Is there a War between Science and Religion? – Science and Christianity: Part 1

I. YES! for Jerry Coyne: “Yes, there is a War between Science and Religion.”

Opposing methods for discerning truth
My [Coyne] argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest to prove that your hypothesis is wrong to test your confidence that it’s right, doing experiments and above all replicating your and others’ results to increase confidence in your inference…

The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.

In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority – in other words, through faith, defined in Hebrews 11 as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue. Recall what Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” who insisted in poking his fingers into the resurrected Savior’s wounds: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

And while science has had success after success in understanding the universe, the “method” of using faith has led to no proof of the divine. How many gods are there? What are their natures and moral creeds? Is there an afterlife? Why is there moral and physical evil? There is no one answer to any of these questions. All is mystery, for all rests on faith.
The “war” between science and religion, then, is a conflict about whether you have good reasons for believing what you do: whether you see faith as a vice or a virtue…

In the end, it’s irrational to decide what’s true in your daily life using empirical evidence, but then rely on wishful-thinking and ancient superstitions to judge the “truths” undergirding your faith. This leads to a mind (no matter how scientifically renowned) at war with itself, producing the cognitive dissonance that prompts accommodationism. If you decide to have good reasons for holding any beliefs, then you must choose between faith and reason. And as facts become increasingly important for the welfare of our species and our planet, people should see faith for what it is: not a virtue but a defect.

Read more at Jerry Coyne: “Yes, There is a War between Science and Religion.”

II. “YES? REALLY?”- Paul Manata’s Riposte to Jerry Coyne.
Paul Manata: Is There A War Between Science And Religion? Examining Jerry Coyne’s Recent Case for the Incompatibility of Faith and Reason

A. Jerry Coyne’s Definition of Science and Religious Faith is Slanted .
Of course, if this definition is meant to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as “science,” it will rule out some research programs we might not want ruled out. It would also complicate our acceptance of certain theses. What would it mean to use the above tools to come to a true belief about the uniformity of nature? Indeed, the tools presuppose that nature is uniform. Indeed, if Coyne’s method is meant to be the method for discovering any truth, then surely we would lead impoverished lives! What happens to our true belief that the world is more than five minutes old? Or our true belief in the existence of other minds? None of these truths are found by using Coyne’s scientific method.

More problematic is Coyne’s discussion of the “methods” that religions—he now specifically focuses on the major Western traditions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity—use to find truth. This is where the conflict really lies. Says Coyne: “The conflict between science and faith, then, rests on the methods they use to decide what is true, and what truths result: These are conflicts of both methodology and outcome.” What are the so-called “methods” religion uses to “decide what is true?” Coyne writes: “In contrast to the methods of science, religion adjudicates truth not empirically, but via dogma, scripture and authority—in other words, through faith.” So, science adjudicates truth-claims empirically whereas religion uses “faith” to “decide what is true.”

To show that science and religion have conflicting “methods,” Coyne conveniently defines practitioners of the former as having evidence for their beliefs and adherents of the latter as believing without evidence. He writes: “In science, faith without evidence is a vice, while in religion it’s a virtue.”

B. Coyne’s Notion of Evidence is Insufficient
The problem, according to Coyne, is that the religious believe these claims sans evidence, whereas “men of science” believe only on the evidence.
But it’s simply false to claim that all believers hold their religious beliefs without evidence. To take one example, consider the recent book, Two Dozen (or so) Arguments for God. Regarding the divinity of Christ, consider the case marshaled by Richard Swinburne. The point here isn’t to claim that these arguments succeed, but to put the lie to the claim that religious believers are believing without supporting evidence…

Don’t misunderstand me! I have not here claimed that any of these things are good evidences. Maybe they are; maybe they aren’t. My point is simply that it is clear these ordinary people do not take themselves to believe without any evidence whatsoever.

Coyne might reply that this evidence isn’t good evidence, and that we shouldn’t believe propositions on the basis of these sorts of evidences. But we can grant him this response, for argument’s sake, since my point was simply to move him away from the idea that the religious believe without evidence. Notice the shift Coyne must now accept: Rather than maintain that the religious believe without evidence, the idea would be that they don’t believe on the right kind of evidence.

However, notice that Coyne’s notion of right evidence is insufficient to serve as evidence for all the things we believe are true. First, the concept of evidence is quite a bit more complicated than Coyne supposes. Second, on Coyne’s conception of evidence, it’s hard to see how he can adjudicate the very debate about faith and reason he’s engaged in. What empirical evidence does he use to decide between his view on the one hand, and Richard Swinburne’s or Paul Helm’s on the other? Third, above I listed a few things which we don’t believe on empirical evidence, such as the uniformity of nature, the existence of a past, and the existence of other minds. We could add the truths of mathematics, moral truths, the nature of the laws of logic, and philosophical claims, like the nature of causation, to the list. Fourth, what empirical evidence does Coyne have for his claim that only empirical evidence matters?…

If Coyne believes some (alleged) truths on the basis of philosophical argument, and maintains his rationality, then why can’t the religious adherent do the same? Are the religious arguments bad? Roll up your sleeves and show us….But the theist does have evidence (see above), and Coyne should do the spade work of refuting that evidence. So the problem isn’t with the having of evidence, it’s with the needing to have evidence…

C. Manata Rebuttal of Coyne is Conclusive,
Contra Coyne, I’ve argued, first, that it is wrong to describe “faith” as belief without evidence. That’s just engaging in burlesque and ridicule. I pointed out that theists have produced many arguments for their beliefs. I then argued that if Coyne allows his “man of science” to be rational in holding beliefs derived from philosophical argument, then the theist can do the same and there’s no conflict between holding beliefs delivered by science and also by other sources. I also argued that the demand that all our beliefs have empirical evidence or arguments leads to nasty philosophical problems. I briefly introduced one way religious beliefs could have positive epistemic status without having to meet the austere evidentialist demand, and there’s nothing in the sciences that seems to conflict with this. To be sure, philosophical naturalism would conflict with it. But Coyne didn’t argue for the entirely trivial claim that religion is at odds with philosophical naturalism! If he had, this would have been a much shorter piece: “Amen.”
All of this can be, and has been, debated. But Coyne’s not a participant in the debate, judging by what he ignores and fails to interact with. To stick with his war analogy, Coyne is like a man standing on top of a mountain waving his sword in victory. But the sword he waves is paper, and the real battle is going on in the valley below him. As Montague wrote, “War hath no fury like a noncombatant.”

Read more at Paul Manata, “Is There A War Between Science And Religion?: Examining Jerry Coyne’s Recent Case for the Incompatibility of Faith and Reason?”

Historical Postscript: How the Myth of Warfare between Science and Christianity Began in Victorian England
The image of warfare between science and Christianity was invented by  Victorian scientific naturalists under the leadership of Thomas H. Huxley (otherwise known as Darwin’s bulldog). They believed that nature is a closed system of physical causes and that nature should be explained only with inviolable natural laws (as opposed to supernatural laws or spiritual forces). Huxley and his cohorts concluded that the larger populace was receptive to their attacks against Christianity as there was growing resentment against the Church and parsons who had allied themselves with squires to exploit farmers.

They adopted a two-fold strategy in their campaign to overthrow the cultural dominance of Christianity by replacing Christian supernaturalism with scientific naturalism as the foundation for science and education in a secular society:

First, discredit the Established Anglican Church with an all-out onslaught on its intellectual pretensions. “Mother Nature” becomes a substitute for God. What was once understood as God’s laws has become nothing but the uniformity of nature. “Let science declare and open war and shortly savor the delights of total victory.” Dozens of books were published to rewrite the history of the relationship between science and Christianity. The campaign reached its apex in two famous works – J.P. Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1875) and A.D. White, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1895)*.

Second, shift the strategy from attacking the Church to imitating and replacing it. Huxley was certainly echoing Jesus’ words when he called his fellow-scientists to “sit down before fact like a little child. He proclaimed a “New Reformation,” preached “lay sermons on scientific subjects,” imitated popular evangelists by organizing mass meetings for scientific lectures which were accompanied by hymns to creation. Sunday schools were replaced by Sunday Lecture Societies.

Effectively, science became a religion at it took on the mantle of the Church. The scientists assumed the new priesthood. Not surprisingly, Huxley regarded himself as a “bishop” of the “church scientific”. The sacralization of science [in conjunction with other sociological developments] would eventually pave the way for the secularization of education and society. [See Colin Russell, Cross-Currents: Interaction between Science & Faith (Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 188-196.]

*Footnote: Draper and White [both Americans] were not simply describing an ongoing war between theology and science, but rather they were endeavoring to induce people into imagining that there was one. In order to do this, they repeatedly made false claims that the church had opposed various scientific breakthroughs and developments. For example, Draper and White encoded into popular thinking the erroneous notion that Christian orthodoxy had insisted for centuries that the earth was flat. A standard version of this urban legend includes a tale claiming that Columbus’s expedition was opposed by church leaders on the grounds that it was based on the heretical notion that the earth was round. It has been so effectively disseminated that even Christians generally assume that it is true. See, Timothy Larson, “War is Over if You Want it. Beyond the Conflict of Faith and Science,” in  Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith (2008), p. 147.

[Latest Revision: 9 Jan 2019]

Forthcoming Posts: Series on Science and Christianity.
Part 2: Christianity and the Rise of Modern Science.
Part 3: The Scope and Limits of Science.
Part 4: Book Review: John Horgan, The End of Science. Basic Books, 2015.
Part 5: Models of Integrating Science & Christianity.
Part 6: Science and Theology as Analogous Research Programmes.

Related Post:
Did the Medieval Church Teach that the Earth Was Flat?


1 thought on “Is there a War between Science and Religion? – Science and Christianity: Part 1”

  1. There is no war between Science and Religion–it’s a straw man argument. Religion and Science seek the same goal–truth. Science tends to approach truth from the “how” and religion from the “why”, but the ultimate goal is the same. Science seeks the ultimate prize of the Theory of Everything–a set of equations and formulas that describe how everything in the universe works, yet science is limited and will always lack the ability to adequately define the life experience. Science cannot define morality. Music in scientific terms is reduced to vibrations in air of different frequency and amplitude and a Monet is merely chemicals of varying pigments scattered across a canvas. Science cannot confirm the dream you had last night, yet that dream is still real. Similarly, faith is also not some blind leap into the dark. We know the universe has a beginning and we know things as large as the universe don’t just pop up from nothing, so what or Who was the cause? You can’t have a Big Bang without a Banger. Furthermore, the evidence of design is everywhere–the strong and weak nuclear forces that enable atoms to snap together to form molecules that become the building blocks for life. DNA is as Bill Gates once remarked like a software code far more complex than anything any human has written. Well, who wrote it? Mathematically, the odds of such a complex “language” coming about by mere chance is nil. Thus, faith in the existence of God is not just wishful thinking, but using science, is the most logical solution. Finally, we have empirical evidence in that a man claimed he would die and come alive again and he pulled it off. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most testified events in human history. Thus, science and religion are complementary and support each other is understanding truth. The war is not between science and religion and it’s not against flesh and blood, but the spiritual forces (Powers and Principalities) between good and evil, light and darkness–between truth and falsehood. I once asked famous theologian and Christian scholar, Dr. William Lane Craig, why so many scientists do not believe in God. His reply was fascinating, “It’s not because of science.” It’s not science that leads people away from God, it’s the notion that there is a God and that we are all accountable to Him that troubles their soul. That is the source of the war.

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