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Post no. 38 (Science works religion doesn’t)

August 7, 2010

I visit Mark Shea’s blog often.  I’ve even subscribed to it.  There are quite a few prayer requests, but that’s not what keeps me going back for more.

Some time ago he posted this excellent piece. It gives a new “spin” to the evergreen science v. religion wrangle. There’s no point in reproducing it here lock, stock and barrel. I’ll just talk about what I thought was particularly good. I am only considering Roman Catholicism here – it’s where I come from.

a) “What do you mean by religion?”

Besides the fact that it made me stop and think about it, I thought it was a very good opening move. I am a practising Catholic, so obviously I researched sympathetic sources. I’m sure the question will whittle down many a charge.

I found the CCC’s point 27  Desire for God particularly edifying:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. for if a man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

b) “What do you expect religion to tell you?”

Another good whack. It would make you sound quite foolish to reply that you expect religion to explain the workings of the universe, wouldn’t it?

c) “Science has made a few mistakes in the past, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw away science”

The mindless supporters of science like to say that anything that comes out after rigorous scientific investigation is sacrosanct and inviolable. Mark Shea has reminded us of some well known instances where this has not been so. More can be added to his list, e.g. the human cloning debacle, the “memory” of water, researchers trimming data to support their “anticipated” findings, the exaggerated effects of global warming, the dubious results of research sponsored by certain pharmaceutics manufacturers etc. Thankfully, these have been a minority. If they weren’t science wouldn’t be the magnificent institution it is today.

I’d like to add an observation to Shea’s point. Mistaken ideas regarding religion’s function have often led to criticism for religion being  unquestioning belief in authority, where healthy discussion is discouraged because it undermines said authority. Don’t most of us blindly believe whatever is labelled as science? I remember when they said that they managed to clone humans. Everybody and his brother believed it can be done. The media were all agog with the news. We all know how that ended.

Had we heard it from the salesperson at the games store, would we have believed? Hopefully not. It is reasonable to hold that scientific “pronouncements” are credible only if they appear to be coming from a source we deem authoritative. Science can be challenged, you may counter. So can religion (except dogma). The main difference here is that there is no dogma in science because a scientist can never be 100% sure of a theory or a “law”. If new evidence comes along or a new phenomenon is observed, that challenges an established “law”, the scientist will have to reconsider his position. Then again, so does the theologian. They are only human after all.

Dogma is different. Dogma is not the result of “human endeavour”. It is generally understood to be a truth about faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful. A dogma implies two thing, viz. Divine revelation and the authoritative teaching of the Church – an authority bestowed upon her by Jesus himself. No scientific institution can make a similar claim, to the best of my knowledge.

Then I came across this post. It was written before the Science-works-religion-doesn’t one. I thought he let his feelings get in the way a bit. Had I read this post first, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed the Science works post as much. Let me get one thing straight. All he says is true. My problem was with the wrapper not the chocolate.  I don’t like it when scientists abandon scientific method and objectivity to gang on religion – by which I mean Catholicism. It’s puerile. Nor am I comfortable with attacks like Shea’s on science. I repeat: the how got my goat, not the what. Shea’s post about Hawking was his take on this. This is good, too.

I am painfully aware that my 2 cents about religion and science not operating on the same wavelength won’t get people rushing to church come Sunday, but I can say that I enjoyed doing it.

Toodle-oo.

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From → The Elephant

6 Comments
  1. Jurgen permalink

    It’s not a question of science vs. religion, as you aptly point out in your closing remark. The issue concerns scientific reasoning and religious faith. When one produces a claim that is inconsistent with the other’s view on the subject, which claim would you hold as being true or at least the most probable? For me it’s reason one hundred percent of the time.

    • Science is subject to “reason” and “testability”. Religion is not. The claims one makes cannot be verified or refuted by the other.

      • Jurgen permalink

        That implies that religion is irrational, which puts in the same league as astrology, fortune telling, etc.

        Still, sometimes religion does make claims that fall within the domain of reason. A case in point is Jesus’ bodily ascension into heaven. Most Christian religions declare this to be a physical, historical fact (therefore “testable”), whereas reason dictates that such an event violates the laws of nature and cannot have occurred.

      • Nothing implies – or gives to understand – that religion is irrational. It is not religion’s function to postulate testable hypotheses. Astrology and fortune telling are necessarily testable – and have indeed been tested and found to be useless.

        I had answered a point about miracles which should be relevant to this discussion. I will paste my answer here, for your convenience:
        A miracle (meaning “wonder”) is called such because its cause is hidden, and an effect is expected other than what actually takes place. Hence, by comparison with the ordinary course of things, the miracle is called extraordinary. A miracle can never fundamentally go against nature. It can – and does – go beyond our understanding of the working of nature – perhaps even appearing contrary to them. So, actually, a miracle can be tested in theory. No contradiction there.

        There is widespread misconception about the functions of religion and science. Religion is only concerned with the “workings” of the universe insofar as these being the product of an omniscient, benevolent and omnipotent Creator. It is not its place to explain them. There are better tools for that job.

        Interestingly, science is an indirect product of Catholicism, as the first “scientists” were motivated to contemplate the physical universe as a creation of the Creator as understood in the Catholic tradition.

  2. Jurgen permalink

    Anything that’s not subject to reason (as you stated previously) is, by definition, irrational, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense.

    Regarding miracles – I’m at a loss here. If a miracle is a natural event that defies our current understanding of nature, then wouldn’t it be only a matter of time before a miracle is ‘written off’? (In this sense, science welcomes miracles.)

    Finally, don’t you think that the claim that “science is an indirect product of Catholicism” is a bit of an overstatement? Science and philosophy predate Christianity by some centuries and science didn’t exactly flourish during the reign of the Catholic Church.

    • Religion – by which I mean Catholicism, believe it or not, has a very solid grounding in reason. This is not the place to go into it, but if you were to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church you’d be impressed. Really.

      God cannot logically work against nature. He still has to use the laws of nature – which he himself has laid down – to interact with this level of creation. It’s a bit like a programmer going “behind the system”.

      Science as we know it today is an indirect product of Catholicism. It is stated in our creed that God has created everything – seen and unseen. It is therefore only logical to want to scrutinise the part of creation we want to see. Philosophy, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It is not science.

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