Can Science and Religion Coexist?

Can Science and Religion Coexist?


Alright, see you in the next one.

Okay, I guess I should explain. Are science and religion compatible? 

A lot of people will say yes, they can be. There are religious scientists, after all, not just historically before we knew about DNA and genes and evolution, but even in labs today. 

It's not that weird to find a religious scientist even if they may be outnumbered in certain areas. They found a way to reconcile their religious faith with a field that encourages experimentation and testing and proof. So it is possible! 

The late biologist Stephen Jay Gould said religion and science could absolutely coexist because they were "non-overlapping magisteria," basically saying the two subjects dealt with different things.

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Science is all about WHAT happens and HOW it happens. Religion is all about WHY it happens. But he was wrong.

When it comes down to it, the two worlds have always been on a collision course ever since the scientific revolution.

Accepting religion wholeheartedly ultimately means abandoning some of the core principles of science. And accepting science means rejecting at least some of the basic beliefs of many religions.

Just the idea of having faith in something for which there is no evidence goes against the very nature of science. So let's talk about why these two can never really be in a happy marriage.

Reasons why science and religion are not compatible in any case

They disagree on methods

When it comes to figuring out the truth, as much as anyone can, religion and science offer two different ways to get to the bottom of big questions. Let's start with science. 

Remember the scientific method? Maybe it's been a while, but the heart of it is that science is a tool to figure out what's really going on. 

You propose a theory, then you test it. You isolate the variables. You conduct experiments. 

You prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your theory is the best explanation for what's happening. And if there's evidence to the contrary, then too bad for you, you have to toss out your bad idea. 

Science, when it works, is inherently self-correcting that way. If a scientist gets something wrong, then you can bet it'll be another scientist who ultimately figures that out. Not a priest. Never a priest. That's the beauty of science. 

That doesn't mean science can't be misused by people, whether we're talking about eugenics or Josef Mengele, or the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. I'm only talking about the method here. Now, how does religion know something is true? 

Because someone told us, like a prophet. Or because it was written in a book, like the Bible or the Qur'an. Or because it's tradition, passed down to us by a family who we trust. 

Just consider this when it comes to religion: Is there any way to convince certain believers Jesus did not get resurrected? Or that He did not walk on water? 

Or that Noah's Ark is just a myth? Of course not. If they believe that stuff, they're not going to change their minds based on new evidence. It's literally the Gospel truth to them. 

There's nothing you can say that will make a Creationist go, "Yeah, okay, Adam and Eve didn't really exist." Maybe we discover an ancient parchment that says, "Hey, everyone is lying about this Jesus guy" and no Christian would ever take it seriously. 

Religion cannot correct ideas later proven to be false. Maybe someone starts a new religion, or maybe they kick you out for even questioning it, or maybe they decide there's a new interpretation of what you're reading even when it makes no sense at all. 

But it's not like they're gonna rewrite the Book of Genesis to fix the problem areas. Update language, maybe, to clarify some things, but that's it. 

You just have to accept what you're told. You're supposed to take things on faith. Questioning or challenging dogma is often taboo. But again, the methods matter. 

There is a way to disprove scientific ideas. You could disprove evolution by finding fossils in a layer of rock they couldn't possibly be in. 

More precise measuring tools, or new discoveries, could lead to a more accurate calculation about when the dinosaurs went extinct. 

The way to disprove an incorrect theory is to come up with a more accurate theory, and then prove it.

Congratulations on your Nobel Prize. 

The point is the scientific method helps our communal knowledge get better over time. Religion cannot get better. It has to stay the same. 

That's the whole point. Nothing you do, and nothing you learn, is allowed to mess with it. 

The most you'll ever see is people saying that older believers were just interpreting everything wrong. Science and religion don't just disagree on methods. 

They disagree on how the world works

Religion makes claims about the world we live in, not just what came before us, and what happens after we die. It's not just Creation, prayers, and the afterlife. 

Just consider a few beliefs held by no small number of people. The age of the Earth is in the thousands, not billions. At least one person has come back from the dead, and he's gonna visit us again in the future. 

At least one human has given birth without having sex and without modern science to assist her. We know those things are false. 

If someone made those claims today, and we had never heard them before and we weren't so used to them, no one would take that person seriously. 

And for good reason! The moment religion steps into the natural world, it's on science's home court. And whenever religion and science do battle, science is undefeated. 

It's not that science can answer everything. 

It's that there's never been a religious explanation of our world that destroyed our scientific understanding of it. 

But the past few centuries are full of examples of that happening the other way around, where religious beliefs died because science proved they were completely absurd. 

Galileo won the battle. Darwin won the battle. Rosalind Franklin won the battle. Science always comes out on top when we're trying to answer answerable questions.

Religion suggests miracles

Now, there's one type of case where the two worlds collide but they cannot overlap. You have to choose your fighter: science or religion.

And I'm talking about miracles. Religious people, by and large, think miracles can occur. And what is a miracle? 

It's when something happens that cannot and should not happen. It's inexplicable. It violates the laws of science. 

The only way a miracle could have happened is if God intervened because what other explanation could there be? 

This means if a miracle happened, then science would go out the window as the best way to explain what's going on when it comes to something happening in our world. 

At least we would need to consider the idea that maybe religion isn't entirely wrong. Maybe there are times when it should take precedence. 

And to be clear, I'm not talking about a metaphorical miracle like the Cleveland Indians winning a World Series, or you meet the love of your life through the most bizarre set of circumstances. 

I mean a real miracle that seems to go against our scientific understanding of the world. The problem with all that is that, no matter what religious people tell you, actual miracles don't happen. 

They never have. Whenever people tell you a miracle occurred, they only ever point to things that either TURN OUT to have natural explanations, could have natural explanations if we had more information, or are so insanely unreal that they might count... except there's no proof of it. 

Here's an example of what I mean: Last year, a preacher named Andrew Wommack was talking about a healing conference he hosted at Charis Bible College in Colorado, a school he started. 

And he claimed that he witnessed a real live miracle: "We saw a little baby raised from the dead. The baby was dead, and the mother just came and put the baby on the stage, and we prayed, and this baby came back to life."

Holy hell. You mean to tell me a woman's baby was dead… and she took the corpse to a Christian college… and the baby came back to life… AND NO ONE ELSE KNEW ABOUT THIS UNTIL WOMMACK SAID SOMETHING?

 Every journalist in the world missed the biggest story EVER?! But at least when they put the baby on stage, someone had to get out a camera, right? 

I actually emailed the school about this and asked for the video. Since this was a major conference, surely they had footage of the healing. 

This is what they sent back to me: "Unfortunately, the session with the baby being healed was not recorded as the healing occurred when a private panel was taking place at the Conference." 

So convenient. Everyone has a phone at their disposal, yet no one had it out the one time they needed them. 

Seriously, why even bother to have a healing conference unless everyone's cameras are out at all times? Capture one miraculous healing on film and all the converts will be yours! 

This gets even more hilarious when it comes to the Catholic Church because they can only make someone a saint if there's documentation of two miracles that person performed. 

This is incredible since, throughout history, there have been a grand total of zero miracles. The Catholic Church has at least 1,000 canonized saints. 

So there's a disconnect somewhere. Here's what I mean. 

Remember Mother Teresa? She's a saint now. Here's one of her two miracles. 

I'm not making this up. It involves a woman named Monica Besra, who had a tumor in her abdomen, in 1998, a year after Mother Teresa died. 

"On September 5, Besra was praying in the Missionaries of Charity chapel when she saw a light emanating from a photo of Mother Teresa. Later, a medallion that had touched Mother Teresa's body was placed on Besra's abdomen, and a sister said a prayer while asking Mother Teresa for help. Besra awoke early the next day to find her tumor had disappeared. Medical exams showed the abdominal mass was no longer there, and the doctors she'd seen agreed Besra no longer required surgery." 

Wow... impressive. 

They couldn't explain why the tumor went away, therefore the Catholic Church jumped to the conclusion that Mother Teresa destroyed it from the grave with, I guess a heavenly laser or something. 

But here's the interesting thing about that apparent miracle. Scientists had a very different explanation of what happened. 

And they finally spoke with the New York Times in 2003: "Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, a doctor who said he had treated Ms. Besra, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that medicines he prescribed had eliminated the tumor. He also said it was a cyst caused by tuberculosis, not a cancerous tumor. 

The Vatican team that traveled to India and certified Ms. Besra's account, he added, never made contact with him. "It was not a miracle," he said. "She took medicines for nine months to one year." 

Even miracles so incredible that they turn someone into a saint... turn out to be lies. My point is this: The idea that miracles occur is a religious idea. 

They basically require God to upend science. But if science has shown us anything, it's that things that are unexplained either have an explanation waiting to be discovered or are outside the realm of explanation. 

Which doesn't mean God did it. It means we legit don't know. There are no miracles. Just a lot of improbable things that people lack the imagination to figure out. 

So what does all this mean in practice? It means we have to accept science as far as it can take us. We have to acknowledge when science is a reasonable approach. If something can be measured, tested, or experimented upon, you should listen to the scientists. 

If you're debating a career path, or whether you want to have another kid, or even debating the ethics of science, sure there are some calculations you can do, but it might be reasonable to listen to a pastor, or the voices in your head, or whatever your heart is telling you. 

Not everything has an objective answer. Science seems to accept that. It stays in its lane. Religion thinks it can go wherever it wants. So why do people insist science and religion can work together in harmony? Part of it is that it just sounds nice. 

If you say the two can't coexist, it feels like you're anti-religious, which may rub some people the wrong way. 

It also allows religious people to respect science without feeling like they're turning their backs on God -- and when there's an emergency, like a pandemic, you need religious people to listen to scientists, so there's a strategic value to saying the two ideas can live together. Sometimes there's literally a financial incentive to merge the two worlds. 

That's the mission of an organization called the Templeton Foundation that gives scientists money if they can show religion and science can coexist.

They give out an annual prize worth $1.4 million dollars -- which is purposely more than the Nobel Prize -- to scientists who have done the most to bring those two worlds together. 

They also give grant money to researchers who dig into questions dealing with religion. Some atheist scientists feel like it's a black mark on others' resumes to get that prize.


But ultimately, religion and science will coexist whether or not it makes sense because it's really hard to tell people to abandon a religion they love, and that comforts them, just because it keeps losing. 

I'm a life-long Cubs fan. I know how hard it is to stop loving a team even when it's awful. Religious people will always find reasons to cling to religion, no matter what discoveries are made, even if they go into scientific fields themselves. 

Look, science may not have every answer, but the ones it figures out are as good as it gets. So which one would you prefer to rely on? To put it another way, you should have faith in science, not faith.

Initially published by Hemant Mehta on Friendly Atheist. Republished on Fadewblogs courtesy to the author.

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