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The Conflict Between Science and Religion
All the atheist's blog sites are rushing to recommend Eric MacDonald's (ex-Anglican priest and the commentator who really should write his own blog) review of Science and Religion: a Very Short Introduction by Thomas Dixon (and part of the OUP series) over at Butterflies and Wheels.

So why shouldn't I join in?


Highly recommended not just for the taking apart of the book itself, but the whole reconciliation thing.

"What's in it for science??"

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I rather think that this is, to some extent, Eric's point.

If you can't explain it, it isn't an issue.

A couple of days ago I watched part of a documentary on the history of the telescope. The part on Galileo had a good summary of his work and how two Popes treated him, but then the narrator excused the Catholic Church by saying it wasn't obvious at the time that Galileo's heliocentric view was right. That completely misses the point that the problem wasn't a scientific debate, but that the Church held that figurative passages in ancient texts override evidence, and offered the threat of torture as an argument.

Religious hierarchies are not interested in truth but in power. They will work with science (and reason) only when it supports their revelations. In Galileo's case, it wasn't the truth or not of what he was saying that bothered them, but the undermining of church Authority.

I would be happier with these arguments if they didn't conflate 'religion' with patriarchal and humanocentric theology - while the history of the west is dominated by the tensions between scientific discovery and religeous dogma, the tenets of eastern philosophies (and those of western paganism for that matter) aren't even being acknowledged here, let alone being factored into the discussion.

That kind of omission makes me question the scientific rigour of the refutation - which I'm sure was not the intention of the author!

Eric's review might have been very different if the book he was reviewing did not also contain the assumption that 'religion' was just the Abrahamic faiths, with Christianity well to the fore - something that has been remarked on both in the comments to this review on Jerry Coyne's blog, and an earlier review by Jason Rosenhouse.

The fault, perhaps of those who tend to argue from the perspectives of a particular theology - but that does not excuse presenting arguments against the specific as if they were universal. Beliefs that recognise the existance of suffering, pain and death as part of the greater whole aren't going to be convinced that pointing them out is - by itself - evidence of anything. Except, perhaps, the paternalism of the Abrahamic view ...

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'recognising pain suffering and death as part of the greater whole.' Pain, suffering and death exist and cannot be avoided. Other religions try to impose their myths about them and their acceptance or avoidance in various ways, such as reincarnation or becoming one with the Tao, both of which can be countered by the same sort of arguments (i.e. no evidence of their existence), and which have no impact on scientific thought.

The only religion I can immediately think of that sees the universe as essentially uncaring is (that part of) Buddhism, which can be regarded as atheistic. Taoism has its own version of mysticism (the tao) for which there is no evidence, and Hinduism has its own problems in that area. Hinduism is a mish-mash of various beliefs, and is mainly about propitiation - again, with no effect on science and scientific thought.

The consideration of whether other 'myths' have any more supporting evidence than the Abrahamic ones is entirely irrelevant to my observation. The premise given in the review is that creating life by means of suffering, violence and death challenges the concept of (and therefore the belief in) God. My responses is 'only if the specific theology considers 'god' (ie its expression or perception of the divine) in that particular way.' The issue is not in the intent of the argument, but that the formulation of it is flawed - and for me, any weight it may carry is therefore diluted by an impression of an incomplete and therefore potentially fallacious argument.

Hence my initial comment about the rigour underpinning the piece.

I would also question the anthropomorphism of linking evolutionary processes with 'suffering and violence' and the emotional manipulation that the terminology employs but I suspect that's a completely different issue ...

But he is simply countering the arguments in the book.

Life is full of suffering and violence. There's a reason some evolutionary processes are referred to as 'arms races'. Are you saying that animals with a nervous system (and which therefore can feel pain) do not 'suffer' when, say, eaten alive.

Part of the problem with even trying to talk about religion is its tendency to split and rejoin--to be unified (e.g. "people in every culture believe in the existence of the divine, so there must be something to it") when it's useful to the speaker, and to require that it be broken up into categories of increasing fine-ness (e.g. "you can't blame Christianity for the Inquisition--that wasn't *Christianity* that was *Catholicism*") when *that* is useful to the speaker.

So let's put it this way: Science is a way of knowing, religion is only a way of believing--the two fields don't have much to talk about, and for those religions that keep their noses out of science's business, there is no conflict. If the eastern religions are among them, hey--great!

For those religions who try to pervert or silence science to force it to conform to their unsupported assertions, there *is* a conflict, and it's unreconcilable.

This is because conflict *within* religion can't be reconciled. This defect is inherent in having no way of knowing--if you have a scientific disagreement about how many wings a pigeon, has you can settle that by catching pigeons and counting their wings; if you have a religious disagreement about how many wings an *angel* has, by contrast, you can't settle the matter.

With no way to settle the matter, religions have to agree to disagree or go to war until all members of one side are dead or too scared to speak up. Sometimes they alternate the two tactics.

When they express no opinion on matters of science, there's no conflict. When they agree to disagree there's a conflict, but it doesn't matter. It's when they try to stifle science that it becomes a problem.

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