The Idea of ‘Science’ “vs” “Religion’

There’s a rather good article recently published on Aeon, “Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it“. Since we often circle around the question of the relationship between science and religion, and since most TSZ contributors seem to assume the conflict thesis — that science and religion tend to, and perhaps even must, conflict — I wanted to bring this article to your attention. Discuss — or not!

Harrison points out that the very idea that the relationship between science and religion is one of “conflict” has not been historically true, nor is a conceptual necessity. He also points out that “the secularization thesis” — that societies will tend to become more secular over time, esp as scientific literacy and technological sophistication increase — pretty much seems false, despite its prevalence among 19th-century progressives. Part of this has to do with the role that religion can plays in human life:


Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularisation – that science would be a secularising force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods.

But it also has to do with how Western culture is in the grip of 19th-century progressive ideas about the science-religion relationship:

In brief, global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. The science and secularism pairing is so awkward that it raises the question: why did anyone think otherwise?

Indeed — why did anyone think otherwise, and why does anyone still think otherwise today?

51 thoughts on “The Idea of ‘Science’ “vs” “Religion’

  1. Alan Fox: Religion and science don’t necessarily conflict, if religious adherents stick to unfalsifiable claims and scientists (or popular science promoters) don’t give the impression that the scientific method is going to answer “why there is a universe”.

    This is precisely what constitutes the conflict. Scientists supposedly “explain” things, but in the human world to “explain” means to answer the why rather than anything else.

    If scientists are in fact not answering the why, then this leaves only religion and philosophy to really explain things. Now show me a scientist who is happy with this.

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