Daily Archives: August 25, 2019

Science and Religion: A Sympathetic View of Religion

Clerks studying astronomy and geometry (France, early 15th century).

I received the following comment from Alhazen, concerning my recent post “Letter from a Former Student.” This response agrees (roughly) with the independence model regarding the science/religion debate. While I reject most of what Alhazen says here, I reprint his thoughts, without further comment, for my readers.

I am not commenting here on the nature of the relationship between a student and his teacher. I wholly salute the well-intentioned and honest transfer of knowledge, skills, and attitudes between the two. This relationship, in my view, remains sacred and private. However, I’ll be commenting on the nature of the lesson learned by the student from the teacher which, in a nutshell, is; what science says about the world is true while what any particular religion says about it is false.

Science builds models of the world which, predict and can be utilized to engineer utilities. One obvious limitation of these models is that they tell you how and why within the confine of the model but inevitably hit two limits; first, the why of the fine structure of matter-energy and the fundamental laws of physics in the model prompting physicists to just say that they have found the universe to be so. And second, the why of the beginning or the Big Bang, prompting them again to say that there was just a beginning of time, space and matter-energy some 13.7 billion years ago.

“Laplace presented to Napoleon a copy of his work on the mechanics of celestial bodies. Someone had told Napoleon that the book contained no mention of God and Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, “M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace drew himself up and answered bluntly, “I had no need of that hypothesis.” Napoleon was greatly amused by this.

But of course, there is no need for God in the model. The model was designed in order to avert such a necessity.

However, nothing in the model can close those two gaps or dress those two wounds. Therefore, in my view, the true agnostic is not the one who is not sure if God exists or not but the one who is willing to not forget the gaps in the model, leaves them open and lives with courage with this unknowing.

Some scientists and philosophers escape from facing those two limits by claiming that such questions are not valid, which is true, but only in the sense that our model of the world was not designed to address those questions. However, those questions remain valid within themselves. Therefore, scientism which claims to answer all questions about the world is false in this sense.

Religion is also false by trying to answer questions about the natural world without evidence. However, the impact of religion upon man’s history goes far beyond providing an explanation of the natural world and should not be looked at from this angle. Bypassing logic and the established status quo, religion has had transformative effects on people. As an example I am familiar with, consider what the advent of Islam had done to the weak and scattered warring tribes of Arabia. With it, the tribes united to forge a great force of transformation in world history. The same can be said about many other religions. In this sense the philosophies of the enlightenment are religions, capitalism is a religion, communism is a religion and scientism too is a religion.

Man has always been creating myths to close the gap between his experience of the impersonal universe and his need for some kind of meaning.

Those myths have the power to forge together a large number of people’s thoughts, literature, and actions in order to lift the community from a stagnant status quo to a new level of being with people finding meaning in their struggle or efforts to achieve a better end; Enlightenment is from irrationality of the dark ages to the rationality of philosophy and scientific thinking. Capitalism; from feudalism to free labour. Communism; from ruthless capitalism to socialism which eventually led to capitalism with a human face as in welfare states. Scientism; from myths and miracles to science as the grand explainer.

There is a baby in the dirty tub water of religion; don’t throw it away with the dirty water. Find it, take it out and nurture it, and only then throw away the dirty water. I don’t know what or where this baby is, but tentatively it appears to be close to the mystic and dogma-free paths which I see in some religions.