Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?

One of the key tenets of modern religious apologetics is that science and religion are mutually compatible and supportive and that the findings of science are “proving” the veracity of various religious claims.  It is not surprising that those who argue in this way invariably seek to show how science is proving not just any religion, but their own particular religion.  All the others are, of course, simply wrong.

Most of these people will insist that they are committed to science and the scientific method, yet they rarely are.  Instead, they tend to state that science is somehow “limited” and does not give us “all the answers.”  Their hypocrisy can be exposed by asking the following question: what scientific or rational evidence would you accept as invalidating your religious beliefs?  Most will balk and insist that nothing can dissuade them from their faith, which is tantamount to admitting that their religious wishes and desires take precedence over logic and science.

Egyptologist Gerald Massey once observed: “They must find it difficult, those who have accepted authority as truth rather than the truth as authority.”  This is particularly true with regard to religion, for the religionist and the scientist operate from vastly different perspectives.  The scientist uses what is called the scientific method.  This method is the only way of acquiring objectively provable knowledge for the simple reason that it has a built-in mechanism for self-correction.  In other words, any given scientific theory is only as good as the evidence supporting it.  Scientists do not operate from preconceived ideas; there are no dogmas in science.  Any scientist who claimed that, while he could not provide any evidence for  his particular theory, he nonetheless “knew” intuitively or instinctively that it was correct would be laughed out of his profession, and rightly so.  Only in religion are wishes treated as reality—and accorded respect they certainly do not merit.

In the scientific method, scientists observe a certain phenomenon and ask what is the underlying truth of that phenomenon: what is it we are looking at and what makes it act as it does.  After considering a number of possible answers, they form a hypothesis which they feel to be the best explanation of the phenomenon in question.  The hypothesis must then pass certain experimental testing which must be objectively provable, as well as repeatable by any other trained specialist.  If the testing does validate the hypothesis, it then becomes known as a theory.  A theory is not, as many creationists would have us believe, a mere blind guess; it is the end result of rigorous examination and testing.  If the theory cannot be invalidated, it is accepted by the scientific community, but no scientific theory can harden into absolutist dogma; all scientific theories are subject to revision, alteration, and even rejection should new evidence and experimentation demand it.

The scientific method is the exact opposite of the methods of religion.  In fact, there is no “method” at all in religious belief, as there are no objective standards to determine the truth or falsity of any religion.  For example, no believer can provide testing and experiments that could possibly falsify their belief in god.  Most believers will not even consider that possibility.  Ultimately, all truth claims of religion rest not on logic and science but rather on faith.  Despite the praised heaped upon it by the religious, faith is nothing more than the acceptance of an idea without proof and, more ominously, despite evidence that contradicts it.  Faith is a nice sounding word for a really ugly and self-defeating viewpoint.  Convinced of the truth of their religion, believers then see out any imagined “proofs” they think can justify their beliefs.  Discomforting facts to the contrary are either ignored, rationalized, or attacked outright.  This indicates a fundamental dishonesty at the heart of theistic presuppositions.  Once any idea is accepted on faith, no further evidence can be introduced; the mind is made up and will not consider contrary viewpoints, no matter how well thought out and presented.

Making a leap of faith and then refusing to honestly consider ideas that might invalidate it indicates a hostility not only toward science and logic, but toward truth as well.  For those who accept the absolutist claims of their religion, truth is defined not in terms of what corresponds to the facts, but in terms of what is in agreement with their faith.  It has often been pointed out by atheists that in science, when the facts disprove the theory, the theory is discarded while in religion, when the facts disprove the theory, the facts are discarded.

No believer can describe, much less produce, their deity.  None of the magical claims of any religion have ever been proven or verified by anyone outside that religion.  This shows that no religion is based on objective facts and that therefore there are no objective proofs possible to validate them.  While many modern religious apologists try to show their magnanimity by insisting that all religions point to the same fundamental truths, this is not borne out by the facts.  Gods, for example, almost without exception always resemble an idealized version of the persons who believe in them.  If all religions did indeed point to the same basic truths, the history of religion certainly would not have been as blood-soaked as it has been.

With religious believers, psychological factors come into play, factors that would rarely enter the conversation regarding scientists.  Since the claims of religion cannot be objectively proven, the only way for believers of two different faiths to resolve their differences is by force; certainly, the history of religion demonstrates this fact.  It is because of religion’s innate hostility toward reason that makes violence the only recourse.   Martin Luther, to cite one example, showed his true religious colors when he said that we should “tear the eyes” out of our reason.  Like it or not, we are reasoning animals; this is what separates us from the other animals.  It is our nature as human beings to think, examine, and question; our very survival depends on it.  Therefore, to ensure the survival of any idea not arrived at by reason, but instead by faith, the quest for true knowledge must be replaced by a quest for support and justification of those beliefs.  And that is precisely where science and religion part company, and that is where religious apologetics and theology come in.  Think about it: if any religion were objectively true and supportable by logic and science, would the field of religious apologetics even exist?

To those of a religious mindset, science is useful only insofar as it seems to support and prove some aspect of their faith.  In this regard creationism is of particular interest.  Since 1859, when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his “Origin of the Species,” many religious persons have felt threatened by the theory of evolution and have spared no expense trying to refute it, for if evolution is a fact and humans have evolved from other life forms, there is no need to introduce a creator.  Creationists must insist that their god created every life form in its present form and that only minor changes can occur within each “kind.”  Since evolutionary theory is the bedrock of modern biology and no serious biologist questions the theory, and since nothing makes sense except in light of it, fundamentalists must consequently take a profoundly anti-scientific stance in trying to refute it.

Today’s fundamentalists want evolution eliminated from the public school curriculum and replaced with creationism or its current spawn “Intelligent Design.”  What they either fail to realize or else refuse to admit, is that creationism is in no wise a science.  Since there is no deity, there is no one to do the “creating.”  And this is why there can be no testing in creationism, and a science devoid of the methodology of testing is not a science at all.  Thus, creationism does not even rise to the level of a hypothesis, let alone a theory.  In fact, if its adherents were at all honest, they would admit this and call it “evolution bashing” or something similar, for that is all it really is.  Again, we see that religious fundamentalists are only interested in science if it suits their purposes.  When it doesn’t, it is attacked.

Many believers argue that, because the findings of science are always subject to revision, religion is a superior way of knowing since it allegedly provides one with “absolute and unchanging” truth.  This is easily refuted.  If any one religious system were true, it logically follows that all the others are false, since competing religions are making different truth claims.  But there is no way to find out which religion, if any, is true except by objectively analyzing the evidence, both pro and con, for each individual religion.  Faith, as always, cannot decide anything as each believer will claim it for his/her respective domain, and two faiths that contradict each other cannot both be right.  Yet objective analysis is precisely what no devoutly religious person can subject his/her faith to.  This proves conclusively that, despite their claims to be pro-science, the devout are not at all interested in truth; what they want is validation.

There are certain scientists who, not wanting to upset the religious, attempt to water down the obvious differences between religion and science by attempting to legitimize religion as an important discipline and insisting that it need not contradict science since the two fields deal with different, non-overlapping “magisteria” (a favorite term of the late science writer Steven Gould).  The problem with this is that religion does indeed overlap with science since it makes contrary claims about the natural world; evolution and creationism cannot be reconciled, and neither can science and religion.

In summary, religious faith destroys our objectivity and thus, our ability to distinguish truth from falsehood and, as a consequence, good from evil.  Morality cannot be based on a lie, and this puts science and religion in opposite camps.

One devoted scientist does more for humanity than all the monks and nuns put together.

By: Jon Nelson

Categories:   America, Atheism and Religion, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Religion In America