There is a branch of fence sitters, ‘Agnostics’ if you will, that insist that there is no argument or antagonism between Science and Religion, or that there need not be, because somehow they’re both doing the same thing in different ways. These people insist that scientists ought not to overlook or belittle the efforts of the religious in their journey to discover the mysteries of God; while the religious need to recognise the achievements and potential of science.
As always, this sort of “let’s all get along” speak, sounds good at first glance – after all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all just accepted our differences and strove toward peace? I believe it is disingenuous, and at the very least naive for an intelligent person to think this way. Science is a method of discovery that goes against the very fabric of religious thought – in fact religion sees scientific enquiry as a dangerous threat and would surely disintegrate if all its adherents started to think scientifically and rationally. Religion requires an unquestioning attitude regarding certain key doctrines or it becomes meaningless. Religion can be nothing but fearful and resistant to science if it is to remain what it is. Similarly science is a method of discovery that, to be called science, must adhere to a strict process of self criticism, testing and experimentation, none of which religion does or could subject itself to. Science seeks to build on previous knowledge through actively looking at all empirical evidence and doing its best to disprove its own theories.
How can religion get along with Science? That would mean having to admit that the evidence is overwhelmingly stacked up against that particular religious mythology. That would logically mean that all religious myths are just that, myths, and not reality to base our lives on. Of course, for the religious, logic has nothing to do with it. The religious play the ‘Faith’ card. “I don’t need evidence… I have Faith.” But even that argument is disingenuous. You may have faith in deity X and myth Y, but someone else has faith in deity A and myth B. So what external device do you have of working out which myths are more likely to be real, if any at all? Some seem to think that all or none are ‘real’ in scientific terms and that’s OK. Why? Why is that OK? These same people certainly don’t use this crazy logic to run any of their other affairs.
Let’s make it very clear why science and religion can never ‘get along’ intellectually:
1. Science requires evidence to determine a truth value. Religion claims complete knowledge of a particular truth despite all evidence to the contrary.
2. Science has an internal self criticism control through peer review, experimentation, publication and questioning. Religion cannot tolerate criticism and has invented words like ‘blasphemy’ to keep people submissive and humble.
3. Science rewards those who convincingly disprove established knowledge. Religion rejects and disciplines those who question its doctrines.
4. No questions are taboo in science. All questions are encouraged. Religions ask no questions, and certainly don’t encourage them. Religions simply hand out pre-packaged answers.
5. Science is always looking to improve our understanding of the truth, with the understanding that we may never know everything but we’ll certainly keep searching. Religion claims to have access to the ultimate truth despite the fact that most of what they know cannot be verified in any reliable way.
6. Science produces the goods. Science changes the world daily and every religious person depends on the products of scientific enquiry. Religion claims to offer the world only those things which humans can provide each other without the myths anyway. Community. Morality. Philanthropy. No Gods are required for these.
It is important to understand that Science doesn’t say, “There is no God”. Science says, “If there is a God then let’s all see him. If there is a God then let’s answer the following questions. If there is a God then let’s test what we think we know and asses the results.” Religion says, “There is a God and that’s that. Accept it and believe it and live as if it’s true and don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense.” Of course the danger of that type of thinking is that if the particular God demands death or sacrifice or suicide bombings then we’re all screwed, and we have been, for thousands of years!
The Agnostic folk of which I spoke at the beginning of this article tell me that Science doesn’t know everything. That there are mysteries in the universe we may never uncover. My response is YES, and…? There are thousands of gaps in the scientific understanding of the cosmos, and this might always be true. So we’ll keep searching for the answers and improving our knowledge. What purpose does it serve to fill all the gaps with God, only to remove him from the gap when we understand the reality? A mystery is simply a presently unexplained phenomenon, not a reason to believe in God. Science is quite happy with mysteries, it gives us an opportunity to ask questions and make discoveries. Religion provides me no intellectual comfort in the spaces of the unknown.
While the majority of the world’s population are steeped in religious and magical thinking; while we teach biblical creationism in schools as a valid history of our planet; while we have prayer meetings for flood victims instead of rebuilding cities; while we believe that plastic wrist bands with magnets can keep us healthy; while we believe that faith is a valid substitute for vaccinations in infants; while we believe that stem cell research is ‘of the Devil’; while we believe that Harry Potter is turning our children into suicidal witches… we will never be free as a species to see the universe for what it really is and evolve into the magnificent creatures we could become.