I find the continual contrasts of science to religion made by certain atheists — including at least two who like to comment on my blog — exceedingly odd. They incessantly point out that science has given us new technologies and cures for polio and other diseases, while theology hasn’t.
My response, on the whole, is “So what?”
To me, this is rather like criticizing the Houston Astros for their failure to score a single touchdown during the entire 2017 baseball season. Or faulting Homer because his English was so bad. Or lamenting Chaucer’s uselessness in stamping out the bubonic plague or the irrelevance of an accurate knowledge of the Renaissance for building a highway bridge.
It’s like declaring that Thucydides, Tacitus, and Josephus are no longer worth reading since we now have electric toasters. Or that, in these days of jet air travel, there’s no point in reflecting on ethics or on moral issues. Or that, now that we’ve identified muons and positrons and covalent bonds, philosophy is obsolete. Or that, for a society that has essentially eliminated small pox, Shakespeare, Bach, Monet, Dickens, Goethe, Dante, and Dostoevsky are no longer relevant.
(I understand that the people making these unfavorable contrasts of science to religion are likely to go on doing so, despite the fact that, from my point of view, they’re committing something analogous to what Gilbert Ryle called a “category mistake” — and, yes, I’m well aware that Ryle was arguing against mind-brain dualism when he invented the term — but I retain the wan hope that, just perhaps, one of them will, in the manner of a Buddhist monk reflecting on a Zen koan, someday experience enlightenment.)
I’ve devoted at least two overlapping columns to this topic — but, since the argument continues to be made, I think it advisable to call attention to them yet again:
Moreover, when these atheists observe that religion didn’t give us modern cosmology or a flu vaccine, they seem, implicitly, to be claiming science and its achievements for atheism, which is an entirely unjustifiable bit of ideological imperialism. It completely overlooks and ignores such figures (and their number could be multiplied many times over) as the cathedral canon Nicolaus Copernicus (father of the modern heliocentric concept of the solar system), the devoutly Christian Francis Collins (who oversaw the sequencing of the human genome), the deeply Lutheran Johannes Kepler (who made Copernicus’s system accurate by positing elliptical rather than circular orbits for the planets), Father Georges Lemaître (the mathematical physicist who first formulated the concept of an expanding universe and the “Big Bang”), the great Isaac Newton (who devoted roughly as much time to commenting on the Bible as to inventing modern physics), the devoutly Jewish Arno Penzias (co-discoverer of the first empirical confirmation of the Big Bang, 1978 Nobel laureate, and father of a rabbi), Father Gregor Mendel (the founder of modern genetics), the pious Muslim theoretical physicist Abdus Salam (winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize), the very Christian Allan Sandage (among the most prominent astronomers of the twentieth century), the great American Mormon chemist Henry Eyring (whose son currently serves as first counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and Theodosius Dobzhansky (the devoutly Russian Orthodox evolutionary biologist who was a principal figure in the synthesis of Darwinian evolutionary theory with genetics).
“I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him,” Johannes Kepler once wrote. “Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”
Here’s a recent column that I wrote for the Deseret News that is also relevant to this issue: