On Science and Religion, part 3

This response is a bit delayed, but I’m finding myself requiring more time to digest everyone’s comments as this discussion progresses. This whole process has been immeasurably informative for me, so thank you to all those participating. Thank you also for the book recommendations. I’ll revisit this topic in the future after some much-needed mental-digestion.

I think that a scientist’s lack of knowledge of religious texts can be equally problematic as the Christian’s lack of knowledge of evolutionary biology. My understanding of evolution and science is clearly much more nuanced than my understanding of scripture. My misinterpretation of some of Heidi’s points is evidence of that.  I recently heard the statement: “the best of science is always compared to the worst of religion.” I think this is generally true of religious debates. I’m definitely not portraying the worst of religion in this discussion, but Emi and Heidi are right that I am giving a bit too much credit to scientists. I want to reinforce a point: some scientists do make a religion of science, but it is inherently unscientific to do so. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” as everyone warned last time. Many scientists make dangerous extensions by taking these unscientific leaps of faith. A good scientist will not deny the existence of ghosts, or even god, because it cannot be done using the scientific method. So, I would still venerate science as a process, yet shake my head at those people who stop that process once it is convenient for their own conclusions.

Nick suggests that science is absolutist and dogmatic. I’ll give him dogmatic, because it adheres as strictly to its own dogma (the scientific method) as most religions adhere to their own, if not more. However, I see no problem with that because a -correct- adherence to the scientific method is unproblematic. That is: 1) If you have evidence, you are compelled to use it to base your conclusion. 2) You cannot draw conclusions without evidence. I agree with Clancy that science is an incomplete lens to view the world through. It is important to recognize its limitations, and seek other perspectives to fill in where the scientific jury is out. Anyway, this facet is getting bogged down, and I think we’re all mostly on the same page.

I’m going to invite some big criticism here by challenging Nick’s comment “[science and religion] both look at the world, ask "why are things like this and how did they get this way?", and then go about finding the most satisfying answers according to their own criteria.” I do believe science does this. I’ll also extend that to many of the eastern and indigenous observation-based religions raised in previous comments. However, I think that some religions/religious people do not “go about finding the most satisfying answer,” but instead come to the table with these questions already answered. Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. We’ve all seen the stifling outcome when people use this verse to forgo personal investigation. I share Clancy’s feeling that being satisfied with the simple answer “because God made it so,” is to be robbed of the joy of discovery.

Regarding Heidi’s clarification question about “if some of the Bible is up for investigation and interpretation, then all of it must be.” Let me restate, because I was arguing something else, and I don’t think I explained myself very well. She points out that certain chapters in the bible were written in different styles, i.e. literal history, narrative, poetry, etc., so they are meant to be read appropriately. Agreed. My argument is that within a given non-literal chapter, many people “cherry pick” by extracting poignant sections and claiming their literal truth despite the overall passage being written as, for example, a historical novel. If a given chapter is meant to be interpreted non-literally, then the entire chapter must be interpreted non-literally. An example of this cherry picking would be to read Genesis non-literally, agree that 7-day creation was metaphoric, but then literally believe that God created the sky. This is a pretty crude example, and I wish I could pontificate this better. Alas, if only I had a more nuanced understanding of the bible!

Sorry for again becoming Christian-centric in my post, but religion is just too broad to make arguments that apply across so many faiths.



  1. Here's a relevant article that Sam showed me today, if anyone is interested in hearing a different perspective on this issue.

  2. interesting article! that's that Rob Bell guy I was talking about who has all the cool videos...I guess some people dont think he's quite so neat as I do ;)

    thanks for the clarification. I'm trying to think of an example of cherry picking like that myself, but cant find a good one either.

    thanks for this discussion Sean! I always have fun with these sorts of things, especially when it's with smart people :)


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