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?

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

  1. Religion conflicts with science to the degree that religion makes testable claims that, when tested, turn out to be untrue. Some religions make a lot of testable claims, others not so many. In this sense, it does seem to me that there’s been a great deal of conflict between religion and science. Why would you think otherwise?

    Of course this may be disconnected from the reasons for secularism. What do you think causes secularization?

  2. I don’t know, I guess that secularism more or less appeared along with science. Science tends operate rather secularly, and people pushing secularism like to appeal to science.

    To be sure, I think that the above is more particular than universal, while progressives tend to think that it is universal. But most people don’t know a lot about science, and many tend to fall for pseudoscience rather than actual science. And yes, religion presumably exists to “feed the soul,” so what would science do in its stead?

    Nearly Normal Jimmy in Another Roadside Attraction said that science gives humanity what it needs, magic gives us what we want. One might dispute the latter, of course, but at least religion/magic says that it will give us what we want, and a lot will go for the promises.

    It does seem that secularism is increasing now in the US, but, if true, it doesn’t seem to be due to any rise in science interest, rather more to social issues, maybe just the ubiquity of electronic distractions. That science is responsible for that might mean that science is indirectly responsible for secularization (again, if that really is increasing), but I don’t think that science could be considered directly responsible for secularization of society at large.

    Glen Davidson

  3. We do have at least anecdotal evidence of connection: some people have begun as theists and have become atheists because the claims of their religion didn’t fit reality, though others have merely rejected the claims rather than the religion, and of course others have merely rejected reality.

  4. From the OP quote:

    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?

    I might agree with this, depending on what the author means by secularism. For me separation of individual religious belief from collective activity (government, judiciary etc) is true secularism. Yet the word is often used pejoratively by theists as a synonym for atheism. When someone who self-declares as non-religious can get elected to some significant post in the US legislature, true secularism will have arrived.

  5. Alan Fox: For me separation of individual religious belief from collective activity (government, judiciary etc) is true secularism.

    I agree with that. And if that’s what we mean by secularism, then there are Christians who are also secularists.

    As to the issue of conflict — I do not see a necessary conflict between religion and science. There will always be conflict to the extent that some religious people choose to oppose science.

  6. John Harshman: Religion conflicts with science to the degree that religion makes testable claims that, when tested, turn out to be untrue

    I think the problem is deeper than that and has to do more with how claims are made.

    The ancient Hebrews predicted a young earth. The ancient Hindus predicted an old earth. The ancient Hindus turned out to be roughly correct but that doesn’t imply that Hinduism is a superior way to understand the world . Both were just storytelling and the Hindus just guessed correctly.

  7. RodW: I think the problem is deeper than that and has to do more with how claims are made.

    The ancient Hebrews predicted a young earth. The ancient Hindus predicted an old earth. The ancient Hindus turned out to be roughly correct but that doesn’t imply that Hinduism is a superior way to understand the world . Both were just storytelling and the Hindus just guessed correctly.

    Actually, the Hindus were wrong in the opposite direction from the Hebrews. They predicted a cyclic universe (and earth, and life) that was much older than the actual universe (etc.) turned out to be. And other truly wacko claims. You should check out some Hundutva fundy web sites. The moon, for example, is much larger than the sun and is farther away than the sun. Solar eclipses do not involve the moon. Etc.

  8. Both the OP and the article the OP has been based on seem to commit the same fallacy; the misapplication of the terms religion and faith.

    Faith is a personal belief system independent of religion or anyone who may or may not share your beliefs.

    Religion is organized faith-A group of people with similar faith that in some manner share the faith as religion.

    One can be religious (participate in a religious activity), without having any personal faith. i.e. an evangelist who lost his personal faith but continues as an active member of religion, which is separate from believing in the religious dogma.

    Jerry Coyne committed the same fallacy in his book Faith vs Fact where in the preface and the introduction he (or whoever wrote it for him) uses the terms Faith and Religion interchangeably as if they were the same thing…

    They are not!

    From there on Coyne’s book goes nowhere…just as the arguments in the original article and this OP…

  9. Circleing?? Its headons aplenty!
    There is no science verses religion conflict! never was.
    Good grief it was Christianity, Evangelical protestant, that brought about the scientific revolution by increasing the intellectual curve of the common man in the 1600’s to 1800’s.
    i recently read a article that famous science historians like Robert Merton and R.H. Tawney stressed this fact. Lots of peoople see puritan protestantism as the origin for the scientific accomplishment curve in humanity.
    anyways.
    Its not science but instead a few conclusions in a few subjects touching on origin matters that is the WAR. this forum case in point.
    A feew conclusions in a few subjects are tryingh to deny the historic biblical claims to origins and to a creator.
    thats all it is.
    The 99.9% of other science has no problem with religion or religion with it.

    Further it is subjects about past and gone processes and events. its not real time processes/events like in 95.5% of the other sciences.
    Then its not religion but conclusions that are defended, from religion, by modern creationists etc etc and using scientific methodology.
    In fact its really just more ptions or ideas taking on present paradigms.
    creationism is just doing what is always done in science.
    Correcting previous wrong ideas .
    Its opponents of creationism who say RELIGION is attacking science.
    Naw! Just the bad guys attacking your credibility.
    If folks attack religious conclusions WELL THEN THEY FIRED ON FORT SUMPTER FIRST.

  10. Robert Byers,

    I have a question for you Robert:
    I’m sure you have the answer for it…
    What would have happened if God had decided to shield Adam and Eve from the consequences (aging, sickness, death, danger outside of the paradise) of their rebellion against his 1 prohibition?

    As written in Gen 2:16-17

    “God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

    God could have said: I’m going to forget it this time…” right?
    But he didn’t, because he couldn’t.

    WHY?

  11. John Harshman: Actually, the Hindus were wrong in the opposite direction from the Hebrews. They predicted a cyclic universe (and earth, and life) that was much older than the actual universe (etc.)

    From what I understand a cyclic universe is still a possibility among cosmologists ( Steinhardt and Turok etc) and when you calculate out the age of our universe according to Hindu scriptures its a few 100 million yo. But even if that’s not the case my main point I think is still valid. Either group just guessed correctly.

    CTTOI. Do you know if the sun was closer than the moon in the Ptolemaic universe?

  12. J-Mac: Jerry Coyne committed the same fallacy in his book Faith vs Fact

    I think Coyne was just assuming readers would understand that “Faith’ in the title of his book is just shorthand for the ‘religious faith in supernatural entities’

  13. RodW: when you calculate out the age of our universe according to Hindu scriptures its a few 100 million yo.

    I believe you are off by six orders of magnitude there; trillion, not million.

    Do you know if the sun was closer than the moon in the Ptolemaic universe?

    No, it wasn’t. For one thing, Ptolemy knew what caused solar eclipses.

  14. RodW: Do you know if the sun was closer than the moon in the Ptolemaic universe?

    It wasn’t.

    They knew that the moon was in front of the sun during a solar eclipse. Also, the moon wasn’t perfect as the sun, being closer to the earth–the variations seen in the moon meant that it wasn’t “perfect” like the sun was supposed to be.

    Ptolemy’s figure for the distance to the moon was quite accurate, discovered via parallax. He was quite wrong about the distance to the sun, other than that it had to be farther than the moon.

    Glen Davidson

  15. RodW: I think Coyne was just assuming readers would understand that “Faith’ in the title of his book is just shorthand for the ‘religious faith in supernatural entities’

    One would think…but this is what I wrote in my comment you didn’t quote:
    “…Jerry Coyne committed the same fallacy in his book Faith vs Fact where in the preface and the introduction he (or whoever wrote it for him) uses the terms Faith and Religion interchangeably as if they were the same thing…
    They are not!”

  16. J-Mac,

    The obvious reason that Coyne chooses “Faith” over “Religion” is it’s a monosyllable (think Churchill’s speeches) and alliterative.

  17. Alan Fox:
    J-Mac,

    The obvious reason that Coyne chooses “Faith” over “Religion” is it’s a monosyllable (think Churchill’s speeches) and alliterative.

    Why write the book if you are confused about the terms faith and religion and then further confuse the reader with your own faith presented as science?

  18. John Harshman: Ptolemy knew what caused solar eclipses.

    Duh. I’m embarrassed that didn’t occur to me, especially considering the recent eclipse. But then how did the Hindus get it wrong?

  19. J-Mac: Why write the book if you are confused about the terms faith and religion and then further confuse the reader with your own faith presented as science?

    Who’s confused about the terms faith and religion?

    Faith 3 :something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially :a system of religious beliefs the Protestant faith

    Even if one didn’t know such a common meaning, why wouldn’t one at least look it up on the web?

    Glen Davidson

  20. RodW: Duh.I’m embarrassed that didn’t occur to me, especially considering the recent eclipse. But then how did the Hindus get it wrong?

    One must suppose they didn’t know what causes solar eclipses. In fact they had a completely different theory, that they were caused by the otherwise invisible (and imaginary) body they called Rahu.

  21. J-Mac: Why write the book if you are confused about the terms faith and religion and then further confuse the reader with your own faith presented as science?

    I’m guessing you didn’t read Coyne’s book*. Not that I can complain about that as I have only just now read the article linked to by KN. The author does indeed use the words “secularism” and “secularisation” as antonyms for religion-based society, wrongly in my view.

    *Yes, I did and I have it on Kindle.

  22. Alan Fox: I’m guessing you didn’t read Coyne’s book*. Not that I can complain about that as I have only just now read the article linked to by KN. The author does indeed use the words “secularism” and “secularisation” as antonyms for religion-based society, wrongly in my view.

    *Yes, I did and I have it on Kindle.

    Why do you base this assumption on?

  23. Alan Fox,

    Since you have the book on kindle, read preface and the introduction, and tell me how many times Coyne uses the term faith and religion interchangeably…
    If you have it in a different format, cut and past them here …

  24. Alan Fox:
    J-Mac,

    I should have asked you directly, did you read Jerry Coyne’s Faith vs. Fact?

    I’ve read the preface and a part of the introduction where he confuses the faith and religion terms…

    Why would I read the book where the author has no clue why he wrote the book and has not idea what his goal is other than evolution must be true even though science doesn’t know how live begun….

  25. vjtorley:
    For what it’s worth, here’s my review of the arguments in Coyne’s book (not the book itself), from 2015:

    Faith vs. Fact: Jerry Coyne’s flawed epistemology

    What is it worth? You support your notion of faith with reference to the bible, but is that relevant to faith in the 21st Century? We have no contemporary wedding at Cana, and if people say that god talked to them or showed them a vision, most of us suspect that they’re a few bricks shy of a load. As for evidence taken from the bible, it’s a collection of stories. Why should we believe there ever was a wedding at Cana or water changed to wine, when the eye-witnesses you appeal to are attested only in the story itself?

  26. John Harshman: What is it worth? You support your notion of faith with reference to the bible, but is that relevant to faith in the 21st Century?

    I think I know what kind of faith Harshhaman is talking about …
    It’s called now the scientific faith…

    Here is how it works: You form a theory you have no prove for. Let’s say abiogenesis or panspermia as a back up plan just in case someone like me asks why you believe in abiogenesis in the first place without any evidence for it…Then you call that theory scientific, so that dumb and naive people wouldn’t ask any questions…

    And here we go…the 21st century faith has been cloaked in science and now is considered a fact or a scientific theory or even both…

    The main idea behind this kind of faith-mambo-jumbo brain washing propaganda is to make one kind of faith-materialistic one- look better than the theistic one…
    That’s all there is to it…nobody cares about evidence…

  27. Mung: faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument’

    – Richard Dawkins

    Unless it is Darwinian faith or something Dawkins considers a possible truth, like ID signature in the genome however alien via panspermia…with no evidence for…lol

  28. J-Mac:
    Robert Byers,

    I have a question for you Robert:
    I’m sure you have the answer for it…
    What would have happened if God had decided to shield Adam and Eve from the consequences (aging, sickness, death, danger outside of the paradise) of their rebellion against his 1 prohibition?

    As written in Gen 2:16-17

    “God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

    God could have said: I’m going to forget it this time…” right?
    But he didn’t, because he couldn’t.

    WHY?

    Its off thread and mysterious BUT the rebellion was very evil. In fact suggesstive of a desire top destroy God.
    Its about profound evil and one can’t ignore it. People don’t and they don’t really keenly care about evil but still care.

  29. Kantian Naturalist: There’s a rather good article…

    What is good about it? It keeps repeating that science (and secularism) has not managed to outroot religion. Okay. Then, by the end, it says that science itself is apparently receding and needs all the friends it can get.

    What’s the good purpose of such statements? Do they have a point? If yes, is it a point worth making?

  30. Erik: It keeps repeating that science (and secularism) has not managed to outroot religion.

    Outroot?
    Is it the job of science and scientists to root out religion? Science offers no alternative to religious belief. What’s needed are social alternatives. Big Gods author, Ara Norenzayan has a fresh approach to this.

  31. Alan Fox,

    You mean you didn’t read the article? Here’s a brief quote from the beginning,

    …Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge’.

  32. John Harshman,

    What is it worth? You support your notion of faith with reference to the bible, but is that relevant to faith in the 21st Century?

    My intention in quoting the Bible was simply to show that Jerry Coyne’s definition of faith as believing something in the absence of evidence was not Bible-based, and that even the Bible itself does not expect believers to do such an irrational thing.

    Why should we believe there ever was a wedding at Cana or water changed to wine, when the eye-witnesses you appeal to are attested only in the story itself?

    Again, you miss the point I was making. In my review, I wrote: “Thus the first supernatural sign recorded in John’s gospel – Jesus changing water into wine – is declared to have taken place at a wedding in Cana, to which Jesus’ disciples had also been invited (John 2:1-2, 11): in other words, it was publicly witnessed. The same goes for the feeding of the five thousand, narrated in John 6.”

    My intent here was not to argue that we should believe the story, simply because the author of John’s gospel says there were public witnesses of the miracle. Rather, my point was, as I went on to state in my review, that “the author of John’s Gospel expected his readers to believe in Jesus only on the strength of reliable, eyewitness testimony, where the eyewitnesses would have been known to the first readers of the gospel.” Obviously, they’re not known to us, and we (unlike the readers of John’s Gospel) are no longer able to sail across the Mediterranean and interview them, as they’re long dead. So obviously, we who are living in the 21st century will require better evidence than that.

    However, I go on to argue that if we have extremely well-documented testimonies from a large number of individuals to an alleged miracle, then it may be rational for people living today to believe that the alleged miracle actually occurred, even if the witnesses are long dead. I describe some hypothetical cases in which belief in a miracle would be rational, despite the lack of contemporary eyewitnesses, in my review. Cheers.

  33. John Harshman: of course others have merely rejected reality.

    Lol
    Harashman is talking about “reality…as he sees it…

    The Harshman reality is based on the countless miraculous insertion of genes from outer space into the tree of life (that was rejected by the majority of evolutionists 10 years ago, including his buddy Larry Moran) to make common descent look somewhat believable…not to me though…

  34. …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.

    My experience here leads me to agree with you that most TSZ contributors hold to the conflict thesis view. They don’t seem to want to discuss it though. Perhaps they know it’s false. They aren’t interested in what’s true, but only how to score points in their culture war.

    There are many, many resources out there that expose the conflict thesis for what it is. But that’s not interesting reading, because one can’t point to it and find the dogmatic “science says” that is needed in the modern atheist war against religion.

    Must atheism and scientism go hand in hand?

  35. vjtorley:
    My intention in quoting the Bible was simply to show that Jerry Coyne’s definition of faith as believing something in the absence of evidence was not Bible-based, and that even the Bible itself does not expect believers to do such an irrational thing.

    Why should we care whether a definition is bible-based? How is that relevant to the meaning of “faith” in the modern world?

    My intent here was not to argue that we should believe the story, simply because the author of John’s gospel says there were public witnesses of the miracle. Rather, my point was, as I went on to state in my review, that “the author of John’s Gospel expected his readers to believe in Jesus only on the strength of reliable, eyewitness testimony, where the eyewitnesses would have been known to the first readers of the gospel.” Obviously, they’re not known to us, and we (unlike the readers of John’s Gospel) are no longer able to sail across the Mediterranean and interview them, as they’re long dead. So obviously, we who are living in the 21st century will require better evidence than that.

    I believe you misunderstand when the Gospel of John was written. Even the first readers would have been unable to consult the witnesses, assuming there even was an event to witness, which is doubtful.

    However, I go on to argue that if we have extremely well-documented testimonies from a large number of individuals to an alleged miracle, then it may be rational for people living today to believe that the alleged miracle actually occurred, even if the witnesses are long dead. I describe some hypothetical cases in which belief in a miracle would be rational, despite the lack of contemporary eyewitnesses, in my review. Cheers.

    Alleged miracles are irrelevant unless they provide good reasons for people to believe in god today. Hypothetical cases are irrelevant. Are there any actual documented miracles you would like to put forth as convincing evidence? Because I don’t think of any, and I do think that faith in the present world is indeed belief in the absence of evidence. Nothing you have said seems relevant to that opinion.

  36. Erik:
    Alan Fox,

    You mean you didn’t read the article? Here’s a brief quote from the beginning,

    …Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge’.

    That’s what I disagree with. 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”.

    For exampie Sean Carroll writes at the beginning of From Eternity to Here:

    By the end of this book, we will have defined time very precisely, in ways applicable to all fields. Less clear, unfortunately, will be why time has the properties that it does — although we’ll examine some intriguing ideas.

  37. Mung: Must atheism and scientism go hand in hand?

    I don’t think so. There are atheists who aren’t scientistic. Probably the best-known example of a non-scientistic atheist would be Nietzsche, or more recently, Richard Rorty.

    And one might think that evidentialism in modern apologetics is motivated by a background commitment to the epistemic authority of science, which is why they want to show that theism is justified by criteria that are accepted by scientists.

  38. Kantian Naturalist,
    Hi KN,
    You don’t have me on ignore do you?

    You mention Merlau-Ponty again. Recently I was recommended neuroscientist Ian McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary that has nice things to say about him and Edmund Husserl.

  39. Alan Fox:
    Kantian Naturalist,
    Hi KN,
    You don’t have me on ignore do you?

    You mention Merlau-Ponty again. Recently I was recommended neuroscientist Ian McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary that has nice things to say about him and Edmund Husserl.

    No, I don’t have you on ignore — why did you think that? Had you addressed something to me earlier and I didn’t respond? I’ve been very busy this week — classes are back in session and I have a lot of obligations this year, since it’s my last year before going up for tenure. My time for TSZ is quite limited.

  40. Kantian Naturalist, Thanks for the links! I’ll check them out. I found I can’t send you Chapter 4 via Calibre because of DRM.
    Dewey, James, Husserl’s intersubjectivity, phenomenalism, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Scheler all get credit from a neuroscientist. Seems written to you!

Leave a Reply