Monday, February 13, 2006

Science and religion

Learned of the following letter and signature campaign by some clergy via Skepticality. Here's a snippet that got my goat:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist.... We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

As late as a few years ago I would've agreed to this idea of "non-overlapping magisteria" as Stephen Gould put it. But a mere cursory look reveals that religion has always been trespassing on science's turf. "By making pronouncements that are, even if only in principle, testable, religions, however unwillingly, enter the arena of science."* By claiming that prayer works or that God stopped the sun or that a worldwide flood ensued or that resuscitation of corpses occurred or that flour becomes some dead dude's flesh after magical incantations are uttered over it, religion makes empirical claims which can be investigated by science. So much for exclusive territories.

What makes me wince is the suggestion that religion has some truth to offer us. There is no truth that only religion can offer us. There are no timeless truths it can enlighten us with.

We don't need to go yet again into Christianity's bottomless store of supernatural beliefs. Priests of whatever ilk can wake our great great great grandkids up when they finally have some evidence to support claims about their vaunted cast of superheroes and supervillains. Till then there is no reason to regard the supernatural department as anything but a delusion factory.

As for ethics, who the hell needs religion for it? If religionists say the bible is a or the source of moral precepts then let them not get away with glossing over The Book by sweeping under the rug or watering down such things as their deity drowning all humans save one family and killing innocent children, verses that command Christians to stone adulteresses and kill unbelievers, passages upon passages that tell them how to go about the business of slavery, etc. Suddenly going blind when their deity commits the most atrocious crimes against humanity is to subscribe to double standards. Meanwhile, cherry picking which commandments in the bible they're going to follow and which they're going to ignore can only mean they don't regard everything in the bible as right and ethical and timeless.

Now, since the bible is no good as a science textbook as these priests, pastors, and ministers admit, and since the bible does not provide us an iota of evidence for the supernatural nor point us to some nook or cranny in this universe to find it, and since we can't blindly follow the laws and precepts in the bible nor the examples of the ever-arrogant, ever-wrathful, ever-murderous Yahweh but instead have to use our heads and hearts in discerning what is right and what is wrong, then what the heck is the bible useful for other than teaching our kids ancient Semitic mythology and literature?

Religion rightly fears science--the only means we have thus far by which we can arrive at reliable knowledge about the world around us. And this open letter is an admission by clergy that in matters of this world--the only reality we know--religion is excess baggage. Let's get rid of it, shall we?


* Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, NY: Ballantine, 1996, p. 277

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