But Science and Religion Do Inherently Clash

An article from the New York Times — Teacher shows that science, religion don’t have to clash — seem to have been linked to widely across the Internet as an example of a teacher doing a good job of demonstrating natural selection to his students in a country where sympathy for creationism seems to be on the upswing.

The article is fairly interesting, except if you stop to think why a science teacher demonstrating basic scientific principles to his students is considered remarkable enough to warrant an entire article in The New York Times. Its the title, however, and the last few paragraphs that reflect a silly but widely accepted dichotomy,

He [science teacher David Campbell] looked around the room. “Bryce, what is it called when natural laws are suspended – what do you call it when water changes into wine?”

“Miracle?” Bryce supplied.

Campbell nodded. The ball hit the floor again.

“Science explores nature by testing and gathering data,” he said. “It can’t tell you what’s right and wrong. It doesn’t address ethics.

“But it is not antireligion. Science and religion just ask different questions.”

He later explained to the class, “Faith is not based on science,” Campbell said. “And science is not based on faith.”

This idea that science and religion are complementary seems widely assumed but makes absolutely no sense. Science completely undercuts the rationale for religion across disciplines, including ethics, despite what Campbell asserts.

Once someone has rejected revelation in favor of experimentation, observation and data gathering, exactly what is the argument in favor of revelation for establishing ethics? It would seem fairly untenable to argue that when it comes to explaining, say, the weather that we should rely on observation and reason, but the second we want to discuss the ethics of using birth control that we should run to some holy book or holy person for The One True Answer?

Thankfully, at least in the West, we do not do anything like that anymore. Rather, our laws and ethical beliefs have been largely secularized. Over time people have abandoned large parts of “ethical” principles contained in their religions precisely because they applied data gathering, observation and reason to religious teachings and jettisoned the parts that didn’t make any sense. In turn, people tend to redefine their religious views to accommodate these to the point where the religious views become neutered shadows of themselves — like silly proclamations that “Jesus is love”.

Religious texts are helpful to the extent that they codify and let us closely examine what particular groups of humans in their time and in the context of their culture thought constituted morality. Some of it is splendid and worth copying, while much of it is ugly and rightly cast aside. But those particular decisions are best made by the application of reason, not by some appeal to an inherently irrational faith in God(s) and those who claim the mantle of representing them here on Earth.

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