Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Science x Religion = Scigion?

In a recent issue of the New York Times, the John Templeton Foundation. They're a scientific finance group that used to sponsor Nova. They've instead gotten into running large, two-page ads in the Times about "The Big Questions." Such as: who is Britney dating, and, where can I get g00d che@p \/|@gra from C@n@d@?

The most recent one was; Does science make belief in God obsolete? They solicited answers from a wide variety of people, I give them credit, including one of my heroes, Michael Shermer. They also got Christopher Hitchens, who is always entertaining. I do wish they had gotten more people with hard-core philosophical backgrounds. They got a few with theological training, and ONE person, Mary Midgley, with focus on ethics. But this has nothing to do with ethics. Where are the epistemologists and metaphysicists? They had boat-loads of physicists and biologists, a few priests, and one very devout guy, but no philosophers.

I think the question was also formulated poorly, since almost everyone re-stated the question before answering it. Surprisingly, most of them re-stated it similarly. I, too, restate it. I find the question multi-faceted. The first question is “can someone believe in science and God simultaneously,” and “can someone be a scientist and believe in God.”

The answer to the first question is no, and the answer to the second is yes. “Belief,” as it were, in science requires an acceptance of causality, probability, and basing thought and actions on these two tenets. I do not cower in a closet for fear of being killed by a rogue baseball, since the probability of that is very low. Likewise, since God is outside of causality, probability, and inquiry, there is no reason to believe. So, yes, a dedicated belief in causality and probability and the analysis thereof negates if not the actual existence of God, but the belief.

Science can be done by anyone, though. It can be done passively and effectively. How long this will be true is anyone’s guess, since most of our scientific tinkering is still in its earliest stages. What of the days when we will manipulate the very fabric of space-time. I think we will find it much harder to simply work with what is in front of us and assume the existence of a divine entity in the wings, watching over us. But the point remains, anyone can do science by observing, recording, predicting, and controlling. On the face of it, it’s obvious that religious belief need not intrude on this activity at all. My belief in God does not affect my ability to make a better television or cancer drug.

I think the question is better stated as whether it is possible to live a religious life and a scientific life simultaneously, and that is a resounding no. One cannot accept the tenets of science as a system by which to live a life and the tenets of religion. Science requires inquiry, experiment, and prediction. Religion requires the abandonment of all three. Religion requires the baseless assumption of God, faith, and the assumption that He is outside our ken. Science rejects that.

Obviously, it could be argued that a religious foundation and a scientific foundation are fundamentally equal. We are unsure of God's existence, but we are also unsure of our own existence. All we know is that we think, therefore we are. So the world may be an illusion, and as such scientific inquiry is as much a figment of our imagination as religion is.

This is true, but this figment is involuntary and universal amongst people. Religion, however, is not. We have to think about religion, come up with it, and watch it evolve. Religion has changed, human perception has not. I am just sitting here, having my perceptions forced on me. I have no rational reason to doubt them to such a degree as believe The Matrix is real. If I must base the world on something, it may be the things I do not have to contemplate.

At least this question was better farmed than the Does the Universe Have a Purpose? question. Again, where are all the philosophers?

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