In religion vs. science, both sides need humilityPublished 10:28am Monday, January 9, 2012
In contrasting and comparing religion and science, which both religionists and scientists frequently do, it is crucial for both to compare “oranges with oranges” and not “apples and oranges.” The only productive comparison is good science with good religion. Harvard physicist Lisa Randall, for instance, compares good science with bad religion.
She does so in her triumphalist essay “How Science Can Lead the Way,” distributed widely and most recently in Time magazine’s Commentary feature. Several of her points are valid and, so, well taken. However, she is almost blindly confident of science and carelessly dismissive of religion. Or, I should put it more accurately and more to the point, she is overly confident of scientists, despite her reasonable confidence in science. This is the same problem with religion. The problem isn’t with religion but with many theologians on one level and many clergy on another.
Not a few clergy of every religion and denomination hurl at us wild proclamations against science based on neither reason nor revelation. Such are no more than personal opinions of what they imagine to be true or what they wish were true, without even thinking it is. Some scientists project well beyond available empirical evidence. Such are also no more than personal opinions of what they theorize what might be true without any actual conviction they are.
I am not able to determine whether there are more irresponsible scientists or irresponsible religionists, but I do not think keeping score offers any help. Both are wrong and both must be discounted. It seems a little clearer who can accurately be identified as a scientist than it is who is a bona fide religionist. This latter is an awkward term, but this is a problem of categorizations. Anti-religion scientists (there are such whether Prof Randall might be one) tend to consider any private individual making a religious statement to be in the category and that all religious people can be dismissed by the foolishness of those who are not at all foolish.
Scientists need to look to themselves and their camp. It is not fair to judge a scholar with a Ph.D. in religion from Randall’s Harvard by the ranting of an uneducated street-corner preacher. I do not judge her scientific findings in particle physics (her Ph.D. is also from Harvard) by a television commercial for a cure-all medicine (“…but wait, if you call in the next 10 minutes…”). Bad scientists and bad religionists both set up straw men and attack them rather than the considered position they claim they have destroyed.
Some preachers who know nothing about science condemn science and scientists alike. Come to think about it, total ignorance of science is about the only way to make blanket condemnation of science and keep a straight face. Some scientists do rather much the same about religion.
Prof Randall, for one, talks about testifying in a hearing in the room dedicated to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the Rayburn House Office Building. She seems to flaunt her knowledge of scripture by telling us the plaque there, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” is a quotation from Proverbs 29:18. So it is.
However, the Hebrew word does not mean foresight, and the context confirms it. This is properly rendered “prophetic vision,” “prophecy,” or “revelation.” In her essay of condescendingly limiting religious views to personal rights and denying them in public she exhibits her religious ignorance. One who arrogates to herself the authority to judge religion should know more about religion.
But, of course, I have heard many preachers make the same mistake about science.
Bad science and bad religion create chaos. Bad science and good religion or bad religion and good science have nothing to say to each other. The goal of both scientists and religionists must be good science and good religion each contributing to the public understanding what it has to offer and not attempting what is beyond its capability. A good deal more humility is needed by both disciplines.