A response to “7 Ways Religion is Detrimental to Science”

June 28th, 2008

I read 7 Ways Religion is Detrimental to Science, and thought it would be an interesting read. It was, but I don’t think it really made sense. Let’s look at the 7 ways they highlighted:

1. Faith and the Scientific Method are Opposites

The article states:

Faith is a belief in an idea regardless of the evidence for or against it.

Actually, that’s not true at all, at least for traditional Christianity. (Note that traditional Christianity is not the same as fundamentalism). Marcus J. Borg describes faith in four ways:

Fiducia — trusting in God. Borg says, “Faith . . . [means] we trust in God as the one upon whom we rely, as our support and foundation and ground, as our safe place.”

Fidelitas — loyalty, or “the comment of the self at its deepest level, the commitment of the ‘heart’. Faith as fidelitas does not mean faithfulness to statements about God. . . Fidelitas refers to a radical centering in God.”

Visio — a way of seeing — “a way of seeing the whole, a way of seeing ‘what is’. . . the ability to love and to be present to the moment. It generates a ‘willingness to spend and be spent’ for the sake of a vision that goes beyond ourselves.”

Assensus — perhaps the closest to what the author meant, is “faith as belief.” Borg goes on to add:

The notion that Christian faith is primarily . . . about belief, about a “head” matter, is recent. . . For many, Christian faith began to mean believing questionable things to be true. . . this is the most widespread contemporary understanding of “belief”.

This is very different from what faith as assensus meant. . . A deep but humble (and therefore imprecise) understanding of Christian faith as assensus, as involving affirmation of the centrality of God as known in the Bible and Jesus, is very close to faith as vision. It is a way of seeing reality.

As a Christian, I do not find the scientific method to be a problem. I find it to be enlightening in all sorts of matters, including even the history of religion in some instances. Christian faith is not about believing in certain ideas (such as the world being created in 6 literal 24-hour days), though there are those that distort it to be so. Rather, Christian faith is about living your life a certain way, about the meaning of life, about our duties to make the world a better place.

2. People Vote Base on Religious Ideas

The author says that “Stem Cells weren’t the first time a body of research didn’t get proper funding because some religious wack-jobs.” Well, I agree that that was a problem. Non-religious people can vote in odd ways too. I argue that the rejection of stem-cell research goes against Christian teaching; after all, we are to help the least among us, and do not people with Alzheimer’s qualify?

I think the author’s point should have been “exremists have odd views.” Extremists can be atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or other religions. Religion does not have a monopoly on them.

3. Religion Removes the Need For Science

The author says:

When people are content to believe in something that explains why they are here, even if it is wrong, they become less interested in other ideas. Religion often leads people to believe that they have all the answers. Science is self-correcting in that nobody assumes they are absolutely correct.

That is incorrect on several levels. First, science cannot explain why we are here. It can explain some of the mechanics. As an example, let us take for granted that modern scientific thought on the origin of humanity is correct: that there was a Big Bang, that single-celled creatures evolved on earth, and that human life eventually evolved through a complex process of evolution and natural selection. Fine; this does not contradict religion in any way. Science and religion answer different questions. Science answers “how”. Religion answers “why”. Science cannot answer the question “Why was there a big bang?” or “Did the evolution of humanity serve a larger purpose?”

Moreover, religion should not assume that they have all the answers, either. The canonical Christian Bible was mostly fixed within a few centuries AD. Life in 200AD was a lot different from life today. Part of the reason there are many different groups of Christians is the complexity of applying the stories in the Bible to modern life. The ideas in any given denomination evolve over time, too. I think it would be the height of hubris for anyone, religious or not, to claim that he or she had all the answers. Again, I know that some religious people act that way, but then so do some atheists or agnostics.

4. People Lean on Religion, When They Could Benefit From Science

The author of “7 Ways” cites the quite rare case where a child dies of a curable disease while his/her parents pray, refusing medical care. This is an extreme position that is not shared by the vast majority of religious people. Most religious people are perfectly content to use the latest medical care.

Meditation or prayer does not replace medical care; it supplements it. Scientific studies have even demonstrated its effectiveness.

5. The Church Takes Up Natural Resources

The original author states that “The land that churches take up around the world could be used to build schools, homes, recreational buildings and commercial operations.” This is perhaps the most frivolous of arguments. Putting aside the fact that many churches operate schools, churches are often one of the few ways that modern city dwellers have to form a sense of community. They are not just places to engage in religion. They are places to meditate, to get away from it all, to meet your neighbors, to vote.

6. The Church Takes Up Monetary Resources

The original author says “if people donated to scientific advancement like they did to the church, imagine where we would be today.” It’s not a pleasant picture. Religion, and institutions supported primarily because of the teaching of religion, are the people that feed the hungry after natural disasters, that operate food pantries (our church operates the only one in our community, and it’s open to anyone without any questions or talk about religion), that operate schools in disadvantaged areas, that have spread the whole idea of fair trade for third-world artisans, etc.

It is true that acts of evil have been committed in the name of the church, too. It is also unquestionably true that some church groups spend money more carefully than others. As with any donation, people should be careful where they give. Government-operated research studies are not necessarily a good use of money, either.

7. Religion is A Strong Meme

The author of the original story seems to be responding to a particular brand of Christianity: what Borg calls “literal-factual” religion. There are quite a few people that take that stand. They are sometimes inaccurately referred to as “evangelicals” or the “religious right”; while there is some overlap between the groups, they are not one and the same. The people with the literal-factual view are not representative of the whole.

More interestingly, Borg points out that the literal-factual view was actually a response to the development of the scientific method during the Enlightenment. As the modern idea of truth moved to literal, factual, provable truth, some Christians grew defensive about their faith, and started to look for “scientific” ways to prove that the world was created in 6 days, etc. in an attempt to show the world that Christianity fit their new notion of truth.

That makes a compelling argument that the scientific method is the stronger meme in today’s Western world — so strong that the author of the rant against religion has apparently forgotten the more prevalant — both throughout history and today — view of Christianity that is “more than” Science, not at odds with science.

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  1. The Author

    I don’t think that the individuals who participate in a religion are directly detrimental to science, especially the moderates. However, I would like to clarify a few points that I made in the context of your response.

    When I say that “faith is a belief in an idea regardless of the evidence for or against it,” I understand that not all Christians think this way. However, some denominates tend to think this way. Even if faith is only sometimes the cause of the rejection of scientific evidence, it is still detrimental. To cite some specific examples, the state of Louisiana just passed legislation promoting critical analysis of a set of scientific views that clash with local religion. In practice, it will be used to support creationism.

    Some Christians do not find the scientific method to be in conflict with their beliefs. However, science is ever creating new conflicts with religion. What will you do when science debunks something you deeply believe in? When you invest emotionally in an idea, it is very hard to let go despite growing evidence that you are wrong.

    Non-religious people can indeed vote in weird/unjustified ways. Being wrong for a different reason doesn’t justify being wrong.

    I do not think that science has an answer as to why we are here. I have serious doubts as to its ability to do so ever. I’m simply saying that if someone thinks they know why we are here (their religion) they are less likely to be interested in the “how” unless it is fed to them through their personal religion.

    Meditation or prayer may indeed help people. However, it doesn’t mean that a greater power is helping them. It may simply be a placebo. My point in the article is that many people are so devoted to a religion that they are willing to make similar sacrifices, or many smaller sacrifices that are entirely unnecessary. These sacrifices are often passed on as a burden to the rest of society.

    Perhaps donating all monetary resources that have been given to the church is a poor example. However, the money could have been given to an organization that would more directly help people in need. How often do churches use a portion of the donations to remodel a part of the building or get some fancy artwork or decoration. Maybe a new sound or video system? Maybe the churches you are accustomed to are a bit more selfless, but even the most forward thinking churches I’ve been to slip up like this every once in a while.

    My last point is possibly the point with the least evidence. It is very hard to determine the absolute strength of a meme in the wild. Perhaps science as a meme adapted faster than religion did simply because of it’s practical nature. A real test of this idea is nearly impossible to reproduce, because we have to wait until one or the other ceases to exist.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Thanks for the follow-up.

    I’d like to particularly address your comment on science in more detail.

    Science is one form of learning about truth. I don’t think it is the only way, or even the most important. We also learn about ourselves, others, and the world, through literature, music, philosophy, religion, artwork, and conversation.

    All of these things — we could broadly call them the arts and sciences — teach us things, produce new ways of thinking, new truths. As thinking beings, it would be silly to hold a static set of ideas in the face of knowledge about new ideas. This is not to say that all new ideas are correct; just that I don’t see a problem when correct new ideas come about.

    I don’t subscribe to the view that “eventually, science will make religion and philosophy obsolete.” I think we have agreed that the scientific method cannot answer some questions, and technology developed from science is not the ultimate tool, either.

    I guess I would say: the ideas of religion are not even in the same domain as the ideas that science addresses. The deeply-held religious faith is about a set of things that the scientific method can’t address. There are points that science can enlighten us about, but these are on the periphery.

    I know that there have been people — and even the established Church — that over the years have not held this viewpoint. But I think it is becoming increasingly popular.

    Personally, I am interested in both the “why” and the “how” I am here, and don’t feel that I have a complete answer on either. There are religious chemists, mathematicians, and physicists, just as there are agnostic or atheistic ones.


  2. Lee

    Well said. I didn’t agree with your assertion that the “big boom” does not contradict religion in any way; creation myths are perhaps one of the biggest sources of contradiction between science and religion. But otherwise, your points were spot-on.

    It’s amazing how many people defending science fail to recognise that:

    a) honest criticism of religion requires proper scientific research of that way of life (by really studying and LIVING it), rather than unscientific knee-jerk reactions to a few individuals who don’t necessarily practice their religion well

    b) Religion and philosophy is simply learning to use the other half of our brains. We need BOTH. As Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”


    pierre Reply:

    To author: very nice read :-)

    > I didn’t agree with your assertion that the “big boom” does not contradict religion in any way; creation myths are perhaps one of the biggest sources of contradiction between science and religion. But otherwise, your points were spot-on.

    “The world was created one minute ago with your memory.” Can you find something contradictory with this statement in science? Or maybe any proof? “The creation myths” mean approximately the same, they could not contradict (or interact with) science in any way.

    Poor atheists these days! If only there was some crash course on faith and science for them. They’re going everywhere spreading their false beliefs about science.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    The problem is the understanding of the creation myth: is it a literal story trying to convey literal facts, or is its primary purpose to teach us a metaphorical truth?

    I think that the literal-factual interpretation has been pretty much debunked. In fact, I think that the literal-factual way of seeing the Bible — a fairly recent reaction to the scientific method itself — is waning.

    N. T. Wright has this great story about a theologian at a conference that was asked a question by a woman attending. (I can’t find it, so I am paraphrasing here.) She asked, “Is it true that the serpent in Genesis actually spoke like you and I speak?” The theologian answered, “It doesn’t matter whether the serpent spoke. It matters what it said.”

    In other words, to me, the question of whether the earth was created in 6 days is irrelevant when you’re looking at Genesis. We weren’t there anyhow. What matters are the lessons about life that we can draw from this story.

    If you look at the Bible as primarily as a source of teaching about how to live — or even why to live — and as a source of spreading that information — it becomes much more than just a set of “and then Israel spent 40 years walking over to this other spot that archaeologists may or may not have found.”

    Obviously, this approach can be taken to more or less an extreme (and I think Marcus J. Borg takes it a bit too far myself), but I think it is pretty conclusive where the creation story is concerned.


  3. Pseudonym

    The thing that annoys me most about articles like this is the over-reliance on corner cases (9/11 being the obvious universal proof-by-example), partly due to myopia (using your local dominant religion and assuming that all religion is like that).

    A little bit of research and critical thinking goes a long way.


  4. Simon

    > Christian faith is not about believing in certain ideas (such as the world being created in 6 literal 24-hour days), though there are those that distort it to be so. Rather, Christian faith is about living your life a certain way, about the meaning of life, about our duties to make the world a better place.

    I think you over simplify. If Christianity doesn’t require belief in specific ideas what is it that distinguishes Christians? There must be specific ideas, even if they are only about how to live your life. They must also have an idea of what a better place is in order to improve the world.

    I don’t believe religion can answer questions like “why was there a big bang”.

    Science may answer that one.

    The reason religion won’t answer it, is because religion doesn’t have an external source of knowledge. If there is a god (and it seems highly unlikely that there is anything approaching the usual religious perception of a god), he clearly isn’t imparting knowledge to religious people. As may be noted by there failure to include dinosaurs, meteor impacts, evolution, or other key aspects of earths history to those who wrote the religious creations myths.

    Sure religious philosophers might invent explanations, and some of them might be convincing. But they won’t be true in the sense of well established scientific theories. And when society changes and we need different answers, then the reigning religious views will change, as they have before.

    What is funny is how childish many of the so called “articles of faith” are. Things like belief in a heaven are patently nonsensical – and I don’t think many people who claim to have a religious faith really believe in the articles of faith that their religion holds up as “true”. But that just makes the whole thing look silly to those of us who have stopped to question our beliefs and found so many of them to be silly.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    Hi Simon,

    I think that, in a ironic way, you are falling into the same trap as those that argue almost violently that the world was created in 6 days: an over-literal reading of Genesis. Genesis is a story; its point is not to educate us on the history of the earth before humanity. Its point is to enlighten us by using a story. The lack of mentioning of dinosaurs doesn’t hurt my reading of Genesis as a great piece of literature that speaks to humanity about supremely important matters through imagery and metaphor — perhaps the only way we could understand it, and ironically, also the best way for us to misunderstand it.

    I think I need to write a followup article on the meaning of truth.

    As for what my Christian religion is about, it is not about being saved, about following the letter of some law, about belief “in the head” of certain facts, or about being “saved”. It is about far grander and far more mundane things: love for the world and for the least among it, the fall of the world and doing our part to restore it, the love and grace of God. The four meanings of faith I have already spelled out above.

    Perhaps what distinguishes Christians is what we see and feel, not what we believe. It is almost impossible to explain without metaphor (perhaps the reason the Bible uses them so often). Imagine driving down a busy 6-lane city street near a shopping area. Walking down the sidewalk is a little girl, who looks dirty, sad, maybe bewildered or injured. Many people would never even notice that girl. Some people would notice nothing but that girl, and make an effort to find out if she is OK and to help her.

    I am not good and explaining these things. Perhaps that goes some small way to clarify.

    Marcus J. Borg points out that when English-speaking Christians started using the word “believe”, it didn’t mean what it does today; it meant something more like “belove.” To “believe” in God meant to love God. It was not a matter of holding certain things to be true; it was a matter of the heart, and many people today believe that is the more accurate way to explain it.


  5. Simon

    > The author of “7 Ways” cites the quite rare case where a child dies of a curable disease while his/her parents pray, refusing medical care. This is an extreme position that is not shared by the vast majority of religious people. Most religious people are perfectly content to use the latest medical care.

    The Catholic church are happy to restrict their aid to Africa only to things that exclude contraceptives, despite good evidence that good contraception is a very effective in development aid. This alone is sufficient in my view to make them ignorance mystical thinkers from before the enlightenment. They do a lot of good, and then fail to help prevent the spread of one of the worst plagues of our time – because their invisible friend told them not to.

    Sorry believing in silly things leads to silly decision making, and the existent of a personal god is one of the silliest ideas ever.

    Even if many individuals in a church see the churches views are out of touch with reality, it doesn’t mean that less clear thinking folk won’t be pressured into the wrong action.


    We could discount Catholicism, Jehovah witnesses, Islam and Judaism (non-consensual male genital mutilation – yuck), Christian Scientists, Mormons as religious aberrations, but I think it more likely Voltaire was right.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    It sure would be convenient if everyone on the planet was in total agreement when it came to ethics, wouldn’t it?

    I happen to agree with you that we ought to provide contraception aid where it would be helpful and wanted. Many other religious people also agree with you. The fact that you presumably formed your opinion using a secular philosophy, while others did not, doesn’t seem to be determinitive, does it?

    I don’t think you’d find any less a degree of powerful quackery if everyone had to rely on secular philosophy for ethics. You and your colleagues can spend years reading great philosophers modern and ancient, and still come up with very different opinions on a variety of issues. Getting rid of religion wouldn’t get rid of that.

    It is true that people that claimed to be religious have caused great harm. It is also true that people that claimed to be atheist have caused great harm (the worst dictators of the 20th century fall into that category). It is also true that there are a great many good people in the world — many of them religious, many of them not. I don’t think this line of reasoning can get us anywhere, other than the inescapable conclusion that the power-hungry will do or say whatever they feel enhances their power in their situation — if it is claiming to be religious, they will, and if it is claiming to be atheist, they will do that.

    There is much to be said against Voltaire’s pantheism, but that is an entirely different topic.


    Peter Reply:

    So, what IS to be said against Voltaires pantheism, exactly, John?


  6. Peter Berry

    [quote]Extremists can be atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or other religions. Religion does not have a monopoly on them.[/quote]
    Sounds like (Larry) Niven’s Law: “There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.”


  7. htuttle

    “the question of whether the earth was created in 6 days is irrelevant when you’re looking at Genesis. We weren’t there anyhow. What matters are the lessons about life that we can draw from this story.”

    I can read a lot of greek mythology and learn a lot of lessons about life. This doesn’t make me a polytheist.

    I can read the bible and learn a lot of lessons about life. This doesn’t make me a christian.

    I mean: are you really sure you are a christian? and if so why? What is your definition of “christian”? In my book a christian should at the very minimum believe (1) in some definition of a god, (2) that Jesus existed, and (3) that he was sent directly by that god for some reason. But there is not much evidence for this, so why do you choose to actually believe this stuff is for real and not just use it like other literature, by interpreting it to define your morals? Do you believe something more than points (1)(2)(3), for example trinity, flesh and blood eating, or some other stuff? if so why?

    I was raised in a catholic setting (and there’s 1 billion catholics out there), and if there’s something i know for sure is that being nice, caring about the people, saving the world, living in a certain way, even reading the bible and finding it a great source of moral teaching is NOT enough (it may help, but i fear it isn’t even strictly needed): you have to actually believe in all the crazy stuff, that’s what matters…


    John Goerzen Reply:

    There sure is tremendous diversity under the Christian tent. But see my comment 4.1 above that might go a little way to explaining it. I am probably not well-equipped to give you an answer. Maybe nobody is.

    There are people (such as Borg) that would apply the metaphorical reading of the Bible to more than I would. Genesis does not make the whole of Christian faith; it is not even one of its most important parts. It deepens understanding, perhaps. The Bible is an odd collection of things, in a way: there are pieces of a legal system, literary works, poetry, carefully-researched family histories, grand stories of the history of a nation. Each part is entitled to a careful reading, a placing in proper context.

    Borg has an interesting section in “The Heart of Christianity” on all the creeds and sayings that Catholics get involved with:

    [quote]I know that many mainline Christians have difficulties with the creed, and I understand why. If one thinks that saying the creed commits one’s intellect to the propositional (literal?) truth of all its statements, it is impossible for a thoughtful modern person to do so. . .

    But affirming all of these to be literally true propositions is not the purpose of saying the creed in the context of worship. . . its primary purpose in worship is not propositional but sacramental: through these clunky words that stumble in the presence of Mystery, God is mediated. These words that we know by heart can become a thin place as we join ourselves in the sound of the community saying these words together. As we do so, we also join ourselves with a community that transcends time, all of those centuries of Christians who have heard and said these words. We become part of the communion of saints, together in a thin place.[/quote]

    Borg talks about “thin places” as places where we can experience God’s presence.

    It would be interesting to ask a Catholic theologian what Catholics mean when they talk about “belief”. It is a word that I have discovered just recently is much more complicated than I ever realized. I think that many people of any faith don’t realize that. I think that same pastors don’t, either.

    To make the point more clear: does “belief” mean holding a set of statements to be literally true, intellectually? If so, this would be a fairly recent shift in theology (“recent” in the history of Christianity; here I mean since the Enlightenment). Or is it more nuanced, as Borg has suggested, expressing more of a love of the scriptures?


  8. Petr Czech

    Sort of missing the point.

    1. Scientific method is think of a theory, test it. Only when every part is the only answer does it stand up. Faith is based on no proof. Where obvious clashes occur (Evolution/Creation, Flood, Adam/Eve, etc)faith has no scientific method of proof. You either beleive or not. Over time religion does change (widely accepted that the world is not flat or the centre of the universe). Nothing wrong with religion, it is just it is opposite to a scientific method. Admittedly the only proof is when we die, but I am not in a hurry to find out.

    2 While the original article did not mention a specific religion, this question does hint at recent UK cabinet voting. Voting is based on many reasons, but in some cases religion will be the dominant one. While it is always a worry that some extremist zealot will persuade people one way or another everyone is and should be free to choose. Whether this detrimental to science is the question. Why is religion only ever seen in opposition to a scientific study. Never the other way around. The problem scientist, atheists and agnostics have is that there are gradients of religious fervour. When you say that the majority are not extremists, they can say that how can it be. If whichever religion you beleive in is the correct one, then why and how did God allow such varients. Are the extremists not reading from the same text? If so either they or the moderate is wrong. An atheist is or is not. There is no half measures. You cannot be only half an atheist and beleive in a bit of God, but not the rest. Only in religion can you get someone to say, well I beleive in the resurrection but that bit about the whole world flooding was not meant to be literal. Even worse is the way whole sections can be removed because someone does not think they are valid these days. Has religion ever pushed science onwards? Throughout history religion has always held back science. Scientists have plenty of history to prove that they have been persecuted by religion. For the alternative question: is science detrimental to religion. No. Many scientist are religious and are happy to explain how science fits in with their religious views.
    The actual statement was that people vote based on religious views and is therefore detrimental to science. People do vote on religious views (I know i certainly do!), and where this happens is it detrimental to science? From history, yes, it has certainly hindered if not halted in some cases.

    3 Agree on the Why part. Disagree on the need for science. The original text did not mention Why. It did say that religion can lead to some beleiving that everything is their Gods work. This does remove the need for science. Maybe not you, but the text did not mention you, just religion generally.

    4. Wrong. The largest study to date John Templeton Foundation study for heart patients found no prove that prayer helped.. Even so, the article was saying that religion has caused a few deaths. Again, maybe not you, but it has done so for some people. Religion has caused some people to trust in their beleif rather than established science.

    5. Disagree with the original text. While it is true that anything that uses land or takes up resources is detrimental to science on a fundamental level, almost the whole world qualifies. However as no-one is completely devoted to the pursuit of science 100 per cent of the time, this is a bit of a superfluous arguement.

    6. Completely disagree with the original text. large amounts of humanitarian aid comes directly from religious groups which benefit all.

    7. The article does not mention any particular religion. It just states that religion is a strong meme. Meme is defined as “A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another”. Let us consider Hinduism. (Only because it is the largest none Abrahamic religion and so fairly mutally exclusive compared to Christianity, but any religion would do). Is that not a cultrual practise that is passed on down the generations. From a Christian point of view is that not a meme. From a Hindu point of is not Christianity a meme? What is wrong with any religion being a meme? Where the original author is wrong is that just because something is a meme, does not make it detrimental to science.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    A lot of stuff here. I think most of it has been discussed, but I feel that you’re still missing the point on #1 and #3.

    I do not believe that religion and science are the same problem domain. Would you use the scientific method to try to figure out what Shakespeare meant with certain lines in Romeo and Juliet? The scientific method would be equally ill-equipped to discuss how Beethoven or Copland moved audiences. And similarly, it is ill-equipped to discuss religion.

    Similarly, theologists and philosophers — whether religious or not — are not well-equipped to study the nature of light, atomic fission, and the like.

    There have been misguided attempts over the years for both practices to encroach on the other, and it did neither any credit. Religion does not conflict with evolution; it does not even enter into that problem domain. (Though some would want it to.)

    Faith is not about things that can be tested scientifically. Scientific proof is not the only way we can know truth — far from it.


    Petr Czech Reply:

    The original text was discussing whether religion is detrimental to science. For 1 it was putting the point that scientific method is opposite to religion. It did not say that religion had no place in our lives. It did not say that science can explain everything. The point was when someone wishes to oppose a scientific theory (and there are many that we do and should and be encouraged to do so), then this is based on proposing a new theory and testing both until one breaks. To just say it is true because it is written here and i believe is not a valid scientific arguement. Things such as Cold Fusion as fine as a theroy, but until it is repeatable by anyone anywhere, it is not valid. There is no scientific proof that God exists. That is not the same as saying God does not exist, just that there is no scientific proof.

    I am happy to agree that science and religion are usually not in the same problem domain and that is where the problem exists for scientists. Anyone opposing something in science that uses the arguement that a religion says otherwise is detrimental to science.

    For 3. we have the same problem. The initial article is saying that reliance on religion can be detrimental to science.

    Scientist generally are curious about everything and have a desire to investigate. At the time of the original article the UK had just had a vote on whether to allow stem cell research and the time limit for abortion. In both cases those opposing the majority of scientists used religion as a justification to try to halt stem cell research and to reduce the abortion time limits. On a scientific level the abortion time limit was about whether the current cut off period should be moved due to advances in medical technology. It was not about whether abortion is right or wrong. That part is a matter of conscience and religion. For the stem cell research the arguement was to allow this to be investigated or to stop scientists trying to play God.

    Looking around I find Christian Scientists (The Church of Christ, Scientist) with an emphasis on healing through prayer. Jehovah’s Witnesses who reject blood transfusions, Sikhism against abortion as it interferes in the creative work of God. These are all religions (Extremists to some, but not to others) and can have an over-reliance compared to science. That is not to say variations of view points do not exist (Abortion is not uncommon amonst Sikhs. Some Jehovah’s witnesses will accept blood fractions).

    Again it does not say religion is wrong, but that over-reliance is detrimental to science. The counter arguement is that science is also detrimental to religion in that science cannot answer everything we need for life. I think that unless you are a cold heartless research lab rat, all scientists would agree that you need more that just science to live.

    Why does it matter if someone says religion is detrimental to science. Surely some religions are. Does it matter if it is detrimental. Only if we are all to compulsory do nothing but science would it matter. The same would be true of compulsory religion.


  9. Mark R

    Saying God told someone, who wrote it down in a big book, so it must be true is not scientific. Religion and science are opposites. Fantastic stories as it may be, they are just stories. Don’t see many religious nuts wanting to rush to heaven do you?
    You are not scientific, get over it. The best you can come up with is that god planted the dinosaur bones as a joke is just poor.
    Just because some ignornat member of a church believes everything you tell him because does not make it true.
    There was no evolution because this book written hundrends of years ago says so. We are all decended from Adam and Eve. Never once has any of the millions who proclaim this true asked where did Cain and Ables wives come from then?
    How did two wombats walk half way across the world to get on a boat to only have to go back forty days later. If they could swim that far, why did they bother.
    Where did all the water go from the flood if it covered the whole of the earth?
    What in your peverse gods name does ezekiel 13:18 mean?
    What is Mark 16:9-20 and why is it not printed? Was mark written by someone you don’t trust. Was it just gibberish. We shall never know now.


    John Goerzen Reply:

    You know, you are responding to one particular narrow viewpoint. This is neither the majority viewpoint, nor a particularly credible one. I agree that there are serious problems with that way of looking at the Bible, and I don’t agree with it.

    And, in a way, you are falling into their trap. Is Genesis to be read so extremely literally, or is it a wonderful literary story to amplify our understanding of life? I would tend to the latter, which makes all of your concerns moot.


  10. wren ng thornton

    While I agree that the [i]7 ways[/i] author only had a very particular and narrow view of religion in mind, I think you too overgeneralize the number of religious/christian individuals who do not fall into that mold. There are too many “christians” of too broad a belief system to make many meaningful claims about them all, as I’m sure you’d agree. But the scientific christian perspective is very much in the minority compared to feel-goods, fundamentalists, traditionalists, or modernists of any sect of the Abrahamic tradition. Scientific christians such as yourself are certainly out there (and anti-religious strong utilitarianists like the author of [i]7 ways[/i] would to well to acknowledge that) but they are as distinctly in the minority as are christians with proper theological training. It would be nice to have more of both of those and fewer “bad christians”, but alas that is not the way of things.

    I think the big problem here is that historically religion has had a dual purpose of covering sociophilosophy as well as science, and it served both roles through the medium of spirituality. The religions of the Greeks, (pre-christian) Romans, Norse, Celts, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, etc etc did not suffice to explain what behaviors were good or bad, but went further to explain the origins of the world and used that origin as structure for justification of philosophy. The idea that “religion” primarily covers issues of spiritual and philosophical import but not of scientific import is only a modern conceit.

    And these days science too is practiced as just another religion, in the old sense of the term. Science fiction authors explore social mores and guide cultural development, tales of singularity mimic those of the rapture or other apocalypses, the belief that progress will continue endlessly mimic those of divine mandate, eternal afterlives, and reincarnation. If you dismiss the prophets and pedagogues and prefer to stick with science fact then game theory, information theory, chaos theory, etc all provide moral frameworks for directing how one should live their lives and believe about the nature of the universe or the reasons for its current form. There’s a lot more to science than the scientific method and many more disciplines than the natural sciences people glimpse in highschool. Science is just as interested in the whys as the hows, it is just that the answers are inchoate rather than absolute and are not framed in the spiritual terms that religion uses.

    So now you have the old skool religious who believe in religion as science, you have futurists who believe in science as religion, you have separatists who believe that religion can answer only philosophical and social issues but that science should answer historical and pragmatic issues, and you have those who seek to find a way to combine religion and science more holistically. In trying to reconcile the two opposing viewpoints those are the only options, and all four groups fear for their continued existence should any of the others gain mindshare. From this existential fear, members of all four groups misrepresent not only the size of their own group but also the topology of the decision space. (Eliding boundaries between enemies serves to highlight that you’re under attack as a means of consolidating support, and it also serves to dismiss any real discussion with those enemies by portraying them as waffling or by arguing against the tenets of A whenever talking with B, and vice versa, rather than addressing the real issues.)

    There’s nothing special about these tactics. You see the same when looking at the interactions of different religions historically (one dominates, the other dominates, they partition, or they merge) and when looking at interactions between political parties today. And just as with the endless arguments between democrats and republicans, they’re both wrong (because everyone is fallible, and a static perspective is only moreso); but since they both refuse to engage in actual discussion with one another in order to make progress, we all must revisit the same battleground over and again and each side just sets the trenches deeper with an ever-longer list of atrocities committed by the other side. So too with soulless science and crusading christianity. It is misfortunate indeed since it’s not just a matter of ideology but has very real physical, psychological, and spiritual effects on everyone involved, but I’ve seen a whole lot of boundaries drawn and trenches set and very little discussion by either side and what discussion there is seems to be diminishing as well.


  11. Dov Henis

    When Is God-Science Discussable Scientifically

    Re “God and Evolution Can Co-Exist, Scientist Insists”

    - Is there/what is, in the quoted article, a definition of the article’s “god” ?

    - Specifically, is the article’s “god” defined as a human artifact, or not ?

    If “god” is defined/understood to be a human artifact – regardless of reasons, purposes, implications, consequences – the subject “god-science” is scientifically discussable.

    If “god” is not defined/understood to be a human artifact, its concept is a human virtual reality artifact experienced only through sensory stimuli, and “god-science” is not scientifically discussable. Furthermore, in this case preoccupation with this subject within a scientific frameworks contributes to corrosion and corruption of science and scientism by manifesting or implying acceptance of virtual reality as reality.

    “Evolutionary Biology Of Culture And Religion”

    Dov Henis

    (A DH Comment From The 22nd Century)

    Life’s Manifest


  12. Ben Finney

    > science cannot explain why we are here. It can explain some of the mechanics.

    You seem to be interpreting “why are we here” as “what is the purpose of our existence”.

    Religion, too, cannot explain the purpose of our existence. It offers only facile non-explanations with no basis in reality.

    > Science cannot answer the question “Why was there a big bang?” or “Did the evolution of humanity serve a larger purpose?”

    This makes the mistake of pre-supposing that there must *be* an external purpose, and begs the question of what agent would hold such purpose. What basis do we have for assuming such an agent or such a purpose? There’s certainly no evidence that needs explanation by injecting such animist notions.


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http://changelog.complete.org / A response to “7 Ways Religion is Detrimental to Science”