Science Versus Religion – Mortal enemies or hopeful friends?

The feud between religion and science can be compared to the Montague and Capulet relationship – hateful at times, dismissive often, and bridged rarely, often with tragic results for those who try.

A recent article in the journal Science (see Can Science and Religion Get Along?) discussed a controversial panel that aimed to bring together players from both sides in the hopes of starting some sort of dialog. There were cries of foul from both sides before the panel took place, but to me it seems that conversation in general is good as long as both sides come to the table with the right intention – to listen and not just talk.

AAAS and the “Evangelicals, Science, and Policy: Toward a Constructive Engagement” symposium

Apparently, this is exactly what happened at this recent mini-conference put on by AAAS (the American Association for the Advancement of Science). A group of eminent scientists (like James Childress) got together with religious figures like Richard Cizik, a former evangelical preacher who believes in global warming while still believing in the existence of god. Obviously, the “former” portion of the above description puts Cizik in a prime spot for being considered as one of the tragic figures I alluded to above.

Some of the panels held discussed specific issues such as neuroscience, stem cell research, and global warming, but the statements from attendees seemed to support the idea that while the two cultures are certainly not fully compatible, there’s a need to pull back some of the outright dismissal and ridicule that can exist when these two collide. Specifically, Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California was quoted as saying that “Science is religiously neutral,” and that the “same method and rationale” should be used whether testing religious ideas or others.The notion of dismissing religion off-hand can be dangerous is the same way that believing scientific ones without evidence would be looked down upon in the academic environment.

So while scientists may not believe in a god that directs life here on earth and warns of fire and brimstone, maybe we can find areas of agreement that move us forward rather than keeping us in the mud. Global warming, medical advancement, and questions of ethics can certainly be part of the initial block that might make such a discussion constructive. Hopefully this way we can save our proverbial Romeo and Juliet rather than dooming them to an early death.

For all the talk, I can’t help but feel that some gaps will never be bridged and maybe that is just how humanity needs it – I believe in the brain as an intricate, interconnected, machine that is likely more complex than we will ever fully comprehend but that yet does not hold any spiritual “ghost in the machine.” I understand that others disagree with me, but the question seems to me impossible to resolve, so I’m okay leaving it that way and moving on… I’d love to hear your thought on this!

2 thoughts on “Science Versus Religion – Mortal enemies or hopeful friends?

  1. Sorry, but I feel that yet again this is an example of what Rowan Williams has called a “category error”. This is the mistake of insisting that religious belief and scientific investigation are both inhabitants of the same signifier category or domain of meaning. I believe in God and I also accept scientific findings: how should I not? But in the media, again and again, we find this confusion appearing as an excuse for ‘controversy’. It’s not helpful.

    • Firstly, thank you for reading and commenting. I’m happy to hear that you are able to hold two ideas in mind at the same time, but I am also equally sure that you’d heard, repeatedly, that some leaders of religious organizations do not recognize numerous scientific concepts, such as evolution for example, and that there are many scientists who have nothing close to a belief in god. I think that it’s the “how should I not?” portion of your argument that these individuals would take issue with. I myself don’t believe in god in any way that is generally acceptable as a belief in a god and yet I accept sound scientific findings.

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