The Non-conflict Between Science and Religion

Excellent interview with Stephen Barr, professor of Particle Physics at the Bartol Research Institute and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Delaware. Here he discusses the myth of the ‘conflict’ between science and religion – something I have dealt with before.

One bit he covered that I had forgotten about was the fact that the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo had a view of time 1600 years ago that wasn’t to be understood by science until the 20th century – namely that time originated with the material universe, which comports with our modern notion of spacetime.

In some ways Dr. Barr may be preaching to the choir a bit here given the fact that only 15% of scientists at major universities see religion and science in conflict.

And most of those scientists are named Jerry Coyne.

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25 Responses to The Non-conflict Between Science and Religion

  1. kenetiks says:

    Because obviously, people never ever lay seige to school boards over science curriculums and especially never ever for religious reasons.

  2. Robert says:

    I think Galileo saw it as conflict and all he did was suggest the sun was the center of the solar system, and it took the church 500 years to admit it was wrong about Galileo!

  3. jackhudson says:

    I don’t think he saw science and religion as a conflict; he saw the Pope’s geocentric view of the solar system as in conflict with his heliocentric view, but there is no indication he denied his Catholic beliefs as a result of his scientific views.

  4. Robert says:

    It wasnt just the pope it was the culture of the time which was very religious. Religions are typically very fantastic in their claims and equally insecure and not tollerant of other religions or beliefs.

  5. jackhudson says:

    The problem with your view is that heliocentrism was developed years before Galileo came up with the idea by Copernicus, who was a Roman Catholic cleric.

    And non-religious ideas can be intolerant of other beliefs, much as Marxism was; the Soviet Union specifically promoted particularly bad ideas about biology (i.e. Lysenkoism) to the exclusion of other scientific ideas.

    And the intolerance works both ways. The Big Bang theory, which was developed by a the Roman Catholic priest George Lemaitre was initially opposed by Einstein because it appeared to be too like religious notions of the origin of the universe, and was contrary to Einstein’s own view of the origin of the universe.

    So while intolerance can be motivated by many things (it’s certainly a part of human nature) there is no evidence religious ideas in general are inherently antagonistic to science.

  6. Robert says:

    Human nature is what it is and as a result there are many conflicts in science itself as opposing ideas clash since the paradigms themselves can be faulty or lacking. But science works in the opposite way that religion does, it starts from basic observations to more complex ones built on underlying consistencies, while religion starts out with huge answers and assumptions and works down subjecting/forcing implications at all other levels.

  7. jackhudson says:

    Science certainly works differently than ‘religion’ does (though one mistake atheists make is referring to ‘religions’ collectively to begin with – religious ideas about the world differ radically) – but science starts with its own assumptions, many of which can’t be demonstrated by science itself.

    Indeed, many scientific assumptions only make sense if certain metaphysical ideas are true.

  8. Robert says:

    I guess the Tree falling in the forest is a scientific assumption then and need not involve a discussion about god?

  9. jackhudson says:

    I am afraid that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in this context.

  10. Robert says:

    A tree falling in the forest is testable, no-one may be there to hear it but my scientific assumption is that it still makes a noise and I can test verify my hypothesis with recording equipment.

  11. jackhudson says:

    Obviously the claim that an unobserved tree makes a noise because observed ones do is based on the assumption that the universe operates in a reliably consistent way – that assumption is not testable by science.

  12. Robert says:

    Of course it is with recording equipment, and if what you say is true that the universe is not consistent then all scientists might as well give up and get real jobs because then science makes no sense. You can suggest this as a representative of religion and still say there is no conflict? You fundamentally are opposed to science by your comments because you believe in reason and rationality only so far as you can use them to promote the non-rationality that you mention!

  13. jackhudson says:

    Obviously recording equipment is a form of observation – so it wouldn’t negate my point, which you seem to have missed, namely that science assumes certain natural laws operate with consistency even when unobserved.

    And you are right when you say that science only makes sense when we assume the universe acts consistently – but that is the whole point, which you seem to have inadvertently conceded. So we are in agreement on that point, and the idea that all human thought processes rely on certain untestable assumptions is demonstrated.

    Bringing us back to square one – there is no inherent conflict with science and religion in this regard.

  14. Robert says:

    I believe the Universe is consistent.

  15. jackhudson says:

    Sure, so do I – but that is something we’ve assumed, we can’t prove it scientifically.

  16. kenetiks says:

    To which I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. See my first post which you apparently ignored. You can wrangle, contort, massage the facts all you like but science breaks religions monopoly on what is true. if it did not, the religious would not be so vehemently opposed to science curiculums in our schools. Which are under tremendous pressure and coercion from the many churches which litter nearly every acre in areas of high religiosity.

  17. jackhudson says:

    This is where I think the crux of the miscommunication lies. You refer to ‘religion’ as if it is just one thing – but it’s not, various religions address various aspects of human life. I mean Sam Harris is an admirer of Buddhism, which is a religion, and he doesn’t appear to believe that particular religion conflicts with science despite the fact Buddhism makes truth claims. And as Barr makes clear in his interview (and I have detailed elsewhere) much of what we call science was developed by very religious people, many of them Christians, so obviously there is nothing inherent in religious belief that necessarily prevents one from practicing science or keeps scientific truths from advancing. And as I cited above, 75% of scientists at major universities see no such conflict.

    And one can think of other ‘truths’ that Christianity is completely agnostic about – engineering principles, mathematical concepts, the principles that guide the development of modern technologies especially information technology. So it’s not as if there is an attempt to monopolize all truth.

    So where exactly does this ‘conflict’ lie? As I have touched on before, I believe the conflict is really about the scientific narrative that is proffered by those who see science as having the ultimate monopoly on truth or more succinctly, those who adhere to the philosophy of scientism – even if they don’t recognize it as such. And this scientific narrative isn’t the same as the scientific method or particular scientific findings, but rather it is an attempt to cast all human knowledge into a materialistic or naturalistic framework. That isn’t science, it is atheistic proselytizing.

    As a Christian I am fond of Stephen Jay Gould’s formulation of non-overlapping magisteria; it is New Atheists who disparage him as an accommodationist.

    So I don’t think it is Christians who are attempting to monopolize the truth in this case.

  18. kenetiks says:

    I’ll quote Hitchens in reference to Gould, “…they most certainly do not over lap but this does not mean they are not antagonistic…”.

    It’s not just Christians who attempt to usurp the truth here. In fact most religions do this from their inception and continue to browbeat and threaten anyone who disagrees.

    As a matter of point which I’ve stated before, I don’t even use the word “truth” anymore. It’s been hijacked by the godly for use as a marketing tool. As you often here talk of “God’s truth” or “Biblical truths”(the epitome of an oxymoron if there ever was one).

    The antagonism is due to the recurring condition of the religious being ousted from their position of absolute authority over the many years and having been reconciled to being constantly embattled and having to admit either wrongdoing or defeat on every front.

    Which brings us to the present state of affairs. There has been a religious resurgence that has reared it’s ugly head, swollen from believing it’s own torrents of self-riotous propaganda. It’s astonishing to me that your coreligionists and sometimes you, actually believe what they say.

    When confronted with the enormous amount of evidence that they are not only wrong but incredibly so; they simply ignore it and go on burbling about their “truths” and laying waste to a many a classroom along the way. Is this really honest discourse? As I pointed out to some people on facebook earlier about the stupid debacle over Mississippi’s amendment 26 ballot; You don’t want to have this argument with me, your refusal to accept reality is not honorable nor is it a badge of honor for your faith. It is flagrant dishonesty.

    Take you for instance. Here we have a average Joe who’s intelligent and articulate. He’s not unlearned in the history of his own personal faith and possesses a wealth of knowledge and is a well enough speaker. For all that knowledge which is in direct conflict with what you say is true, you simply ignore it. To me, you are the strangest quandary I have ever run into. For someone to know how wrong he really is and then go on to claim superiority and victory in the same breath is a puzzlement to me. You know, the books of the modern bible are demonstrably false. You know, that the biblical historical record is wrong. You know there is the problem of evil. You know that predestination damns the innocent to hell. You know the teaching of atonement is immoral. You know visiting punishment on future generations is immoral and unethical as the original sin. You know all these things and so much more and yet you still claim victory and are aghast when someone calls you out.

    I will never understand the religious impulse.

  19. Robert says:

    Really of all the superstitions and prejudices that the human mind adheres too so insecurely, religion is the most expendable and the least useful.

  20. Justin says:

    Robert wrote:

    Really of all the superstitions and prejudices that the human mind adheres too so insecurely, religion is the most expendable and the least useful.

    Your subjective opinion, of course.

    kinetics wrote:

    It’s not just Christians who attempt to usurp the truth…When confronted with the enormous amount of evidence that they are wrong…

    First, you’re painting with such a large brush that your comments can’t be taken seriously. Second, what specific evidence are you talking about? Thirdly, if you’re simply attacking one group or subset of Christians (i.e. Young Earth Creationists) then painting all Christians as such is extremely intellectually dishonest.

  21. kenetiks says:

    First, you’re painting with such a large brush that your comments can’t be taken seriously. Second, what specific evidence are you talking about? Thirdly, if you’re simply attacking one group or subset of Christians (i.e. Young Earth Creationists) then painting all Christians as such is extremely intellectually dishonest.

    First I’m not painting with too large a brush. The brush happens to history and the canvas happens to be the planet you reside on. It’s not my fault you’re wearing a ski mask turned the wrong way around.

    Second point. Nearly every piece of evidence that we have directly conflicts with the biblical account. I’m not going to sit here and dismantle christianity point by point from the dawn of recorded history. Not that it cannot be done but it would be a waste of my time. At the end of the process no amount of evidence will change your mind. Do your own homework.

    Third point. No I’m not. YECs are not only Christian’s. They encompass a lot of different faiths. Muslims and Jews for example. This point here almost seems to be a no true Scotsman fallacy. Even if I were speaking of strictly Christians here, who does or doesn’t have the right to speak for all Christians? If you’re speaking in terms of the YEC’s on the basis of their dismissal of facts and evidence alone, then why is it that you chose to ignore facts when it’s convenient for you to do? Just as they do with their YE Creationism you do with the rest of Christianity.

    I listed actually quite a few points in my post and clearly stated unambiguously that I was not relegating my attack to any specific group on the basis of faith over evidence but since we’re talking christian apologetics on this blog the brunt of it came down on Christianity. All of which you ignored and chose to employ a strawman.

    As I said, you merely chose what to believe with complete disregard for facts or evidence. And that’s fine. I have no problem with what you do or don’t do, with your own mind. But don’t pretend that this is not what you’re doing. You cherry picked my post and crudely carpentered a strawman argument. In the end Justin, just as so many times in your posts here, it is you who continually fail to be intellectually honest with yourself, much less to anyone else.

  22. jackhudson says:

    The antagonism is due to the recurring condition of the religious being ousted from their position of absolute authority over the many years and having been reconciled to being constantly embattled and having to admit either wrongdoing or defeat on every front.

    I am trying to think about when you think the church has been in a position of ‘absolute authority’; obviously it wasn’t for the first several hundred years of it’s history where Roman emperors ruled with an iron fist. This was followed pretty closely by invasions by Vikings and Visigoths, as well as the increasing presence of Islam in the south. The church was never the monolith secularists have naively portrayed it to be. Even as outside threats began to wane, forces within the church began to address and reform the European church’s excesses. That pretty much ended the church’s flirtation with worldly dominance.

    Now if you want to speak of actual totalitarianism your best bet is Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China, or North Korea under the Ils. There real attempts were made to bring populations into unquestioning obeisance to the state. This is why I tend to chuckle when atheists accuse me of ignoring facts; they will readily rattle off a list of the church’s supposed ills, while completely ignoring the horrendous carnage that occurred under atheistic regimes.

    Which brings us to the present state of affairs. There has been a religious resurgence that has reared it’s ugly head, swollen from believing it’s own torrents of self-riotous propaganda. It’s astonishing to me that your coreligionists and sometimes you, actually believe what they say.

    See here, I am confused. The atheists I talk to keep assuring me religion is retreating in light of the overwhelming power of science, now you are telling me we are experiencing resurgence. I think you folks ought to get your story straight before being astonished by what we believe.

    When confronted with the enormous amount of evidence that they are not only wrong but incredibly so; they simply ignore it and go on burbling about their “truths” and laying waste to a many a classroom along the way. Is this really honest discourse? As I pointed out to some people on facebook earlier about the stupid debacle over Mississippi’s amendment 26 ballot; You don’t want to have this argument with me, your refusal to accept reality is not honorable nor is it a badge of honor for your faith. It is flagrant dishonesty.

    “Laying waste to many a classroom” – hyperbole much? I don’t know the particulars of what’s going on in Mississippi, but I know here, as the member of a public school board that Christians have a tremendously positive impact on the education of their children. In fact the most significant impact on a child’s education isn’t the specifics of what a textbook says, but the home life and community that child is brought up in. I mean the uber-secular schools in inner-city Minneapolis have a 55% drop-out rate; it’s obviously not ‘Christians’ who are laying waste to our classrooms. I could go on about comparisons educationally between parochial schools and home schools versus these secular public schools, but that would be just beating an already obviously dead horse which you insist on trying to ride.

    Take you for instance. Here we have a average Joe who’s intelligent and articulate. He’s not unlearned in the history of his own personal faith and possesses a wealth of knowledge and is a well enough speaker. For all that knowledge which is in direct conflict with what you say is true, you simply ignore it. To me, you are the strangest quandary I have ever run into. For someone to know how wrong he really is and then go on to claim superiority and victory in the same breath is a puzzlement to me. You know, the books of the modern bible are demonstrably false. You know, that the biblical historical record is wrong. You know there is the problem of evil. You know that predestination damns the innocent to hell. You know the teaching of atonement is immoral. You know visiting punishment on future generations is immoral and unethical as the original sin. You know all these things and so much more and yet you still claim victory and are aghast when someone calls you out.

    Well I suppose I should be appreciative that you called me articulate and intelligent before calling me deluded, disingenuous and in denial. 🙂

    But the reality is I am none of these things because there is good historical evidence that the Bible as we know if today is reliably true as I have detailed in this blog exhaustively. Not only are the ideas the Bible expounds upon historically true, but they have proved themselves to be fundamental to human flourishing.

    And ironically what you call the ‘problem of evil’ is only a problem if one is a Christian because if there is no objective and external measure of human choices, then there is no ‘evil’. It’s why we don’t consider the choices of apes or dolphins or dogs to be evil because they have no sense that something should be other than it is. Whenever you call something evil, you are tacitly affirming the Biblical claim that the world and humans ought to be other than it is. The very claim that evil is a ‘problem’ is itself evidence for Christianity. Again, I am not the one ignoring this reality.

    The fact is I was an agnostic skeptic long before I was a Christian (probably before you and many of the other atheists I deal with around here were atheists), and came to the conclusion based on my knowledge, observation and education that the atheism is inherently contradictory and logically self-defeating. And my main qualm is with the bad reason and bad logic of atheism, scientism, materialism and naturalism not with atheists themselves with whom I frequently converse. And that I think is one of the primary differences between you and I kinetics; I see the defect being in the atheist worldview rather than atheists themselves whereas you, like most atheists, have made it clear you see Christians themselves as inherently intellectually defective.

    I will never understand the religious impulse.

    Well given the fact that it is perhaps the one universal human characteristic, I would suggest it is part of our design.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  23. Nathan says:

    It is a nice and comfy feeling that science and religion do not conflict. There, do we all feel better now? The fact is that science and religion are very much at odds on many fronts, such as, how knowledge is obtained, what is real, bottom-up or top-down, not to mention the origin of the universe, earth, life, evolution, and on and on. One thing that the scientific method and the religious method have in common is that they are both man-made.

  24. jackhudson says:

    Well given science has very little definitive to tell us about the origin of the universe, the earth and life at this time, I am not sure where the ‘conflict’ would lie.

    And Christians have no qualm with the scientific method, indeed they played a part in creating it so I am not sure why they would have a problem with how knowledge is obtained by science.

    What Christians at least are skeptical of is the belief that science is the only reliable way to obtain knowledge, and that science is capable of fully explaining what we are as humans.

  25. Justin says:

    kinetics,

    It is a broad brush when you place an entire religion, or all religions, into the anti-science category. That’s simply absurd.

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