Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Science & Religion

Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D. outlines some considerations when discussing science and religion:

1. Science is about the natural world. By definition, it has nothing to say about the supernatural world, including whether there is a supernatural world.

2. Theism is compatible with science. If it's not, then teaching science in public schools is an establishment of atheism, which violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

3. Theists have an explanation for the evil in the world, so the existence of evil—even horrendous, seemingly pointless evil—doesn't disprove the existence of God. Some of the scientists mentioned in the story need to get up to speed on philosophy of religion. They are embarrassing themselves.

4. Religion has been a force for both good and evil. To condemn it for the evil it does without commending it for the good it does is intellectually dishonest.

5. Religion is not the only divisive force in the world. The horrors of the 20th century were motivated by political (usually leftist) ideals, not by religion. So if religion is to be abolished for being divisive, then so should political ideals such as leftism be abolished.

6. Corollary: If inculcating religious belief is "child abuse," then so is inculcating leftism.

7. That religion, as an institution, can be explained in naturalistic terms (e.g., in terms of its psychological or social usefulness) has no bearing on (a) its truth or (b) its value. Morality, law, mathematics—even science itself—can be explained in naturalistic terms. Are they to be rejected as false or valueless? Indeed, everything that exists—every belief, practice, convention, tradition, institution, and emotion—can be explained in naturalistic terms. Nothing of an evaluative nature follows from this.

8. Scientists who make claims about the value or disvalue of religion—about whether it has been a net benefit or a net detriment to humanity, or to sentient life generally—are acting in a nonscientific capacity. Science—even social science—is value-free. It has nothing to say about what's good, bad, right, wrong, just, unjust, fair, unfair, beautiful, or ugly. Scientists who pretend that their scientific expertise gives them evaluative authority are guilty of scientism, which is an ideology.

9. Richard Dawkins is not merely indifferent to religion, as one might expect of a scientist; he is hostile to it. This cries out for explanation. Some scientist should try to discover the roots of his hostility. Is he afraid of dying? Was he abused by a preacher? Is he symbolically killing his father? Is he trying to get attention? Fame? Fortune?

10. Some scientist should conduct a study of theists and atheists to see which of them comes closest to living a morally upright life. The standard of uprightness would have to be neutral, obviously. One candidate is the utilitarian standard of Jeremy Bentham, which neither presupposes nor precludes the existence of God. Who produces the most overall utility: theists or atheists? This is an empirical question, well within the competence of (social) scientists to investigate. Do you suppose they're afraid of what they'll discover?

Dr. Burgess-Jackson is one of my regular atheist reads.

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