Friday, October 10, 2008

Science and Faith Are Irreconciliable

This is a topic that seems to have been done to death, but I feel I have a contribution to make that I haven't seen elsewhere.



I do not believe the essential difference between Science and Faith are to be found in their respective professed aims: truth or The Truth. The essential difference between Science or The Life of Inquiry, and Religion as Obedience to Revealed Truth. is ethical. However compelling the belief that the similarity between Science and Religion can be expressed in propositions, this compulsion only misleads.



Science emphasizes scrupulous adherence to procedure regardless of the outcome of those procedures. Of course, in individual instances, one finds fraud and willful blindness, but if science were merely fraud and willful blindness, it would not be able to exist as human institutions. The quintessence of fraud is the systematic hiding of some fact or insight that would unmask the deception. Epistemic fraud, more commonly known as "lying," means that some things may not be discussed lest unhappy consequences ensue. Language becomes a means to obscure and hide truth rather than means to its discovery. It is part of the myths of science -- eg, the story of Galileo is as good an archetype as any -- that there are many truths right under our noses waiting to be uncovered.



It is intrinsic to this myth of uncovering and discovering that authority has every reason to lie, and few, if any to be truthful. Consequently, it is part of the ethos of science that one must weigh for oneself what counts as truth. Considered religiously, this means that all authority is only provisional as far as it accords with one's understanding of the world.



When science is considered as an ethical and value-laden enterprise, individual autonomy is held in very high esteem.



Religion, especially a religion of revelation such as Christianity, has obedience as its highest value. Obedience to God's Will, obedience to the church hierarchy, obedience to the word of scripture, etc. The greatest sin is always that a person might think for themselves.



When Science and Religion are considered as ethical enterprises, it is clear enough that they are irreconcilable.






12 comments:

  1. Religion, especially a religion of revelation such as Christianity, has obedience as its highest value oh?

    Perhaps not. Its highest value is explicit in its two most important commandments.
    1) To love God ahead of all else and
    2) To love ones neighbour as oneself

    Now you might argue that as these are commandments they require obedience and certainly that is the intent. BUT what you said was that Christianity has obedience as its highest value and that is clearly not true. Its highest values are as above.

    So your conclusion that The greatest sin is always that a person might think for themselves. is based on a fallacy.

    Furthermore your conclusion is contradicted by Christian practice (or did you miss the writings of many Christian scholars as they explore their theology) and Christian teaching itself. While quoting a little out of direct context Paul’s words to the Galatians “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ” suffice to illustrate my point.

    It strikes me that you have succumbed to the recourse of those without a case – you have constructed a straw man to knock down.

    Observe the process of construction
    The title Science and Faith Are Irreconciliable OK as a title and I may even agree with you. But then …
    The essential difference between Science or The Life of Inquiry, and Religion as Obedience to Revealed Truth
    Two problems here
    1) you morph faith into religion
    2) you define religion as “Obedience to Revealed Truth” = the straw man.

    … did you even really knock it down?

    Sala kahle - peace

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  2. First, count the number of times that Paul refers to Jesus as his lord and master and refers to himself as his humble servant.

    Second, consider your words "its two most important commandments". The fulfillment of a commandment is achieved through ... wait for it ... obedience.

    Third, what is Satan's great sin? Pride but what did his pride lead to? Rebellion, which is to say disobedience.

    If you read the post carefully, my concern is not so much with the specific content of faith (i.e., faith in what), but with seeking to characterize Humanity's relationship with an infinite, all powerful, all knowing, all kinds of wonderful Creator/God. Given the disparity between finite humanity and infinite divinity, divergence from the infinite goodness of the divinity can only mean rebellion and disobedience.

    The more wonderful God is recognized/believed to be the more corrupt and contemptible humanity becomes. One can counter this with the Incarnation, Resurrection, and The Great Mystery of Divine Love, but what does it come back around to?

    The believer confesses his inability to understand. And where understanding is lacking, only obedience is possible. A believer does not know/understand what is expected, therefore a believer stands in need of guidance whether from God's mouthpiece (priest, preacher, seer, prophet, or prophetic reading of Scripture).

    I didn't so much see myself as knocking down religion because it is all about obedience. But rather I was trying to explain to myself what is the root thought/experience lurking behind the chronic abdication of responsibility seen in religions and religious institutions. Obedience to God, means the surrender of one's ethical and moral accountability to God [and by extension to his spokespeople]. This surrender means that scrutiny of one's conscience and of its demands is disobedience.

    Lasst note. I may not have been clear on this point but "Obedience to Revealed Truth" means using "Revealed Truth" as a means to the end of attaining obedience to putatively divine commandments.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bob, I will not prolong the debate on obedience - I think you misunderstood my point about the highest value since it anticipated you responce regarding commandments - but I will leave it to you to reread.

    I appreciate your trying to explain to myself what is the root thought/experience lurking behind the chronic abdication of responsibility seen in religions and religious institutions

    If I may suggest that it pertains to the question of freewill. If we have it we are accountable, if not - not.

    That said, freewill is a fundamental component of mainstream Christian theology.

    The excuse "God let me do it - so it must be OK" holds no water with all but the loony fringe.

    Sala kahle - Peace

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  4. "The chronic abdication of responsibility seen in religions and religious institutions" refers to the oftentimes horrific things done in God's name. More specifically it refers to the specific responsibility to scrutinize one's actions to determine whether they are in fact in accordance with God's Will, or in line with "the Greater Good" or whatever. Once moral rhetoric is invoked, brains all too often stop working.

    Rigorous analysis of whether something is in fact good or in accordance with Divine Will or at all desirable is inimical to what the vast majority of people conceive of God's Will.

    The abdication of one's responsibility to interrogate one's conscience in the end makes it impossible to see one's horrific acts as anything other than saintly.

    ReplyDelete
  5. You said Once moral rhetoric is invoked, brains all too often stop working. and you are right!

    So then let’s dismiss the red herring of horrific acts in God’s name – “God is with us” is the catch cry of any half smart despot. There is no rational link between their atrocities and God’s teaching of ‘love your neighbour’ etc. Of course religion, God – in fact almost any cause I can think of – has been misused. To argue that it is the fault of God or religion per se is naïve … and yes some of the misuse has been by the religious organisations them selves – by people, people with secular interests – OK so there have been corrupt (in every sense) clergy …
    … for this God is to blame how?

    Now the meaty stuff.
    If I understand you correctly, you suggest that rigorous moral analysis is contrary to the common perception of doing God’s will. This implies that most people would rather follow a set of rules (God’s or any other) than think for themselves. I agree. The key point is any set of rules … with I suppose some kind of authority behind them.

    So yes you are right that for some religion is an alternative to thinking – as is joining a political party. So is this problem?

    Let’s accept for the sake of argument that people are not inclined to think anyway – OK? Then the real question is what code of conduct they are following blindly? Is it a good code or a bad one? Now we hit a problem – any code can be misconstrued, distorted by some for their own ends etc – the outcome does not seem to depend on the code, Iraq was invaded in the name of democracy and most approve of democracy – you can think of as many examples as I can.

    So when you say The abdication of one's responsibility to interrogate one's conscience in the end makes it impossible to see one's horrific acts as anything other than saintly. you are right, but right in respect of any code, not uniquely in regard to religion. The blind adherence to the totally atheist teachings of Chairman Mao can’t be blamed on religion – and there was abdication of personal responsibility on a grand scale in China under Mao.

    So where now – no code is an option – why not everybody decide what is right or wrong for themselves? I doubt you would advocate this … seriously?

    So the desirable state is to interrogate one's conscience - I think we agree. Now against what standard do you propose that we interrogate our conscience? Might is right; me first; money makes the world go round; love your neighbour as your self; market forces?

    You see where I am going. If you want ‘morality’ you need a standard against which to measure it. Can you propose a better standard than Christ?

    Sala kahle - peace

    ReplyDelete
  6. I usually am much quicker to respond to comments, but I was busy today with my girls & doing enough cooking for the weekend. Then, this afternoon I had a tooth pulled. So I'm a little out of it from pain killers.

    But I want to respond to this:

    So the desirable state is to interrogate one's conscience - I think we agree. Now against what standard do you propose that we interrogate our conscience?

    The only standard I'd suggest is whether one could live with oneself.

    If you have access to a reasonable library, you can read Hannah Arendt's elaboration of this in Part I of Life of the Mind. She gives a shorter and more accessible introduction to the same ideas in a short essay "Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship" which is available in the most recent collection of essays published under the editorship of Jerome Kohn. I think the title is of the collection is "Responsibility and Judgment". It was published in the last 2 or 3 years.

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  7. while I acknowledge the academic works of people like Arendt the conclusion you propose The only standard I'd suggest is whether one could live with oneself. fails any reasonable practicality test.

    Could Hitler et al live with themselves?

    I suggest that unless you want to legitimise despots of all kinds you need a common standard of right and wrong.

    Sala kahle - peace

    ReplyDelete
  8. There are two approaches to questions of morality and ethics. There may be more, but these two are of immediate interest.

    The first asks "what am I to do? How am I going to live?

    The second asks what is The Right Thing to do? The implication here being that there is one universal all encompassing code/standard of conduct.

    The latter when coupled with religion inevitably leads to attempts to regulate the conduct and mores of the non-religious. "A common standard of right and wrong" is code for regulating and discouraging disagreement.

    Empirically considered, the invocation of the talismanic powers of "Morality," "God," and "The Good, The Just, and The Beautiful" fails to provide any protection against hypocrisy, abuse of power, or corruption. Speaking theologically for a moment, today, typically, God-talk obscures His works. Morality-talk directs attention away from goodness and beauty to the good intentions of the speaker.

    But then, we've strayed from the topic of this post, haven't we?

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  9. "A common standard of right and wrong" is code for regulating and discouraging disagreement.

    yes it is, be it in politics or religion or any competing ideologies.

    Your knowledge of philosophy clearly dwarfs mine so we need to keep it simple.

    so .. what alternative to a code? You posit introspection what am I to do? How am I going to live?

    again I think the theory is fine, but it still fails the practicality test.

    While a code can lead to abuse through institutionalised power equally so too does a self imposed morality - the problem is that it does nothing to counter might is right, despots rise to power and our idealism is quenched.

    You have said what problems you have with a 'love thy neighbour' or Christ based code.

    Equally we should not accept a code without testing both its merit and source.

    The source and the code should at least be able to be tested for self interest.

    Yes we are off the topic of the post - is that a problem?

    sala kahle - peace

    ReplyDelete
  10. When I wrote A common standard of right and wrong" is code for regulating and discouraging disagreement.

    I should have been explicit. It is code for the majority is right, minority opinions are wrong and should be eradicated as completely as possible. A uniform code of conduct is all fine and well when one finds oneself in the majority.

    Our technology is too efficient for politics. It is too easy to implement political decisions so quickly that great harm can be done before consideration and review of actions is possible.

    * * *

    You said that "How am I to live?" is introspective. Would you say the same thing of what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10:25) and What must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30).

    It is not the form of the question that makes it introspective. But the expectation of what counts as evidence. Introspection is not a particularly effective means of gaining knowledge of one's desires, loves, or obligations.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Bob,
    Code of conduct - agreed it should be subject to scrutiny, we have been pondering Christ's teachings for around 2000 years - enough?

    It is not the form of the question that makes it introspective. But the expectation of what counts as evidence.

    Not sure I understand your point?

    sala kahle - peace

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'm not sure but "introspection" may not have been the best word in your comment from December 14th. I suspect you may have meant "egotistical" or maybe "selfish" or something similar.

    If that is so, then we are in agreement. If so, then, our point of disagreement lies elsewhere: namely in the value of egotistical actions and egoistic ethics.

    * * *

    We have have been pondering Christ's teachings for around 200 years -- enough? Perversely, I would agree with you. Enough is enough. "Perversely, because I rather suspect that that is not what you meant.

    I assume by "Christ's teachings" you refer to The Sermon on The Mount. Or are you referring to the teachings to be found in Revelations? Does Paul's theology count?

    To give you a sense of where I am coming from... I don't believe there even was a historical Jesus. Further, I'm not sure the question of his existence is important other than to believing Christians.

    I had always assumed that there must have lived someone in Palestine about 2000 years ago whose life formed the basis of the Jesus stories and the gospels.

    Until I read The Jesus Puzzle I never gave it all a second thought.

    I admit that the way of live that Jesus taught is not logically dependent on whether or not Jesus actually existed. However, claims for the absoluteness and for that way of life being more than one mere mortal's teachings become difficult to defend.

    ReplyDelete

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