Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Religion & Science 1

From religion to science

When religion tries to become scientific a couple of outcomes seem likely.
1. Religion chooses which facts and studies to accept, becoming at most a pseudo science. Intelligent design defense seems to fit in here. Proponents use the science label to justify and proof text positions..
2a. Rationalism is mistakenly presented as science. Thus people who say religion is scientific are at best saying it is rational. Historicity approaches to religion seem a good example of this. The more one values the simple edge of Okam's razor, the more religion is seen as a useful myth. (Here I mean rationalism as the attempt to make things logically consistent with what is currently accepted)
2b. On a similar note, a few may confuse philosophical consistency with scientific truth. Thus they may propose that they are scientifically studying a world that is, in large part, hidden from us. Few people would really accept philosophy as real science.
3. Religion uses scientific methodology as a basis for revelation. Scientists get up in arms because results are always extremely contextual, scientifically unreliable, and inherently corrupt. Using these results could lead to patently false conclusions (the tooth fairy is a real entity).

There are probably a few other categories of outcomes. The first seems inherently distasteful to me. I have never been overly fond of proof texting and self justification. Apologetics certainly has place in a PR world, but it is poor way to discover anything useful.

The second is probably much more diverse that I have indicated. Since I accept that the conclusions of religion are improbable (although certainly not impossible), I tend to think attempts at complete rationalization have severe restrictions due to their inability to deal with vagueness.

I am rather partial to the third. While it certainly can lead to compartmentalization of truth (ie my revelations don't apply to everday life, and scientific conclusions can be superceded), I don't think it has to. The problem seems to be how we view reality, and how willing we are to let in data that could lead to erroneous conclusions. Science is based on using data that is acceptable to everyone. While certainly dependable, it may be limiting to assume all things can be so universal.

Are there any other general categories of outcomes that can be expected if a religion tries to become scientifically based?


Clark Goble said...

It's an interesting question.

One you didn't put out is the idea that religious claims are held as tentative awaiting scientific falsification but which have weak support.

In this way they'd be akin to say evolution in the 19th century or string theory today. The fact is that not all scientific beliefs are yet established scientifically.

chris g said...

Yeah, that sounds pretty much like what I was getting at. One possible difference though is that some beliefs, in effect can change experienced reality. Thus dealing with a non relative frame of reference is impossible. In effect, this is what science portends. It assumes an absolute, or at least slowly changing background. In this way it is able to discover reality - things that are unchanging.

I find this conclusion rather ironic since some of the people that hate absolutism seem to find no fault with it in science.

Clark Goble said...

BTW Chris, you might find that MP3 from Herbert Dreyfus interesting to listen to. It's philosophy but not the boring arcane and technical kind. They also are talking a lot about embodiment and long distant learning, sort of like what you do.