Science and Religion are Not Compatible

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, has recently published a book called Why Evolution is True, and started up a blog of the same name. He’s come out swinging in the science/religion debates, taking a hard line against “accomodationism” — the rhetorical strategy on the part of some pro-science people and organizations to paper over conflicts between science and religion so that religious believers can be more comfortable accepting the truth of evolution and other scientific ideas. Chris Mooney and others have taken up the other side, while Russell Blackford and others have supported Coyne, and since electrons are free there have been an awful lot of blog posts.

At some point I’d like to weigh in on the actual topic of accomodationism, and in particular on what to do about the Templeton Foundation. But there is a prior question, which some of the discussion has touched on: are science and religion actually compatible? Clearly one’s stance on that issue will affect one’s feelings about accomodationism. So I’d like to put my own feelings down in one place.

Science and religion are not compatible. But, before explaining what that means, we should first say what it doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean, first, that there is any necessary or logical or a priori incompatibility between science and religion. We shouldn’t declare them to be incompatible purely on the basis of what they are, which some people are tempted to do. Certainly, science works on the basis of reason and evidence, while religion often appeals to faith (although reason and evidence are by no means absent). But that just means they are different, not that they are incompatible. (Here I am deviating somewhat from Coyne’s take, as I understand it.) An airplane is different from a car, and indeed if you want to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco you would take either an airplane or a car, not both at once. But if you take a car and your friend takes a plane, as long as you both end up in San Francisco your journeys were perfectly compatible. Likewise, it’s not hard to imagine an alternative universe in which science and religion were compatible — one in which religious claims about the functioning of the world were regularly verified by scientific practice. We can easily conceive of a world in which the best scientific techniques of evidence-gathering and hypothesis-testing left us with an understanding of the workings of Nature which included the existence of God and/or other supernatural phenomena. (St. Thomas Aquinas, were he alive today, would undoubtedly agree, as would many religious people who actually are alive.) It’s just not the world we live in. (That’s where they would disagree.)

The incompatibility between science and religion also doesn’t mean that a person can’t be religious and be a good scientist. That would be a silly claim to make, and if someone pretends that it must be what is meant by “science and religion are incompatible” you can be sure they are setting up straw men. There is no problem at all with individual scientists holding all sorts of incorrect beliefs, including about science. There are scientists who believe in the Steady State model of cosmology, or that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, or that sunspots are the primary agent of climate change. The mere fact that such positions are held by some scientists doesn’t make them good scientific positions. We should be interested in what is correct and incorrect, and the arguments for either side, not the particular beliefs of certain individuals. (Likewise, if science and religion were compatible, the existence of thousands of irreligious scientists wouldn’t matter either.)

The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.

But the superficial reasonableness of a claim isn’t enough to be confident that it is true. Science certainly teaches us that reality can be very surprising once we look at it more carefully, and it’s quite conceivable that a more nuanced understanding of the question could explain away what seems to be obviously laid out right in front of us. We should therefore be a little more careful about understanding how exactly a compatibilist would try to reconcile science and religion.

The problem is, unlike the non-intuitive claims of relativity or quantum mechanics or evolution, which are forced on us by a careful confrontation with data, the purported compatibility of “science” and “religion” is simply a claim about the meaning of those two words. The favored method of those who would claim that science and religion are compatible — really, the only method available — is to twist the definition of either “science” or “religion” well out of the form in which most people would recognize it. Often both.

Of course, it’s very difficult to agree on a single definition of “religion” (and not that much easier for “science”), so deciding when a particular definition has been twisted beyond usefulness is a tricky business. But these are human endeavors, and it makes sense to look at the actual practices and beliefs of people who define themselves as religious. And when we do, we find religion making all sorts of claims about the natural world, including those mentioned above — Jesus died and was resurrected, etc. Seriously, there are billions of people who actually believe things like this; I’m not making it up. Religions have always made claims about the natural world, from how it was created to the importance of supernatural interventions in it. And these claims are often very important to the religions who make them; ask Galileo or Giordano Bruno if you don’t believe me.

But the progress of science over the last few centuries has increasingly shown these claims to be straightforwardly incorrect. We know more about the natural world now than we did two millennia ago, and we know enough to say that people don’t come back from the dead. In response, one strategy to assert the compatibility between science and religion has been to take a carving knife to the conventional understanding of “religion,” attempting to remove from its purview all of its claims about the natural world.

That would be the strategy adopted, for example, by Stephen Jay Gould with his principle of Non-Overlapping Magisteria, the subject of yesterday’s allegory. It’s not until page 55 of his (short) book that Gould gets around to explaining what he means by the “magisterium of religion”:

These questions address moral issues about the value and meaning of life, both in human form and more widely construed. Their fruitful discussion must proceed under a different magisterium, far older than science (at least as a formalized inquiry) and dedicated to a quest for consensus, or at least a clarification of assumptions and criteria, about ethical “ought,” rather than a search for any factual “is” about the material construction of the natural world. This magisterium of ethical discussion and search for meaning includes several disciplines traditionally grouped under the humanities–much of philosophy, and part of literature and history, for example. But human societies have usually centered the discourse of this magisterium upon an institution called “religion”…

In other words, when Gould says “religion,” what he means is — ethics, or perhaps moral philosophy. And that is, indeed, non-overlapping with the understanding of the natural world bequeathed to us by science. But it’s utterly at variance with the meaning of the word “religion” as used throughout history, or as understood by the vast majority of religious believers today. Those people believe in a supernatural being called “God” who created the universe, is intensely interested in the behavior of human beings, and occasionally intervenes miraculously in the natural world. Again: I am not making this up.

Of course, nothing is to stop you, when you say the word “religion,” from having in mind something like “moral philosophy,” or perhaps “all of nature,” or “a sense of wonder at the universe.” You can use words to mean whatever you want; it’s just that you will consistently be misunderstood by the ordinary-language speakers with whom you are conversing. And what is the point? If you really mean “ethics” when you say “religion,” why not just say “ethics”? Why confuse the subject with all of the connotations that most people (quite understandably) attach to the term — God, miracles, the supernatural, etc.? If Stephen Jay Gould and the AAAS or anyone else wants to stake out a bold claim that ethics and moral philosophy are completely compatible with science, nobody would be arguing with them. The only reason to even think that would be an interesting claim to make is if one really did want to include the traditional supernatural baggage — in which case it’s a non-empty claim, but a wrong one.

If you hold some unambiguously non-supernatural position that you are tempted to refer to as “religion” — awe at the majesty of the universe, a conviction that people should be excellent to each other, whatever — resist the temptation! Be honest and clear about what you actually believe, rather than conveying unwanted supernatural overtones. Communication among human beings will be vastly improved, and the world will be a better place.

The other favorite move to make, perhaps not as common, is to mess with the meaning of “science.” Usually it consists of taking some particular religious claim that goes beyond harmless non-supernatural wordmongering — “God exists,” for example, or “Jesus rose from the dead” — and pointing out that science can’t prove it isn’t true. Strictly construed, that’s perfectly correct, but it’s a dramatic misrepresentation of how science works. Science never proves anything. Science doesn’t prove that spacetime is curved, or that species evolved according to natural selection, or that the observable universe is billions of years old. That’s simply not how science works. For some reason, people are willing to pretend that the question “Does God exist?” should be subject to completely different standards of scientific reasoning than any other question.

What science does is put forward hypotheses, and use them to make predictions, and test those predictions against empirical evidence. Then the scientists make judgments about which hypotheses are more likely, given the data. These judgments are notoriously hard to formalize, as Thomas Kuhn argued in great detail, and philosophers of science don’t have anything like a rigorous understanding of how such judgments are made. But that’s only a worry at the most severe levels of rigor; in rough outline, the procedure is pretty clear. Scientists like hypotheses that fit the data, of course, but they also like them to be consistent with other established ideas, to be unambiguous and well-defined, to be wide in scope, and most of all to be simple. The more things an hypothesis can explain on the basis of the fewer pieces of input, the happier scientists are. This kind of procedure never proves anything, but a sufficiently successful hypothesis can be judged so very much better than the alternatives that continued adherence to such an alternative (the Steady State cosmology, Lamarckian evolution, the phlogiston theory of combustion) is scientifically untenable.

Scientifically speaking, the existence of God is an untenable hypothesis. It’s not well-defined, it’s completely unnecessary to fit the data, and it adds unhelpful layers of complexity without any corresponding increase in understanding. Again, this is not an a priori result; the God hypothesis could have fit the data better than the alternatives, and indeed there are still respected religious people who argue that it does. Those people are just wrong, in precisely analogous ways to how people who cling to the Steady State theory are wrong. Fifty years ago, the Steady State model was a reasonable hypothesis; likewise, a couple of millennia ago God was a reasonable hypothesis. But our understanding (and our data) has improved greatly since then, and these are no longer viable models. The same kind of reasoning would hold for belief in miracles, various creation stories, and so on.

I have huge respect for many thoughtful religious people, several of whom I count among the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. I just think they’re incorrect, in precisely the same sense in which I think certain of my thoughtful and intelligent physicist friends are wrong about the arrow of time or the interpretation of quantum mechanics. That doesn’t mean we can’t agree about those issues on which we’re in agreement, or that we can’t go out for drinks after arguing passionately with each other in the context of a civil discussion. But these issues matter; they affect people’s lives, from women who are forced to wear head coverings to gay couples who can’t get married to people in Minnesota who can’t buy cars on Sundays. Religion can never be a purely personal matter; how you think about the fundamental nature of reality necessarily impacts how you behave, and those behaviors are going to affect other people. That’s why it’s important to get it right.

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184 Responses to Science and Religion are Not Compatible

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  3. Madame_Furie says:

    Doug Says: “I disagree heartily with those who would argue that science, or only approaching life from a scientific perspective is devoid of passion and emotion.”

    Doug you’re my favourite commenter here. I think I have a little crush :-)

    All the usual accommodationist arguments are trotted out in this long thread: “But that’s not MY religion you’re talking about!” “But religion does some good doesn’t it?” — exactly the same arguments I made for years. In the end, after I let go of literalism, orthodoxy, then the idea of a personal god, then the idea of an unknowable deity, I had to conclude that religion was simply unnecessary, it is woefully incomplete as a way of understanding the world. Moreover, it’s delusional, and our propensity for religiosity/magical thinking/superstition is simply an evolutionary throwback. Reading and listening to arguments like those here helped sharpen my thinking. I realized I was only in church for the music, and I could get the same (nay – deeper) feelings of wonder and life-abundance without compromising my intellect. Now I sleep in on Sundays, and read science books while sipping my coffee.

    Thanks Sean for your post.

    Thanks Doug for your comments. I am not a scientist, but fascinated with scientific subjects: neuroscience and astrophysics in particular.

  4. Dr. Bob says:

    I’ve no doubt, personally, that supernatural phenomena exists. Edgar Cayce comes to mind. It’s disheartening that so many continue to deny it’s existence, rather than explore it’s possibilities.

  5. Adam.Mike.Selene says:

    The basis for my own religious belief is the observation that “nothing does not exist.” What I call my religion is my attempt to relate to the infinite.

    I do not think that my religion is incompatible with science. To say that religion is not traditionally like this, may be accurate, (or at least for Western Religion, or Judeo Christian Religion) but it begs the point.

    Obviously, religion is not about a three letter word, it is about Human being trying to understand. As is science.

    Religion is kind of backward. It can improve. Come to think of it, ancient Greek Religion was consistent with science. Science didn’t know so much, and there were not many crucial experiments which could be done to challenge religious beliefs. And the Greeks did challenge some of their religious beliefs based on their science. (any classicists out there who can help me out?)

    Western civilization started getting religion and science out of synch about 500 years ago, maybe it is time to update things!

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  7. Dr.Bob says:

    —“Religion can never be a purely personal matter”

    -Whoops, you blew it here! And although there are many who are aware of the discrepancies that exist in the definition of the word “religion”, there are so many more who don’t. You can not provide persuasive arguments if your readers have a different definition of the words you are using.

    Part of the problem is the confusion associated with the word “religion’. In its original definition, which withstood the majority of time, it was understood entirely as a personal, individual matter, and had nothing to do with the huge variety of institutions, or their huge variety of practices. When using the word “religion” it is important to acknowledge that most individuals understand the word in its informal definition, which is an offshoot of its original definition, and still the most common, and still categorized as such in all dictionaries:

    Original (noun)
    a. personal individual BELIEFS in, and REVERENCE for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.

    The problem is that in more recent times, this same definition has been expanded nonsensically to include an array of societal definitions that have evolved, including:

    b. A SYSTEM grounded in such belief and worship
    (this expansion of the original definition should not have occurred, as the word “system”, being the defining noun, opposes the original definition. Under this addendum , the definition is no longer an “individual BELIEF”. It is now a system-a group of, interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole). It cannot be both INDIVIDUAL and a GROUP. It is clear that the necessity for two words was warranted. However, it is not uncommon for the English language to follow nonsensical rules, if society has been using words incorrectly. In other words, society has created three unique definitions for the word “religious”-see 4. below, for the third, and note, this is not the most commonly understood definition).

    2. The LIFE or CONDITION of a person in a religious order.
    (an expansion on the original “individual” definition, with emphasis on a state of being, and association with an organized group).

    3. A set of BELIEFS, VALUES, and PRACTICES based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
    (an expansion of the original definition to include Values, and Practices, but not Reverence, with a singular association).

    4. A CAUSE, a PRINCIPLE, or an ACTIVITY pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
    (Causes and Principles can be attributed to individual beliefs-the original definition. However, an Activity, although still a noun, can only be a result of them, used in this context, and should not have been used as a defining noun, adding a third definition, defined by society).

    Religion: informal (generally accepted by majority): to accept a higher power as a controlling influence for the good in one’s life.

    Definition conflicts/recap:

    Original: Individual Beliefs
    Expanded: A system
    Expanded: An activity
    Informal (most accepted): Individual Beliefs for one’s personal good

    It is important to use descriptive terminology when using the word “religion” so that readers understand which definition you are addressing.

    —“how you think about the fundamental nature of reality necessarily impacts how you behave, and those behaviors are going to affect other people”.

    So what? Who’s worried about the occasional “religious” person who shows up at our door? We don’t have to pay for their kids’ “religious” education. They do! Their political influence is minimal, at best. Their behaviors are not, for the majority, ill-willed. I worry about the behaviors that are not related to the “fundamental nature of reality”, those attributable to abuse, addictions, and crime, which lie primarily, with the non-religious.

    Foremost, people are only influenced by the behavior of others, if they choose to be. Individuality is beautiful. It’s the differences between us that promote thought and progress (the minds of many). I admit, I’m not thrilled when my vote doesn’t produce desired results. But, I accept it as the fairest system we have. And I doubt that how one thinks about the fundamental nature of reality necessarily impacts their behavior in a negative fashion. Perhaps a few, but I doubt it accounts for more than .1%. Not noteworthy!

    It is obvious that you have a firm belief in your views, and I salute you for your individuality. Everyone struggles with the big questions in life. We are all searching for truths. My best advice to you, as an older individual, is to consider all options, and truly contemplate, ponder, and look within. You might be surprised at the results! We all have our own paths to beat, and life is so short.

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  9. Anchor says:

    Adam.Mike.Selene Says: “Western civilization started getting religion and science out of synch about 500 years ago, maybe it is time to update things!”

    Hmmm…then it seems as if religion has an awful lot of catching up to do. Of course, we all know how spectacularly practical religions are in the art of updating their “knowledge” based on empirical evidence, so it won’t be too much longer now, will it?

    Especially when religious people are so good at making “observations” (i.e., “nothing doesn’t exist”) in an attempt to relate themselves to the “infinite”. They should catch up just about any minute now. With that magnificent ancient heritage of intellectual discipline at their disposal, they should overtake science in no time at all.

    Wonder what’s keeping them? I for one would very much like to know any progress on how grievously finite entities relate to the infinite. It sounds very very important.

  10. Neal J. King says:

    Another voice for non-overlapping magisteria:

    Vatican should learn from Galileo mess, prelate says

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Catholic Church should not fear scientific progress and possibly repeat the mistake it made when it condemned astronomer Galileo in the 17th century, a Vatican official said on Thursday in a rare self-criticism.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090702/sc_nm/us_pope_science_1

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  12. e.pierce says:

    After meditating, I decided that John Merryman is god. :)

    | 106. tacitus Says:
    | June 24th, 2009 at 1:54 pm
    | Eastern religion has as much basis for its existence as western religion
    | — i.e. nothing but feelings and hearsay.

    |I’m fine with people wanting to meditate on the meaning of life and other
    | existential matters, and I am sure that people could learn a thing or two
    | from doing so…

    Shadow stuff (contradiction), but: ok, good. What is it that they are learning? What does science say about “feelings”? You make a judgement that “feelings” are inferior, which doesn’t seem scientific (objective, rational). Are you demeaning the “feelings” of religious people on the basis of your own “scientific” feelings? Why are you required to dominate religious people? What dangers do religious people pose that require such domination? Electing neocons to political office? Undermining the institutions that democracy and “good” science rest upon?

    Perhaps such people meditate on what science means. As do scientists. What happens if the meditators reach different conclusions than do the pure-rationalists? In reality this has taken place. Integralists and others think that when both religion and science are stripped of “junk”, they can be seen as being complementary. They both contain PARTIAL truths than can be brought together to form more complete truth. (question: what does brain science tell us about this?)

    George Lakoff says that conservatism arises from a “strict daddy” archetype, and progressivism/liberalism from a “nurturing mommy” archetype. The “stages” seem predictable: meanings derived from premodern, modern and postmodern culture. I think some of the same goes for anti-religion and pro-religion memes.

    This pro-science blog article is mostly about the “junk”, and mostly about the “junk” on the religion side, not about the “junk” on the science side. And not about what “non-junk” versions of both would look like from the perspective of a “complimentary” (integral) paradigm.

    So, what you are saying seems contradictory, and reveals one of the usual problems with a specific form of “pro-science” thinking: the “one truth above all” anti-pattern. I guess you could call it “fundamentalist scientism”. Integralists call it “the flatland of modernity”.

    Setting that aside, I would like to know why science can’t simply be allowed to investigate, without prejudice, “meditating on meaning and other existential matters”? Certainly some good research has been done by people doing brain scans. Linguists have proposed new “scientific” models about how the brain “constructs meaning” (Mark Turner). Some have said that the changes in “how we think about how we think” are so revolutionary that they will alter most fields of scholarship.

    Science, as a dominant belief system, or set of values, or social-political “project”, came out of one of the most fundamental paradigm shifts in human history: modernity. Ken Wilber says that this “fragmented” the four quadrants of consciousness, Jung’s “I”, “We”, “It” (“Its”).

    (http://www.kheper.net/topics/Wilber/AQAL_critique.html)

    The purpose of that shift was to liberate humanity from false ideas (superstitions, etc., that religion is full of), and create ways that larger numbers of (middle class) people could pursue science as part of a program of social progress and economic change.

    Thus, “scientific” people should be willing to examine the psychosocial and economic and political origins of modern science as objectively as they do religion. And of course, that is exactly what AAAS, Templeton and various other organizations have been trying to do. (A joyous fracas that could only be happening in a culture that enacts the “felt requirements” of open-mindedness and quick abandonment of false ideas.)

    My understanding is that in doing so, it becomes obvious that the modernist project of science (which is progressive, liberal), is generally “hostile” to religion. As Ken Wilber states, there are many good reasons for such hostility. Religion, at least as it evolved in imperialist cultures, was used to oppress people for a very long time.
    http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2059

    (does “science” tell us that imperialism is “good” or “bad”? or “neither”?)

    Now that postmodern culture (relativism/pluralism) is flourishing in the postagrarian and postindustrial worlds, and has “deconstructed” the historical and psychosocial underpinnings of scientific memes, perhaps a worthy project would be to look at the possibility of carefully reintegrating metaphor and transcendence into the dominant form of culture.

    In doing so, practical proposals arise for such things as “spiritual capitalism”.

    From an integral perspective, postmodernism has some major cultural problems that need to be solved (“lack of moral rudder” – “too much nurturing mommy”).

    Integralists look to both science and meditation to provide “complimentary” answers.

    Regards,
    E.Pierce

    (a big “Hi” to Dr. S.Friberg)

  13. windy says:

    I still am confused about one thing, Sean. Virtually every
    scientific result we take to be true these days has gone through a
    very specific process of publication and peer review, along with
    the formulation of *specific* hypotheses and their experimental
    testing.

    Why haven’t I seen the demonstration of the likely non-existence
    of God go through this process?

    Where are the peer-reviewed publications explicitly demonstrating the non-existence of unicorns, fairies or demons? If there aren’t any, would you say that science doesn’t have anything to say on those things?

  14. blanton says:

    Dear Windy,

    Unicorns are a funny example to pick, especially
    since there is nothing inherently weird or implausible
    about unicorns per se (besides the fact that they
    do not exist). I mean, they are like horses, but have
    horns, like rhinos. So I’m not sure why they come up
    as an example in these arguments — I doubt you really
    believe they are as implausible as God is. But let’s
    leave that aside.

    Unicorns do (like fairies and demons) have the
    virtue of being pretty specifically defined things,
    that zoologists really could have found, and that
    indeed people looked for pretty hard for a while.
    So I’d say that indeed science does have stuff to
    say on them, though I’m not the best person to
    ask.

    God’s a tougher one, right? I mean, *some* people
    have pretty specific hypotheses that they associate
    with God. For example, some people think that
    the Earth was created by God 6000 years ago.
    That’s obviously false. But unfortunately, it hardly
    rules out God as a concept, and in fact in reality
    most religious people don’t think that God implies
    that hypothesis anyway. All religions have their
    own set of hypotheses, indeed even if they believe
    that there is any testable set of physical predictions
    that religion makes at all, which almost all theologians
    and indeed clergy do not.

    Under those conditions, why should scientists
    wade in and say “this God stuff is not a scientifically
    well-defined concept, so it must be UNTRUE”, instead
    of just saying “this God stuff is not a scientifically
    well-defined concept”? I mean, if it really isn’t well-defined
    then it can neither be shown to be true nor shown to
    be untrue.

    We could also advise people to ignore all things
    that were not scientifically well-defined, but that’s
    clearly impractical, if, say, you need to make any daily
    decisions in your life.

    But my real point is that there are lots of important
    scientific results we want to be able to convince people
    are true, that have been hammered out in the standard
    scientific manner over decades, using empirical methods.
    Those results deserve respect. I very much dislike it
    when somebody writes a few paragraphs of pure reasoning
    that purports to come to come to a conclusion on a vast
    area of human thinking, and wraps it in the cloak
    of “science” because the author is a professional scientist,
    as if then it acquires the authority that we associate with
    real scientific results. A casual, uninformed reader
    might believe that the writer is just simplifying some more
    complex scientific argument — after all, this is only the
    lay-readable version, right? — that has the support of
    the scientific consensus.

    Doing that undermines the importance of actual scientific
    work, and makes it harder to convince the general public
    of its truth. Anyway.

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  20. windy says:

    Unicorns do (like fairies and demons) have the virtue of being pretty specifically defined things, that zoologists really could have found, and that indeed people looked for pretty hard for a while. So I’d say that indeed science does have stuff to say on them, though I’m not the best person to ask.

    But now you’ve moved your goalposts – there isn’t a peer reviewed publication where the existence of unicorns is experimentally put to test, and yet you agree that science has something to say about them, so you’ve added something about “specifically defined” concepts. That seems like a cop-out.

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  24. Greg says:

    “Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.”

    Actually “science”, or more correctly those who use the scientific method, do not say none of this is true. They say that there is no evidence that supports these claims. It’s an important distinction that when stated incorrectly exasperates the argument.

  25. articulett says:

    If there were an afterlife that could be affected by what you did or thought in this life, then science would have something to say about that. All scientists would have a vested interest, in fact, in finding out the best way to ensure that this afterlife was the best it could be. This was clear to me, even as a child, and I wondered why scientists weren’t actively testing those who claimed to have divine gifts.

    But if there is no afterlife, and there is no more evidence for souls then there are for demons and fairies, then scientists have the obligation to let lay people in on this information so that they are not manipulated by those who claim to have access to higher truths. In this way, humans are free to learn actual truths–the kind they can examine for themselves–the kind that are the same for everyone regardless of belief.

    If the emperor is naked, and those who imagine him to be wearing clothes are delusional, who else but a scientist will say so? If there are no such thing as invisible undetectable clothing, who will let the world know?

    Science is the candle in the darkness, unfortunately all invisible, unmeasurable, entities disappear in it’s light– even the ones people feel “special” and “saved” for “believing in”. Science is the only method we have of actually KNOWING anything. It is the only method that is self correcting and takes into account the known ways humans fool themselves.

  26. vallor says:

    Sean lost me at comment 16. Based on what I’ve seen, it’s nothing more than a semantics argument, arguing about the meaning of terms.

    I strongly suggest having a better go at this, with a _meaningful_ discussion, where the discussion isn’t about some one man’s perceived limitations of language, but instead, “religion” — whatever it is — is compared and contrasted with science — whatever it is.

    And i put it this way because Sean seems to think of a religion is compatible with science, then it isn’t a religion, by definition. But this is a circular argument.

    For instance, there are some zen Buddhists that hold their religion to be compatible with science — but Sean’s response to this would be that they are not “true Buddhists”, in a classic example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

    :)

  27. limboaz says:

    Perhaps a better question is this: are science and politics compatible? Secular fundamentalists like the author of this article have had their thinking polluted by their political beliefs and see everything in that light. Sad really.

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  31. m says:

    what do you define ‘truth as being?

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  33. I’ve just read the post, (which raises pretty fundamental points which I don’t think any rational minded person should have a problem with) and the initial few comments, and am really glad that this here is still alive.

    There’s a comment above (right at the top) about what exactly is meant by ‘religion’. When we talk of Science and religion being incompatible we speak of dogmatic religion, ie. religion according to scriptures, and this, I feel, can never be compatible with Science, mostly due to the fact that it is dated. Then there is this concept of ‘God of the Gaps’, which is really interesting here, because if we see religion as an organic ‘process’ which is constantly reviewed by science, ie. knowledge (forgive me if this term overtly simplifies science!), then I think the concept of God will be totally acceptable.

    But all this depends on one question, about the nature of knowledge, whether it is finite or not. Because if it is, Science, someday (whenever that is) will leave no ‘Gaps’ for God; but until then, we just might have to live with the idea, because its ‘absolute’ non-existence is still beyond our capacity to ‘absolutely’ deny.

    Once again, we have to be more specific in what we mean by words exactly, ie. religion.

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