The Conflict Between Religion and Science…

The Conflict Between Religion and Science… September 26, 2020


This is an issue that rumbles on and on. Some believers are science deniers who cling on to a pre-technological existence in communities like the Hutterites. Other theists accept that science has facilitated a great dispelling of ignorance, but with varying degrees of reluctance. And some get round the problem of cognitive dissonance by putting religion and science into separate categories.

Stephen Jay Gould was the most famous protagonist of the latter strategy – he called them ‘non-overlapping magisteria’. From Wikipedia: 

Non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) is the view that was advocated by Stephen Jay Gould that science and religion each represent different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the “nets” over which they have “a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority”, and the two domains do not overlap.

In 1997 Gould had elaborated on this position by describing his role as a scientist with respect to NOMA:

Religion is too important to too many people for any dismissal or denigration of the comfort still sought by many folks from theology. I may, for example, privately suspect that papal insistence on divine infusion of the soul represents a sop to our fears, a device for maintaining a belief in human superiority within an evolutionary world offering no privileged position to any creature. But I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science. My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain. Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we most value about human potentiality: our decency, care, and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.

Gould talks about ‘a sop to our fears’. I contend that his position is a sop to believers who cannot face the possibility that their beliefs may be groundless; he is imposing a false discontinuity in order to placate those who can’t accept undisputed facts. This fits well with the current tendency to deliberately disregard evidence and declare all opinions to be equal in value! Kelly-Ann Conway springs to mind… (see my earlier article here – )

Some people seem to be comfortable with inconsistency. Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, said that “Darwinian evolution is real, and so is the Big Bang” according to the Telegraph on 28th October 2014, which reported that the Pope’s stance on evolution and cosmology still leaves room for a divine creator, but places his or her role in the time before the birth of the universe as we know it. This account, which doesn’t fit with the proposition that time began at the origin of the universe, is behind a paywall unfortunately: 

I had a friend (he has unfriended me since) who is a pastor and whose father is a geologist; I’m not sure how, or at what point, god entered into his worldview… He accepts that his father has a science-based job that has provided the wherewithal for the family and his upbringing, but also contends that a very particular form of the Christian god (the Reformed Evangelical Baptist version) somehow has a role to play. Unless my ex-friend’s god kicked it all off and left it to run untended, creationism, which is at the very foundation of Christianity, is deeply at odds with his father’s occupation.

Unsurprisingly, for a science teacher, my view is that religion and science are incompatible. After all, they offer different explanations for the development of the universe, the diversity of life and the origin of mankind. They can’t both be right. It’s either creation or it’s not and I contend that it’s not! I’m not alone…

The notion that the idea of a creator and the tenets of Darwinian evolution overlap is a “‘want my cake and eat it too’ proposition that largely ignores the potency of Darwin’s dangerous idea as a God killer.” George P. Dvorsky (Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist).

You can join an online discussion on this topic tomorrow here


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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