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Can Science Ignore The Brady Bunch?

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.

3 comments to Can Science Ignore The Brady Bunch?

  • Ralph

    You hit the nail on the head when you observed the semantic drift from “faith,” to “religion,” and then to “Christianity.”

    I would have been interested to see what they came up with if they stuck to a consistent definition of one of them.

    If, for example, they stuck to a consistent definition of “faith” as belief in the absence of evidence, I would really like to hear what possible “middle ground” there would be between empirical and faith-based ways of arriving at knowledge.

    Similarly, if they stuck to a consistent definition of “religion” as a human activity, they could have had an interesting conversation. Under what circumstances can one human activity ignore another? Can hockey really ignore knitting, for example? They are both parts of society. What about the people who do both? There are hockey players and fans who also knit. Where does that leave them?

    But of course there’s more to faith than belief in the absence of evidence, and there’s more to religion than mere human activity. There is after all blah blah blah blah blah…

    I have no interest in reading the conversation that resulted from such a sloppy set of questions and definitions. I am quite sure they talked past each other and drifted from one topic to another without realizing it. I am quite sure everybody left more confused than they came without making any progress toward understanding anything.

  • Voltaire

    Looking for the same definitions from science and faith is ridiculous. If you examined Love from both sides, faith would say that it is a transcendent experience that transforms the ordinary in to the sublime. Science on the other hand would describe it in terms of hormones and brain waves, the dilation of the pupil, and a desire to procreate. It’s the same phenomenon described from two different perspectives. As Albert Einstein said ” it’s all relative to where your standing” or something like that. If you looking to be the one with the “right” perspective, you’re in the wrong universe! Why bother even arguing with someone about it?

  • Ralph

    Oh, I think it depends.

    If you take a word with a broad range of meanings like “love,” you’re not likely to get ANY two people to agree on a highly precise definition–whether they’re coming from a religious OR scientific position.

    On the other hand, religious people and scientists would be likely to agree to a remarkable extent on the definition of the word “water.”

    I think there’s the theoretical potential for scientists and religious people to speak together in interesting ways. They don’t, because it would take a lot of work. So instead of going about talking in a really careful way, they either give a half-assed try then give up or don’t even try and then just say it’s impossible.

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