Religious faith -and- science : partners, combatants, 
-or- two ships passing in the night?

(Top Posts - Science - 062907)

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Link to/excerpts from a recent article of a debate
between two prominent scientists regarding how
best to handle the differences between science
and religious faith.

Of interest, the manner in which the two scien-
tists speak of scientific 'seduction', reminding
me of the manner in which I perceive religious
pleasant immortality promises as the ultimate
seduction.

Certainly, science can be seductive -if- one is
interested in open-minded search for truth within
the realm of evidence, logic, and reason bounded
by the limitations of natural law.

Even the most religious individuals tend to most
often accept the nature of reality, as described
by science, in the present day. It's only when
aspects of science directly conflict with religious
claims, or when issues of ultimate causality or
supernatural intervention come into play, that a
significant number of the religious tend to drift
away from accepting science.

For pro-human scientists, scientific pursuits are
oft-times accompanied by a strong interest in
improving the plight of humankind in this one
and only *certain* reality we know of.

Unfortunately, science is also seductive to any-
one intent on harming humankind, and therein
resides the risk and the fear that science may
be our undoing, some day.

The 911 mass murderers, for example, their at-
tack, even though religiously based, was more
than willing to use science for evil ends, with
their study of how to use massive fuel-laden air-
liners as weapons to destroy the World Trade
Center.

...

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June 19, 2007

Should Science Speak to Faith?

Two prominent defenders of science exchange
their views on how scientists ought to approach
religion and its followers

By Lawrence M. Krauss and Richard Dawkins
  http://tinyurl.com/32oxtg
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Excerpts [with one insert, not part of originating
article, included in brackets]:

...

Dawkins: ... let me warn you of how easy it is to
be misunderstood. I once wrote in a New York
Times book review, “It is absolutely safe to say
that if you meet somebody who claims not to
believe in evolution, that person is ignorant,
stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not
consider that).”

That sentence has been quoted again and again
in support of the view that I am a bigoted, intol-
erant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter.

But just look at my sentence. It may not be crafted
to seduce, but you, Lawrence, know in your heart
that it is a simple and sober statement of fact.

Ignorance is no crime. To call somebody ignorant
is no insult. All of us are ignorant of most of what
there is to know. I am completely ignorant of base-
ball, and I dare say that you are as completely ignor-
ant of cricket.

If I tell somebody who believes the world is 6,000
years old that he is ignorant, I am paying him the
compliment of assuming that he is not stupid, insane
or wicked.

- - -

Krauss: I have to say that I agree completely with you
about this. To me, ignorance is often the problem, and,
happily, ignorance is most easily addressed. It is not
pejorative to suggest that someone is ignorant if they
misunderstand scientific issues.

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Dawkins: In exchange, I am happy to agree with you
that I could, and probably should, have put it more
tactfully. I should have reached out more seductively.
But there are limits. You would stop short of the follow-
ing extreme:

“Dear Young Earth Creationist, I deeply respect your
belief that the world is 6,000 years old. Nevertheless,
I humbly and gently suggest that if you were to read
a book on geology, or radioisotope dating, or cos-
mology, or archaeology, or history, or zoology, you
might find it fascinating (along with the Bible of course),
and you might begin to see why almost all educated
people, including theologians, think the world’s age
is measured in billions of years, not thousands.”

Let me propose an alternative seduction strategy.

Instead of pretending to respect dopey opinions, how
about a little tough love?

Dramatize to the Young Earth Creationist the sheer
magnitude of the discrepancy between his beliefs
and those of scientists: “6,000 years is not just a little
bit different from 4.6 billion years.

It is so different that, dear Young Earth Creationist, it
is as though you were to claim that the distance from
New York to San Francisco is not 3,400 miles but 7.8
yards.

Of course, I respect your right to disagree with scien-
tists, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt and offend you too
much to be told—as a matter of deductive and indis-
putable arithmetic—the actual magnitude of the dis-
agreement you’ve taken on.”

...

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Krauss: I am not so confident that I am rid of irrational
beliefs, at least irrational beliefs about myself. But if
religious faith is a central part of the life experience of
many people, the question, it seems to me, is not how
we can rid the world of God but to what extent can
science at least moderate this belief and cut out the
most irrational and harmful aspects of religious funda-
mentalism.

That is certainly one way science might enrich faith.

In my lecture to the Catholic group, for instance, I took
guidance from your latest book and described how
scientific principles, including the requirement not to
be selective in choosing data, dictate that one cannot
pick and choose in one’s fundamentalism.

If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination
because it says so in the Bible, one has to accept the
other things that are said in the Bible, including the
allowance to kill your children if they are disobedient
or validation of the right to sleep with your father if
you need to have a child and there are no other men
around, and so forth.

Moreover, science can directly debunk many such
destructive literal interpretations of scripture, includ-
ing, for example, the notion that women are simple
chattels, which stands counter to what biology tells
us about the generic biological roles of females and
the intellectual capabilities of women and men in
particular.

In the same sense that Galileo argued, when he
suggested that God would not have given humans
brains if “he” did not intend people to use them to
study nature, science definitely can thus enrich faith.

Still another benefit science has to offer was pre-
sented most cogently by Carl Sagan, who, like you
and me, was not a person of faith. Nevertheless, in
a posthumous compilation of his 1985 Gifford Lec-
tures in Scotland on science and religion, he makes
the point that standard religious wonder is in fact
too myopic, too limited.

A single world is too puny for a real God.

The vast scope of our universe, revealed to us by
science, is far grander.

Moreover, one might now add, in light of the current
vogue in theoretical physics, that a single universe
may be too puny and that one might want to start
thinking in terms of a host of universes.

I hasten to add, however, that enriching faith is far
different than providing supporting evidence for
faith, which is something that I believe science
certainly does not do.

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Dawkins: Yes, I love that sentiment of Sagan’s, and
I’m so glad you picked it out. I summed it up for the
publishers of those lectures on the book jacket:
“Was Carl Sagan a religious man? He was so much
more. He left behind the petty, parochial, medieval
world of the conventionally religious; left the theolo-
gians, priests and mullahs wallowing in their small-
minded spiritual poverty. He left them behind, be-
cause he had so much more to be religious about.
They have their Bronze Age myths, medieval super-
stitions and childish wishful thinking. He had the
universe.”

I don’t think there is anything I can add in answering
your question about whether science can enrich
faith. It can, in the sense you and Sagan mean. But
I’d hate to be misunderstood as endorsing faith.

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Krauss: I want to close with an issue that I think is
central to much of the current debate going on among
scientists regarding religion: Is religion inherently bad?

I confess here that my own views have evolved over
the years, although you might argue that I have simply
gone soft.

There is certainly ample evidence that religion has
been responsible for many atrocities, and I have often
said, as have you, that no one would fly planes into tall
buildings on purpose if it were not for a belief that God
was on their side.

- - -
[Insert -- Technically, their belief was in Allah, the Mus-
lim God, not the Christian God, -and- back in WWII,
the Japanese were willing to suicide their planes into
U.S. warships on purpose, not for the Christian God,
but instead, for Emperor (considered a God) / country
(not sure whether any pleasant afterlife promises were
part of that cause, but if so, I wouldn't be surprised).
-- end insert]
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As a scientist, I feel that my role is to object when reli-
gious belief causes people to teach lies about the
world. In this regard, I would argue that one should
respect religious sensibilities no more or less than
any other metaphysical inclinations, but in particular
they should not be respected when they are wrong.

By wrong, I mean beliefs that are manifestly in dis-
agreement with empirical evidence. The earth is not
6,000 years old. The sun did not stand still in the sky.

...

What we need to try to eradicate is not religious belief,
or faith, it is ignorance.

Only when faith is threatened by knowledge does it
become the enemy.

...

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