Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Science and Religion Are Not Compatible

Nearly two decades ago, the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould said that science and religion were two separate things. He called them "non-overlapping magisteria" (NOMA).

He said that science could answer what happened and how it happened... but the why it happened and the meaning and implications of it were the purview of religion.

A lot of people feel that he was right. Of course you can be a religious scientist -- many great scientists believe in God so they've obviously found a way to make sense of it all. Or they compartmentalize really well.

But I don't think those two worlds are really compatible. I think if you're a religious person and someone who accepts the scientific method, something's gotta give. When science succeeds, religion loses, because a gap was just filled by something other than God.

Part of the problem with this idea of NOMA is that science does have something to say about morality. And religion has plenty to say about what happened and how things happen. The magisteria overlap all the time. And they can't both be true.

Religions make claims about the natural world all the time. Not just what happens in the afterlife, but how the world actually works.

Creationists do this, saying the world is only 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, and that there was a great flood.

People who believe God performs miracles do this -- they say people get healed in ways science can't possibly explain.

These are testable claims -- and they have been tested. And the religious explanations fail every time.

We know the universe isn't 6,000 years old. The evidence for that is overwhelming.

We know intercessory prayer -- when you pray for people who don't know you're praying for them -- has no statistically significant effect on them.

We know literal miracles don't happen; if someone's cured of a disease, there's either a scientific explanation for it... or, if we don't have one, I'd bet good money we would if we just had more information.

And, like I said, science has something to say about morality. Sam Harris wrote a whole book about it (the Moral Landscape). One of his ideas in the book is that science can show us what increases or decreases people's pleasure and we can work to make the good stuff happen more often. I'm just exploring the surface here.

The point is that science and religion don't occupy these different worlds. They're in this together. And I believe we have to choose one or the other. Do you put your faith in evidence... or faith? The choice seems obvious to me.

Don't get me wrong: There are brilliant scientists who stick to science in the lab but still believe in God... they accept the evidence for evolution but believe God started the whole process. They accept the Big Bang, but say God put it all into motion. They run controlled tests in the lab... but believe in God because of a feeling they have.

You get the idea. The idea that science and religion are truly compatible is an idea that's well past its expiration date. You can say you believe in both, but don't expect people to take you seriously if you do.


Hemant Mehta, 2014

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...