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Many argue, as I do, that faith as an aspect of culture is compatible with science as a method of inquiry. Doctors and lawyers, after all, have upheld their professional oaths and then expressed and resolved personal misgivings where their beliefs conflicted with some aspect of their professional code. So have soldiers, tax collectors, artists, and actors over the centuries.

What is different about science, after all? The conflict is in a sense in the believer's mind. What reifies that conflict, and makes it a sticking point to the effect that "you cannot be a scientist and believe/disbelieve X" is really metareasoning assertions about evidence. If we understand faith to be belief in the unseen, it still remains a valid question how we define sight. We can agree to disagree on a feasible system of observation and experimentation within the material universe - i.e., on what is testable. What I think scientists and religious advocates should especially not do is go "Dances With Wolves" and write the other side off as not worth talking to. In true inquiry, your opponent can have invalid premises, make erroneous judgments, or simply exercise reasoning you don't acknowledge as valid, but if you pack up and go home, the only lost cause is you.

auriam and others have said to me that science versus religion is intrinsically an insoluble conflict: it's "them or us". But let's put that cultural question to the test: suppose it is indeed an ideological war. Even in a war, there are scenarios of mutual assured destruction, and there are reasons for detente, dialogue, and diplomacy. When you have two ways of life that conflict, supported by two systems of belief that each assert their own truth, the next thing you have to ask is who has to live in the battle zone.

If you have followed the Collins-Dawkins debate an similar dialogues, well-reasoned and capable scientists don't resort to circular arguments that can't support their own weight. Of course there are irrational fanatics - arguably on either side of a "science vs. religion" debate. When you reduce it to an intrinsically amoral or purely moral question, though, it's like trying to broker a peace treaty when everything has been reduced to one issue. Then, and only then, is it zero sum; but I don't think it is. I think we have the dialogue because many of us have issues to resolve within ourselves. We want to reconcile the believing part of us, whether we acknowledge it fully or not, with the part that wants to subject everything to rational inquiry. Put another way, you wouldn't come to the table (or step up to the debate podium) if you thought it was just every heart and mind for itself.



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 21st, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
Religion vs science is not a necessary conflict per se, but it is in our culture where religion postulates to have knowledge on things other than things strictly religious. When it is no longer just about "unseen". In other words, for there to be conflict, there has to be an incursion of well-defined borders.
It's easy to imagine a religion that has nothing to do with science; I don't think, for example, you can find many examples of buddhism conflicting with science.
Nov. 21st, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)
Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
Religion vs science is not a necessary conflict per se, but it is in our culture where religion postulates to have knowledge on things other than things strictly religious.

Which is as much to say, when a religion claims to hold the key to Heaven, then it's going to so encroach.

When it is no longer just about "unseen". In other words, for there to be conflict, there has to be an incursion of well-defined borders.

You could argue that (mono)theists, by definition, acknowledge the presence of (the one) God in their daily lives. This makes the incursion inevitable. What I'm rather talking about is assertions that "this is my (the believer's) land/mindshare; you (the rationalist) cannot dwell here too".

It's easy to imagine a religion that has nothing to do with science; I don't think, for example, you can find many examples of buddhism conflicting with science.

That's one example, I think, of a religion whose assertions of universal truth do not demand the eradication of other belief systems. For one thing, it doesn't advocate violence as a means to conflict resolution, particularly initiation of violence against nonbelievers. For another, Buddhists are sometimes held to be atheistic and some Christians try to claim that it isn't a religion. Other Christians are influenced by Buddhism as a philosophy, and still others (including some I've known) actually subscribe to a fusion of the belief systems.

I agree that religion X vs. anything poses an inevitable conflict when it not only asserts its own ultimate truth and its fundamental incompatibility with ideology Y != X, but also demands the conversion or eradication or all incompatible Y.

As for Buddhism being fully compatible with science: maybe. Some scientists might challenge the utility function of Buddhism, which asserts that material existence is fleeting, leading to the abnegation of material gain and the postulated mechanism of samsara. Furthermore, Buddhism subsumes into the purpose of release from samsara the whole of material existence, making broad incursions into sciences from the physical (cosmology) to the economic (bounded rationality and decision making). The tenets of Buddhism are built on realization of ultimate truths through meditation and self-purification, not necessarily evidence, and of course you can't get much more "unseen" than what those truths actually entail.


Edited at 2008-11-21 04:28 pm (UTC)
Nov. 21st, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
The example of buddhism vs economics is an example of a situation where the conflict is not inherent, but rather comes from an attempt to reconcile two opposites that don't need to be reconciled. It's like trying to broker a peace agreement between China and France just because you personally can't stand the thought of the two being on the same planet.

There is no way that science can tell you you'd be eventually better off worrying about material wealth rather than your post-material existence; and vice-versa should be the case. It should be a matter of personal choice, and science and religion should provide you means to an end once you make a choice: science for material well-being, religion for post-material one.
I suppose the conflict comes when religion tells you your material well-being is in direct opposition to post-material one.
Another problem here is that most modern religions have been created as means of coordinating society on material level as well as post-material. Having your excretions buried outside the camp (Deuteronomy 23:12-14) should not be necessary for salvation - it was just a piece of common sense disguised as religious text for better proliferation. After millennia, it's hard to distinguish between the two; which is another way religion and science come into conflict.

Edited at 2008-11-21 04:54 pm (UTC)
Nov. 21st, 2008 10:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
In general, that "common sense" in the Torah regarding low-tech medicine is only "common sense" in the context of 1870s+ germ theory. It certainly made no sense to the Roman Catholic priests who finally dared to read and then implement Deuteronomy in a last ditch-attempt to stop the Black Plague.

Furthermore, much of the Torah, regarding low-tech medicine, is directly contradicted by the actual medical knowledge that survives from Egypt, Babylon, and other then-contemporary civilizations.

So: where did it come from?
Nov. 22nd, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
Re: Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
Are you suggesting that before 1870 nobody in the world realized you should not poop inside the camp?
Europeans were particularly backwards regarding their hygiene compared to other civilizations.
Nov. 22nd, 2008 02:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
I'm referring to Egypt and Sumeria, and later Babylon, not having documentary evidence of knowing the first thing about quarantine for mitigating the spread of disease. Also note what is not present: the moderately toxic prescriptions of those civilizations.

(I have to include Babylon because there are some rather cynical Judaic opinions about when Genesis and so on actually had their text "frozen".)
Nov. 22nd, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Laying claim to all-under-Heaven
For another, Buddhists are sometimes held to be atheistic
Projecting into Western terms, in much the same sense that late first century Christians and second century Christians were targeted on charges of atheism, or Socrates was. [Socrates certainly wasn't atheist in a modern sense, as he did self-experience guidance from a daimon. My handle is from an intentional wordplay on this, dating back to 1986.]

If God/the gods are not worthy of worship because they are a lower order of creation than man (after all, they don't have the option of escape from samsara): that's going to come across as atheism in a polytheistic society, even if the gods' existence is factually accepted.

[The accuracy of this projection can be debated for Buddhism, as I only qualify for the second of twenty levels (Mahayanan classification, as the Theravadin one is even less memorized): I actively (mal)practice Buddhist meditative practices, but do not self-identify as Buddhist.]
Nov. 21st, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
To the extent that religion actually means anything, it must make statements of historical or scientific fact. Otherwise, they're just flavors of practical atheism and deserve to go for misrepresenting what they are.

This is most cogent in the realms of psychology and sociology, as religious and philosophical descriptions of human nature are so divergent that one must be wrong. So, why not apply science to sifting out which religions and philosophies are just plain wrong?

[In particular, I have personally verified that the general Christian and Buddhist descriptions are direct contradictions on matters of theoretically testable fact. I don't have a deep enough knowledge of Hinduism, Judaism, or Islam to make an informed commentary there, but none of those look formally compatible with Christianity either; Judaism and Islam don't look compatible with Hinduism either.]
Nov. 22nd, 2008 09:40 am (UTC)
I don't think historical facts given by religion must contradict science. Muhammad existed and he called himself the Prophet of Allah; Buddha existed and taught; Jesus existed, taught, and was crucified; these are pretty much all historical facts you need to believe in; miracles and stuff I regard as ahistorical - unless you invent a time machine you can't really confirm or deny Turning Water into Wine - these things are in the realm of Unseen. Luckily for them, most historic religions don't claim in all seriousness things like "Jesus killed the Emperor and destroyed Rome".
Nov. 21st, 2008 07:25 pm (UTC)
I don't really get the dissonance between science and faith. I believe in science as a way to quantify everything. I believe God created science. Not in some weird evangelical way. Simply in the creation of the big bang, which created gravity and light and everything else. (God gave us this ginormous puzzle to play with, we shouldn't just sit in a cave and let it rush by.)
Nov. 22nd, 2008 06:29 am (UTC)
For me, there is no dichotomy between religion and science. I seek truth, I question, I learn. I came to my faith in this manner; I eagerly approach science in the same way.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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