If Not Religion, What?

Here’s a bit from a wonderful article on the site “Inside Higher Ed” by Alan Contreras on the subject of the debate between science and religion in schools:

“Until recently, most scientists didn’t bother trying to fight with religion; for the most part they ignored it or practiced their own faiths. However, in recent years Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris have decided to enter the ring and fight religion face to face. The results have been mixed. I have read books by all of these authors on this subject, as well as the interesting 2007 blog exchange between Harris and Andrew Sullivan, one of the best writers active today and a practicing Catholic, and it is clear that a great deal of energy is being expended firing heavy ordnance into black holes with no likelihood of much effect.

The problem that the scientific horsemen face is that theirs is the language of is/isn’t. Their opponents (mostly Christians but by implication observant Jews and Muslims as well) don’t use the word ‘is’ to mean the same thing. To a religious person, God is and that’s where the discussion begins. To a nonreligious scientist, God may or may not be, and that is where the discussion begins.

The two sides, postulating only two for the moment, are each on spiral staircases, but the stairs wind around each other and never connect: this is the DNA of unmeeting thoughts. Only shouting across the gap happens, and the filters of meaning are not aligned. That is why I don’t put much faith, you’ll pardon the expression, in this flying wedge of scientific lancers to change very many minds.

Dennett’s approach is quite different from the others at a basic level; he views religious people as lab rats and wants to study why they squeak the way they do. That way of looking at the issue seems insulting at first but is more honest and practical in that it doesn’t really try to change minds that are not likely to change.

But these arguments are the wrong ones at a very basic level, especially for our schools and the colleges that train our teachers. The contrapuntal force to religion, that force which is in the same family, if a different genus, speaks the same language in different patterns regarding the same issues. It is not science, it is philosophy. That is what our teachers need to understand, and this distinction is the one in which education colleges should train them.”

I’m not sure that I personally am willing to agree with the approach put forth in this article. In my mind both Science and Religion are both a search to uncover the Truth. (Which I believe as a Christian, is only fully found in the person of Jesus, the Logos (or Word) of God.) I spent a number of years believing that truth in science and truth in religion were orthogonal to each other – coming as they do from radically different methods of discernment and testing. But over the years I’ve become convinced that such an approach ends up putting both scientists and theologians into respective intellectual ghettos and cuts off any sort of helpful serious and critical interactions that they should have with each other in the public square.

The author of this piece is not arguing for a radical separation at all, and I’m really just responding to my own fears, but still, I’m not sure that making use of the tools of philosophy are going to be the best way to cut through the gordian knot the author presents. I’d rather that the two realms of human endeavor learn to argue with each other on each others terms. Both would be thereby strengthened…

Read the rest: Inside Higher Ed :: If Not Religion, What?

(Thanks Michael for sending me the link to this article!)

Author: Nick Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...