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May 28 2010
two articles on science and religion

I just happened to run across two articles each about science and religion and thought I'd post links to them here.

Templeton award winner Francisco Ayala's piece here argues for the "separate spheres" viewpoint that science and religion are compatible because they address completely different things. Science discovers truth about the natural world while religion, he claims, similarly addresses subjects that science cannot.

The one by Random Stephens is certainly closer to my own opinion. In this blog he discusses the way science discovers what is true while religion simply makes claims which come from -- I don't know -- a combination of wishful thinking, the delusions of people who believe they are in contact with the divine, ancient books written by people who had no way of knowing about a lot of very important pieces of information, etc.

This, you see, is why I cannot agree with Ayala, even though I seem him as a very smart man and a good scientist.

I think that science has more to say about these things than he gives it credit for, but basically agree with him. He says "Science has nothing decisive to say about values" and I am inclined to agree (especially with the word "decisive" in there). But, that does not mean that the statements made by religion concerning morality have any more validity to them! When we look at the "methods" used to determine truth (as Stephens begins to do in his brief post and I half-seriously do in last sentence of the third paragraph above) I am left with little "faith" that religion has any power to make objective statements about values that science lacks. The fact that it CLAIMS to make such statements does not prove that it can any more than you can believe the assurances of a con man that he is "completely honest".

Maybe "philosophy" is the best word for the area of human thought that can address these sorts of questions. Just by thinking abstractly about what we know about the world (learned from science) and by using logic, we can figure out SOME things (though, of course, not everything.) This approach leads me to the conclusion that there ARE no objective answers to the questions Ayala ascribes to the religious sphere. Of course, we can find our own answers to them (and this is where I personally find science to be helpful, despite Ayala's claims to the contrary). But, the role of religion, in my opinion, is not to help find these answers but to give some of the answers a false patina of "Truth" (with a capital "T") which they do not deserve. This only serves to cloud the issue further, and so in contrast to Ayala I would urge people to use PHILOSOPHY and not religion to address these thorny questions (and also to just get used to the fact that we do not have any real answers to them and probably never will).

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