Sunday, November 8, 2009

Science vs. Religion: fight?

I have heard more than one atheist hold up the grand name of "science" as their be-all and end-all in support of their crusade against God.  Likewise, I've heard Christians holding up "the bible" as their be-all and end-all in their crusade for God.  Much of the time I just sit back and enjoy the show: their approaches to the debate in which they engage are so comically similar I can hardly believe they don't notice it themselves.  However, today I feel compelled to put my two-cents into the pot.

First of all, I want to remind any proponent of science that the process of science never proves anything.  Evidence is collected in an impartial manner and in such a way as to suggest one variable's effect on another, but when we attempt to generalize these findings to the world at large we must admit that there is a certain degree of error involved.  Of course, this error is often less than 5%, or 1% (as in, something is often very likely), but to ignore the error obscures what science really is.  Also, we must not forget that the theories developed are interpretations of this evidence.  Granted, they are interpretations that are subjected to vigorous testing and debate, and so carry a good deal of weight: however, do not forget that they are interpretations and label them as facts.

This does not destroy the arguments that atheists/proponents of science often sling at the religious crowd.  It still remains true that the history put forth in the Bible has not undergone the same degree of experimental rigor as the theories of science.  It is also true that the Christian faith requires a belief in something that cannot be seen, felt, or observed in any way: a notion that is completely alien to the entire process of science, which demands above all things observable results.  However, I have seen the facts I outlined in the previous paragraph misused by Christians in the debate.  In pointing out that, for example, evolution is "only a theory", this plays the semantic game of the lay person's definition of theory and the scientific definition of theory.  In science, a theory is a hypothesis (an explanation of how something works) that is well-supported by a large body of data.  It is not a guess.  Also, even though science proves nothing unequivocally true, for most of our purposes many of the things it demonstrates to be likely are so likely that they are effectively true.

In holding up the Bible as the ultimate shield against any assault, I believe that many Christians neglect the fact that the Bible was written by men.  Divinely-inspired men, perhaps, but men nonetheless: their names are on the chapters they've written.  I will also point out that men are fallible: as it was not God's hand that directly wrote the document, how can it possibly the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?  I know many Christians that acknowledge the Bible as a holy book, but an imperfect one.  In this vein, I believe that there is a considerable difference between faith in God and blind faith in God: we have the capacity for reason, and to choose not to use it is to deny one of the gifts that we have been given.

The above argument is often misused by proponents of science: their logic is that, if the Bible is fallible, it is a worthless book.  This is untrue on many levels.  For one, even if we ignore its teachings, it is a document that has had a profoundly significant impact on European history and the shaping of Western culture.  A student of history must critically read the Bible if he or she is to understand those centuries and their effect upon the world of today.  Also, the Bible contains within it many lessons.  Even if we do not accept the historical truth of a particular event contained within the Bible, we can still learn from the lessons it teaches.  I don't believe that one must accept every lesson blindly: a healthy discussion about lessons is enlightening.  To ignore them, however, is an act of ignorance: every practitioner of science should be opposed to ignorance in all of its forms.

I think one of the biggest divides in the debate is God himself, as he is a being whose very essence is unobservable.  Many atheists choose to believe that he doesn't exist because of this, but such thinking is juvenile: for instance, do you believe that a million dollars exist?  Have you ever seen a million dollars in one place?  This is a simplistic example, but its logic can be applied in numerous ways; the point is, we often accept the possibility of some things' existence even if we have not directly observed the evidence of this existence.  In truth, God's existence cannot be disproved any more than it can be proved.  I know this bothers some people (and others point to the Flying Spaghetti Monster as an example of such an untouchable being), but reality is much greater than our relatively limited senses and experiences.  We must learn to live with the knowledge that the whole of the world is not limited to our experience of it.

I wish that the two sides would drop their debate: live and let live, I say.  Let us spend our time and argumentative energies debating subjects that we can see or influence, such as how to respond to the perceived threat of global warming, the economy, foreign policy, what to eat for dinner, whether or not Lady GaGa is a man, etc.  Scientists, the religious community provides a valuable sense of purpose and belonging in people's lives.  Christians, scientists improve our lives with their discoveries and broaden our technological capability.  Can we call a truce already?


Tina said...

Very well written and a balanced approach. Well done. Tina

Hans said...

Why is Chuck Croll abusing Blogger Help Forum forum – allowing molestation, libel, and child pornography?
The pedophile stalker is roaming Blogger Help Forum for more than a week now, and moderator „nitecruzr“ alias Chuck Croll is still into his Bruno L. schtick, against better knowledge, see here:
Croll knows the avatars of the stalker and impersonator. He has read L’s alert blog and knows that L. is molested by this anonymous pervert since three years. He knows that the pedophile stalker has an avatar here under „NikolaiDersauger“, i.e. NikolaitheCocksucker in German. Further, he knows that the pervert is posting messages under „DerSaugerNikolai“ at YouTube, see this screenshot:
or directly at Youtube:
(though Youtube will delete the messages today, as every day for three years)
And still Croll doesn’t see fit to take action? It’s the easiest thing in the world to compare IPs, but Croll and his colleagues simply do nothing – more, they do delete all legitimate questions by other, long-time members of this forum.

All members of this forum have to endure this chaos because the moderators agree with impersonation, libel, and child pornography?

The avatars of the stalker:

Taleed Maamari said...

I very much admire your the sense and logic that you have used in writing this article. As a believer, I don't find offensive, because, as you said, science is a huge part in our modern society where technology is all over. I was surprised by the info you used when explaining that the Bible wasn't written by God, but men, fallible men.
As a conclusion to what I have to say:
1) Bravo, I admire your logic
2)I believe, but because believing is what can set you free and make you secure. I hope people will believe, but their opinion is their opinion.