Friday, July 3, 2009

Reconciling Religion and Science

You can be an atheist and be a scientist. You can be religious and be a scientist. In the first case, you are a rational atheist. Oddly, in the second case -- at least according to some secularists -- you are either inconsistent about your world view (thus irrational), or disingenuous about your religious views. For how can one hold to metaphysical notions while concentrating almost wholly on the physical as a means of understanding?

What interests me about this is that it comes with the assumption that only testable, physical data is valid for justifying knowledge. Hence revelation, a great deal of philosophy, illumination, mystical experiences, personal experiences, psychic experiences, mythopathic intuitions, intuition itself, and any other form of knowledge I've missed suddenly becomes irrelevant and untrustworthy. Keep your anecdotes to yourself please; the Ministry of Evidence is open only to those with bunsen burners (mortars and pestels may be considered).

Lest I be accused of soft-selling the importance of science, I see it as an essential study. I think, however, that scientists who attempt to dissuade people from their religious views on the basis that a particular set of experiments have not been able to confirm such-and-such a dogma, doctrine, claim, etc. may just be missing the point of religious assertions. Namely, religion is not (properly speaking) an attempt at a scientific view of the world, or even a particularly detailed description of what's in the world and how it works. Instead, religion is a description -- and sometimes a prescription, too -- of peoples's responsibilities to each other in the world.

That being said, are there times when religions teach things morally retrograde and dysfunctional? In fact, yes. Claiming a holy war on a neighbouring country because they haven't stamped their politics with a certain god's name hardly seems justifiable to the people who will suffer in the wake of such a declaration. More, such an action is scientifically unjustifiable because it elevates an ideology above the natural impulse to survive the vicissitudes of our material environment.

But by saying such a thing, I automatically move from the camp of fundamentalism to being a moderate, which in today's popular parlance means that I'm not truly devout because I appreciate the existential and humanitarian rights of all peoples everywhere. So given that I believe religion and science can co-exist peacefully, and work together to effect the betterment of our environment and our human experiences, it would seem from my perspective that being 'devout' consists not in a disavowal of fundamentalism (whatever that has come to mean), nor in adopting the moniker of moderate (an equally ambiguous label), but in accepting the inherent dignity of all people everywhere, while recognizing the concomitant claim that each person's dignity is a direct reflection of divinity; the imago dei (image of God).

If by appreciating the work of science I cannot be truly religious, then I have to question a) the evidence that supports the validity of being immature enough not to understand that real people hold inconsistencies and contradictions to be true all the time, and in daily life; and b) why religion is not examining its own progress in the real world that science is attempting to understand? In both cases, I am content to know that because there are internal inconsistencies in my religious views, and because science is always learning and discovering, there is room for inconsistencies in my brain. I welcome them. I grow from them. And I do so without any 'real' conflict affecting the outcome.

4 comments:

Tag-photos said...

"For how can one hold to metaphysical notions while concentrating almost wholly on the physical as a means of understanding?"

Learn about and better understand the pmetaphysical throughbetter understanding of the physical.

A parallel...

Learning about a painter through the study of his artwork.

"Hence revelation, a great deal of philosophy, illumination, mystical experiences, personal experiences, psychic experiences, mythopathic intuitions, intuition itself, and any other form of knowledge I've missed suddenly becomes irrelevant and untrustworthy."

The examples that I have heard of in this statement are unreliable though.

Take intuition for example.

If you feel something will happen in the future, or near future (bad feeling so don't board plane, plane crashes) and it comes true than it is used as proof of it's existence and how real it truly is.
On the the hand if the same feeling proves to be false, it was simply a momentary fear, hesitation, heeby jeebies, etc... it is never used to prove intuition is false. Further those cases would be FAR less reported to anyone. When was the last time you called a newspaper and told them you had a bad feeling about driving to town, did so anyways and nothing happened????
So with that in mind pure simple statistics would begin to suggest that occasionally someone would get it right.

As for assuming the only true knowledge comes fro a repeatable test, that seems reasonable to me.
Otherwise it is all relative and personal conjuncture based on the individuals beliefs, interpretations, past experiences, sensory input, etc...

"I think, however, that scientists who attempt to dissuade people from their religious views on the basis that a particular set of experiments have not been able to confirm such-and-such a dogma..."

This seems backwards to me.

Experiments need to be done to prove something, not disprove something, first of all. So yes you would need to conjure up some, repeatable, experiment to prove a certain religious assertion.
The lack of that experiment, however, is by no means proof that it does not exist.

"That being said, are there times when religions teach things morally retrograde and dysfunctional?"

Like in your next blog entry :)

"But by saying such a thing, I automatically move from the camp of fundamentalism to being a moderate,"

So by saying that some religious groups, sometimes large groups like the one headed by the Vatican, are occasionally , or in the case of Fred Phelps wackos, often wrong you automatically move to being a moderate?
Just trying to understand that statement.


"If by appreciating the work of science I cannot be truly religious,"

It would seem, to me, that by not appreciating the work of science a person could not truly be religious.
For like I have stated before, science could be seen as a study of God's work.

"a) the evidence that supports the validity of being immature enough not to understand that real people hold inconsistencies and contradictions to be true all the time, and in daily life"

Gotta admit, I have read this at least 10 times now and still not sure what you are saying.

I think you are trying to say that it okay to question and doubt yourself, your decisions, and your beliefs.
Which, if that is the case, seems absolutely reasonable.


Chris pertaining to an earlier chat we had. I think one reason they has been a lack of responses to this entry is that we have talked about essentially the same thing recently.
I thought we did anyways, maybe it was just a disappearing entry.

Christopher said...

TAG,

You wrote: "Learn about and better understand the pmetaphysical throughbetter understanding of the physical.

A parallel...

Learning about a painter through the study of his artwork."


I appreciate your thoughts in answer to my question. The question itself was rhetorical, however, and meant to mock the people who think that way. Of course a person can concentrate primarily on the physical while still holding to metaphysical notions. It goes without saying, really, if you're not an overt Enlightenment-based scientist assuming that only empirical data is valid, or worthy of attention.

"The examples that I have heard of in this statement are unreliable though."

I'm fairly certain you don't consider your personal experiences unreliable sources of information. Admittedly, personal experiences come with the necessity for you to interpret them and that's where dissonance sets in. But that dissonance is not a guarantee of unreliablity anymore than a detuned instrument is a guarantee of unplayability: all the component parts are there, they just need to be applied toward refinement.

But aside from that, if you think those examples are unreliable, prove it. I'd be interested to see how you do without applying some of them.

"As for assuming the only true knowledge comes fro a repeatable test, that seems reasonable to me."

There's is reasonability in repeatable tests. I will not argue against that. One caveat, however, it is unreasonable to draw unrestricted conclusions based on repeatable results. There is nothing guaranteeing that the same test will yield the same results under varying circumstances. Thus setting controls in place only serves to change a dynamic phenomenon into a static effect. And as far as the interconnectedness of the world around us is concerned, saying this-that-or-th-other thing is such-and-such a way under tightly controlled circumstances is missing the point of how that thing fits into the wider world around it. It is thus contentless data that we are forced to contextualize if we are to understand it. In other words, we still have to interpret it using that non-empirical faculty called 'intelligence'.

"Experiments need to be done to prove something, not disprove something, first of all."

Experiments can, and should be used to prove things. Absolutely. However, experiments are also used to disprove things. Enter the scientific doctrine of falsifiability. So, in the case of the New Atheists, say, experimentation is used to disprove religious claims. And that is their primary means of argumentation.

"So by saying that some religious groups, sometimes large groups like the one headed by the Vatican, are occasionally , or in the case of Fred Phelps wackos, often wrong you automatically move to being a moderate?
Just trying to understand that statement."


That statement was made in the context of this statement: "More, such an action is scientifically unjustifiable because it elevates an ideology above the natural impulse to survive the vicissitudes of our material environment."

In other words, by integrating the scientific worldview of evolution into the Christian framework I would be considered by the Christian community as a 'moderate' believer. That title brings with it quite a wash of negative connotations, not the least of which is someone who has a dubious faith. The rank-and-file evangelical Christian generally has a louder voice than s/he does a cultured mind, and by-and-large favours fundamentalist dogmas such as young earth creationism.

So yes, by disagreeing with the typical mindset of evangelical Christianity, I slide from a position of 'fundamentalist' to the position of 'moderate', and perhaps even a 'liberal' Christian.

More later...

Tag-photos said...

Chris
"I'm fairly certain you don't consider your personal experiences unreliable sources of information. "

Most certainly. Personal experiences are very unreliable. Still a valid and common source of knowledge though. Reliable only if repeatable.
Quick example.

Working loss prevention i screwed up and let a young woman get into her car. Of course she locked her doors and drove off, almost hitting me in the process. I paid attention to the license plate and called the police as soon as possible. Gave the police a description of car and the license plate number.
Later that day a police officer came around to get my statement. The officer informed me that the the plate number did not exist.
Of course some of the knowledge is accurate and could be useful for me in the future, don't let arrested people into their cars with their keys. Other information is useless, license plate number

So personal experience gained some knowledge, not at all reliable or true though.

At the moment we are simply talking opinions. Neither of us, as far as I know, are experts in this field so our opinions can not be construed as fact or evidence.
So far I have given two examples of how those sources of knowledge are unreliable. To date you have offered none.
To get actual verifiable examples and proof will take some time and digging though. So hopefully we can continue using some reasonable examples as proof.
Then discuss the specifics of each example if we disagree with the relevance of it.


"There is nothing guaranteeing that the same test will yield the same results under varying circumstances."

A number of years ago some scientists (American I think) developed a cold fusion reaction. They repeated the experiment multiple times and succeeded each time.
Of course after publishing the results and the experiment protocols other scientists tried the experiment. Theirs failed...
Now this is going back some 20 years since I heard and read about this example so no sources are being cited and I am not bothering looking for them either.
But this does illustrate you point I have quoted above.

The issue is repeatability. The cold fusion experiment was not repeatable.

So I think we can agree that repeatable experimentation is a reliable source of information and knowledge.
We also agree that, without a sufficient amount of repeat attempts then that knowledge is yet to be proven.
I would also submit the number of attempts would be directly proportional to the complexity of the experiment and the conditions that the experiment is carried out under.

more...

Tag-photos said...

I still have a lot of reading into falsifiability. BUT from what little I have read so far I believe you are applying it incorrectly.
From my limited reading it seems that only things that can be proven false can be considered scientific.

From you linked to Wikipedia page

"That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, that if it is false, then this can be shown by observation or experiment."

So for instance, the theory that God exists is not scientific since no amount of finite observation could ever disprove that.
It in no way helps the argument whether god is real of false.

But like I said more reading needed

Without actual examples to support your claim tat new atheists are using experiments to disprove religious claims i still stand by that experiments prove things are true, not false.

So in the case of disproving something through the use of scientific process it is necessary to prove that a positive that is contrary to another claim is true.

For example.

If I claim that my car tires can never go flat.

For you to prove that wrong, you are not trying to disprove that my tires cannot lose air, instead you need to prove that my car tires can lose air.

In a case such as Christiandoms claim that god exists.
First that does not qualify as a scientific hypothesis, proposition, or theory because it does not test of faslifyability, it also does pass the test of positivibility. Because no amounts of finite observation could prove that true or false.


"However, experiments are also used to disprove things."

Just rephrasing my answer to this a bit. Simplifying.

Experiments are used to prove theories contrary to other things, thereby proving them false.

Like saying 2+2=5. That is disproven by proving 2+2=4.

Trying to prove a conclusion is wrong is like disproving that by proving 2+3=5 therefore 2+2 can not equal 5. Of course that leaves too many loopholes, like 1+4 or adding negatives and fractions....

I think his is best example why I believe science will never be able to prove god does not exist.

Using similar formula...

Prayer + god = success

So in this somebody believes that because they prayed and succeeded in whatever they prayed for god must exist.

Let's say that the success prayed for was for the return of a missing child.

Return of Child = RoC

Prayer + God = RoC.

An attempt at disproving it could be made by by proving that

Prayer + hard work = RoC

Problem is simply because this may be true it does not disprove anything, since there are so many other possible truths here.