Term Paper: Religion and Science

Pages: 5 (1451 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

SCIENCE

Two Spires, One Cathedral: The Science-Religion Divide

Even though the cultural split between aggressively theistic and anti-theistic viewpoints has widened in recent years, it seems unfair to attribute this antagonism to any intrinsic conflict between religion and science. Religion and science are not incompatible. In fact, some of the most expansive and theoretically rich approaches to the problem struggle to bridge the putative gap between the two domains, while others simply pursue their own investigations without paying too much attention to contrary viewpoints. Meanwhile, those who are interested in promoting their own viewpoint at the expense of others -- as when, for example, Richard Dawson promotes a "militant atheism" to compete directly with fundamentalist religious movements -- seem less invested in grappling with competing claims (whether religious or scientific) on their own merits than they are with constructing distorted versions that can then be discounted without real risk or resolution.

As Brian Cox and Victor Stock point out in their discussion, both science and religion are, at their root, outgrowths of our desire to understand the world and our place in it. Each has evolved a distinctive vocabulary and relies on different methodologies for grounding its investigations, but ultimately each reflects a relatively pure desire to apprehend the truth. The problem arises when these investigations result in apparently divergent conclusions, as when (for example) a scriptural student is confronted with fossil evidence that the earth may be older than conventional hermeneutics would indicate, or when a classical mathematician is confronted with what appears to be the divine nature of transfinite numbers. When this occurs, the conflict can be evaded by rejecting one conclusion or the other on relatively subjective grounds, or else the apparent contradiction can become an opportunity to generate new insight about one or both fields.

Since neither "science" nor "religion" is a monolithic abstraction, this principle also holds when theistic actors encounter rival religious claims or secular actors confront competing scientific interpretations of empirical data. Traditionally, resolving these differences among communities of faith is a task for professional clergy or at least theologians. Resolving differences of scientific opinion is technically a function of peer review and the testing of verifiable claims through experimentation. The individual is also always free to compartmentalize these claims, as when a physicist shifts from a quantum model to a Newtonian one in order to attack a practical problem more efficiently, or when a theistic scientist like George Coyne decides to defer to the Bible in religious matters and to the corpus of scientific opinion in astronomical ones. Multiplication of examples produces possibilities like Einstein, a professional scientist who discounted any form of theism or faith-based knowledge and so does not "believe in belief," yet speaks often of experiencing "genuinely religious" feelings of pantheistic awe.

II. On the spectrum of responses to the question of science's relationship to religion, George Coyne's is perhaps the simplest: Science and religion, as far as he is concerned, are best considered as mutually exclusive categories, each of which has supreme authority in its own space. As he notes, "the scriptures are not teaching science," and so are best suited to answering questions of faith, whereas the scientific method is best suited for answering questions of empirical fact.

While this compartmentalized approach is on the surface a sensible one to take in modern secular society, the space it carves out for scriptural truth is somewhat fragile. Coyne's argument that the scriptures are trapped in their historical context necessarily restricts the operation of religious truth to an archaic mode compared to the theoretically continual progress of scientific knowledge. Moreover, it alienates faith from the mainstream of modern life by negating any real opportunity for religious certainty to inform scientific discourse. For a person of faith, the real answer to the question, "How in the world can there be any science in scripture?" may be more complicated.

If scripture is truly the communication of God with humanity, then the historical circumstances of that communication are not a mere accident to be apologized away; rather, they represent a critical aspect of the evolution of the universe. Likewise, if science is truly the elucidation of a divinely mandated order contained within nature, then it is logical that science would align with scripture rather than have a negative correlation to it. In this light, both science and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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