Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the intersection of science and religion, or more precisely, about the discussion of the intersection of science and religion. In general, I’m finding myself frustrated by most (though not all) of the discussion.
On the one hand, you have the scientists, such as those writing in New Scientist. In general, I really like New Scientist, but there seems to be a strong editorial bias towards the belief that science must somehow displace religion. Frequently they point out that the existence of God cannot be proven, and that the assertions made by relgion are not subject to scientific validation.
On the other hand, we have those of the religious right who want to rework science to fit with religious doctrine. The most obvious example of this is those who want to teach intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution.
I am deeply frustrated with this. To the scientists, I would like to say that you are missing the point. Religion isn’t supposed to be verifiable. Science tries to answer the question, “how does the universe work?” Religion is interested in the question, “why does the universe work?” Not “why” in the sense of what is the mechanism, but “why” in the sense of “what is the meaning that can be drawn from this.” To critique religion as faulty because it is not verifiable is like critiqueing words because they aren’t numbers. Words and numbers serve different purposes and answer different questions. I, like most religious individuals, believe that science does truly describe the nature of the world, and believe that scientific understanding is one form of spiritual contemplation of the universe.
Then we have the folks who believe that religion describes scientific reality more clearly than scientific research. They believe that the universe could not exist without a creator, because the Bible says there was a creator. To these people, I wish to point out that religion is, inherently, METAPHOR. Religious texts are to be understood as metaphors (or to use an engineering term, schematics). They validly describe the world in a certain way, but do not describe all the ways in which the world works. These texts will often describe the Divine as one would a person; clearly they should not be understood to imply that God has a physical, humanlike presence (at least from a Jewish point of view, the question might be a little murkier for Christianity, but only a little). Metaphor works by comparing something which is difficult to understand to something which is easier to understand. Almost always, some precision is lost in the process.
So I want to end with a request: will everyone please play nice and stay in your own sandboxes?! To the scientists I wish to say, please stay out of making statements about the nature of religion. I don’t talk about what is good or bad scientific method or principles. Please leave the discussion of what is valid or invalid theology to those of us with some training and interest in the matter.
To you who believe that religious texts should dictate or inform scientific research or results: Again, please stay out of areas in which you are not a professional. Science has/is a methodology. It functions within a set of rules and understandings, and faith does not and should not have a place in determining scientific findings. Faith may have a great deal to say about the implications of those findings, what we should do as a result of those findings or how those findings may change society, but not about what the findings themselves are.
And now, everyone please behave.
End of rant.