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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Victor Stenger on science and religion

Sample of Victor Stenger's piece in the Huffington Post (from his talk at Moving Secularism Forward):
Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of the opposing assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside the body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations made of the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments. The knowledge gained in this manner has proved effective when applied to human needs.

By contrast, all major religions, including Buddhism, teach that humans possess an additional "inner" sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world--a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. If it does not involve the transcendent, it is not religion. Religion is a set of practices intended to communicate with that invisible world and use its forces to affect things here on Earth.

The working hypothesis of science is that careful observation is our only reliable source of knowledge about the world. Natural theology accepts empirical science and views it as a means to learn about God's creation. But religion, in general, goes much further than science in giving credence to other claimed sources of knowledge such as scriptures, revelation, and spiritual experiences.

No doubt, science has its limits. However, the fact that science is limited doesn't mean that religion or any alternative system of thought can or does provide insight into what lies beyond those limits. For example, science cannot yet show precisely how the universe originated naturally, although many plausible scenarios exist. But the fact that science does not--at present--have a definitive answer to this question does not mean that ancient creation myths such as those in Genesis have any substance, any chance of eventually being verified.

The scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science, as they are currently practiced, exclude supernatural causes. I strongly disagree with this position. If we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.


Anonymous said...

Russell, please check out yesterday's or the days before Thinking Christian for a pan on Stenger's view. How do we overcome such presumptions that that writer has to pan Stenger?
I'm a gnu that by Googling lamberth's naturalistic argumets about God, people see that I find that He cannot possibly exist!I relish in going after sophisticated theologans!

Simeon Blatchley said...

It is scientifically arguable that the accounts in Genesis are far more reasonable than those of the modern "evolution" process which has changed many times over the years. Science is just like philosophy, in that eventually one must come to terms with the fact that there *is* a God. Religion really has nothing to do with anything...religion in and of itself is nothing...it's just an "identifier" of sorts.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, right. It is "scientifically arguable" that two mutually contradictory accounts that, on the most generous interpretation of the text, were never meant to be taken literally ... are "reasonable" accounts of geology and biology, despite plainly contradicting everything we know about the age of the earth and the history of the evolution of life on the planet.

Rob said...

If the God of Genesis is the existing God, then he deserves to be fought to the dying breath, no such tyrant deserves to exist. No moral person could support such an entity.

If evolution is wrong, then the computer you used to type your post can't exist. Some of the same math and physics support both. For one to be wrong, the other is too.

Although, I have a hunch we won't see more comments from Simeon, so maybe his computer did stop working o_O

Steve Zara said...

"By contrast, all major religions, including Buddhism, teach that humans possess an additional "inner" sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world--a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural."

That's news to me, and I'm married to a Buddhist! (yes, really)

Russell Blackford said...

I've just deleted a further post from the fundamentalist loon.