Monday, October 11, 2010

Echoing Prof. Coyne

Jerry Coyne has just come out with a science-and-religion-are-incompatible article.He doesn't provide anything novel but what he says has to be repeated over and over as there are quarters out there that want us to buy into yet another fantasy--that science and religion can be partners in bed. 
[S]cience is no more compatible with religion than with other superstitions, such as leprechauns. Yet we don't talk about reconciling science with leprechauns. We worry about religion simply because it's the most venerable superstition — and the most politically and financially powerful.
Indeed. Let's not treat religion with kids gloves. As with astrology it's had millennia to prove itself. And all we've found out is either that religious ideas are flat out wrong or that they're mere speculations which even their proponents can't prove to be true.

Last night I commented on a friend's blog entry on this very subject of science and religion. Got carried away and ended up writing more than I intended. Am reposting it here:

I am of the opinion that science and religion are premised upon conflicting and irreconcilable epistemologies. Science is rooted in churning out hypotheses that can be tested and falsified. Hypotheses and explanations which cannot be empirically determined to be true/false are not scientific.

Theistic ideas are of the latter kind. Take the hypothesis that there is a being and this entity is in fact three persons. From the git go you have problems. First there needs to be a definition of this entity. Then we'd need to find out wthether this hypothesized entity is real. We'd then need to define what these "persons" are. If we manage to provide characterization of these persons, then we'd then move on to determining the existence of these multiple persons. This is a bit similar to finding out whether the hypothesis "Intelligent lifeforms with six stomachs, five eyes, four legs, three heads, and two penises exist in the universe" is in fact true.

It should be noted that probabilities, though not sine qua non, are of practical importance here. The idea that the planet Earth has no core and is in fact hollow has a very low probability of being true. So is the claim that there is biological life on the Sun. There are very scientific reasons for saying these are highly improbable. In a similar vein, the hypothesis that intelligent anthropomorphic entities exist within the Earth's atmosphere, as the ancients believed, is so highly improbable that they can be rejected as false. Needless to say, science and technology have relegated this worldview under the rubric of mythology.

Revelation, faith, tradition--these do not make anything true. Revelation is merely a claim. We would still need evidence that the "revealed truth" was in fact revealed by some nonhuman intelligence and that it is true. Faith--belief without evidence--is simply that. Rather patently, no amount of believing will make something true if it isn't. That would be wishful thinking. And however old an idea may be will not make it any truer than it really is. Hence, an argument from tradition has no merit in the determination of the truth of a claim or idea.

The lack of progress in finding which religion and which religious/supernatural hypotheses is/are true over the last several thousand years merely shows how religion does not possess valid epistemological methods. In fact the number of religions and religious hypotheses have increased over time. Contrast that with hypotheses about the empirical world. We have advanced so much in our understanding of the universe that we are now discovering exosolar planets trillions of kilometers from our planet and have been able to weigh the universe and discovered that our universe is mostly likely a flat one--that galaxies will continue to accelerate away from each other until they exceed the speed of light.

Religion underscores the importance of believing. Science emphasizes evidence to provide a solid foundation for believing. Religion, unlike science, ahbors truth, in the sense that while it may be a fount of ideas, it does not provide any proven means for determining the truth/facticity of those ideas. In short, science has the methods to mercilessly rid itself of bad ideas. Religion on the other hand has been forced to become a storehouse of untested and untestable ideas, as it continuous to seek refuge in God the Gaps hypotheses.