(This is a follow-up to my earlier post — A Good Question: Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith?)
Sean Carroll, who writes a wonderful blog on the Discover magazine, joins this discussions and, while taking the side of the “incompatiblists”, lays out some really good points.
Science and religion are not compatible. But, before explaining what that means, we should first say what it doesn’t mean.
It doesn’t mean, first, that there is any necessary or logical or a priori incompatibility between science and religion. We shouldn’t declare them to be incompatible purely on the basis of what they are, which some people are tempted to do. Certainly, science works on the basis of reason and evidence, while religion often appeals to faith (although reason and evidence are by no means absent). But that just means they are different, not that they are incompatible.
True, there’s a difference between difference and incompatibility. One doesn’t necessarily follow the other. After making this very important distinction, Sean goes ahead and elaborates his rationale:
The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.
Can’t argue with that!
It is also imperative to understand the logic of the “compatibilists” – those who argue that science and religion are compatible. As Sean explains, the purported compatibility is simply a claim about the meanings of the words “religion” and “science”. Their strategy is to twist the meaning of one or both of these words to make them seem compatible. Most likely, they will argue that by saying “religion” they actually mean “ethics”, or “moral philosophy”, or “the way of life”. First of all, this is correct, but only up to some extent. Religion does overlap with ethics, moral philosophy etc. But the fact is, religion is that, and much more. For instance, religion has always made claims about the way our world works – the way it was created, and miracles and what not. And science has proved that these claims are outright incorrect. Secondly, if you mean “ethics” by the word “religion” then simply say “ethics”. No one would argue against those who claim that ethics and science are compatible!
Another important clarification is that the incompatibility doesn’t necessarily mean that a religious person can not be a scientist, or vice versa. People hold contradictory beliefs all the time, and “we should be interested in what is correct and incorrect, and the arguments on either side, not the particular beliefs of certain individuals.” In conclusion, Sean writes:
I have huge respect for many thoughtful religious people, several of whom I count among the most intelligent people I’ve ever met. I just think they’re incorrect, in precisely the same sense in which I think certain of my thoughtful and intelligent physicist friends are wrong about the arrow of time or the interpretation of quantum mechanics. That doesn’t mean we can’t agree about those issues on which we’re in agreement, or that we can’t go out for drinks after arguing passionately with each other in the context of a civil discussion. But these issues matter; they affect people’s lives, from women who are forced to wear head coverings to gay couples who can’t get married to people in Minnesota who can’t buy cars on Sundays. Religion can never be a purely personal matter; how you think about the fundamental nature of reality necessarily impacts how you behave, and those behaviors are going to affect other people. That’s why it’s important to get it right.
Read the whole article here, it’s well worth your time.