Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Monday, October 31, 2005

Disproving the belief in consilience

Consilience is the belief that science and religion are in some way compatible, either because they are both true (and just badly interpreted) or because their propositions do not discuss the same facts. A recent vocal proponent of this avenue was anti-reductionist Stephen Jay Gould, who was against evolutionary psychology and psychometry, and believed that science and religion were "nonoverlapping magisteria" :

The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.
I hope I don't need to explain why "overlapping magisteria" is nonsense. Science does have import in "questions of moral meaning and value", and religion does make claims about what the "empirical universe" (as opposed to what ?) is "made of" and how "it works". Our scientific understand of biology, psychology and evolutionary psychology (which of course Gould would deny) has powerful ethical implications. And Christianity makes direct claims about cosmology (Creation of the universe), neurology (belief in the soul), biology (origins of man, Intelligent Design), zoology (beliefs about animal species), history (existence of "Jesus", global Flood, etc), and many other scientific disciplines. And all of these claims are utter anti-scientific nonsense.

Finally, Gould's own words indict him. There is no heaven, and there is no way to determine how to go to an imaginary place. If it is anything, heaven is a peaceful state of mind brought about by a spiritual understanding of reality. It has nothing to do with going anywhere.

There is something that I do find more interesting, however, and that is the claim that a religious society supports scientific inquiry. Some theologians claim that the belief in God promotes the belief in an orderly reality (ordered by God, of course) that can be discovered through the scientific process.

As a materialist, my first question has to be : "how can it be orderly if it is dependent on God's will ?". The assumption of order can only be justified by a self-contained universe where causality is always maintained, that is to say, materialism. Why would God value an intelligible reality ? Why should we expect a universe contingent on God's will to be orderly and intelligible ? Why, because it is orderly and intelligible, and God necessarily exists. So we enter yet another circular justification here. To "know the mind of God" is to put one's own words in "God's mind", nothing more.

The second obvious answer is that history proves this hypothesis wrong. We know of two instances where science emerged, one where it didn't work out - around 500 BCE in Ionia - and one where it did - starting in the 16th century in the Western world. The revolution in Ionia was snuffed out by the rationalism, the devaluation of physical work, and the religious complacency of the Greek world, and the scientific revolution we know today was only made possible by the Protestant Reformation, the rediscovery of Aristotle, and other turmoils that made questioning religious and religion-enforced pre-scientific doctrines possible. Aristotelian values are the cornerstone of scientific inquiry, not Christian repression.

There is also nothing special about the Christian religion that makes it friendly to scientific inquiry. In fact, Christainity is inferior to even Greek polytheism in that regard. Here are some core properties of Christianity which contradict scientific inquiry :

* Belief that divine will, not natural law, moves the heavens and the Earth. This is reinforced by the linear cosmology of Christianity, as opposed to a cyclical cosmology which puts more emphasis on regularity and less emphasis on distant events.
* Belief in only one god which creates and destroys according to its whims (versus, for example, a pantheon of gods which are mostly part of nature and act in an orderly fashion). Nothing in the universe is necessary, and has no inherent reason to exist.
* Belief in creation ex nihilo, which is beyond our power to understand. All ultimate causes are beyond our power to understand.
* The Bible does not distinguish between the natural and the spiritual. Everything is a manifestation of God's scientifically incomprehensible power.
* Christianity has no moral concern for truth, material progress, empiricism or critical thinking, all vital moral prerequisites for scientific inquiry.

So how can the Christian religion possibly create a good context for science ? No, we have to maintain the hope of understanding reality and improving the human condition. Everything else is pointless and futile, including the Christian worldview. With God, there is only epistemic anxiety, moral conflict and a meaningless divine plan left for us. That's a worldview of despair, not science. Only diversity of thought, freethought, empiricism and atheism justify the rise of science.

Post a Comment


At 10/31/2005 11:58 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

"Aristotelian values are the cornerstone of scientific inquiry, not Christian repression."

I would love to see that engraved on some college science buildings!

"So how can the Christian religion possibly create a good context for science ?"

I would love to argue that one with any theologian over a nice cup of hemlock.

I wonder what the Fundies would do next if they managed to obliterate Evolution theory? Go after the Periodic Table of the Elements, 'cause Gawd can do whatever he wants?

At 1/16/2007 12:54 PM, Blogger No Hassle Loans declaimed...

Hey nice blog. Although it�s not what I was looking for. I am looking for info on Payday Loans or a Cash Advance so I can buy some Hoodia Diet Pills.. I found your blog very interesting



Create a Link

<< Home