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Austin Cline

Science and Religion: Overlapping Magisteria

By August 1, 2012

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Some people insist that science and religion address completely separate topics and as such cannot contradict each other -- but that's hogwash. Insofar as religion has anything meaningful or relevant to tell us about the universe, it's making claims that can be tested (at least in theory). That puts religious claims squarely in the realm of scientific investigation.

Science vs. Religion
Science vs. Religion
Photo: Jupiterimages / Getty

And, so far, religious claims keep failing scientific tests. So why should anyone take those claims seriously?

Victor J. Stenger writes:

In 1998 the US National Academy of Sciences issued a statement asserting "Science can say nothing about the supernatural. Whether God exists or not is a question about which science is neutral."

Yet according to a survey the same year, 93 per cent of the members of the academy do not believe in a personal god.

Since about the same percentage of all US citizens say they do believe in a personal god, it makes one wonder what, if not their science, leads the Úlite of US scientists to differ so dramatically from the general population.

Source: New Scientist, 17 March 2011

The most obvious answer is probably the simplest: the more you learn about our universe, the less credible you find supernatural "explanations" to be. Those explanations may have served a purpose when humanity didn't have the tools necessary to figure out the truth, but today they are more a hinderance than anything else -- socially, politically, and morally, not just scientifically.

We can consider the existence of God to be a scientific hypothesis and look for the empirical evidence that would follow. Many of the attributes associated with the Judaic-Christian-Islamic God have specific consequences that can be tested empirically.

Such a God is supposed to play a central role in the operation of the universe and the lives of humans. As a result, evidence for him should be readily detectable by scientific means. ...

Here we must be clear that we are not talking about evidence against any and all conceivable gods. For example, a deist god that creates the universe and then just leaves it alone would be very hard to falsify. But no one worships a god who does nothing.

It's noteworthy that believers are often eager to cite the authority of science when they think that there is scientific support for some belief or doctrine of theirs. You don't see believers shouting "non-overlapping magisteria" when it looks like there's scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer or meditation, do you?

So why is it off limits to subject the existence of "god" to scientific tests or investigation? Why does "god" become very vague when discussing evidence for or against it, but very specific when believers enter a church and chant about its attributes?

August 1, 2012 at 12:48 pm
(1) P Smith says:

Religion is an ideology, no different than communism except that it claims the supernatural. And creationism is no different than Lysenkoism, made up pseudo-science designed to fit the dictatorial ideology.

Facts, science and atheism do not have ideologies. It should not surprise that there is no conflict between the three.

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