Re: science v religion

From: Robert Schneider <>
Date: Sat Aug 13 2005 - 21:04:25 EDT


Some thoughts for your friend.

A scientist may be moved to study nature in the hope that he may be able to
think God's thoughts after him, as Kepler did. Another scientists may be
moved to study nature for entirely different and non-religious reasons. Yet
if both are, say, palaeontologists, they will study nature using the same
methods. The science will be the same, whatever the motivation. Now, an ID
advocate may disagree with this, claiming that the methodological naturalism
of mainstream science will blind the researcher to evidence of a designer;
but to date the ID advocates have not come up with an alternative to
mainstream science in which they can show how they will be able to discern
design and hence the "mind" of the designer. They have not developed a
research program for their theistic science that centers on positive
scientific research and not merely philosophical arguments or mathematical
inferences. Until those dissatisfied with the scientific methodologies used
by 99% of scientists can provide a cogent alternative, those of whatever
motivation are going to continue to use a methodology based on the
assumption that nature can be understood without recourse to explanations
outside of nature, including "supernatural" explanations. That is the main
reason I think ID should not be included in science courses, except to
briefly point out to students that it doesn't qualify as science, but
because of its cultural importance the movement promoting it should be
studied in social studied courses.

About Kuhn. He has his critics, though I think he was on to something.
Yet, even if Copernicus was influenced by some Neo-Pythagorean and
Neo-Platonic notions about the sun being at the center of the universe,
still it was the growing disparity between the positions that the Ptolemaic
model predicted planets would be, and their actual positions as determined
by more accurate sightings--i.e., empirical research, that called reigning
paradigm into question. Even with his new model, it would be correct to
call Copernicus, as some have, the last of the Ptolemic astronomers, because
he didn't give up the notion of a circular universe (nor did Galileo). In
fact, look at his epicyclic model for Venus: it's a mess. It took Kepler's
patient calculations on Mars, etc., that finally led him to the astonishing
realization that planets move in elliptical, not circular orbits. The point
I'm making is that "revolutions" or "paradigm shifts" in science do not
result from a new philosophical perspective merely but from new scientific
research. It was the accumulation of an enormous amount of data and new
discoveries about species that finally led Darwin to abandon separate
creation for evolution and to develop a theory to account for what became to
him, Wallace, and others, an obvious fact about the history of life..

I would question whether biology "cannot impart purpose"--perhaps ultimate
purpose, but it seems to me that there is a kind of internal teleology in
organic life. But should a biology course be the place for students to
explore questions of ultimate purpose? Do not such questions belong in a
philosophy or other course where students can integrate knowledge from
various disciplines and explore such questions? I am a strong proponent of
interdisciplinary studies, including among the natural sciences, but I think
that there is a need to respect the limits of a particular discipline and
not introduce notions that stand outside them. Yet, I appreciate the
complexity of this issue. I think that one of the weaknesses of modern
university education is the failure to bring a healthy interdisciplinarity
to education.

Thoughout my long career I have taught courses in Latin and Greek languages
and literatures, mythology, history, interdisciplinary courses in
religion/history/history of science; and now, semi-retired, New Testament
literature. I can say that at some point I came to be motivated by a
particular religious sensibility which I brought to my classroom activities.
It was an attitude, a love for my students, a love for learning, a desire to
teach them every truth I had ever learned. It gave me energy and purpose,
and perhaps in various ways it infused the way I presented the subject
matter, because I sought to engage their hearts as well as their minds. But
I remained faithful to the methodologies of the subject matter; and had I
taught, say, a course in biology, I would have remained faithful to the
methodologies of that science. My teaching approach was something I took
up; it was not required by my disciplines. Now, when I taught a senior
seminar, "Science and Faith," I brought the methodologies of theology,
biblical studies, and the natural sciences into the students' learning
experience (or rather, they and I did together). There are ways to bring
religion and science together in education. The question is whether it is
appropriate to do so in courses focused on particular disciplines.

I'm not sure what your friend means by the "incoherency of science." I do
think that science educators are being challenged, perhaps to their good, to
think about the broader questions of what science education should be and
what its ultimate purposes ought to be. It's not an easy task in itself,
and would be made more difficult in the face of assaults by a cadre of
people out to overturn modern science and replace it with a different
paradigm. Those like Dembski and Johnson want to make "In the beginning was
the Word" a scientific as well as a theological statement. Well, it isn't,
in my view.

It seems to me that your friend is addressing the important issue of the
secularization of education in the modern university and liberal arts
college. That is an even more complex issue to address, and too much for my
tiring mind to address at the moment.

Grace and peace,
Bob Schneider

----- Original Message -----
From: "jack syme" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, August 13, 2005 5:46 PM
Subject: science v religion

> Ok, I am being a little bit lazy, but it feels like it is 105 here.
> This is from a friend of mine, from an email newsletter. Mike is a great
> guy, an ex pastor. He spends most of his time now working with Christian
> business leaders, and science is not his strenght.
> Anyway, I have some ideas about this article I will pass on to him. Any
> comments from you would be constructive I am sure.
> Incoherent Science - Part 1
> By
> Mike Metzger
> August 12, 2005
> "Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city
> square. But it has no place in science class."1
> One week ago, Charles Krauthammer - a respected journalist, commentator,
> and a friend of religion as a public voice - wrote that "intelligent
> design" supporters make a grievous error when they attempt to integrate
> their theory with science curriculum. Why? According to Krauthammer,
> science "begins not with first principles but with observation and
> experimentation."2 Religion, on the other hand, begins with subjective
> speculations that can only be embraced by faith. Krauthammer's essay is
> just a prelude to the upcoming Time Magazine (the August 15th cover reads:
> "Evolution Wars: The push to teach "intelligent design" raises a question:
> Does God have a place in science class?"). My guess is the stories will
> follow Krauthammer's lead - that science ought to be segregated from
> faith.
> But T.S. Eliot, Thomas Kuhn, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Agassiz, C.S. Lewis,
> Walker Percy, and Albert Einstein would - in my opinion - challenge
> Krauthammer's segregation of science from religion. That's a long list of
> luminaries, and I'll only get half-way through it in this Clapham
> Commentary, but let's start with Eliot.
> In 1951, the world renowned poet, critic, and editor T.S. Eliot was
> invited to address the entire faculty of the University of Chicago on the
> topic "The Aims of Education." Eliot made the point that judging how
> education ought to be practiced (as Krauthammer is doing) requires using
> language that can only be provided by philosophy or theology - not
> science. Biology, for example, can provide particulars (how systems work)
> but it cannot impart purpose. "Every definition of the purpose of
> education, therefore, implies some concealed, or rather, implicit
> philosophy or theology."3 Eliot believed, for example, the moment you say
> that religion ought to be separate from education,
> whether you are a 'religious person' or not, or whether you expressly
> repudiate everything that you call 'a religion'; there will be some sort
> of religious attitude - even if you call it a nonreligious attitude -
> implied in your answer.4
> In order to advocate for the segregation of science from religion,
> Krauthammer uses a religious orientation toward science. I find that to be
> incoherent.
> Second, Krauthammer trots out a tired cliché that science "begins not with
> first principles but with observation and experimentation." In 1962,
> Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) refuted this notion in his ground-breaking book
> The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. After earning his Ph.D. in
> physics (Harvard, 1949), Kuhn developed his idea that, contrary to popular
> conception, typical scientists are not objective and independent thinkers.
> Rather, they begin with first principles, just like religion. Kuhn
> popularized the term "paradigm," meaning the assumptions scientists make
> that guide the problem-solving process. Many times, Kuhn maintained, these
> assumptions cause scientists to miss important observations or preclude
> other disciplines' contributions (e.g., religion). This is why, according
> to Kuhn, science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead
> requires periodic revolutions (which he called "paradigm shifts"). When
> Krauthammer declares that science begins not with first principles but
> with observation and experimentation, he is simply parroting a reigning
> paradigm in science - one that Kuhn debunked years ago.
> Third, if Krauthammer's dictum had been adopted centuries ago, it's likely
> we would not be enjoying the spectacular benefits of science today. It is
> no coincidence that those countries most closely aligned with the
> Judeo-Christian tradition have also been the leaders in scientific
> developments. This is because Christianity "depicted God as a rational,
> responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his
> personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure
> awaiting human comprehension."5 The modern university originated in the
> monasteries of Europe. And modern science was cast in the crucible of
> these new schools.
> Sadly, you wouldn't know this by reading most of today's science and
> history text books. We forget that Sir Isaac Newton saw a harmony between
> science and theology; placing his science books right next to his Bible in
> his research. "He did not live in fear of contradicting his faith through
> the study of the world. He said that the activity of the scientist is to
> think God's thoughts after him."6 It is also why Louis Agassiz
> (1807-1873), who combined the results of his brilliant fieldwork with
> elegant expressions of the Design Argument, was among the most important
> geologists of the nineteenth century and the first to hold an appointment
> at Harvard. Science and religion went hand-in-hand.
> Charles Krauthammer's remarks reflect the incoherence of science today. In
> two weeks, I'll show you how this state of affairs came to be - and how to
> reunite faith and science.
> _____________________
> 1"Let's Have No More Monkey Trials: To teach faith as science is to
> undermine both," by Charles Krauthammer, Time Magazine. August 8, 2005
> 2Ibid.
> 3T.S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic - The Aims of Education, p.75
> 4T.S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic - The Aims of Education, p.108
> 5c.f., Rodney Stark's excellent history in For The Glory of God: How
> Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of
> Slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003.
> 6R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews: Understanding the Ideas that Shape So
Received on Sat Aug 13 21:05:48 2005

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