So, what’s the point?

I expect that everyone who gets involved in science and religion debates from a skeptical point of view occasionally asks themselves what the point of all this effort is. After all, religion is one of those areas in life where it’s notoriously difficult to either say something really new or to change anyone’s mind. To get through to many believers, the hurdle is not so much to present an argument as to persuade them that reasons and evidence are relevant in the first place. And that persuasion will not happen as a result of arguments, naturally.

It’s not true that arguing about supernatural claims is completely useless. Personally, I get a lot of fun out of it, and I learn a good deal about things that fascinate me. There are other people who are interested in this sort of thing, and within that community, you can hope to advance the debate, and maybe get somewhere.

But outside of a fairly small intellectual community, well, what we say about science and religion might not often have much of a point. I even wonder if whatever skeptical conclusions we might reach from a scientific point of view are not necessarily even all that relevant to nonbelievers in general. After all, if you’re ineffective in reaching many people, you’re also not of much use to people who oppose the social role of supernatural belief. If you dislike religion for moral and political reasons, you want something that works to reduce the influence of faith. Arguments that might have purchase only after someone agrees that reason and evidence is relevant don’t do the job.

This doesn’t bother me. But I suspect it might be a source of tension between science-minded nonbelievers who are not interested in moral critiques of religion, and those who think that religion is first and foremost morally dubious.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University