Science and Religion Compatible? Yes and No – Let’s Look Pragmatically

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The one true debate of contemporaneity is the science-religion dispute; it hold the last block of reasoning that plagues most people that feel sliced in between the idea of religion, faith and transcendence and rational thought, science and verifiability. Astrophysicist Sean Carroll (not to be confused with Sean B Carroll, evolutionary biologist) of the Discover Magazine blog (definitely not to be confused with the Discovery Institute’s blog!) shares very interesting thoughts on the issue of closing the gap between science and religion.

cover500carrollThis issue has been raised in abundance historically, but during the 20th century atheist scientist came more and more into prominence and fundamentally changed the landscape for religion and a close cousin of science.  The latest attempt championed by many atheist scientists, as well as theists have labeled itself Accommodationism, in short trying to accommodate both a religious faith as well as scientific progress. Carroll does not or tries not to disprove a possible compatibility of science and religion, but he puts brackets around it. Saying:

The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.

Carroll is interested in keeping inconsistencies out of his tradition and institution, and frankly put: religion is a waterhole of inconsistencies and questionable facts. And as for the sake of keeping intact the scientific community with its deductive methods and standards, I totally agree – religious organizations’ claims of factual events (like Jesus rising from the dead, incarnation, the existence of heaven) are by and large false. But this does not necessarily mean that the endeavor to bridge the social, psychological and institutional gap of science and religion should be rejected.

Anthropologist Scott Atran, who has studied the evolution of religion in history, irrationality and the religious base of terrorism has a fundamentally different view of this issue. In long debates at Edge.org as well as in What is your dangerous idea by John Brockman he asserts that “Religion is the hope that is missing in science”. He grounds his thinking in scientific studies of how religion can and does affect peoples lives, and the way religion in its better moment does affect science. He finds no evidence that scientists or atheists live a more moral life than theists, there are many arguments pro and contra.

Religion, he continues, is a knowledge system, which does not – as opposed to science – treat important human anxieties such as death, birth, loneliness and happiness as incidental accidents in the universe. atranReligion instead, treats these features as central in the universe. And here is of course the lure of religion – its system of belief mirrors the way each individual ponders his/hers place in the universe. However, I do not agree with Atran when he points to the lack of address of science to the issues of love, death and eternity. There is plenty of interesting science written about life and death, but nothing is conclusive and almost always lacks the PR-packaging that religious organizations have perfected through thousands of years (Although recent reports from around the globe clearly shows that atheists are trying their best to catch up).

I do argue in the same manner as both Carroll AND Atran, but my focus is from a pragmatist’s standpoint: I agree that the substantiation of Gods existence is not well-defined and his/hers presence is completely unnecessary to fit the data when we observe the world, and that it adds useless (but pretty) layers of complexity without any relevant increase in understanding. But I also think that science and religion are not incompatible and we can certainly imagine a religion that is directly correlated to new scientific findings and keep intact the nonaligned status of scientific thought. But whether or not the accommodationalists are on a path toward greater scientific integration in religion and whether or not the Tempelton Foundation’s enterprise to debate non-scientific issues life with the use of scientists and theologians alike is something for the future to decide.

More articles and news on the science-religion debate here, herehere, here and here

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