Monday, 25 August 2008

Science and religion: are they mutually exclusive?

The argument over whether or not science and religion are incompatible is almost as old as empirical science itself, and the debate rages on today. Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) released a video response to the propaganda-ridden documentary film, Expelled. The video is below:

It features a slew of scientists, like Francis Collins, talking about how their faith and their science don't compete with each other, hearkening to Stephen J Gould's non-overlapping magisteria. Now, I know that the idea that religion and science are compatible has come up alot recently concerning the subject of evolution, and I know that "theistic evolution" seems to be gaining popularity (that is, more theists are accepting evolution, rather than evolutionists accepting theism). The argument goes that God created the world and gave the spark of life, and then used evolution to guide the development of organisms.

But if you ask me, this is blatant doublethink. The Bible gives special precedence to humans. We are supposedly God's chosen organism. After all, he supposedly created the whole universe just to have a place to put us so we could worship him. Now, suppose that you could roll back time and start everything over again. God gives the spark of life and pushes the START button on evolution. What would happen? There are two possibilities. First, due to the random nature of mutations and chance effects of environmental pressures, evolution would proceed differently than it had the first time around. After 4.5 billion years, it would be very likely that humans would not be the dominant, intelligent lifeform, if humans would evolve at all. If that was the case, then how could humans be the "chosen" organism if our development was never a guarantee? The second possibility is that evolution would proceed exactly as it had the first time, the same mutations being made, the same environmental pressures arising; in a sense, evolution would be guided by God's hand, and each chance occurrence was fated to happen. In this case, the rules of evolution - namely, random mutations being directed and chosen by the environment - are violated; there is no chance or randomness if they were always fated to occur. In other words, God would have effectively created humans, albeit through a lengthy and drawn out process. Whichever of the two possibilities would occur, the conclusion is seemingly the same: there are areas of Biblical religion and evolution that are incompatible. Acceptance of one means you cannot accept 100% of the other.

But let's put theistic evolution aside for a moment. The bigger question that remains to be answered is whether or not science as a whole is incompatible with religion. As stated before, the AAAS seems to take the stance that religion and science are two separate fields that answer different kinds of questions. They are compatible because they have nothing to do with each other. I disagree with this idea completely.

If you accept the Biblical, Abrahamic God, then you accept a god who has influence on our physical world. Even if God is supernatural, and supposedly outside the reach of science, if he has an effect on our natural world, then there has to be an entirely naturalistic mechanism by which this happens. Even the creation of the universe, a material, physical thing, would require a naturalistic explanation. Such mechanisms ARE within the realm of scientific inquiry. Science and religion, therefore, do overlap, do conflict. Unless, of course, you subscribe the the belief of a God that is utterly outside physical experience, and does not interact with the material world. Then, I ask, what is the point of such a God? The existence of such a God would have no practical difference than if he did not exist at all; belief would be pointless (and a waste of time with all the praying and worshipping).

Moreover, scientific investigation has time and time again shown many things in the Bible to be blatantly false; and if some parts of the Bible are false, how can we be sure that other parts of the Bible are not also false? How can one believe that any part of the Bible is true - literally or otherwise - if science has continually shown it to be flawed?

It seems to be that science and religion are mutually exclusive. You cannot be 100% scientific and 100% religious simultaneously. Full acceptance of one requires only partial acceptance of the other; and if you are only "partly" scientific then you're a bad scientist. Likewise, if you are only "partly" religious, you're a poor Christian/Muslim/Jew etc (or at least, you're cherry picking the parts you wish to believe in, with no clear criteria for your choice). I feel that any attempt to reconcile religion with science is merely an attempt at desperately holding on to something that makes you "comfortable" with life, something that makes you "happy".

Science is not about what makes you happy. It's about finding the truth. And when it comes to truth, religion has a habit of falling short.


Peterr said...

The religious type of person you assume exists in your post is one of very extreme nature. The Bible is not meant to be taken 100% literally. Your average Church go-er would agree. It is more of a book of guidelines. I think that religious people, specifically some form of a Catholic, can believe in science and religion. You make an excellent point against people who believe that God created Evolution, in particular Natural Selection. It makes no sense that God created Humans, supposedly the “chosen” organism, when Evolution could have led to something very different from Humans. But many Church go-ers ignore such details as of how the Earth and Humans came to be, and are religious in order to deal with life. Religion helps people to endure painful situations of emotional stress. Although I think these people live blindly, that is their choice. I am a pure Evolutionist, but I think that you should consider how much the average person takes religion to the degree you assume.

C.W.G.K said...


I think that the science/religion conflict is just as much of a problem for the religious moderates as it is for the fundamentalists. You admit yourself that moderates do not take the Bible to be 100% literally true, and this is most certainly the case. The problem arises when one tries to decide which parts of the Bible are true and which are ment to be taken as metaphor. There is no clear criteria for such a distinction. Some moderate Christians will use the Bible to support their views against homosexuality, for instance, citing the book of Leviticus, but would not find eating shellfish to be sinful - also a Levitican law. How does someone accept one and reject the other? It always comes down to personal opinion.

If there is no way one can choose which passages are real and which are metaphorical, then what is to keep us from saying that the entire thing is metaporical? Perhaps one could argue that the passages which agree with known sciences are "real" and the ones that do not are "metaphor", but this is a very post hoc argument.

The problem is that there are many, many statements in the Bible which are scientifically false. Someone who is only moderately religious will most likely accept the scientific facts rather than the Biblical statements. But in a rational person, this would implant a seed of doubt about the veracity of the rest of the Bible. "If the Bible was wrong on the value for Pi, then how can I be so sure that it's correct concerning the afterlife?" for instance. For the most part, this sort of rational questioning doesnt happen in folks who are moderately religious. This is why I said that it requires a modicum of doublethink; one has to accept that the Bible is wrong on one hand and think that it is right on the other.

Anders Branderud said...

Science and religion I belong to are definiteley not mutually exclusive.

I recommend you to read an article in my blog ( It contains a formal logical proof, based on scientific premises, that proves the existence of an Intelligent and Perfect Creator of this universe (i.e. the Prime Cause of this universe (the cause of Big Bang)); and it also proves that His instructions are found in Torah, and that His purpose of humankind is for us to practise those Instructions in Torah.

Dov Henis said...

Science ... and religion???
Know Whence and Whither...

Origin And Nature Of Earth Life, An Update…

Liberate your mind from concepts dictated by religious trade-union AAAS.
1) Life is just another mass format. 2) re-comprehend natural selection. 3) natural selection is ubiquitous, for all mass formats.

Life Evolves by Naturally Selected Organic Matter

EarthLife Genesis From Aromaticity/H-Bonding
September 30, 2011

Purines and pyrimidines are two of the building blocks of nucleic acids. Only two purines and three pyrimidines occur widely in nucleic acids.

Pyrimidine is a heterocyclic aromatic organic compound similar to benzene and pyridine, containing two nitrogen atoms at positions 1 and 3 of the six-member ring.
A purine is a heterocyclic aromatic organic compound, consisting of a pyrimidine ring fused to an imidazole ring. Purines, including substituted purines and their tautomers, are the most widely distributed kind of nitrogen-containing heterocycle in nature.
Aromaticity ( Kekule, Loschmidt, Thiele) is essential for the Krebs Cycle for energy production.

Natural selection is E (energy) temporarily constrained in an m (mass) format.

Natural selection is a universal ubiquitous trait of ALL mass spin formats, inanimate and animate.

Life began/evolved on Earth with the natural selection of inanimate RNA, then of some RNA nucleotides, then arriving at the ultimate mode of natural selection – self replication.

Aromaticity enables good constraining of energy and good propensity to hydrogen bonding. The address of Earth Life Genesis, of phasing from inanimate to animate natural selection, is Aromaticity.Hydrogen Bonding.

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)
tags: life genesis, natural selection, life mass format
Earth Life
In plain English, not in academEnglish verbiage.

- Earth life, self-replicating mass format, is just another naturally selected mass format.
- The primal base organisms of Earth life are the genes, i.e. the RNA nucleotides.
- All Earth life formats are progenies of genes evolution.
- Genomes are organisms evolved, and continuously modified, by the genes as their functional templates.
- Genetics is a progeny of culture, which is reaction to circumstances.
- The drive and goal of evolution of ALL mass formats is to enhance their energy constraint, to postpone their reconversion to energy, which goes on at constant rate since the Big Bang.

Dov Henis (comments from 22nd century)

C.W.G.K said...

Uhhh ok then.