubee:

    A theory could be scientific without being true. Phlagiston was a perfectly scientific theory that is false.

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  5. Admin:

    ===
    could specify how or in what way sience suffers.
    ===

    In many ways. For instance, when you have a theory that is consistently wrong, then it hampers scientific progress. And from the outside, with evolutionists making fools of themselves and a mockery of science, then science itself loses credibility.

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  6. "According to Dr. Michael Behe, astrology is a scientific theory."

    Really? Shubee, get your facts right and stop parroting.

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  8. inunison,

    Thanks for wanting to defend Dr. Behe. I interpret the court transcript, which has been reproduced at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day11pm.html, in the same way it is interpreted in the newscientist article at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8178-astrology-is-scientific-theory-courtroom-told.html

    On what basis do you deny or explain the following excerpt?

    Q And using your definition, intelligent design is a scientific theory, correct?

    A Yes.

    Q Under that same definition astrology is a scientific theory under your definition, correct?

    A Under my definition, a scientific theory is a proposed explanation which focuses or points to physical, observable data and logical inferences. There are many things throughout the history of science which we now think to be incorrect which nonetheless would fit that -- which would fit that definition. Yes, astrology is in fact one, and so is the ether theory of the propagation of light, and many other -- many other theories as well.

    Q The ether theory of light has been discarded, correct?

    A That is correct.

    Q But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?

    A Yes, that's correct. And let me explain under my definition of the word "theory," it is -- a sense of the word "theory" does not include the theory being true, it means a proposition based on physical evidence to explain some facts by logical inferences. There have been many theories throughout the history of science which looked good at the time which further progress has shown to be incorrect. Nonetheless, we can't go back and say that because they were incorrect they were not theories. So many many things that we now realized to be incorrect, incorrect theories, are nonetheless theories.

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  9. natschuster said... "Phlagiston was a perfectly scientific theory that is false."

    That's a bad example. Phlogiston theory does not pass our modern-day definition of science.

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  10. Shubee:

    So what is our modern definition of science? And who hets to make the rules?

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  11. post_darwinist said, "I encountered an example of this while teaching a course on the University of Toronto campus on the intelligent design controversy, a couple of years ago."

    Just curious, but was this course sanctioned by the University of Toronto or was it just somewhere on their campus?

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  12. violet asked, "So what is our modern definition of science? And who [g]ets to make the rules?"

    Science is whatever the discoverers of the laws of nature, i.e., what the noteworthy scientists, say science is. For a representative list of definitions of science by great scientists, see the bottom of http://www.everythingimportant.org/SeanPitman/

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  13. violet asked, "So what is our modern definition of science? And who [g]ets to make the rules?"

    See http://www.everythingimportant.org/SeanPitman/

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  14. As the debate focussed by Kuhn has shown, there is no one theory or definition of science. There are various sorts. The theory of Phlogistan fits many of them, both at the time it was investigated and believed, and now.

    Behe's definition of science is quite adequate and within the realm of accepted definitions. The focus on "astrology" is, among other fallacies, and attempt to poison the well and to discredit.

    regards,
    #John

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  15. As the debate focussed by Kuhn has shown, there is no one theory or definition of science.

    And everyone knows that there is no universally agreed upon theology about God or interpretation of the Bible. However, there is considerable consistency among the Bible writers.

    Please name two notable discoverers of a law of nature that disagree significantly on the meaning of science.

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  16. The standard as to what constitutes genuine science can be lowered or highly exalted.

    "Yes, astrology is in fact [a scientific theory]." — Dr. Michael Behe.

    "If one were to bring ten of the wisest men in the world together and ask them what was the most stupid thing in existence, they would not be able to discover anything so stupid as astrology." — David Hilbert.

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  17. Behe's definition of science is quite adequate and within the realm of accepted definitions.

    Evidently, you believe that a significant number of the discoverers of the laws of nature actually agree with Dr. Behe's claim that astrology is a scientific theory.

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  18. Shubee:

    Do not believe that? What are your sources? Do you understand the context of the questioning and the history of science regarding astrology? Or is this the usual evolutionary anti intellectualism trying to score debating points while promoting an asinine idea?

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  19. Cornelius,

    I am a creationist and a stanch critic of Darwinism. And I agree both with Dr. David Berlinski's criticism of Intelligent Design, and David Hilbert's criticism of astrology.

    I imagine that Johannes Kepler believed in astrology but I have never seen a definition of science given by Kepler. Beyond that, I have no idea what you're asking me.

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  20. Shubee:

    I'm happy to hear you are not an evolutionist, and sorry for suggesting otherwise.

    As you probably know, Behe was answering an ACLU lawyer's questions about the philosophy of science. The questioning was a sorry example of why issues in the philosophy of sciences are not decided in a court of law. One can certainly disagree with ID, but that statement by Behe isn't the place.

    "Please name two notable discoverers of a law of nature that disagree significantly on the meaning of science."

    Newton and Leibniz.

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  21. "Please name two notable discoverers of a law of nature that disagree significantly on the meaning of science."

    Newton and Leibniz.


    So what is the disagreement between Newton and Leibniz on how science should be defined?

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  22. "So what is the disagreement between Newton and Leibniz on how science should be defined?"

    Newton tended to follow the data while Leibniz, like evolutionists and many creationists, felt that science needed to adhere to his metaphysical beliefs.

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  23. All science is based on unprooven metaphisical beliefs. Everyone assumes the uniformity of nature but no one can afirm that it is so universe-wide. Everyone assumes that the laws of Physics and Chemistry are constant and invariable but.. no one can prove this.

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  24. Mats:

    ===
    All science is based on unprooven metaphisical beliefs. Everyone assumes the uniformity of nature but no one can afirm that it is so universe-wide. Everyone assumes that the laws of Physics and Chemistry are constant and invariable but.. no one can prove this.
    ===

    So evolution is a fact?

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  25. Cornelius -

    "So evolution is a fact?"

    Just as an aside, if the theory of evolution by natural selection was never referred to as 'a fact', and simply referred to it as 'the best explanation of the evidence on the matter of the diversity of life', would you have such a problem with it?

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  26. Ritchie:

    ===
    Just as an aside, if the theory of evolution by natural selection was never referred to as 'a fact', and simply referred to it as 'the best explanation of the evidence on the matter of the diversity of life', would you have such a problem with it?
    ===

    Let's say that's a true statement. The fact that a problematic explanation is the best one would tell us what? If the best explanation for a distant planet is that it is full of swiss cheese, then what would that tell us?

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  27. I found a nice summary of the key philosophical disputes between Newton and Leibniz and am persuaded that Newton and Leibniz never addressed the important question of how science should be defined but only argued metaphysics and religion.

    http://philosophy.ucdavis.edu/mattey/phi022old/newtlec.htm

    One can certainly disagree with ID, but that statement by Behe isn't the place.

    Not knowing the difference between science and astrology is a serious error. Even Rod Serling knew that suspending reality and creating fantasy is indistinguishable from conflating science and superstition.

    "There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone."

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  28. Shubee:

    ===
    I found a nice summary of the key philosophical disputes between Newton and Leibniz and am persuaded that Newton and Leibniz never addressed the important question of how science should be defined but only argued metaphysics and religion.

    http://philosophy.ucdavis.edu/mattey/phi022old/newtlec.htm
    ===

    Leibniz was a rationalist in the sense that he brought preconceived notions to his science. The page you cite touches on this. For instance, god should not use miracles, god should not adjust the world after creating it. Or again, Leibniz believed influences could only be transmitted by direct, mechanical contact. He was aghast at Newton's semi empiricism, wherein if the evidence suggests instabilities in the solar system, or influences at a distance, then so be it. Newton did not bring such strong preconceived notions to his science. These are two fundamentally different ways of doing science.



    ===
    Not knowing the difference between science and astrology is a serious error. Even Rod Serling knew that suspending reality and creating fantasy is indistinguishable from conflating science and superstition.
    ===

    That would be difficult to defend. Of course one can tendentiously claim whatever one wants, but a little knowledge of the history and philosophy of science rapidly erodes such certainty. Both science and astrology are not nearly so cut and dried as the ACLU would have you believe.

    The question is more subtle than the lawyer realized, and revealed more about his case than Behe. Certainly there is room for disagreement, but there is no warrant for the triumphant certainty that you display. Indeed, what is telling here is that ultimately it is merely a question of definitions of terms which have no iron-clad definitions to begin with. Unfortunately this isn't the first time that a creationist makes the same mistake an evolutionist makes.

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  29. "Let's say that's a true statement. The fact that a problematic explanation is the best one would tell us what? If the best explanation for a distant planet is that it is full of swiss cheese, then what would that tell us?"

    That it's still the best explanation we have to work with.

    I think you are **VASTLY** overstating these 'problems' with the theory of evolution, but at the same, I also don't think it's flawless. There are still mysteries in biology. No-one is doubting that.

    Nevertheless, it is by far the best theory we have - indeed, the only theory we have - which makes sense of biology.

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  30. Cornelius Hunter wrote:

    Both science and astrology are not nearly so cut and dried as the ACLU would have you believe.

    I don't accept the definition of science according to the ACLU or the US National Academy of Sciences. I advocate a higher standard. I certainly don't believe that Behe's definition of science and astrology follows in the tradition of the greatest discoverers of the laws of nature.

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  31. Both science and astrology are not nearly so cut and dried as the ACLU would have you believe.

    … Indeed, what is telling here is that ultimately it is merely a question of definitions of terms which have no iron-clad definitions to begin with.


    No. What is so telling is that the Intelligent Design movement believes that the many remarkably harmonious definitions of science (as given by the greatest discoverers of the laws of nature) are just meaningless strings of words.

    Certainly there is room for disagreement, but there is no warrant for the triumphant certainty that you display.

    There is nothing triumphant about my certainty. Rather, I see infidels laughing at the mangled definition of science according to the Intelligent Design community and feel the same terrible disappointment that the Apostle Paul must of felt when he wrote, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Ro 2:24).

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