Science Trumps Religion…or does it?

Science will always decimate religious thought on the basis of rigorous scientific proof that is, subjection to the utmost of scrutiny and peer review; or so one of the more popular rebuttals against religious thought goes! Simplified, unless you subject your belief to the rigours of scientific scrutiny in order that it is proven to be true or proven to be false, it has no worth, it is pointless. The controversial Richard Dawkins declares, “Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.”[i]

I would respond:

The belief that any thought direction which, in the view the scientific community, does not measure up to its mantra of being empirically proven, is scientism not science. In fact, the belief that everything must be scientifically verifiable is in itself self-defeating because it cannot itself be empirically verified! [ii] In my view, atheism (being merely the antithesis of theism) requires just as much faith to prop up its fundamental propositions as does theism, perhaps even more!

The God of theism is infinite, without beginning or end – He knows no bounds whether spatial or time based. As F J Sheed puts it, ‘God is existence’.[iii] He is outside any point of reference which we may have or can think to have and would be outside the realm of our imagination for the same reason.

Man on the other hand, is finite; he lives within the finitude that is the universe, hamstrung by time and space and any other material constraint. It is within these parameters then that science must operate and carry out its empirical necessity.

It is rather fatuous then to say that unless you can prove that something, which exists outside of the terms of reference of the universe, using tools and hypotheses which are based on the finite existence within the universe, then that something does not exist. No, that assertion is illogical and in my opinion not very scientific!

In his book, Science and Christian Belief, Coulson makes a fair point. He makes reference to the opening sentence in a schoolboy essay: ‘The difference between Science and Religion is that Science is material and Religion is immaterial.’ He goes on to say ‘Science deals with things that you can get hold of and usually measure in a quantitative fashion; religion with things that you cannot get hold of, far less measure.’[iv] Though this is a fairly general statement, it serves perhaps to bring the relationship between science and religion into perspective.

So as far as the original statement is concerned, I for one do not concur. Science’s existence is finite and restricted to the environment in which it is forced to operate. Ask a scientist ‘What came before the universe?’ or ‘What is the universe expanding into?’ and the stock answer is normally ‘Science can’t answer that!’ That or a plethora of exotic make-do hypotheses which in themselves have no scientific foundation but never the answer ‘Well maybe we should consider that there are things which we don’t and can never know’.

God forbid there should be a God!

[ii] Copan, P. (2005). How do you know you’re not wrong? (Paperback ed.). Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Books. (Pages 58-60)

[iii] Sheed, F. J. (1947). Theology and Sanity. London, United Kingdom: Sheed & Ward. (Page 29)

[iv] Coulson, C. A. (1955). Science and Christian Belief (2nd Impression (Sept. 1955) ed.). London, UK: Oxford University Press. (Page 29)


About Anthony

I am a married Catholic who is interested in Theology, History, Philosophy and the search for truth. I also have a penchant for photography.
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4 Responses to Science Trumps Religion…or does it?

  1. My question is who arbitrates on what it is you believe?

    You do not support a literal translation of the Bible. I don’t have issue with that – I have issue with how you decide what to believe, particularly as different faiths choose to cherry-pick those aspects of the bible that support their viewpoint.

    If the Bible is the Word, surely it should be taken as law? If not, surely there should be one interpretation that has some substantiation for its adoption: we both know that is not the case.

    The Bible, then, is interpreted arbitrarily – and you can see that. Any number of people proclaim that they have a “private” belief, or they have their personal interpretation of God; which is convenient as they never have to subject it to scrutiny.

    Science does not claim to have all the answers: however, the Scientific Method enforces an objective review of any serious theories. And scientific theories are just that: scientists acknowledge that the best of theories may implode under counter-proofs: but the best theories survive because they not only withstand scrutiny, they become predictive and are ultimately used to better the world around us.

    Science doesn’t allow for personal viewpoints to prevail over fact. The Scientific Method won’t allow arbitrary preferences to override truth. There are healthy scientific debates: but only until the truth is proven. Scientists will frequently abandon a model in favor of that which has proven to have better credence: Newtonian clockworks became Einsteinian relativity – but both models helped us better understand the cosmos, and both models had practical value.

    I have seldom heard a religious leader acknowledge that the faith has been wrong, regardless of the proofs that show this. I exclude, of course, the Catholic Church admitting that Galileo was right – 350 years after the event.

    So who arbitrates? If faith is a personal belief only then it cannot be divine. If faith is literal then all the lost testaments must be included – contradictory as they are – and followed to the letter.

    We all choose what we believe. My faith in science is based on what is tangible, proven and repeatable. Not a personal preference. In science the truth arbitrates – not the individual.

    • Anthony says:

      Response to Anthony Oliver’s comment of 20 December, 2010.

      For a person of science, you have an obdurate perspective of the scientific ethos of open-mindedness! For what you cast upon the theist, you practice from within your own standpoint. You cannot issue dictums for religion (“If the Bible is the Word, surely it should be taken as law? If not, surely there should be one interpretation that has some substantiation for its adoption…”) and not for science! Otherwise you must take as truth all theories of science, proven or not!

      At this point I would ask that the debate remains at a macro level concerning science and religion, though discussion on elements within religion such as the bible can certainly become the subject of another debate.

      I think in essence, that you have missed the main point of my argument, and that is that religion and science co-exist within two different realms of reality. I tried to highlight this when I quoted C.A. Coulson’s differentiation between science and religion. It is important, for me in any event, that the parameters of the two ‘disciplines’ are clearly understood; your persistence in reducing everything to a measurable constant borders on reductionism.

      Your main question is who decides on what it is I believe in? I think perhaps a better way of looking at this would be that this refers to a personal choice in what body of belief you choose to associate with. For me this is the Doctrine and Magisterium of the Catholic Church; for you it is the body of science. As for how I arrive at what I believe, I would quote the following from my introductory post:

      In the apologetic of my belief structure, my belief would best be described as being based on thought, research, logic, reason and experience or spiritual awareness. These are the building blocks, the logical progressions of what I have witnessed, how I have reasoned that witness and which allows me to commit to intellectual assent. This ‘process’ helps lead me to an ever strengthening commitment in those convictions. It is at this point that I can embrace faith.

      The whole thrust of my argument centres around the finite and the infinite. Science exists within the finite bounds of the universe, subject to the laws of physics which exist within that realm. Given that the premise of the Scientific Method is that a proposition must be subjected to these physical laws and must be proven to be true or false using these laws or elements within that finite universe, how then could science make comment on that which is intrinsically outside of this universe.

      From a theistic perspective God is infinite, outside of space or time; in other words completely outside of the reference of anything inside of the universe. By way of allegory, ask the average person to describe the image of GOD and in many cases the answer would be a wise old man with a grey beard. This he may be, we don’t know but described as an ethereal, spiritual being is probably closer to the mark! This in itself is inaccurate because how can we comprehend that which is outside of finitude; the only reason this type of answer is put forward is because it is the only way we can express ourselves, being bound by the boundaries of a physical universe.

      To ask for proof of the existence of God using the Scientific Method is about as useful as proving the existence of The Philosophers Stone using a metal detector! I do not mean to be derogatory or facetious but hope that this hyperbole illustrates better what I am trying to argue.

      We certainly do choose what we believe or rather we choose which belief we wish to be associated with, that is a tenet of the freedom of choice. You choose science as your guiding light; I choose theism – though I tend to believe that science and religion are not that contradictory and can exist in greater harmony than one might think!

  2. The problem with your response is that if, to quote you directly, “religion and science co-exist within two different realms of reality” there appears to be no common ground on which to debate.

    A logical discussion would share a framework within which viewpoints could be argued – but while your argue that religion is within a different realm (which, presumably, science cannot penetrate or explain) you dismiss science as a legitimate base for comment.

    I can understand why you choose this path: it undermines any rational argument that may be levelled against you and frees you of the burden of proof; but in the end it falls into the logical fallacy known as Special Pleading which Wikipedia describes as “… a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves. Essentially, this involves someone attempting to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exemption.”

    In short: you have no foundation for the claim that Science and Religion lie in different realities; it affords you the luxury of not having to apply coherent argument to your viewpoint; and it allows you to ignore uncomfortable contradictions and avoid rigorous examination of your beliefs.

    In essence, of course, this discussion between us is at the heart of the science vs faith debate – I can no more relinquish my faith in logic than you can relinquish your trust in faith. For me to do so would be a slippery path: if I am to choose to place faith in some deity over logic – why choose this one? And to what degree should I believe? And upon what basis – other than a personal preference or a cultural basis – should I make these choices at all?

    At least the followers of the Cargo Cults (which provided some insights into why religions are created at all) could provide tangible reasons for their adopted faith systems!

    Special Pleading:
    Cargo Cults:

    • Anthony says:

      Response to Anthony Oliver’s comment of 03 January 2011.
      I must admit that I was initially quite taken-aback by the intensity of your reply, and perhaps also a tad offended at the implied assertion of specious behaviour. The metaphorical reference to Cargo Cults while a bit off colour is harmless enough.

      a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
      capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: as the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
      a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
      b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust

      Now I need to acknowledge that your assertion…

      ‘The problem with your response is that if, to quote you directly, “religion and science co-exist within two different realms of reality” there appears to be no common ground on which to debate’.

      …speaks to a reality.

      You are quite correct in contending that if religion and science don’t exist in the same realm, there can be no common grounds for debate. But of course…religion itself is a discipline encompassing the spiritual aspirations of man and hence must originate or rather exist within the same sphere as man, and science for that matter. I’m afraid that the way I phrased the ideas in my response to your first reply was misleading at best but more accurately described I believe, as incorrect.

      I believe if we refer back to my original blog, we were debating issues surrounding proof of the existence of God. In essence you stress that from a scientific perspective, unless a theory is proven by the scientific method, it remains just that, an unproven theory. The way I understand the imperative of this statement is that any idea, theory or postulation must have a ‘scientific method’ label attached to it or it is regarded as invalid! Now, even as a religious person, I can understand and support this statement to a certain extent, providing that what the scientific method tests exists within the same boundaries as the laws which the scientific method uses and religion per se does surely exist within this plane of existence.

      Thus my assertion that religion and science exist within different realms of reality is not correct. However, this was an error on my part as what I was referring to was that the primary object of religion, God, exists outside our realm of reality. This is NOT ‘Special Pleading’ but a statement of logical fact, for as perceived creator of the universe, God cannot be OF the same universe, else He Himself would be created! Whether you believe the intrinsic content of this statement or not is a matter of personal conviction, however the logic remains that one cannot apply the laws of this universe to something which is perceived to exist outside of it.

      In my mind, this is where faith emerges; faith is a firm belief in something for which there is no ‘scientific‘ proof and which is naturally a subjective matter. Perhaps it is here that perceived “private” or “personal” interpretations might arise. I can see this as a point of departure from the exactitudes of science, as science will say – “there can only be one correct view of faith” but when belief is in something transcendent, one can only appeal to faith for its explanation since the prime objective of that faith is currently beyond the sphere of human cognition! Once again I state this, not as any form of Special Pleading but as a statement of logic!

      I cannot speak for others but for me, as I have mentioned previously, in order to experience real faith and before I can trust, I have got to apply intellectual assent to a particular belief, meaning that I have to satisfy myself as to the logic existent behind that belief, whether philosophical, physical or otherwise.

      Finally, you make the point that our discussion is at the heart of the ‘science versus faith’ debate and this is true – at issue here is whether belief in something which cannot be definitively proven by subjection to the scientific method i.e. religious faith, should be dismissed out of hand. I find it rather peculiar though that, to paraphrase you – ‘…I can no more relinquish my faith in logic’ is used to describe your relationship to logic!

      To quote from the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

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