The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Mutual Mistrust – Science and Religion

Here is my article du jour.

Copernicus, whose remains they just found in Poland, certainly still speaks from the grave. If you've read Thoughts and Reasons, Part Five you have a sense of what I think already. (I love it: I'm so self-centered as to believe that anyone reads my blog, and with enough regularity to follow trains of thought. Ha!)

Copernicus and Galileo hung out in the 16th century and defied the Church. So did Luther. But instead of Theology—the then formidable "Queen of sciences"—they had bones to pick on a more astronomical level. In all their glorious heresy, they believed the Sun was the center of our galaxy—a belief called "heliocentrism"—and for it, the church, in all it's interpretive glory, condemned Galileo for such beliefs.

Does anyone know why? In their rigid literal interpretation, parishoners believed the fact that the sun was purported to rise in the eastern sky and set in the western clearly denied the validity of the Copernican theory. Today, believing such a man-centered myth seems ludicrous to our modern education, but we cannot look down on the ignorance of the past. We must humble ourselves to learn from it: recognizing that our own beliefs may be just as ignorant, just as man-centered.

What I really want to talk about, though, is the exchange between religion and science, science and religion. It does go both ways. I think that Cardinal Poupard certainly has a good point: religion should "listen to what modern science has to offer." To deny scientific claims out of hand is to reject reason, something that religion need not do.

Likewise science must "listen" to what religion has to say.*

There certainly is a palpable animosity between science and religion though. Religion relegates science to an unspiritual—therefore, unimportant—status. Science reduces religion to an irrational blind leap.

Why is this?

There have been many altercations between religion and science since Copernicus. However, I think science retaliated against religion most definitively with evolutionary theory. This theory was the outright rejection of the religious presupposition of supernaturalism (the main issue surrounding Intelligent Design*).

It seemed, to the religious, that Darwin developed evolutionary theory from a smattering of fossil samples and a good dose of creativity. From there, science ran with it, happy to reject religion at the same time.

So, Copernicus and Galileo, in an effort at remaining faithful to scientific inquiry, stood condemned by religion; and science, in the work of Darwin, adequately sidestepped religious dogma. Thus, an inherent mistrust between the two has developed.

Religion believes secular scientists to be faithful adherents to scientific ideology—namely, Naturalism—rather that scientific inquiry; a belief that is somewhat bolstered by renegade scientists, among them those supporting theories like theistic evolution (evolution intended by a god) and Intelligent Design (ordered structure composed by a god). This ideological faithfulness has, in the mind of the religious, produced dishonest scientists—or at least scientist who have the wrong lens through which to interpret the facts.

Science believes the religious to be unthinking dogmatists, driven by bottom-line agenda over genuine inquiry of the unknown, the mystery; a belief supported by the the Copernican fiasco (among other religious debacles: Crusades anyone?) and inflexible interpretation of a literal creation account. This ideological faithfulness has, in the mind of the scientists, produced dishonest parishoners—or at least believers who have the wrong lens through which to interpret the facts.

Ironically, both camps seem to accuse the other of the same thing: failure to adhere to scientific inquiry, instead placing ideology before science. But then again, to do otherwise is simply impossible.*

The real question is, "Can the trust between religion and science be rebuilt?" It takes but one act to shatter that fragile virtue, and both sides have done their part to obliterate it, again and again. So, how long will take to do so? Are we willing to substitute honesty and humility for hostility?

Perhaps more importantly, is how we answer this question: "Can Science and Religion both benefit from a reconciled relationship?"

[*If you do read my "Thoughts and Reasons" conversation, you will see I am simply arguing that both Naturalism and Supernaturalism are philosophical presuppositions: that is, beliefs about the world that we bring to the table long before we endeavor to perform experiments. I am arguing for their equality as options, something my counterpart seems to reject.

The "religionist" adheres to one philosophical presupposition (or ideology), and the "secular modernist" adheres to another. Neither can be proven, and both allow for scientific study to take place. ]