The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Is there room for religion in science?

by Fleming

I ran across this WSJ article the other day
and would enjoy discussing it here if
anyone's up for it.

Here's the link, and a few excerpts:


God and Science Don't Mix
A scientist can be a believer. But professionally, at least, he can't act like one.


My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

"Fact and Faith" (1934)

"Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in several exciting panel discussions at the World Science Festival in New York City. But the most dramatic encounter took place at the panel strangely titled "Science, Faith and Religion." I had been conscripted to join the panel after telling one of the organizers that I saw no reason to have it. After all, there was no panel on science and astrology, or science and witchcraft. So why one on science and religion?

I ended up being one of two panelists labeled "atheists." The other was philosopher Colin McGinn. On the other side of the debate were two devoutly Catholic scientists, biologist Kenneth Miller and Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno. Mr. McGinn began by commenting that it was eminently rational to suppose that Santa Claus doesn't exist even if one cannot definitively prove that he doesn't. Likewise, he argued, we can apply the same logic to the supposed existence of God. The moderator of the session, Bill Blakemore, a reporter with some religious inclination, surprised me by bursting out in response, "Then I guess you are a rational atheist."

Our host was presumably responding to all those so-called fundamentalist atheists who have recently borne the brunt of intense attacks following the success of books like Sam Harris's "The End of Faith," and Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion."

Science is only truly consistent with an atheistic worldview with regards to the claimed miracles of the gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Moreover, the true believers in each of these faiths are atheists regarding the specific sacred tenets of all other faiths. Christianity rejects the proposition that the Quran contains the infallible words of the creator of the universe. Muslims and Jews reject the divinity of Jesus."

Finally, it is worth pointing out that these issues are not purely academic. The current crisis in Iran has laid bare the striking inconsistency between a world built on reason and a world built on religious dogma."


In other words, we're all pretty much atheists toward other people's Gods, right?

So why does athiesim get such a bad rap?

p.s. For my part, I do believe in a "higher power" (as they say in the 12 step programs)and for now, I'll just leave it at that. BF


Bob Newland said...

The existence of God is undeniable. Everything else anyone says they believe about God is open to challenge.

Bill Fleming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Fleming said...

A theology professor of mine once said, "I think they should have stopped writing the Old Testament after the first four words."

Michael Sanborn said...

Well, well well. Pastor Mike steps away for a few days and everything anyone says about God is open to challenge and the Old Testament should have stopped at created.

Hmmm. Note the time of my post boys. I don't have time for this now, but I shall challenge you both.

In the meantime, Bill, please read The Song of Solomon and Psalms and then check this out:

Bill Fleming said...

The Lewis Black thing is hilarious.

Here's a Here's a hot link.

Troy Jones said...


Alot in your original post. Too little ability in this head to pull it all together. But I'll make some comments.

1) A scientist should approach the study of the natural order without regard to the super-natural. By definition, the super-natural transcends the natural. But, just because God is transcendent, it doesn't preclude a scientist from studying the natural.

2) But because a scientist approachs his craft "atheistically," it doesn't mean it should not be done without regard to serving a higher purpose and done morally. Learning how the eye works by plucking peoples eyes out or understanding how anthrax works by infecting people is not legitimate science nor moral.

3) Your theology teacher was wise. If one were to know only one thing about God, what could be more important than "In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth" as it describes a right relationship between the created and Creator.

4) Just because the created has a faulty understanding and differing opinion about God, doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. Only that He is greater than what we can understand.

Bill Fleming said...

I'm with you on all but the first one, Troy. There's a dualism there that I question, as you know. I'm not seeing a reason for anything "supernatural". Transcendent, sure, incomprehensible, perhaps, but supernatural? Why?

Michael Sanborn said...

The original premise for your post, Bill, was in the headline: "Is there room for religion in science?"

My answer is of course there is.

The problem is that all the books contain as their primary error (I believe) the arrogance of human beings. Genesis Chapter 1, vs. 27 and 28: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

"And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea..."

Those two verses may well be the most arrogant thing ever set to paper. And, if I can sell that idea, I can sell the idea that Darwin's theory of evolution is utterly consistent with a belief in a higher power.

Now, I'm going to run very close to the "intelligent design" theory, which frightens me a bit.

Another arrogance is that there has been some notion that mortals have the slightest clue what God thinks about any given topic.

I submit we don't know anything about what God thinks. We don't know how long one of God's days is, and as a consequence, we do not know how many of God's days are in God's week. Neither do we know whether or not God ever commanded anyone anywhere to do anything.

Bill may be right, the first four words of the Old Testament, may be sufficient.

I have zero doubt there is a higher power (God). But, for all we know the process of evolution as Darwin saw it, may well be the result of God's continuing creation. Who knows? We could be on God's day number two.

More later.

Troy Jones said...


I'm totally with you. God is eternal and outside time and space (a definition of "supernatural" or more accurately "extra-natural"). God doesn't have days or weeks. It is my opinion (and that of most theologians) that the Creation story contain allegory such that creation can understand that all creation was done "ex nihilio." There is no conflict between the theory of evolution and the Creation Story.

Bill, I don't understand why you disagree with my first point.

Science is the study of nature which by definition is not the study of the "supernatural." To take not consider the supernatural doesn't deny that there is a supernatural just that it is beyond the study of the natural.

This weeks Gospel reading is very appropriate for this discussion (Mark 5:21-43) as it speaks to miracles performed by Christ when He healed the woman with hemorrages and raised the 12 year old girl from the dead. These are examples when God intervenes and supercedes the natural. If God created everything, it is reasonable to think He can affect the natural.

Bill Fleming said...

Ok, Troy, now we're getting there. First, let me say that my attempts to comprehend Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are those of an extreme novice compared to the likes of my friends Jeff Masten, Bill harlan, Bill's boss, Jose Alonzo and Frank Wilczek (two Nobel Prize winning physicists).

That said, I'm pretty clear that Nature itself extends beyond space and time (indeed, they are not separate things, but aspects of the same thing) and that the underlying and as yet unidentified causes of what we know as "existence" are even so, natural phenomenon — albeit to us non-physicists, seemingly supernatural.

The long and short of it is that perhaps you and I are calling "nature" two completely different things.

In any case, logically speaking, a God that doesn't interact with nature (especially human nature) would be irrelevant to us wouldn't s/he?

Troy Jones said...

You are correct. I'm using the narrow definition of "nature" and "natural". You are using the broader definition in which the natural and supernatural are all part of the same. Thelogically, I agree with you as the "natural" and "supernatural" are all intertwined with the Creator.

I use the narrow definition as not all people accept the linkage. And, more importantly the "natural" is bound by "time and space" whereas the supernatural is not.

And, you are correct. A god (ala the Roman/Greek gods who saw us as playthings) that cares so little for us as to act disinterested is not an all-loving God. God loves us all perfectly and is very much interested in you and me.

Bill Fleming said...

Thanks for clarifying, Troy.

Now we're back on the same page.

(If in fact we ever left it.)

Good job.

I like the idea that "we are in God as a fish is in water."

Troy Jones said...

P.S. Bill, an example of God being interested in us is from today's reading.

Genesis 21:17-19: God heard the boy's cry, and God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven: "What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink.

And Psalm 34.

Bill Fleming said...

We dance around the ring and suppose, while the secret lives in the middle and knows-- Robert Frost