Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Of Scientists And Popes.

There's an interesting dual article available at The Post Chronicle online about the separation between religion and science. The two articles discuss the Catholic Church's history of repressing scientific advance that didn't jive with dogma. The first, by Stephen M. Barr, has one main point, that most of the great scientific advanced of the past 1,000 years believed in God and were, to a great extent, members of the Church.

This can't be denied, but that's like saying that scientists back then also rode horses. Of course they did. Everyone did. In the Middle Ages absolutely everyone was part of, or a member of, the Church. And since the unwashed masses were usually illiterate, any achievements in any discipline were most likely made by those of the cloth.

The second article, by Thomas E. Brewton, is an almost incomprehensible attack on what he sees as "atheistic materialists." I'm not sure who these people are. Perhaps Madonna counts. He restates what Barr said by saying that the only real example of the Church repressing science was Galileo, and even that was primarily political. I have no way to counter this and have no time to look it up, especially since I write this between classes. I can say this pretty confidently. The Church on the whole was never the big problem, it was the Church in its smaller parts.

For an easy example, look at Witch hunts throughout the later Middle Ages and right into the Renaissance. It was never the "Church" per se, that did anything. It was smaller groups that caused the real damage. Religion is only as good as those who follow it, and the Church proper is responsible for the actions of its constituents, which were very nasty indeed.

Brewton eventually goes on to try and classify science and religion in relation to each other.

"Religion looks at the big picture, science at particular natural instances. Mathematics is a bridge between the two: applicable to particulars, but drawing its theorems from extrapolations into the immateriality of mental constructs, as did Plato with his paradigm of Ideal ForMs [sic]."

I don't know if Brewton thinks these are new ideas. I hope he doesn't. They're older than me, plus him, and his entire family. It's the age old argument of the primacy of philosophy over science. This "bridge" could be seen as modern logic. I have no idea what he means by the drawing of theorems. Is he espousing numbers as pukka abstract entities? Does he mean that the numbers of math "exist" and we simply access them from the Platonic Plane when we perform calculations?

Furthermore, I completely disagree with his assessment that science ignores the big picture. Scientists always have their eye on the big picture, the brass ring. For physicists, it's the ever-elusive "theory of everything." But instead of making sweeping declarations at the very beginning of discovery, they build the puzzle one piece at a time. There's a big difference to saying a jig-saw puzzle is a tiger before putting it together, and actually putting it together to discover it's an elephant. Most importantly, even if it turns out to be a tiger, the original declaration is no more correct. Even philosophers classify knowledge as a justified, true belief. Where's the justification? God? Sorry, pulling Deus from the machina doesn't work in these waters.

In a not quite as dramatic note, he asks "why do humans uniquely among God's creatures construct political societies?" Uniquely? I don't think so. What about the species of tree-dwelling monkeys that seem to hold "elections" to determine the leader. The actual species escapes me. And, again, I have no time to look it up.

He continues his attack against these apparently evil liberals.

"From the standpoint of atheistic and materialistic liberals, however, it is necessary first to destroy Western civilization's paradigm of religious morality if they are to replace it with atheistic materialism. Hence the unending assaults by the ACLU and other socialist organizations."

He treats these materialistic monsters as though it was some grand conspiracy to destroy religion and morality. He's certainly not alone. There are boat-loads of science-as-conspiracy people wandering around. He actually blames Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on those evil liberals. Somehow, I doubt that most liberals in this country liked either the USSR or Hitler.

Both articles take a distinctly historical viewpoint on the conflict. This is their major downfall. I, instead, look at the concomitant evolution of religion and science. In the beginning, we didn't understand from where the river came, so it was the Gods. Then, we didn't understand lightning and thunder, so it was the Gods. Then we didn't understand the cosmos, so it was the Gods. Religion has always been there with answers to whatever science doesn't yet understand. Effectively, it has been forever picking up the crumbs of scientific discovery.

Brewton doesn't say this directly, but it can be inferred.

"The Big Bang requires that all of the laws of physics, mathematics, and chemistry be in existence prior to the Big Bang. This means, inescapably, that God existed outside of time and outside of the universe, and that the Mind of God is the source of all the natural laws and mathematics that form the subject matter of the physical sciences. God is what Aristotle called the Unmoved Mover where the buck stops, the source of all energy, of all potential and actual movement in the cosmos. Matter being just another form of energy, God is also the source of everything that scientists study to understand the laws of nature."

He is taking it to the final evolution, saying that God created the Big Bang. This is an entirely new perspective. He, and the Church which now accepts the Big Bang, are saying that ALL who came before were wrong. God exists, but not in the way previously thought. What?!

God created Eden. No, wait, God created Earth. No, wait, God created the cosmos and Earth formed. No, wait, God created the energy for the Bing Bang. Man, God just gets farther and farther away. How can we be so sure he even cares about us at all?

It is this obvious evolution of religion, which is supposedly the "final" word in everything, that is the real problem with it and science. Science continually picks away at religion and religion has spent the whole of the past millennium retreating back ever more to questions with no answers. We are now finally at the point of studying the very fabric of space-time, so it is no surprise that it is now there where God calls home. Science is evolving progressively, religion, regressively.

Brewton closes with two paragraphs with which I take exception. The aforementioned article where he credits liberal socialists with both WWII and the USSR, and another statement about science and religion's relationship.

"If, however, liberals were actually to adopt the methods of science to which they give lip service, they would analyze the real-world experiential data of 200 years and draw the scientific conclusion that liberal-socialism is both a pipe dream and a savagely destructive religion. Without it, the totalitarianism of Soviet Russia and National Socialist Germany would have been impossible."

In this paragraph, aside from being ridiculous to blame liberals for WWII and the Soviet Union, is the use of the word "experiential." Ooooooh. Not a good word. Even the most devout person must admit that experience is very frequently incorrect. Experiential data can never result in a scientific conclusion. Perhaps he refers to historical data. In that sense, both Nazism and the USSR are grand examples. But grand examples of what?

He calls them liberal socialists and seems to categorize all scientists in with this group. It's here that the lack of a definition for liberal socialists becomes very problematic. Are they different from the atheistic materialists? Do both groups go hand-in-hand? Is liberal socialism a form of political structure? If that's the case, and it is a "savagely destructive religion," as he says, then other forms of politics must be semantically equal. All forms of government must be religion. I think our founding fathers would disagree.

I guess I should return to the real point of this. It's not that some forms of government are bad, but that science is incompatible with religion. His final paragraph makes an equally uncogent argument as the rest of the article.

"If liberals were to become truly scientific, we could then return to the cumulative wisdom of Western civilization. Religion and philosophy would study humans' relations to the Divine and to each other, and science would stick to discoveries relating to the God-created material world."

Once again, his choice of words, and the only words he could choose, sink him. His "cumulative wisdom of Western civilization" comment makes no sense. How are we not using it now? And what about Eastern civilization? Does Confucius not count? Moreover, why are we "returning" to the wisdom? When did we leave? Where did we go? Is he referring to religious wisdom, which science and the world is leaving behind? It seems to me that it's nothing more than the ancient argument that the morals and fibers of modern civilization are crumbling under the weight of heathenism.

And finally, his use of the word "study" to describe religion and philosophy's role with the divine set my teeth on edge. It is impossible, in any sense, to study the divine. Philosophy is the antithesis of study. If you could study anything in either of them, they would automatically become science. No, science is the art of study, philosophy and religion are pure conjecture and contemplation. There is an ocean between the two.

Science Vs. Religion (Via The Post Chronicle)

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