Rants on software, computing, and any other topic I feel like.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Science and Religion

Recently the following article appeared over at Cosmic Variance, a blog I follow. Theologians Lobby Successfully to Change Definition of Evolution Some theologians (Cornell's Huston Smith and Notre Dame's Alvin Plantinga specifically) asked that the following definition of evolution used by the National Association of Biology Teachers be modified to remove the words "unsupervised" and "impersonal".

The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.

I think it's a good idea. I believe in science, I believe in religion and I believe in evolution. But I have a hard time understanding why it’s so important to some scientists to make sure that not only do we not mention God in science, but we must specifically reject him outright. I agree that there is no evidence that God is there. If there were evidence, then it would be pretty easy to believe in God. I’ll accept that. I don’t expect you to believe in God. But since there is also no evidence that he doesn’t exist, then I expect science to leave the topic alone. Let the Atheists discuss the absence of God. Science is about evidence, not belief.

I believe in science because I believe that science is a valid and useful way to discover things about the world. It’s been astoundingly successful at doing so. I don’t feel I can reject it, nor do I want to. I benefit from it every day.

I believe in religion because I believe that religion is a valid and useful way to discover things about the world. I believe that spiritual experiences are real and I can reconcile them with the things I learn from science. It may not be in the way that some scientists may think I should, but I do it all the same.

I believe in evolution because science has shown that there’s little chance that it happened any other way. I’m not going to reject the evidence that is clear as day. However, just like a scientist cannot reject “uncomfortable” evidence when it contradicts a pet theory, I cannot reject my spiritual experiences. They are as real to me as any evidence that science can provide. Are they perhaps nothing more than my brain being affected by too much dopamine? Perhaps. And I may reject them if sufficient evidence is presented to me. But sufficient evidence has not been presented to me. So, until that time, I must reconcile the evidence with which I am presented.

Just because I see some conflicts between science and religion doesn’t mean that I reject either one. General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have conflicts. I don’t just blindly throw one out. They both have some of the truth. One day, we’ll understand how they fit together. I’m okay with some conflicts. I know they’ll be resolved eventually.

But I do expect you to state conclusions based on good evidence. There is no evidence that God didn’t have some small hand in the evolutionary process. Perhaps evolution is the mechanism by which he created a diverse ecosystem on this planet. That’s what the theologians are asking for. The National Association of Biology Teachers is overstating what science knows about evolution.

The words unsupervised and impersonal are quite problematic. “Unsupervised” implies the absence of some intelligence involved. Well, what is intelligence? Once humans showed up did evolution stop? We can discuss a number of situations where humans had a clear hand in the evolutionary process. What about other possibly intelligent animals? How much intelligence do you need before you’re a “supervisor”? And “impersonal”, which would mean that no person was involved. Well, since humans didn’t show up until pretty late in the game, that’s sorta obvious, but has the same problems as “unsupervised”.

I’m really getting tired of two things in the scientific community. One, the alliance with the atheists which some in science seem to think is the only way it can be. Science and religion can coexist peacefully you know. And two, the accusations of stupidity at anyone who doesn’t accept everything a scientist says without question. I understand you’ve studied your field in more depth than anyone else, but that doesn’t alleviate the need to explain your reasoning to those you’re speaking with.

When I have a scientific discussion, I don’t bring my religion into it since it’s irrelevant to everyone else. Some scientists are atheists and they should do the same. Scientific statements should be scientific. There’s no place for statements that God doesn't exist when there’s no evidence for that statement. If we want the world to accept evolution, then please stop overstating the case for it. The evidence is convincing enough without saying things we don’t really know.

"Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men." — Henry Eyring, developer of the Transition State Theory of Chemical Reactions

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