A century and a half after sufficient evidence had been gathered to present a strong case for biological evolution of species through natural selection, a huge number of people still don’t get it. They’re still arguing the arguments of the 1800s, saying that there are “missing links” and “irreducible complexity”. They’re still saying that the creation of the world as we see it can only be explained by the existence of supernatural deities whose own existence even the religious don’t claim to have an idea about.
I’m glad to see that there have been generations of people on the job, explaining the science of evolution, and defending it from weird attacks from the Scopes Trial all the way up to Sarah Palin. That said, there are some attempts to deal with the cultural conflict between biology and fundamentalist religion that seem more interested in making everybody happy than in dealing seriously with the problem.
So, I’m happy to see that the Natural History Museum in London has developed a series of online and offline events in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. I’m groaning, however, to see events like the debate entitled Can science ignore faith?
“Religion and science are both valued cultural endeavours that are called upon when looking for answers, inspiration and guidance. They have often been seen as being in conflict with one another but despite this they are both strong elements in society. Join us for a drink and a lively debate as we attempt to explore the relationship between science and Christianity and discuss if there is a middle ground that could allow both sides to reconcile their differences.”
Notice that slip? The topic of the discussion moves from “faith” and “religion” in general to Christianity in particular.
The idea of reconciling the differences between science and Christianity may make people who hate conflict feel better, but it’s inherently absurd. Science and Christianity have overlapping spheres of interest, despite what many anxious coddlers have suggested, but they have inherently opposing agendas and techniques.
For science and religion to come to a middle ground with each other, reconciling their differences, would wreck science and most of religion. Science cannot be science if it needs to have its differences with an ideology reconciled, and a religion that changes with the facts of the world couldn’t maintain a distinct, coherent identity. Perhaps, as some Unitarian Universalists would claim, coherence isn’t necessary for religious identity. I suspect that most religious people would disagree with them.
Asking the question Can science ignore faith? is a weird question because, as science, it clearly can. Successful scientific work goes on all the time without religious input, and there’s never been any example of scientific research that could only work with an element of faith involved. Faith isn’t involved in science, if science is science.
The Natural History Museum might as well have asked:
Can science ignore animated cartoons?
Can science ignore cupcakes?
Can science ignore glitter?
Can science ignore hand puppets?
Can science ignore skateboarding?
Can science ignore folk music?
Can science ignore Mexican jumping beans?
Can science ignore lint collectors?
Can science ignore pet rocks?
Yes science can.