Why Science and Religion CANNOT be “Made” to Agree.
This article completes my series of articles explaining why it is that science and religion are so very different from one another. Furthermore I will demonstrate that indeed most scientists really do struggle with reconciling religion and science.
So far this series of articles has focussed on debunking a trilogy of articles published by the author XFactor, in which he attempted to demonstrate that science and religion can be reconciled in the mind of a scientist. The articles where I debunked the arguments presented, can be viewed here:
How to make Religion and Science Agree – Debunked. Part 1
How to make Religion and Science Agree – Debunked. Part 2
How to make Religion and Science Agree – Debunked. Part 3
The difference between science and religion
As a starting point to analysing the difference between science and religion, I think it’s important to look at the definitions of both.
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe; it relies on the application of the scientific method in order to accomplish this. The scientific method is a method or procedure of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.
The typical dictionary definition of religion refers to a "belief in, or the worship of, a god or gods" or the "service and worship of God or the supernatural". The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith, belief system or sometimes set of duties.
Science and religion generally pursue knowledge of the universe using different methodologies. Science acknowledges reason, empiricism, and evidence, while religion includes revelation, faith and sacredness. The extent to which science and religion may attempt to understand and describe similar phenomena is sometimes referred to as a part of the demarcation problem, which in the philosophy of science is concerned with how to distinguish between science and nonscience, or more specifically, between science and pseudoscience.
One can see very clear differences in the definitions, for the scientific method and the religious method. Although both methods may claim to be concerned about the pursuit of knowledge, they use very different approaches; reason, empiricism and evidence versus revelation, faith and sacredness.
Revelation, faith and sacredness are not a reliable means to gain knowledge. This is self evident in modern society, not a single invention or knowledge breakthrough has been generated through the application of the religious method. Everything bit of technology and knowledge about the universe came about as a direct result of the advances science has made. Not a single scientific discovery or snippet of scientific knowledge has been replaced by, or improved upon by a better religious explanation.
The only method we know of that reliably presents the best approximate explanation of the functioning of the universe around us, is the scientific method. There is only one scientific method and all of science speaks the same language and eventually comes to the same common explanation.
Religion in all its forms has very different explanations for the universe around us, all of the religions are demonstrably false in their explanations for the universe around us, they all speak different languages and result in widely diverging explanations from each other and science.
Why is Science not suited to looking for your God?
Now we come to a complaint that is so often levelled at science by the religious. Why do scientists and the scientific method not search for evidence of my God? Why is science so oblivious to the presence of God? I mention this issue simply because it adds to the argument that religion and science are so wholly incompatible.
To determine why it is that science is not concerned with your particular deity it’s important to look at the definition of God and how that definition relates to the scientific method. In theistic tradition, God is often conceived as the Supreme Being and principal object of faith. In theism, God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. God is omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent, eternal and personal. Interaction with the universe is through playing an active role in design, guiding universal machinations, religious experience and the prayers of humans.
So what is it that makes this Supreme Bing so invisible to science? The answer – “faith”. God is the principle object of belief without evidence. The religious explain that God exists outside of nature, which evidence is lacking because the evidence cannot, by definition, be found in the natural world. This is precisely the reason why science is not concerned with deities. Science is concerned with explanations for “natural” phenomena. Science relies on facts and evidence to develop explanations for the “natural” universe. Supernatural beings which exist on the basis of faith alone cannot be “seen” in the natural universe and so fall outside of the ambit of science.
We know the science is the only reasonable means for explaining the natural universe around us. If a supernatural entity was interacting with a natural universe, science is the only method that would permit us to “see” the interaction. Strange then that not a single scientific paper concludes “the only possible explanation is therefore a supernatural being”.
Other key principles of the philosophy of science, concerned with demarcation problem, that preclude revealing the presence of entities based on faith that exist in the supernatural realm, include logical positivism and falsifiability. Hypotheses for supernatural beings or deities cannot be logically verified or falsified using the scientific method.
Do scientists struggle with reconciling religion and science?
In a recent article by Ryan Peter “Do real scientists struggle to believe in God”, the author attempted to demonstrate that in fact real scientists do not struggle with reconciling science and religion. The author quoted the fairly recent 2009 PEW survey.
In interpreting the results, the author conveniently and incorrectly assimilates the “who believe in God” category with the “who don’t believe in God, but do believe in a universal spirit or higher power” category, to conclude there is virtually no difference in the beliefs of scientists and the general public. The “God” that is being referred to is clearly that of the theistic Christian (Abrahamic) type.
The statistics given by the survey reveal that 83% of the general population believe in God while 33% of the scientists surveyed believe in God. Also 4% of the general public do not believe in a god or higher power as opposed to 41% of scientists. If these two statistics do not reveal the stark contrast between the beliefs of the general public and the beliefs of scientists, I am not sure what does. Non-belief is 10 times higher in scientists than the general public. Ten times! In addition, nearly half of all scientists in the 2009 Pew Research (48%) say they have no religious affiliation (meaning they describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular), compared with only 17% of the public.
The results of this survey in my view absolutely demonstrate that an understanding of science and the scientific method leads to a clear struggle to reconcile the knowledge claims of theistic religion and science.
So what can we conclude?
1. By definition science and religion as methods to acquire knowledge are completely different as they rely on the input of completely different data sources: reason, empiricism and evidence versus revelation, faith and sacredness.
2. Hypotheses for supernatural beings or deities cannot be logically verified or falsified using the scientific method. Science is not in the business of searching for your favourite theistic deity because its method simply cannot perform the task. You need to find an alternative method to provide an explanation and evidence for your god.
3. Scientists do have a very real problem reconciling science and religion and the coexistence of the two knowledge methods in their thinking as exposed in their beliefs relative to the general public.
If you accept the doctrine formulated by Stephen J. Gould of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), which postulates that science and religion are both legitimate but completely separate intellectual pursuits, there cannot be any mixing. (How valuable religion is as an intellectual pursuit is of course highly debatable in my opinion.)
Science and religion are, in fact, in conflict. They conflict every time someone imposes their religious faith onto others by using it as a justification for fudging or suppressing science. The teaching of creationism in public schools is the most obvious example.
Science and religion, although incompatible, do not have to conflict, as long as religious faith respects two boundaries: One, it stays out of the realm of science, of factual knowledge about the natural world, and two, it is not used as a method of imposing personal morality onto the public. Science must by definition follow methodological naturalism.
It is highly misguided to think that science is going to confirm your particular faith. Such endeavours are usually hopelessly doomed, as I demonstrated in the recent series of articles debunking XFactor’s trilogy of such an attempt. Miracles and science do not mix – the two are fundamentally incompatible. True faith does not require evidence. If there was evidence, then it would not be faith.