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Science and/versus religion

Introduction

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Quotations:

bulletStatement of The Center for the Study of Science and Religion: "Sciences respond to a felt need to understand the world, and religions respond to a felt need for the world to have meaning. From these different starting points, one issue emerges at the junction of any science and any religion: are these felt needs commensurate? That is, is the universe a moral place, so that the natural order is relevant to human lives and human values; do faith and family, love and charity mirror any larger meaning than the meanings we give to them? Today, to a first approximation, the answer to these questions from any religion is Yes, and the answer from any science is No."
 
bulletScientific American book review: "... there are two ways to think about science. You can be a theist, believing that behind the veil of randomness lurks an active, loving, manipulative God, or you can be a materialist, for whom everything is matter and energy interacting within space and time. Whichever metaphysical club you belong to, the science comes out the same." 1
 
bulletOwen Gingerich:  "One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance, But if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the hall."
 
bulletAlbert Einstein: "After religious teachers accomplish the refining process indicated, they will surely recognize with joy that true religion has been ennobled and made more profound by scientific knowledge."
 
bulletMark Friesel: "The difference between faith and a conditional reliance on observation of the natural world is profound. It is the irresolvable difference between religion and science."  2

Overview:

As we have mentioned so many other places in this web site, it is difficult to view most world religions as single entities. For example, Christianity consists of a range of beliefs. As a minimum, it consists of two solitudes: a conservative and a liberal wing. They occasonally throw verbal rocks at each other, but generally proceed independently with little debate or dialogue between the two solitudes.

There are perhaps three solitudes if you include mainline denominations. However, such denominations are typically composed of conservative and liberal members, as recent conflicts over equality for persons of all sexual orientations, legalization of same-sex relationships, acceptance/rejection of the theory of evolution, etc. ndicate.

Conservatives and liberals -- a.k.a. traditionalists and progressives -- approach the Bible with different presuppositions:

bulletMost conservative Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God. The original autograph copy of the books of the Bible are inerrant -- without error -- because God inspired its authors.
 
bullet Mainline Protestants tend to believe that the Bible contains the Word of God. But it is not free of errors, particularly on scientific topics.
 
bulletMany liberal Christians believe that the Bible contains much that is spiritually positive. However, since much of it was written by authors from a tribal, pre-scientific culture, it also contains many errors in cosmology, geology, and other sciences. It also contains immoral material that does not reflect the will of God: e.g. condoning slavery, accepting the oppression of women, sexual minorities, persons of different religions, etc. Some of its content is mythical in nature and is often borrowed from nearby Pagan cultures. Some biblical content consists of anti-religious propaganda.

When considering science and the Bible, liberal and conservatives groups reach opposite conclusions:

bulletMany conservative Christians believe that the text of the Bible is free of error throughout -- including its spiritual, historical and scientific passages.
 
bullet Most liberal Christians note that the Bible was written by authors who lived in a pre-scientific age. In particular, the Hebrew Scriptures  (a.k.a. Old Testament) was largely written by bronze-age authors who lived in a tribal society. Thus, Bible passages relating to science reflect the limited knowledge of the authors, and cannot usually be considered a reliable source of information.

Essays in this section will discuss what the Bible says on certain topics. They compare and contrast them with the consensus reached by scientists. We will attempt to harmonize the two, where possible.

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The relationship between science and religion:

Disagreements are seen in two main areas:

  1. Active conflict between science and religion: There have been hundreds of disputes since the end of the 16th century in which scientists and theologians have taught opposing beliefs. At any given time, in recent centuries, there has been at least one active, major battle. Dozens are active at the present time. Probably the most strongly argued are currently:
     
    bulletThe nature of homosexual orientation: Is it sinful, chosen, changeable, unnatural and abnormal for everyone?, Or is it morally neutral, unchosen, fixed, natural and normal for a minority of adults?
     
    bullet Origins of the species, the earth itself and the rest of the universe. Were they created or did they evolve naturally? A second conflict is over the age of the Earth. Is it less than 10,000 years old, as some interpretatoins of the Bible imply, or about 4.5 billion years as evidence shows.
     
    bullet Environmental concerns like atmospheric degradation and climate change.
     
    bullet Surfacing now is a debate over the nature of gender identity. Most people experience no conflict between their genetic gender and their perceived gender. But a small minority does. Some describe it as having a female brain in a male body, or vice versa. Once the conflicts over sexual orientation settle down, we expect that gender identity will be the next "hot topic" regarding equal rights and human sexuality.
     
  2. Science evaluating religion: This involves the use of the scientific method to evaluate the validity of a religious belief. Three examples are:
     
    bulletCan one assess the will of God through prayer, or is God non-existing or not communicating?
     
    bulletSpeaking in tongues; is it the language of angels, or meaningless gibberish?
     
    bulletCan prayer cure diseases and disorders, or speed people's recovery?

A great deal of information is available on the first area: the historical and current conflicts between science and religion. Little attention is paid to the other area: the use of scientific techniques to evaluate religious practices and beliefs.

References used:

  1. Owen Gingerich, "God's Universe," Belknap Press, (2006). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Mark Friesel, "The Templeton Prize: A danger to science?," Free Inquiry, Vol 21 #3, 2001-Summer, Pages 20 to 22

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Copyright © 1999 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-28
Latest update: 2012-MAR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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