Science and Religion
In this chapter-by-chapter critique of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, Paul Doland comments on the general direction of the book before analyzing Strobel’s interviews with his various experts on specific topics. Topics include the origin of life, evolution, the relationship between science and religion, the origin of the universe, the alleged fine-tuning of the universe, whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, intelligent design, information theory, the origin and nature of consciousness, and whether consciousness can survive the death of the brain. Particularly noteworthy is Strobel’s silence when his experts make conflicting claims (e.g., Wells and Dembski on evolution).
According to Alister McGrath, the early 21st century marks the decline of atheism. In this critique of McGrath’s arguments, Keith Parsons considers whether the intellectual clout, stature, or influence of atheism has in fact declined in recent years, concluding that McGrath does not even begin to address the real intellectual case for atheism. That disbelief in God is just as much a matter of faith as belief in God can only be a stale platitude from McGrath given his failure to even superficially survey the best arguments for atheism. McGrath does address, however, four charges made by Richard Dawkins against religion, including the charge that evolution makes God unnecessary as an explanation and that religion is a source of much of the misery in the world. Parsons concludes that once one appropriately qualifies or refines Dawkins’ accusations, McGrath’s critique fails to adequately address the underlying problems for religion that inspire them. Moreover, to the extent that the influence of inherently controversial and divisive religions on people’s lives grows, a corresponding dawn of the popularity of atheism is inevitable.
Awesome Versus Adipose: Who Really Works Hardest to Banish Ignorance? (1998) (Off Site) by Peter Atkins
“Science is almost totally incompatible with religion. I say ‘almost’, but I do not wish that weasel word to be construed as weakness. The only point of compatibility is that there are well-meaning, honest people on both sides who are genuinely and deeply concerned with discovering the truth about this wonderful world. That having been said, there is no actual compatibility between science and religion.”
Theistic creationism cannot be scientific; on the other hand, naturalistic creationism could be a scientific theory. However, “that is a moot point and has no application to public policy. There are excellent reasons (of both a scientific and pedagogical sort) for teachers not to present or discuss the theory in any science class.”
Selected essays on Science and Religion that appeared in the Humanists Hawaii Newsletter during the period 1990-1994.
Evolution and Philosophy: An Introduction (1997) [ Index ] (Off Site) by John Wilkins
Critics of evolution sometimes claim that “evolution fails to meet the standards of true science.” Wilkins shows that “evolution, especially the modern theories, is science at its best, and when it and the nature of science are considered realistically, evolution is not lacking from a philosophical perspective.”
In addressing well-known atheist Antony Flew’s recent “conversion” to a form of deism, ostensibly based on recent scientific discoveries, Stenger takes a look at such works as The Science of God, by Gerald Schroeder, Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, and The Design Inference, by William Dembski–works that were, in part, responsible for Flew’s change of heart.
“By definition, explanations that build on simple premises are more plausible and more satisfying than explanations that have to postulate complex and statistically improbable beginnings. And you can’t get much more complex than an Almighty God!”
Interview of Richard Dawkins by Sheena McDonald (1994) (Off Site)
McDonald’s introduction: “Imagine no religion! Even non-believers recognize the shock value of John Lennon’s lyric. A godless universe is still a shocking idea in most parts of the world. But one English zoologist crusades for his vision of a world of truth, a world without religion, which he says is the enemy of truth, a world which understands the true meaning of life…”
Argues that science is not a religion because it “is free of the main vice of religion, which is faith.”
Dawkins divides religious people into three main groups: the “know-nothings,” the “know-alls,” and the “no-contests.” He then offers refutations of typical arguments from each group.
“History shows that metaphysics is subjective, prevaricated to the extent of unintelligibility, and irrational; it is essentially ostentatious and philosophically so dense that it is inane. Likewise, many revelations are demonstrably and factually wrong. Both are anachronistic and have ceased to be inspiring sources of human knowledge. Any reliable human knowledge is empirical and scientific.”
“For secular scientists and moderate Christians alike, there can be few developments of modern fundamentalism more perplexing and unfortunate than that of religious pseudo-science. This, for anyone not familiar with the term, is the sort of thing best exemplified by such theories as Young-Earth Creationism–it is, in brief, the practice of trying to use science to justify religious convictions.”
“Religion is the antithesis of science; science is competent to illuminate all the deep questions of existence, and does so in a manner that makes full use of, and respects the human intellect. I see neither need nor sign of any future reconciliation.”
Although science and religion have long been in collision, it is fashionable (and politically correct) to portray this ongoing battle as a mutual accommodation, but in reality, religion is doing most of the accommodating, as the gaps in understanding that nourish God grow ever smaller. For many seeking religious consolation, the advance of science has forced a retreat to the easy fix of New Age nostrums; but in Skeptics and True Believers, Chet Raymo shows that there is a better way.
After examining Gerald Schroeder’s academic credentials, Scott Oser critiques his arguments from Big Bang cosmology, quantum mechanics, and alleged “fine-tuning” for the existence of the biblical God in The Hidden Face of God. Oser tours such perennial issues as what, if anything, came before the Big Bang, various interpretations of quantum mechanics and whether it requires us to believe that atoms are literally “aware” and “make choices,” whether entangled states indicate a universe underpinned by Mind, and whether purported fine-tuning is grounded on solid probability calculations or would even require a grand “tuner” if real given the possibility of a cosmic lottery playing out across a hypothetical multiverse. Niall Shanks turns to Schroeder’s discussion of origin-of-life studies and purported “intelligent design” on the cellular level, noting that current biochemistry actually reveals substantial evidence of unintelligent design by mindless, trial-and-error processes such as self-organization. Moreover, good scientific hypotheses for such “mysteries” as the origin of sexual reproduction exist but simply lack confirmation at this stage, undermining the need to postulate any guiding supernatural agents. Oser and Shanks conclude that if the history of science is any guide, Schroeder’s God of the gaps will be supplanted by natural explanations as our current scientific understanding advances.
Review of Massimo Pigliucci’s Tales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science (2000) by Amanda Chesworth
Engaging, compelling, witty essays that put in perspective some of the most fascinating scientific and pseudoscientific claims of the 20th century. Includes discussions of: atheism, straw-man arguments, creationism, debating creationists and theists, evolutionary biology, Christian apologetics, critiques of modern science, the search for extraterrestrial life, the search for the origins of life, chaos theory, and much more.
Oppy reviews Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God, which claims that modern scientific discoveries converge with Old Testament wisdom on issues such as the Big Bang; the appearance of life after the appearance of water; the existence of archaeopteryx, dinosaurs, and prehuman hominids; quantum indeterminancy; the age of the universe and the origin of life. Oppy questions whether the Old Testament accounts really converge with modern scientific discoveries on any of these issues.
Campbell reviews Taner Edis’ The Ghost in the Universe, concluding that although the book is not likely to persuade readers to change their views on the implications of scientific findings for traditional religion, it nevertheless is “one of the best books on its subject to have appeared in recent years.”
Science, Complexity, and God (1999) (Off Site)
Argues that “God, if he exists, would be an extremely complex being that is also fundamentally complex, and this implies that the existence of God is extremely improbable.”
Science and Religion: Bridging the Great Divide (1998) (Off Site) by George Johnson
“Most of the longing for reconciliation comes from the religious side. With a $3 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which is fueling much of the metaphysics boom with its considerable resources, a modest newsletter on science and religion was reborn this year as a glossy magazine called Science & Spirit.”
“It’s often said that people ‘need’ something more in their lives than just the material world. There is a gap that must be filled. People need to feel a sense of purpose…You don’t have to be a scientist – you don’t have to play the bunsen burner – in order to understand enough science to overtake your imagined need and fill that fancied gap. Science needs to be released from the lab into the culture.”
It is commonly held that science and religion are in conflict, but a number of sophisticated believers and historians have disputed this. They have pointed out that there has never been a state of continuous conflict between science and religion, and that many scientists have been religious. Though both of these points are true, neither speak to whether the content of religious doctrines remain tenable in light of various scientific developments. In this essay Bart Klink argues that there is indeed a genuine conflict between science and religion, and that it manifests itself on four different levels. Historically, there has been conflict between the content of religious doctrines and the developing body of scientific knowledge. Sociologically, scientists are significantly less religious than nonscientists, and people of faith explicitly reject scientific findings on religious grounds. In psychology, the cognitive science of religion has had a debunking effect by providing naturalistic explanations for religious beliefs that, while not strictly refuting them, nevertheless render supernatural accounts of their origins improbable. Finally, there has been a philosophical conflict in the sense that the sciences have made the existence of a personal God and other theistic claims (e.g., to divine revelations, miracles, and answered prayers) improbable. Science has historically ‘desupernaturalized’ phenomena and provided a coherent naturalistic big picture of the universe that has only lead to a monologue between science and religion—one in favor of science.
“The alleged marriage between religion and science is a shallow, empty, spin-doctored sham.”
Stephen Jay Gould has claimed that there is no conflict between science and religion since they “occupy distinct domains or magisteria.” However, “historically, religion and philosophy have speculated on questions concerning the origin of Earth, the universe, and humankind, and the nature of matter, space and time. These questions have now been successfully answered by science. Each advance in scientific knowledge has been followed by a retreat on the part of religion, requiring us to continually redraw the line between their respective domains.”
This essay dispels many myths about the scientific mind, detailing what scientific methods really are, and how science really gets done, based on a scientific study revealing troubling levels of scientific illiteracy among college students and high school science teachers.
Barbara Forrest, Southeastern Louisiana University, outlines the political agenda of the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Strategy,” exposing it as a scientific failure encumbered by religious ambition and public relations. Forrest articulates clearly the goals, strategies, and political ambitions of the Intelligent Design movement in America today.
“There is something dishonestly self-serving in the tactic of claiming that all religious beliefs are outside the domain of science. On the one hand, miracle stories and the promise of life after death are used to impress simple people, win converts, and swell congregations. It is precisely their scientific power that gives these stories their popular appeal. But at the same time it is considered below the belt to subject the same stories to the ordinary rigors of scientific criticism: these are religious matters and therefore outside the domain of science. But you cannot have it both ways. At least, religious theorists and apologists should not be allowed to get away with having it both ways.”
Talk given by a physicist as part of a panel presentation on “Science and Religion,” sponsored by the Philosophy and Religion Club of Truman State University, October 15 2001.