Friday, October 10, 2008

Science and Religion

Sadly, the impression is often given that religion and science stand opposed to each other. And many people, especially US christian fundamentalists (ahem, Sarah Palin), believe this and perpetuate this believe. But I grew up in a synagogue where this is absolutely untrue. To me, the opposition of science and religion is outdated and false. I was reminded of this again on Wednesday evening when I was home at the synagogue I grew up in listening to the Kol Nidre sermon. The rabbi was discussing understanding how all people are connected to each other and understanding our place in the world. In an effort to demonstrate the almost literal way she meant this, she pointed out that we are all made of atoms that are billions of years old.

Religion need not stand opposed to science. Science can enhance religious understanding. If we must have leadership that wears religion on its sleeve, I believe we deserve leadership that understands this. Leadership that understands that global warming is definitely happening, and is man made (Sarah Palin seemed unsure at the debate). Leadership that understands that oil is a limited resource (and that "drill, baby, drill" is therefore not a useful slogan). Leadership that is interested in funding science and understanding science and not in enforcing intelligent design beliefs. The representation of science by our government for the past eight years has been offensive and confused. Their manipulation of scientific reports by the EPA and other government agencies goes against all scientific and governmental principles. For some sense of what McCain and Obama administrations might do for the sciences, see their science agendas. The world deserves leaders that understand how old it is.


doctorgero said...

There are scientists who think the same, that Religion and Science stand opposed to each other. That is because Religion can never be accounted for a rational decision, for it is fundamentally irrational; it is based on faith and that kind of faith cannot be given an evidential justification that science asks for. And I, for one, concur with them. One can call them Atheists, but my definition for their ideas is something I call 'post atheism', according to which, "the probable event is that there is no God; even if, since there is a slight chance that, there is, we don't need it.

I do not know much about American politics, but as far as I know (remember), the other camp is also responsible for religious propaganda, though not on the same scale, e.g., I read somewhere that Barak Obama had to change his faith several times to eventually declare that he is a Catholic. That report may be wrong altogether, but the fact that it appeared speaks for itself! Why should it matter at all book a place in the White House? I'm sorry if I sound a 'US basher'. And to make it clear that I'm not, let me mention that I'm just as bitter when it comes to expressing my views on Democracy in my native country, India.

Arvind Narayanan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arvind Narayanan said...

in my experience, the percentage of scientists who believe that science and religion are fundamentally opposed is much higher than the percentage of religious people who do. i am myself in the former category.

on the other hand, many religious people/groups like to claim that the two are not in conflict, in an attempt to get some kind of scientific legitimacy for their religious beliefs.

(typo in my earlier comment)

Anonymous said...

Well. Judaism was always into symbolic interpretation of the bible, mostly because the bible is full of contradictions, and pretty horrific stories that do not make much sense.

The basic problem is that if you take the bible (old testament, or the 2.0 new version) literally, its just outright contradicts science. You have to choose sides.

The posible solutions include: take the symbolic interpretation, or reject religion, or reject science, or reject both, or treat them as living in two separate spheres, where one has no influence on the other (i.e., in modern terms, run them in their virtual machines). Or ignore the issue...

jyby said...

A typo in your post: "believe this and perpetuate this believe" -> "believe this and perpetuate this belief".

There are many definitions of religion, some contradicting the scientific method and some not. I see each religion as a requirement to hold a common belief in a set of values which truth or superiority nobody was able to prove.

This belief can be the existence of a unique god, the reincarnation cycle, the need to stop any development on earth to live in harmony, or the need to develop urgently out of this planet before the next massive extinction event (or the intermediate solution).

At least with this definition, not only religion is compatible with science, but it complements it, to answer questions for which science does not have the answer yet, but for which some decisions must be taken as groups.

Josh said...

I highly recommend the book "The Universe in a Single Atom" by the Fourteenth (I think) Dalai Lama. One of the things I found very interesting, as a scientist, is that Buddhism is an *evidence-based* religion, in the sense that evidence -- including scientific evidence -- outweighs scripture or doctrine. The biggest difference between Buddhism and science is that Buddhism allows introspective results as evidence on the inner nature of people and minds.

(For the record: I am a scientist; I consider myself spiritual but not religious; I do not subscribe to any particular religion; I do not believe science and spirituality are in fundamental conflict; but I do believe science and [religious] dogma are often in conflict.)