Saturday, December 20, 2008

God VS Science

From Science Daily:
A person's unconscious attitudes toward science and God may be fundamentally opposed, researchers report, depending on how religion and science are used to answer "ultimate" questions such as how the universe began or the origin of life.
Especially considering that scientific theories regarding the origins of the universe or the origins of life are very controversial topics amongst religious people right now, with denialism still very much in ascendence. This is a recurring thing (evolution/cosmology is the new outrage, heliocentrism is an old and settled one) - religions tend to build their monasteries in human ignorance and when human knowledge expands - due to science - a conflict between science and religion is inevitable. Whenever any religion makes a falsifiable claim (a testable claim about the natural world), you'd better believe that the claim is going to be scrutinized and that the truth of the matter will eventually come to light - and the discoverable truth seems to contradict the premature dogma at every turn. Miracles, resurrections, depictions of the structure of the universe, and especially origin myths are all fair game. Only by restricting itself to the airy, insubstantial plane of utterly unfalsifiable claims will religions fail to conflict with science, and religions fail at attracting and keeping followers when supernatural beings no longer have real, tangible effects on the world.

"It seemed to me that both science and religion as systems were very good at explaining a lot, accounting for a lot of the information that we have in our environment," she said. "But if they are both ultimate explanations, at some point they have to conflict with each another because they can't possibly both explain everything."

Indeed, both science and religion are explanatory systems. But religion relies on faith while science relies on evidence. Science grows with new discoveries, while religions are threatened by them and find it difficult to change their old dogmas, which are (sometimes literally) set in stone. It's not hard to figure out which one will inevitably falter as humanity grows and learns.

But all this is hardly a recent revelation, the experiment is the new thing. It's interesting, but a little odd: subjects read an excerpt about the Big Bang theory or the Primordial Soup hypothesis, which ends with either positively or dismissively. Then the subjects had to categorize various words as either positive or negative, but before each word appeared on the screen, a 15 millisecond subliminal message appeared, saying "God" or "science", which seemed to nudge the subjects in that direction. Long story short, subjects primed for a positive evaluation of God tended to score science negatively and vice versa.

Why is this the case? Because these are two are very different systems of figuring out the universe, because they have historically been at odds, and because however artfully believers can mesh the findings of science with their dogmas, the methodologies of science and religion conflict at a fundamental level - the rugged skepticism of science has never been able to sit well with the magical thinking of religion.

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