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. 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.

  2. The more religious the woman, the more children she is likely to have. Those who want to destroy religion are destroying their own ability to propagate. The two major religions that are most fertile are 1. Mormons and 2. Islam. The Mormon church is very pro-large-family, and the same is true of Islam. If you wish to destroy your own society, there is no better way than destroying its religion. Each successive generation will be smaller and will leave nothing behind except relics of an extinct people as testimony to their foolishness.

  3. Hi Inconnu,

    Welcome to TSZ.

    Your argument isn’t the slam dunk you appear to think it is. It relies on some implicit assumptions regarding the rates of conversion and of apostasy, the percentage of children who retain their mothers’ religion, and the religious affiliation of immigrants.

    The US population is still growing, yet religiosity is on the decline here:

    Christianity is on the decline in America, not just among younger generations or in certain regions of the country but across race, gender, education and geographic barriers. The percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years to about 71 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.

    “It’s remarkably widespread,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research for the Pew Research Center. “The country is becoming less religious as a whole, and it’s happening across the board.”

    At the same time, the share of those who are not affiliated with a religion has jumped from 16 percent to about 23 percent in the same time period. The trend follows a pattern found earlier in the American Religious Identification Survey, which found that in 1990, 86 percent of American adults identified as Christians, compared with 76 percent in 2008.

  4. Inconnu:
    The more religious the woman, the more children she is likely to have.

    Is this due to religious belief or to how women are denied access to birth control in some cultures?

    Those who want to destroy religion are destroying their own ability to propagate.

    I guess there are antitheists that would like to see religion disappear. I’m not one of them, though in my ideal society religion would be entirely voluntary and the state would be entirely blind to religious conviction or lack of it. Also, population growth is a huge problem, now and in the future, which needs to be addressed as a separate issue

    .The two major religions that are most fertile are 1. Mormons and 2. Islam.

    You surprise me that you don’t mention Catholicism. And a very quick check on Google suggests the number of Mormon believers increased by 1.5% last year. Up but not dramatically so compared to former years.

    The Mormon church is very pro-large-family, and the same is true of Islam.

    I would hope the vast majority of parents are pro-family.

    If you wish to destroy your own society, there is no better way than destroying its religion.

    What part of the World are you from? (inconnu suggests a French connection) I think the situation in Europe is markedly different from that that pertains in the US.

    Each successive generation will be smaller and will leave nothing behind except relics of an extinct people as testimony to their foolishness.

    Possibly. Who can predict the future? I think there are more immediate problems for the human race than declining populations.

    PS welcome to TSZ.

  5. High rates of immigration, especially from Latin America, have made up for the declining total fertility rate among non-Hispanic whites. The black fertility rate has actually risen in recent years, perhaps due to the spread of Islam among blacks. The Christian religion has been the source of morality in the West for 2000 years, but is in obvious decline among its white and Hispanic populations. The non-Hispanic white population is headed for oblivion if they don’t get some kind of religion back in their lives. Hispanic rates are falling too, but from a much higher level and are still above the critical 2.1 rate per woman. That might be due to the much lower child mortality rates in the USA than in Latin America; Hispanics do not need to have as many children here to have the size of family they find comfortable. Science cannot replace religion, because it says nothing about morality or purpose.
    Inconnu,

    Inconnu,

  6. Erik: 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.

    Apologies, Erik. I see you posted this a month ago and I only just noticed it when following the link to the more recent comment. Yes I agree that science doesn’t answer “why” questions.

    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.

    I’m not a scientist and it’s not a question I’ve asked of scientists and I’m not sure whether being happy about it is the issue. I happen to find the “why” explanations on offer from religion (are there philosophical proposals that are not religious at heart?) unsatisfactory and I don’t think religion is capable of answering “why” in any meaningful way. On the other hand that’s my personal view and I don’t begrudge anyone the emotional support and comfort they derive from a religious belief so long as they don’t wish to impose their beliefs on others. Live and let live.

  7. Inconnu,

    A 1.5% per year of increase will yield an 81% increase in population after 40 years. That’s not bad when you consider the Catholic population would be decreasing sharply were it not for immigration (legal and illegal) from Latin America. They don’t call those Latin American countries “baby factories” without reason.

    I have seen figures showing the average number of children for a Mormon couple is 3.4, compared to only 3.1 for Muslims, and only 2.2 for Christians generally. On a per country basis, it is some largely islamic african nation (Niger, I think) that has the highest total fertility rate, about 6 per woman (not the same as the average number of children but often close).

    Of course, most parents are pro-family (or maybe anti-birth control), but the degree of pro-familyness will vary depending on the policies and leadership of churches. I’m not an expert on Mormon practices, but just watching youtube videos on Mormonism and having lived near multiple Mormon families, it is very evident that the church prioritizes marriage and procreation within marriage. Catholics do this too, but the vulnerability of their clergy to pedophilia and homosexuality has eroded confidence in the church. Mormons don’t have that problem; their priests (or whatever you call them) are almost all married just as are their parishioners (or whatever you call them).

  8. Alan Fox: Is this due to religious belief or to how women are denied access to birth control in some cultures?

    This is the key question that would have to be answered. One would need to compare birth rates among religious and non-religious people who use birth control on a regular basis against birth rates among religious and non-religious people who do not use birth control on a regular basis. We would need to distinguish two different variables: presence or absence of religious practice and presence or absence of birth control.

    (Quite possibly there’s a third variable: is birth control condoned or permitted by religious practice? Some religions permit it, and others don’t.)

    All this is quite apart from the question as to what ought to be done about this. Is the suggestion that we should deprive white women of birth control so that there are more white babies and fewer non-white babies in white-majority countries? If that’s not the implicit suggestion, then what is? Clearly just ramping up religious practice isn’t going to work, since not all religions prohibit birth control. You’d have to have policies that favor religions that prohibit birth control.

    If the problem is that there are more non-white babies than white babies because white women exercise more control over their sexuality, then what you’d need is something like the Republic of Gilead (from The Handmaid’s Tale: a theocracy that enslaves women so that they not permitted to exercise any control over when they have sex, when they get pregnant, and how many babies they have.

    Inconnu: Science cannot replace religion, because it says nothing about morality or purpose.

    First, “science” and “religion” are being used here in a broad, sweeping, and vague sense that I was intentionally trying to get away from here. Which sciences? Which religions? (Does Buddhism teach that there is a purpose?)

    Second, it’s simply not true that “science says nothing about morality or purpose”. Sociology, psychology, cognitive science, and even primatology do allow us to say a great deal about morality! That is, they give us lots of pieces to the puzzle of explaining morality. (And surely explaining something involves saying something about it?)

  9. Science cannot tell us whether it was right or wrong for Stalin to slaughter millions of soviet citizens. Nor can it tell us whether humanity should attempt to create colonies on Mars or should remain on just this planet praying to God for enlightenment until a day of total destruction arrives.

    Science can tell us something about moralities, but it cannot tell us that this morality is right and that morality is wrong. If it tries to do that, it is no longer science.

    Inconnu,

  10. Inconnu,
    I’m not sure who you are arguing with. I don’t think anyone here suggests “Science” can provide answers to moral or ethical questions.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: Sociology, psychology, cognitive science, and even primatology do allow us to say a great deal about morality! That is, they give us lots of pieces to the puzzle of explaining morality. (And surely explaining something involves saying something about it?)

    And that is not in conflict with my previous comment. Science informs. That allows us to make better ethical decisions. Science tells us climate change is happening and what the causes might be and steps that could be taken that might ameliorate the trend. But whether and what to do is a political and ethical choice.

  12. Inconnu,

    My only point was that if sciences can contribute to explanations of the origin and functions of moralities, then it’s not true to say that science cannot say anything about morality.

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