Science vs. Religion… Why can’t we all just get along?

August 16, 2010

During my wanderings through the vast blogosphere, I am continually astounded by the sheer volume of science vs. religion rants posts out there.  I propose we all take a deep breath, calm down and think about what’s going on.  Many religious people view skeptics as cynical, close-minded people, incapable of seeing a larger truth; something beyond the sensory experience.  Skeptics, on the other hand, tend to view religious people as ignorant, close-minded people, jumping to conclusions without considering all the facts at hand.  As for me, I’m a member of that radical middle sect, the people who question whether or not the two camps really are separate, mutually exclusive entities.  After all, religion and science both aim for the same goal… to discover the truth, but go about it in completely separate ways.  With science it’s fairly straightforward.  In the words of Richard Dawkins, “Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.”  Science removes your own sensory biases in favor of the unaltered truth.  With religion, it’s a bit more subtle.  Religion also seeks truth about the universe, but in a completely spiritual way.  The bible, prayer, meditation, and worship are nothing more than tools used to discover truth.  If both disciplines are striving towards the same goal, why is there such animosity?  If you want people from the other camp to believe you, regardless of which it might be, why would you alienate them further by spewing fire and brimstone?  All you really accomplish is widening the schism and promoting intolerance and close-mindedness, on both sides.  Why not speak a mutually understandable language, built on rational ideas and unbiased evidence?

Let’s start by talking about those crazy people who think evolution and global warming are skewed statistics, perpetuated by political agenda.  The most outspoken opponents of evolution tend to be conservative Christians.  While this by no means encompasses all the unbelievers, it’s a significant portion and we’ll just deal with them today.  Ever since Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, it’s been a hot topic.  Many people had to alter their religious beliefs and perceptions of the world (e.g. the Bible’s claim that the world was created in 7 days) to somehow fit with evolution.  After all, the bible does state that God had already created the sun and the moon, and thus had clearly established days in place.  While some people claim that our days do not necessarily translate one-to-one with a “God day,” many Christians simply refuted evolution completely, since it failed to jive with their beliefs.  Roughly 53% of creationists claim that God created man exactly how the bible describes it, without the side-stepping “God days.”  (Admittedly that poll is 5 years old, but I sincerely doubt peoples’ beliefs have changed significantly in the past 5 years.)  Now, why would they do this, in the face of such overwhelming evidence?  Well, the obvious explanation is that they’re insanely stubborn and feeble-minded individuals, incapable of accepting truth.  While that may certainly be the case for some, I tend have a bit more optimistic of an approach.  Perhaps they’re just being skeptical of the scientific community’s ability to interpret discovered data, and why should skeptics, of all people, discourage skepticism?  While the majority of people who doubt evolution cite religion, roughly 14% of people who doubt evolution say that not enough compelling scientific evidence has been produced.  To understand why they would say such a thing, let’s consider one of the primary pieces of evidence in favor of evolution, the fossil record.  While I’m sure none of that 14% of people would contest the fact that fossils have been dug up, they might question how that is being interpreted.  After all, it was fairly recently that they discovered that the triceratops isn’t a unique dinosaur.  What was that but a misinterpretation of previously discovered evidence?  What’s to say there aren’t more mistakes like that floating around?  Many disbelievers in evolution aren’t stupid, just displaying perfectly natural skepticism.  I’m fairly convinced that with more public education about the matter, at the very least that 14% will change their minds about evolution, and perhaps convince the rest to follow suit.

By the same token, it is unacceptable for the religious right to claim ignorance, or worse, just make things up.  The latter is my only explanation for this gem that’s been circling around blogs for the past couple days.  With the wealth of readily available information, there’s no excuse for a scantily-researched article, with evidence that doesn’t even relate to the topic at hand or completely false.  (While I won’t discuss this horribly inaccurate article, this post does a great job of explaining all the many, many flaws.)  Furthermore, religious people need to understand that skeptics tend not to appreciate the bible as unassailable evidence.  They aren’t terrible, Godless people, they just need more convincing.  Take, for example, doubting Thomas, the bible’s classic skeptic.  While Thomas needed stronger evidence, to touch the nail marks in the risen Jesus’ hands, he wasn’t any less of an apostle, just a skeptic.  Why is Thomas so harshly chastised by believers?  After all, Satan did supposedly make it his personal mission to deceive man and draw away as many followers as he could.  Why is it so bad that Thomas showed just a little caution?  The first time the risen Lord showed himself, not only showed his hands and feet, which had nail marks but he also ate fish to prove he was human, and not some apparition (Luke 24:36-43).  Thomas wasn’t there for this event (John 20:24).  He wasn’t doubting Jesus, per say, but the words of the other apostles.  He needed impartial evidence; evidence that he could see and verify himself.  Like the words of the apostles, skeptics don’t necessarily trust the word of the bible.  They need more compelling evidence, like the nail marks on Jesus’ hands or feet.  Notice how Jesus does not condemn them, but simply blesses the faithful (John 20:29).  A skeptic will not go to hell for being a skeptic, just for not repenting, which is another matter altogether.  To convince a skeptic, you need more than just biblical proof, and your proof had better be accurate.

There is an enormous amount of animosity between the proponents of science and religion that I’ve never been able to understand.  The bitter, vehement posts will only be appreciated by members of your own group, who are obviously already convinced.  Why not treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and together, reach some new truth?  After all, we all want the same thing: to understand the universe in which we live.  What is the harm in setting aside our differences and reasoning together, like rational human beings?  Let’s just all get along, guys.


7 Responses to “Science vs. Religion… Why can’t we all just get along?”

  1. I like your mind, and your views. Thank you, for your comment on my site.

    cheers, Bird.

  2. Robert said

    With religion, it’s a bit more subtle. Religion also seeks truth about the universe, but in a completely spiritual way. The bible, prayer, meditation, and worship are nothing more than tools used to discover truth. If both disciplines are striving towards the same goal, why is there such animosity?

    Because while both seek truth, only one has a means for overcoming error and falsehood. Science has a rigorous, time-tested method. Religion has…what? There are literally thousands of religions, all making conflicting claims for as long as anyone can remember, and what truth have they found?

    Also, the animosity arises when scientists and believers make conflicting claims–while the latter always loses. But this doesn’t stop them from continuing to challenge scientific theories on the basis of “religious truth”.

    • Thanks for reading, and your sharp, thought-provoking comment. It’s absolutely true that religion has no check in place, no means for validating their claims of salvation. That’s one of the problems with having something purely based on faith; it’s unverifiable, at least by current methods. While fierce ideological wars have been raised over centuries for religion, religion has also brought peace and purpose to millions of people, and its effects cannot be ignored. I’m not saying we should all immediately become religious, but we should all approach it with an open mind and a reasonable amount of tolerance.

      What many religious people seem to fail to realize is that religious texts (namely the bible, but I’m sure plenty of other ones too) were meant to convince people skeptical of religion. For example, Jesus provided over 300 pieces of evidence that he was the messiah, in the form of fulfilled prophecies. He knew going around and simply saying he wast he messiah wasn’t going to be enough. Scientists always support their claims, religious people tend not to, and rely that their faith will carry them through, although even their own deity knows better.

      I realize that the day believers and skeptics sit around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya” is very far away, if it ever happens, but don’t understand why we can’t strive to get there.

  3. Robert said

    While fierce ideological wars have been raised over centuries for religion, religion has also brought peace and purpose to millions of people, and its effects cannot be ignored.

    Religion’s pallative affects are a different issue than its alleged alternative utility in seeking truth. I’m fine with the former, but when it tries to put itself on the same pedestal as science, that’s where the problems begin–and rightly so. I asked before and the question remains relevant: what truth has religion uncovered? From what I can see, believers are more squabbling and contentious than ever.

    Astrology has also brought peace and purpose to millions. Should we approach it with an open mind and a reasonable amount of tolerance too? What if astrologers declared that the stars indicate we should prevent Christians from marrying? Would you still tolerate astrology?

    • Religion’s so called palliative effects are in fact the same. The truth sought is subtle, individual truth which teaches how to live your life and how to perceive the world around you. There is a great amount of diversity of opinion in religion simply because there is no way to conclusively decide which evidence is correct, so there is contention built into the whole institution of religion. It’s inevitable. Religious people need to have the same amount of tolerance towards skeptics and each other as everyone else; the rules don’t change because of your beliefs. At the end of the day, we are all just human beings, why not try to be decent to one another? No matter how ridiculous you think the religion is, your astrology thought experiment included, at the end of the day, the people you’re arguing with are still people. What’s the harm in treating them as such? I’m not saying to give into their demands or necessarily agree with them. Just listen, be patient, and give rational arguments. No matter how flawed the logic is, every human being deserves the same tolerance and courtesy.

  4. WolfyLion said

    Science and religion by no means need to be separate. The so called science vs religion seems like an archaic mindset left over from the dark ages. However, its misdirected.

    Before the dark ages science science and religion almost always worked together, trying to reach a common goal. During the Renaissance most scientist challenged the churches claim, not because the religion was wrong but the Church was wrong – a lot like Martin Luther challenging the church.

    As for things like the bibles claim on creation… A lot of it comes off as a misinterpretation. It is Jewish poetry never really meant to taken as the one and only truth.

    this came out bad because i got interpreted in the middle of my thoughts – for this i am sorry.

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