Thursday, November 10, 2011

John Evans — “Science and Religion: A False Divide?”

I missed this when it came out. John Evans of the L.A. Times (not normally a newspaper I pick up) wrote an interesting column about the controversy between science and religion and his contention that the whole thing is overhyped. He writes:

On most issues, there is actually very little conflict between religion and science. Religion makes no claims about the speed of hummingbird wings, and there are no university departments of anti-resurrection studies — scientists generally are unconcerned with the vast majority of religious claims and vice versa.

There are, of course, a few fact claims in which conservative Protestant theology and science differ, such as the origins of humans and the universe. Here we find that typical conservative Protestants are likely to believe the teaching of their religion on the issue and not the scientific claim.

We could complain that they are being inconsistent in believing the scientific method some of the time but not always. Yet social science research has long shown that people typically are not very consistent. The people who are more consistent are those who are punished for inconsistency: philosophers, media pundits, political activists and politicians.

I have often marveled at how much emphasis this topic has taken up in the media and religious world. As I pointed out in my post on the Miss America pageant, that the contestants were asked whether or not evolution should be taught in public schools had very little relevance to them. All it did was single out the religious conservatives and also point out that science education had all but failed them in this area. For your average person, the creation-evolution controversy has little traction and most view it as a curiosity of modern society. Consequently, when my church friends ask me about it, I always ask them why it is important to them to learn the science behind the old earth model since such knowledge will needlessly complicate their lives. That doesn't seem to stop them, though.

Evans has one other nugget:

The greatest conflict between fundamentalists, evangelicals and science is not over facts but over values. While scientists like to say that their work is value-free, that is not how the public views it, and conservative Protestants especially have homed in on the moral message of science.
This is a slow realization for most scientists. I tend to view evolution in much the way that I view nuclear energy: regardless of what values we attach to it, it exists—independent of those values. David Klinghoffer, over at the Discovery Institute, argues that “Darwinism” has ruined society and caused evils of all sorts, as if somehow if we brand it as evil, it will just go away.

It is also not just that the vast majority of scientists tend to view science amorally, they view attempts to infuse scientific discourse with morality with repugnance. It is the few here and there that seek to venture beyond the bounds of science to argue for or against the existence of God and even if they are highly regarded in their fields (for example Richard Dawkins), their efforts to do this are not.

The problem is these few are very highly visible and, unfortunately, set the tone for the discourse and the understanding of the scientific enterprise. After all, if Richard Dawkins is an eminent evolutionary biologist and he claims, vociferously, that God doesn't exist, why shouldn't evangelicals attach morality to his science?

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  1. did you honestly mean to say that knowing the truth of history will needlessly complicate their lives? Does this philosophy apply (in your opinion) to areas that won't potentially have a negative affect on one's religious views? For instance, do you see the value in learning things (history, computer programming, biology, math, a musical instrument) if for no other reason than to be a well-rounded and educated person? is the real truth (complicated or otherwise) really ever a threat to a belief system supposedly rooted in the truth? I would love to hear your thoughts on this unpacked a bit.

  2. There are some people, for which the knowledge that they have taken in the wrong view of science their entire lives, would lose their faith. Yes, I tend to view such faith as being very shallow but I don't want that loss of faith on my hands. THAT is why I ask the question.

    Ordinarily, I try to educate people, as I do through this blog and through my BioLogos and CFSI posts. The people that visit already have questions and are curious.