It is one of the biggest questions of our time: Are religion and science compatible? Many religious leaders argue that it is and change religious doctrines to fit modern day scientific findings. This is seen in today’s Catholic Church in which Popes have argued that evolution is true or accept the Big Bang as the beginning of the Universe.
They posit of course that this was God’s plan, and at face value, this alone does not force religion and science to be at odds.
But as Jerry Coyne points out in his new book Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, religion and science are more often at odds than they are compatible.
Both claim to be able to answer some of life’s toughest questions such as how we got here, how life began, and even how one ought to live one’s life.
Religion claims in its holy books to hold the answer to these questions, but as we have seen with Christianity and creationism, they are at odds with scientific findings.
More liberal religionists and even accommodationist atheists will claim these are meant to be stories and not literal truths and therefore religion and science do not have to be at odds. But as Coyne argues, how can this be?
How can a religious person, say a Christian, argue that parts of the Bible, such as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are to be read as the literal truth on which their whole religion hangs, but disregard the bits that conflict with science as pure allegory?
How does one know which is truth and which is fiction? The only way to do so is to cherry-pick the bits that work and leave the bits that don’t.In the book Coyne states:
In the end, religious investigations of “truth,” unlike those of science, are deeply dependent on confirmation bias. You start with what you were taught to believe, or what you want to believe, and then accept only those facts that support your prejudices. This is the basis for the theological practice of “apologetics,” designed to defend religion against counterarguments and disconfirming evidence. The fact of evolution, for instance, was once seen by many as strong evidence against God. As we’ll see, apologists have now decided that it is exactly what we’d expect from a good creator, who would, of course, allow life to blossom gradually instead of producing a boring and static creation ex nihilo. In contrast, science has no apologetics, for we test our conclusions by trying to find counterevidence.
When you have two different methods of determining truth, both cannot be right and they will immediately be in conflict. Science does not bend its findings to fit religious dogma, but religion will either bend its teaching to fit scientific discovery or stand firm in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary and espouse faith as a virtue and reward those who simply deny scientific discovery.
The simple fact you either have to deny evidence or bend your beliefs to conform show not only religion’s incompatibility with science but also indicates that when it comes to faith versus fact, as tools to understanding the truth, there is a clear winner.
In Faith Versus Fact, Coyne lays out a clear and concise argument that will not bore even the best-read atheists, but is easy enough to read and understand that those with little to no scientific or religious knowledge will find it accessible.