Carol Platt Liebau: On God and Science

Monday, August 22, 2005

On God and Science

Here is a piece from The New York Times that demonstrates how relatively rare religious belief is among scientists -- and many scientists' quasi-religious insistence that religon and science are inherently incompatible.

It's worth a read, and a couple of passages merit comment.

Although they embrace religious faith, these scientists also embrace science as it has been defined for centuries. That is, they look to the natural world for explanations of what happens in the natural world and they recognize that scientific ideas must be provisional - capable of being overturned by evidence from experimentation and observation. This belief in science sets them apart from those who endorse creationism or its doctrinal cousin, intelligent design, both of which depend on the existence of a supernatural force.

As so often happens in the pages of The New York Times, there's an effort to create a distinction between a "belief in science" and belief in "the existence of a supernatural force."

But it's worth noting that evolution itself has several factors that have not yet been satisfactorily explained even within the confines of the "natural world" -- yet those who raise these shortcomings in the theory encounter an animus more usually reserved for those who challenge a religious belief, not a scientific one.

As I wrote here (entry includes appropriate links), the theory of evolution cannot be tested nor its results replicated, the way most scientific hypotheses can. And the theory doesn't explain the fact that populations of species vary only within certain limits or that variations that do occur often lapse once the environmental threat that precipitated them has been allayed. Nor can it account for the fact that, as Charles Darwin noted in Chapter 9 of Origins of Species, the fossil record had failed to "reveal any . . . finely graduated organic chain" linking existing species to predecessors. Finally, there remains the question: Why did natural selection evolve "up" into humans, rather than simply evolving "down" into a simple organism that could survive almost any conditions, e.g. the cockroach?

He rejects the idea that scientists who reject religion are arrogant. "We know how many mistakes we've made," Dr. Weinberg said. And he is angered by assertions that people without religious faith are without a moral compass.

Certainly, people who reject religion aren't uniformly arrogant -- just as those who embrace it aren't uniformly humble. But the "moral compass" that people without faith possess . . . where exactly does it come from? From religious principles, of course. No matter how brilliant the scientist, he didn't contruct a novel "moral code" all by himself.

One could go on in this vein indefinitely. But please note that one of the believing doctors, Francis S. Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, was brought to faith by reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. His experience is not unique; Mere Christinaity is a very wonderful and important book that has changed many, many lives for the better.


Blogger Sam Freedom said...

Look at all of this in terms of cattle and sheep. They can all think what they want, but whether they are predominantly intellectual, emotional or physical, they're all heading to either a nice cushy farm to give milk and wool, or to the slaughter house.

That's why scientists who don't have an intellectual basis for believing in a higher power can still, on a much deeper level, respond compassionately, with conscience, because something in them recognizes a higher governing authority MUST exist to somehow order things in such an intelligent, incomprehensible fashion.

Still...the farm or the slaughterhous are the only two choices. You can try to escape but chances are the wolves will get you shortly thereafter.

Now behave.


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