Philosophical Death Match: Science v Religion

“Nonsense. There are so many phenomena that would raise the specter of God or other supernatural forces: faith healers could restore lost vision, the cancers of only good people could go into remission, the dead could return to life, we could find meaningful DNA sequences that could have been placed in our genome only by an intelligent agent, angels could appear in the sky. The fact that no such things have ever been scientifically documented gives us added confidence that we are right to stick with natural explanations for nature.”

From this article arguing that religion and science are essentially mutually exclusive. It makes some interesting points.

But I wonder why the observations of objective witnesses to the life of Jesus who independently confirm four of his five “miracles” don’t count as “scientific documentation”.

“Many religious beliefs can be scientifically tested, at least in principle. Faith-based healing is particularly suited to these tests. Yet time after time it has failed them. After seeing the objects cast off by visitors to Lourdes, Anatole France is said to have remarked, “All those canes, braces and crutches, and not a single glass eye, wooden leg, or toupee!” If God can cure cancer, why is He impotent before missing eyes and limbs? Recent scientific studies of intercessory prayer–when the sick do not know whether they are being prayed for–have not shown the slightest evidence that it works”

The other thing that often annoys me about atheists is this idea that we can somehow fabricate a miracle to test God. That’s not logical. God would, by the very nature of being God, be the one who sets the rules and the tests. Not the other way around.

It’s analogous to the scenario in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where there’s the final revelation that mice are conducting experiments on humans. That idea is preposterous. That’s why it’s funny. We are in no position to demand that a God – a being by nature superior to us – comply to our testing parameters. I can understand how the lack of regular miracles would be frustrating to those wishing to observe God. But I don’t see how it’s a reason to rule out the idea of God.

The other problem with this guy is that he’s trying to accommodate pluralism and religion and religion and science at the same time. He almost rules out the possibility of religion on the basis that more than one religious idea exists. He should perhaps first pull the log out of his own eye before going for that one.

Scientific consensus is less likely than religious – and scientific positions are much more likely to be influenced by an external factor (like funding).

Science allows you to set whatever hypothesis and testing methodology you choose. It has great freedom. This is the problem with science though – you can’t set methodology when you don’t have the authority to do so.

The idea of testing God also falls over because “science” (or its advocates) insist on operating in a closed system – ruling out God and anything supernatural. So you get a statement like this:

“That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause.”

And this:

“Secular reason includes science, but also embraces moral and political philosophy, mathematics, logic, history, journalism, and social science–every area that requires us to have good reasons for what we believe. Now I am not claiming that all faith is incompatible with science and secular reason–only those faiths whose claims about the nature of the universe flatly contradict scientific observations. Pantheism and some forms of Buddhism seem to pass the test. But the vast majority of the faithful–those 90 percent of Americans who believe in a personal God, most Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, and adherents to hundreds of other faiths–fall into the “incompatible” category.”


Leah says:

I wonder why “scientific” documentation rates to much higher than historical documentation.

Leah says:

*so much higher

Mark says:

I haven’t read the source article, but I note in the quote he includes history in the list of domains that “require us to have good reasons for what we believe”. Does he make any effort to deny the historicity of the gospels, or is that assumed?

He then makes statements about a personal God being “incompatible” with rational, scientific thought. I personally don’t see any incompatibility. But doesn’t it boil down to premise? If you start with the possibility of a creator, you’re then open to question how that creator interacts with creation – power, authority, nature and frequency of direct interaction, level of relationship and who sets the terms. If you’re starting from setting the terms and moving the other way, you’re free to make a creator in any shape you choose.

I’d recommend thinking through the arguments made on Theism, Atheism and Rationality by philosophers William Lane Craig –, and Alvin Plantinga –