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.
- Russell Blackford
- 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) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).
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):