Diatribes - Computer, Economic & Political

This blog is really just for me. If you find something interesting on it, leave me a comment. If you disagree with something, let me know what and why. In this blog I am just putting some of my thoughts for computers, the economy, politics, and other topics in writing.

03 September 2009

Science and Religion are not opposites

I've spoken with several atheists about religion recently. On a few occasions they were frustrated with my stubborness. I believe the way I do because of experiences I've had in response to prayer. And nothing can change those experiences. So I wrote this, somewhat in defense of religion, but also somewhat in defense of science.

Science Can't Address Religious Questions
First, I think science is fundamentally incapable of addressing questions of faith. I think there are several reasons for this, but one that is really persuasive. Science is observer neutral. When you're performing an experiment, it doesn't matter who is doing it, it matters what is done. If I perform the same experiments Einstein did, and in the same way with the same tools, I'll get the same results. It doesn't matter that I don't have a nobel prize or brain the size of a watermelon. The experiments are observer-neutral.

Religious experiments and experiences are exactly the opposite. If I go to the Red Sea and stretch out my hand, it isn't going to part. I don't expect it to, and I don't believe it should. The same is fundamentally true of all religious experiences - they depend on the observer. If someone else prayed exactly as I have, they would not have the same religious experiences I had. Religious experiences are observer-dependant, and science does not have the tools to deal with these situations.

This also means is that religious tools cannot be applied to scientific questions. If you want to understand the higgs-boson, you're not going to pray about it. Your religious experience cannot detract from my scientific knowledge. Your religious experience is confined to you, and does not apply elsewhere.

Scientific Advancements Do not Disprove Religion
Second, science cannot replace religion for me, nor can religion replace science. Largely this is because I don't think God is a magician. I believe He understands and uses natural laws. The same natural laws we're discovering. God can exist even when His means are understood. God is not relegated to using processes and laws we don't understand. Science has come up with a pretty persuasive explanation as to how human beings came to exist. Great, that doesn't mean God can't exist simply because we understand that process.

I know a lot of evolution-deniers will point to abiogenesis. How did the first life start? Science isn't sure, doesn't know, therefore there is still room for God. WRONG. Science's current inability to solve a particular problem does not render other scientific work meaningless. The lack of a compelling explanation for abiogenesis doesn't mean evolution didn't occur and isn't occuring. If, and perhaps when, science finds a plausible explanation for abiogenesis, it won't change anything for me. Perhaps the researchers have discovered the process God used to create life. A terrific discovery, but not one that disproves God. Again, God can exist where we understand his methods.

Let's say scientists find the gene, chemical cocktail, or whatever which explains the religious experiences I've had. Let's say scientists can conclusively create the same type of experiences which led me to believe the way I do. Again, that won't change anything. God uses natural processes, even for religious experiences. Whether that is dopamine or gene 22q22, I don't care.

What about miracles? For example, what about Lazarus being raised from the tomb. If we found conclusively he was just in a coma until the exact moment Jesus called him forth, does that take away from Jesus' power? I don't think so. But I don't think miracles are magic, they're highly improbable events which can be explained by natural phenomonon. Again, God's power isn't bound to events we don't understand. God's power may be simply the foreknowledge of a particular event, it may be the ability to change the odds of a particular event, or it may be the ability to use natural processes effectively to achieve specific results.

Science is Reliable
This is something I often hear from the religious: "scientists has been wrong so often that how can you trust what they say now?" This is quite possibly the silliest anti-science arguments around. You can trust scientific results because they're repeatable (back to that observer-neutrality) and based on the best evidence and thinking available. If you have a better testable and logical explanation, publish it.

Is science infallible? No. Of course scientists will change their mind as new evidence comes to light, but that's what science is. Our understanding based on the best information available. Considering religion provides zero information into scientific questions, I fail to see why anyone would claim scientists are untrustworthy because they've developed, and sometimes switched, their understanding of the natural world. And don't tell me your religion has never done an about-face on an issue, whatever the justification.

I'm not a science-phobe. Science is fascinating. I love to learn about all the incredible new things we're finding out about ourselves and the natural world. It bothers me that so many people seem to think science and religion are somehow at odds with each other. An advancement in one does not take away from the other. A stumbling or failing in one does not bolster the other. Neither should waste time pointing to the other's failings nor try to derail progress in the other. My belief system does not dictate scientific principles, and science does not dictate my believe system.

What would convince me that I was wrong, and God does not exist? Death. That's it. If I die, and my consciousness ceases to exist; if I never think, act, or do anything again; if death is anniahiliation and the end of everything. Then, I will know I was wrong. Nothing else will suffice.


Blogger Aaron said...

Is there anything that can disprove religion then?

03 September, 2009  
Anonymous Sean said...

Religion is an individual thing, so yeah, some people might condition belief on some event/knowledge/whatever.

For me? Just death.

03 September, 2009  
OpenID id said...

That's exactly what I have been saying for years. People are acting as if science and religion were in some sort of opposition when they are not.

Religion is essentially a branch of philosophy. It is a system or framework of belief. You can try to construct an ontological argument to disprove it, but it will always be open to counter arguments. Many people have tried it with varied success.

Trying to disprove it using hard science however is a bit silly. Sure you can easily disprove the mythology behind it but it does not deconstruct the belief system around them, and make it any less compelling. In fact, it is a bit redundant.

Most Christians already know the scientific arguments against existence of God. They don't believe in literal story of creation, and accept evolution as scientific fact. The evidence of course is irrelevant because they actually do enjoy their religion. They like the rich mythology. They enjoy the customs and rituals. They like to go to Church every once in a while. They like to pray when they feel down. They enjoy thinking that there is someone out there who looks out for them. Is it wrong?

Of course there is a vocal minority of anti-science lunatics out there but who cares about them. I really hate when atheists try to equate all of Christendom (or in fact the entire Judeo-Christian conglomerate of religions) to the anti-science pro-creationism fractions in the Evangelical church.

Trying to disprove dogma with scientific evidence is almost as pointless as trying to use religious dogma to disprove scientific evidence - although not nearly as hilarious.

08 September, 2009  

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