Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Science vs. Religion: Is This Even Necessary?

Though it was a valiant effort, converting the greater part of civilization to atheism was probably too much to hope for. Judging by the predictable responses of so many among the god-fearing masses, it is clear the words of Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Sam Harris (The End of Faith) held little sway with those predisposed to religiosity.

Some who claim to be immune to the influences of either intellectual camp - religious or rational - make the argument that because religion, theology and philosophy are not the domain of the scientific endeavor, the forces of reason are therefore ill-equipped to make judgments about man's origin and purpose. The truth is the rational sphere is no less impotent than the religious sphere when it comes to answering life's most compelling questions.

The assertion that rationalism is just as much a faith as religion because all inquiry presupposes certain truths about that which it is attempting to reveal misses the point. (NY Times Blog Think Again, Stanley Fish) To the extent rationalism presupposes anything, it presupposes only antecedent truths which the very processes of the scientific method have already affirmed. Yes, rationalists do possess a certain kind of faith, a faith which tells them a stone dropped from a tall building will fall to earth. Rationalists are right to question any faith which claims there is an explanation founded in reason for a human being arising from the dead and bodily ascending into a euphoric netherworld a few days later. What rationalists object to is not someone having religious faith, but rather claiming a rational explanation for those tenets of their faith which defy such explanations.

The perpetual clash between science and religion reveals the lengths to which many will go to claim reason as their ally. It is as though reason were the holy grail of intellectual commodities, and whoever absconds with its persuasive prowess will somehow command the intellectual high ground. Reason is so valued a commodity, some will go so far as to propose the inane to fetch its prize. (Fides et Ratio: Making Sense of the Senseless)

Could it be as simple as accepting the notion that science and religion are unique and independent domains as Stephen Jay Gould's non-overlapping magisteria suggests? Gould's proposal does seem to provide an honorable retreat for the warring ideologues in this debate. The implacability on both sides, however, tells us many think this is a war that can be won, Gould's efforts to disarm the combatants notwithstanding.

Instead of hyper-educated principals trying to convince each other of the enlightened premise of their arguments, perhaps what we need are more humble notables demonstrating the plausibility of a working, and yes loving, co-existence between those who have religious faith and those who do not. Can't we all just get along?

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