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Jun 29 2010

Is religion compatible with science?

Dan J at Relatively Unrelated posts on a topic near and dear to my heart.

I keep hearing the accommodationist mantra that religion is compatible with science (or vice versa). There have recently been issues regarding a person who happens to be a skeptic, while at the same time being Christian (of the Roman Catholic sect), becoming upset that her religious ideas were openly ridiculed by other skeptics. There have been recent articles attempting to rationalize the “Adam and Eve” myth of the Christian Bible as factual. Now, it seems, there has been atheist-bashing at, of all places, an annual event hosted by The Society for the Study of Evolution.

He expresses outrage at the accusation that atheists “won’t change their minds”, that they are dogmatic and inflexible, that they derive their beliefs from anything other than scientific observation. I’m tired of this accusation, having had it flung at me so often from the creationists’ side of the argument, that every time I hear it from an accomodationist it sets my blood to boiling. No, atheism and science are not the same topic. However, science is a valid replacement for the dogmatic worldview provided by most religions wherein the framework for understanding the world is based on a theistic creation event. Atheism CAN lead to science, but not necessarily. And vice versa — science, with its intelligible, duplicable and well-evidenced answers, can replace dogma and eventually lead to atheism.

That does not make science and religion compatible. Where science, supported by evidence and observation, conflicts with dogmatic belief in unscientific principles, religion falls far short of the mark and will fail of its own accord. Science stands on its evidence. That some people can compartmentalize and accept theism and a personal god and creation six thousand years ago, and also accept the science that says this creation happened much, much earlier and through natural processes that can be identified and tested empirically, does not make the two compatible. It just means humans are really good at rationalizing and pick-and-choosing which parts of which epistemologies they desire and mishmashing them together.

Science has an eroding effect on the dogmatic foundation of religion, no matter which religion, making them incompatible short of an act of will on the part of humans capable of making such an effort. Just because atheists recognize this conflict and believe the religious dogma to be insufficient, does not mean they can NOT be swayed to believe in deities, fairies, unicorns or anything else, provided sufficient physical evidence and repeatable scientific observation.

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