Friday, February 05, 2010

Science and Religion: Not Historically Antagonists

Matthew Reisz of the Times Higher Education Supplement has an article on an upcoming lecture by Professor Peter Harrison at Cambridge on science and religion. Mr. Reisz reminds us of how ugly the struggle can get:
When Michael Reiss, an ordained Anglican priest, was forced to resign as director of education at the Royal Society in 2008, Sir Harry Kroto said that all religious people "fall at the first hurdle of the main requirement for honest scientific discussion because they accept unfounded dogma as having fundamental significance".

The Nobel laureate added that Professor Reiss, who came under pressure to quit after suggesting that creationism should be discussed in schools, "cannot have his religious cake in church and eat the scientific one in the classroom".
This is a remarkably myopic viewpoint, given that Dr. Reiss only meant to discuss creationism in class so it could be shown to have no scientific merit. Nobody seemed to care about that. One gets the impression the science and religion have always been antagonists. Not so, says Mr. Reisz:
Far from being militant atheists, they "believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism".

But such efforts could be effective only if they were "based on premises that the atheist would accept ... individuals might be motivated by religious considerations to ensure the religious neutrality of their scientific endeavours".
This is something lost on both the new atheists and the YEC crowd—that science is what it is and cannot comment on the existence of God. Read the whole thing.

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6 comments:

  1. Re: "science is what it is and cannot comment on the existence of God."

    I think this over simplifies the conflict to one that neither the YEC's or the new atheists have an interest in.

    The existence of a God that transcends our reality is not the focus.

    Rather it is the myths and superstitions that accompany religion. While these aspects are not essential to religion, they have become some intertwined with religion that many (most?) would not recognize religion in their absence.

    Re: "based on premises that the atheist would accept ... individuals might be motivated by religious considerations to ensure the religious neutrality of their scientific endeavours".

    Science respects and is constrained by evidence.

    If the premise that evidence must be respected was one the theist would accept ... individuals might be motivated by scientific considerations to ensure the scientific neutrality of their religious endeavours.

    ... but if such were so, would religious establishments be recognized by us as being religious? I think it safe to affirm they would not be recognized as religious by the YEC's or the new atheists.

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  2. James, I just noticed this interesting dialogue over at the Templeton Foundation. I haven't had a chance to read it through yet, but I thought you might be interested as well. Here's the link: http://www.templeton.org/evolution/

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  3. Bpabbott:

    Rather it is the myths and superstitions that accompany religion. While these aspects are not essential to religion, they have become some intertwined with religion that many (most?) would not recognize religion in their absence.

    This is very true. I posted a review of an article a bit back in which the author, Paul Marston, says essentially the same thing—that we think we know the scriptures well and, when they are read carefully, discover we don't know them nearly as well as we thought or, in the case of flood geology, don't recognize them anymore because of all the non-scriptural embellishments.

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  4. Thanks, Irenicum. I will check it out.

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