Thanks to Alan’s comments for this link, where he say’s “Just found this story with which I agree.”:
Religion has nothing to do with science – and vice versa, by Francisco J. Ayala
Well, though I agree with some points, there are many specific ones with which I don’t agree, and I don’t agree with the general notion that Ayala makes.
Let’s start with this:
“On the other side, some people of faith believe that science conveys a materialistic view of the world that denies the existence of any reality outside the material world. Science, they think, is incompatible with their religious faith.”
and within that, this:
“denies the existence of any reality outside the material world.
First, that’s false. Many don’t deny it. They say there’s no evidence to show it. Why? Because we are material creatures. We have senses that detect the material world. We have a material brain that operates in the material realm. How the heck are we supposed to detect or otherwise see something that is non-material? Do the religious magically have access to a realm that all of science, including religious scientists, has been unable to detect in any way. Our instruments are designed especially to extend the scale of human experience – but nowhere, never, has there been evidence of supernatural forces. Everything that has been discovered has fallen within the bounds of natural laws.
“If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.” – Only to the extent that the religious want this to be the case, along with the odd atheist exception, such as Stephen Jay Gould, who just wanted to let us all get on.
“The scope of science is the world of nature: the reality that is observed, directly or indirectly, by our senses. Science advances explanations about the natural world, explanations that are accepted or rejected by observation and experiment.” – This bit is right.
“Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another.” – This bit is right too. But what the religious don’t get is that it applies to them too! Science uses reason and the senses – exactly the same faculties available to the religious. There is nothing the religious can get at that scientists can’t. In fact it’s the other way round. Science has given us access to the brain – albeit we’re still in the early stages – so that there are many examples of the brain doing weird things that one particular example, experiencing God, is really no big deal. We have no examples of anything that confirms that an experience of God is actually that and not some trick of the brain.
“Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral” – Simply not true. Science has plenty to say about all these.
“…nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.” – Simply not true. Results of science suggest that there is no purpose or meaning in the sense that religion would like there to be.
“Science has nothing to say, either, about religious beliefs, except…” – No exceptions. Science can say quite a lot about beliefs, and I’m sure will be saying more and more as the various branches of brain science expose more.
“People of faith need not be troubled that science is materialistic.” – Only if they want to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t have anything to say. Wishful thinking will not make science go away.
“The methods and scope of science remain within the world of matter.” – True. Same applies to you.
“It [science] cannot make assertions beyond that world.” – And neither can you or anyone religious. Well, not quite true. You can make the assertions – and often do, but based on nothing at all.
“Science transcends cultural, political and religious beliefs because it has nothing to say about these subjects.” – Warning! Pseudo-intellectual postmodern claim! What the hell does it mean by ‘transcends’ in this statement? The word is usually the reserve of the religious, to say what they know of is above or beyond, bigger and better (e.g. Lesley’s Rollins video). The word is sometimes used to mean ‘encompasses’, as in Venn diagrams when one encompasses another: the outer includes all that’s in the inner but ‘transcends’ it by encompassing more than is in the inner.
“That science is not constrained by cultural or religious differences is one of its great virtues.” – True. It can address anything the human mind and senses can address, because it is an instrument that expands the human mind and senses. If science can’t get at it then we can’t.
“Some scientists deny that there can be valid knowledge about values or about the meaning and purpose of the world and of human life.” – This is true, but curiously this isn’t the point he then goes on to describe with regard to Dawkins. He’s confusing the point about what we have access to, what we can know, which this statement is about, with some things that we actually do have ideas about: the denying of purpose (in the religious sense) (not values – Dawkins isn’t denying that)
“There is a monumental contradiction in these assertions. If its commitment to naturalism does not allow science to derive values, meaning or purposes from scientific knowledge, it surely does not allow it, either, to deny their existence.” – This totally misunderstands the point. The point is that science shows there is no inherent purpose in the universe, not even the characteristics that give rise to us (essentially issues regarding Entropy – it all just happens as the universe ‘winds down’, to give a simple expression). This in no way prevents us, as organisms with brains that evaluate our surroundings and our selves (echoes of the free will issues here), and to derive values and purpose for ourselves, based on non-teleological evolutionary directives.
“In its publication Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, the US National Academy of Sciences emphatically asserts that religion and science answer different questions about the world…” – And this is supposed to tell us what? With all the kerfuffle in the US about religion, evolution, ID’s ‘teach the controversy’, etc., this is just a conciliatory nod to the religious that evolution won’t step on their toes if they don’t step on science’s. other than that, the specific issue of evolution doesn’t cross swords with liberal religion, since liberal religion accepts evolution and evolution doesn’t address ultimate origins; but it does very specifically deny Creationism’s young Earth claims.
“People of faith should stand in awe of the wondrous achievements of science. But they should not be troubled that science may deny their religious beliefs.” – Of course they should. Science, like any common sense approach to life, demands that we have evidence for what we are being told – otherwise you will be conned all to easily, by email scammers for one. The fact that these scams succeed is a testament to the gullibility of the human brain when left to it’s own devices. Belief in religion is another.
“Religion concerns the meaning and purpose of the world and human life” – for all it tries to do that, for all it makes claims, it has nothing to back that up. basically, even when you dress up liberal religion in postmodern ‘opinion’ truths, it says nothing more than, “What’s our purpose? Go is our purpose, or gives us our purpose, or demands our purpose, or loves us so we have the purpose to be loved, …”, and on and on with all sorts of unsubstantiated drivel that basically means they don’t know either, but they’ll have damned good fun making something up.
“[Religion concerns] the proper relation of people to their Creator and to each other” – Whoa! Hold on. “The proper relation of the people to the creator” – More postmodern bollocks. Without any evidence of a creator, or without the capacity to access the creator in order to establish there is a relation (remember, we are material beings. We don’t have access to the supernatural) Note how this grammatically reasonable but nonsensical sentence is given some semblance of meaning, “make sure we include something human, our relation to each other, just to give this nonsense some grounding in reality.”
“[Religion concerns] the moral values that inspire and govern their lives.” – Only because the religious make that claim, and then espouse morality as if they are the only ones with access to it.
“Science, on the other hand, concerns the processes that account for the natural world: how the planets move, the composition of matter and the atmosphere, the origin and function of organisms.” – And, one of these concerns is the workings of the human brain: neuroscience and evolution and anthropology suggest that internal personal ‘religious experiences’ are just brain anomalies, even if within normal bounds of variation; psychology and sociology and anthropology and evolution all suggest that external religious experiences and organisations are cultural memes that satisfied some requirement in the past.
“Religion has nothing definitive to say about …” – Well, about anything really. Religion is made-up stuff.
“According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church…” – And therein lies another problem. Augustine and other theologians concerned themselves with explaining what pertains once a belief in God is given. This puts anything else they have to say into doubt.
“Successful as it is, however, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete.” – Incomplete, yes, of course. It’s work in progress. Humans first appeared about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago – and this might be the point when we really began to use our brains, but the details are unclear. The first human markings on pottery go back about 5500 years. What we call science now had it’s base in Greek thought, but really took off just over a thousand years ago – about 1% – 2% of human existence? So, yes, we are still in our scientific infancy. We have no real conception of what science will be telling us about the brain, about religious belief, in another thousand years.
Because religion has been around for a while and science is so young, the religious seem to have the conceited view that theology has and continues to have access to great insights into the makings of the universe. But given that most of our current religious systems are not much different that those of two thousand years ago, give or take a bit of theological jiggery-pokery in the middle ages, I don’t see that religion has had anything to offer.
“Scientific knowledge may enrich aesthetic and moral perceptions and illuminate the significance of life and the world, but these matters are outside the realm of science.” – No they are not, because that would put them outside the realm of human beings, when it’s human beings that create both science (the process) and these perceptions (in our brains).
Ayala made some similar statements at the Buckingham Palace reception where he received his Templeton Foundation prize. Probably is best statement was this:
“Properly they cannot be in contradiction because they deal in different subjects. They are like two windows through which we look at the world; the world is one and the same, but what we see is different,…”
My response to that is that they could be. If religion stuck to it’s organisational and pastoral care roles then it has a lot to contribute to human affairs. It differs from science in this respect in that science is best at finding things out, telling us how the world is – even though through understanding the brain and human social issues it can contribute data to be used by religious organisations. This also seems in accord with what Alan has said on his blog – he sees the pragmatic value in religion, what it can do for us.
But if religion wants to tell us how or who created the universe, what interaction the personal brain is having with as yet unknown agents (i.e. God), then these are real questions of science. Cosmology and particle physics tells us much more about how the universe actually is, and as much as we can yet know about how it began, and no amount of theological navel gazing is going to improve on that. The branches of brain science are examining how the brain works, and how it doesn’t, how it fools itself, how gullible it is, and no amount of theological navel gazing and introspection is going to tell us anything better.
The religious need to move on. I haven’t read anything by some of the more liberally religious, such as Richard Holloway, recommended to me by Lesley. Though science can’t yet answer many of our questions about our origins and our interactions with internal agents, neither can religion, and science is in the best position to get those answers, eventually.