Philip Meyer: Why faith and science will remain worlds apart

Posted by Kendall Harmon

News media love conflict, and when religion and science clash in political arguments, they like to stoke the flame.

For example, in a Republican debate last year, Politico's Jim Vandehei asked candidates who didn't believe in evolution to raise their hands. One of the three who did, Sam Brownback of Kansas, complained later in New Hampshire, "One of the problems we have with our society today is that we put faith and science at odds with each other. They aren't at odds with each other. If they are, check your faith or check your science."

Brownback, a Roman Catholic, is out of the race now, but he was right in his claim. Science and religion can co-exist.

Stephen Jay Gould, a Harvard paleontologist who died in 2002, argued in Natural History magazine 11 years ago that science and religion occupy non-overlapping domains. As an agnostic, he could consider the question objectively.

My agreement with him is based on a different perspective experienced a decade earlier. I had been reporting for a journalism review on newspapers' naive treatment of ghost stories and other unverified claims of the supernatural.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureScience & Technology

Posted February 25, 2008 at 6:16 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Virgil in Tacoma wrote:

Generally, pretty accurate, however, the “choice” of faith is a “critical” choice. Yes, the theories and propositions of religion cannot be “falsified,” but they can be “criticized.” Religion defines the mystery by framing what it reveals through experience in the categories of metaphysics. These metaphysical structures can be analyzed via logic and must associate with empirical phenomena in some regard. Without this logic and association, religion would be without a connection to the human intellect.

February 25, 7:58 pm | [comment link]
2. Daniel Muth wrote:

This is fine as far as it goes, I suppose, but frankly I’m more that a little tired of the “non-overlapping magisteria” claim, which strikes me as grossly overly-simplistic.  The “we can have both science and religion” line, given with the usual head-patting of 2000 years’ worth of Christian intellectuals, is both unseemly and arrogant.  The fact is that science deals with an eensy-weensy little sliver of reality that happens to deal only with the physical world and only that portion of it detectable, or which can be converted into signals detectable, by the five senses (I say this, by the bye, as a degreed Nuclear Engineer with some basic scientific background).  That leaves the entire metaphysical world - a world just as available for study and understanding, a world the explanation of which is just as consititutive of objective knowledge as that apprehensible by science - unexplored.  Higher mathematics (that part that does more than just describe and model relationships between physical phenomena) has an objective existence that is completely unavailable for scientific exploration.  So too the mind, that metaphysical reality that enables the raw material of the brain’s electrochemical reactions to take on meaning as coherent thoughts that can be either more or less reflective of transcendent truth (even the grossest materialist must acknowledge the philosophical necessity of the mind - even if his ideology then requires him to dismiss it as an illusion created by the brain - otherwise nothing he can say would be meaningful and how is that going to help sell books?).  The fact is, contra all too many modernists, both philosophy and theology (queen of all sciences) are forms of knowledge that are not to be derived by means of scientific data, at least not without considerable effort.  The belief that philosophy is not knowledge in the proper sense, that scientific data can be used - entirely without effort - to answer philosophical questions (which all too often are ultimately theological questions) is one of the besetting errors that lie behind the darkness of the modern west.  It is the foundation of ideologies, which saw their principal development in the 19th century and their bloody testing ground in the abbatoirs of the 20th - a century in which more people had their lives cut brutally short than ever before in human history.  We must realize that we live in an excruciatingly dark and ignorant age and that this is largely due to the rejection of metaphysics and an embrace of science as providing answers to questions it has not the means to come close to addressing.  The gap, as always, gets filled in by superstition (remember that, among many other things, the Bible is a long, sustained assault on superstition - Christianity, like Judaism, its progenitor, is the least superstitious of religions).  Ours is an extremely superstitious age.  I would like to think that even grudging admissions that science can’t necessarily answer every question and that there is kind of a place for religion for those interested in that sort of thing, is a helpful attitude to have - at least for those who can’t manage something more profound - but I can’t help but suspect that this approach actually does more harm than good.

February 25, 11:53 pm | [comment link]
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