Science vs Religion

Posted on January 3, 2011

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Jenny: “A friend – an agnostic – said that he was having real problems with the current science vs religion debate. His problem was this: very bad things have been done in the name of religion – everything from burning at the stake to terrorist bombings of  children. Thousands have been mutilated or died in the name of religion. On the other hand he pointed out that the by-products of science – super-bugs, global warming, nuclear weapons – threaten human survival on this planet – something Religion at its worst has never come close to doing. What do you think?”

Peter: “Even if he’s right, I’m willing to take the risks. No way I want to go back to the horse and buggy days, no electricity, no aircraft, no pain-free dentistry, no TV, no computers, no birth control pills, no refrigeration – warm beer… yuck. So what  if a pandemic of super-bugs, or climate change, or nuclear war  kills us all off. We had a great time while it lasted. I’ll take science over religion every time.”

Professor Wiggly: ” Does if have to be either science or religion. Some serious thinkers believe that we need both. For example people like Dawkins believes that we shouldn’t accept any conclusion that isn’t supported by reliable evidence. And yet he doesn’t tell us how to make decisions when there’s no reliable evidence – while we’re waiting for science to produce evidence. Or when the evidence is conflicting. Or when important problem are beyond the reach of science – for instance the future  is always uncertain. Take a simple example of an important decision which lies beyond the reach of modern science. How to select a wife or husband. Dawkins has been married three times. Where’s his rational and evidence based decision making there? How to raise children? What kind a job did Dawkins do there?  Many (most?) of the important decision you and I make every day our about the uncertain future – the evidence isn’t available, we make those decisions not on the basis of facts or reliable evidence. We have no choice but  make them as Simon says on the bases of assumptions,  hunches, faith – as Dawkins did in choosing his wives. Hitchens the other famous militant atheist recognizes that all reasoning is assumption or faith-based reasoning – he  just doesn’t like the assumption that their may be a ‘God’. Fine, at least Hicthens practices what he preaches in this regard. He might even agree that the by-products of science pose a greater threat to human survival than religion has ever done.  Without those scientific byproducts we’d still be fighting each other inefficiently … with sticks and stones beside clean lakes filled with healthy fish.”

Jenny: ” So what are you saying? That at some level all our decisions are based on unproven assumptions – even scientific ones. But you also seem to be saying that  science and religion are somehow different – for instance that science is our most trusted news service – that we trust a lot of  scientific models of reality, and that some of their models of reality are more dangerous than religious models. And most interesting for me you’re saying that the atheists like Dawkins – who say show me the evidence – don’t tell us how to make decisions when the evidence is lacking or conflicting. So as I understand it, all decisions rely on faith based reasoning, science tries to collect observational evidence when it can, and when it can’t it relies on faith in their theories. And finally you’re saying that most of the important decisions we make are about the future about which we have little or no evidence, and that people like Dawkins ignore the problem that these involve faith-based decisions whether based on religious models, mathematical models, economic models, group pressure, guesses or superstition. In other words Dawkins is flying as blind as the rest of us when he chooses a mate, or raises a child, or buys stock, or chooses a career?”

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Posted in: Sciencing