Do not mix religion with science
Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeritus, Montclair State University
This compilation of comments evolved from what I wrote in Chapter 16 of my free online
atobiography entitled “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality.” The book illustrates
my evolution from one extreme to another--from a devoted Stalinist to an active anti-communist. It is a testimony based
on a diary I kept between 1946 and 2004 (in the USSR, Poland, France and the USA).
Click here if you are interested.
I agree with comments 47 and 48, made by two physics teachers, at the end of this compilation.
What follows is a slightly edited record of an unfinished discussion. Do you agree or disagree that mixing science
with religion is not useful?
Did God create us on his image? Did we create God on our image?
The answer is yes to each of these questions.
That's an interesting thought, I'd like to know how both could be simultaneously true. There are thousands of verifiable
instances of humans creating new religions, and none of the former option.
The first question is theological (not scientific); the second question is sociological (scientific). Theological questions
are not answered by using science and scientific questions are not answered by using theology.
Likewise, theologians say that the universe was created in seven days, as revealed in holy books. But astronomers say that
they have evidence that the universe has been changing for billions of years. Scientific methodology is not used to validate
holy books and holy books are not used to validate scientific claims.
Mixing science with religion is not useful.
I think that science can be used to test the claims made in holy books. If the claims made in holy books were correct,
we would expect scientific inquiry to support them.
Holy books do not define God in terms of material attributes. The best a scientist can do is to confirm that God is not a
material object. But that would not be a surprise to sophisticated theologians; they have already accepted this--God is a
What follows are comments made be some rearers of the above. They were also edited (usually abbreviated) by me.
...The answer "YES" on the first question and "YES" on the second question is a mental incoherent developed
by a person trying to play semantics. It is like asking "Does cat catch mouse? Does 'mouse' catch cat?" and that
person answered "YES YES" because he think "mouse" is a dog named "mouse. ..."
Religion is the science of our distant ancestors. ... Attempts to qualify or defend religious truth claims with scientific
terminology are not only inaccurate but I would say demonstrably fraudulent both by the standards of science and by the letter
of the religious scriptures themselves.There needs to be a line in the sand on this issue. ...
... Clearly, most human mix theistic precepts quite often with both secularist values, as well as scientific idea.
The inconsistency does not seem to bother them all that much...
You wrote: "... If I believe that the purple dragon will build me a space ship and take me to the planet he made just
for me, no amount of faith in this idea will change the fact (proven by observation) that I in fact have not found myself in
posession of a spaceship made just for me to travel to a special planet. ..." I agree. I was referring to the concept of
God, not to poetry (psalms), glorification, or "events" described in holy books. Some of these events are no longer
taken literally, even by some theologians. Many theologians are not hostile to science; many scientists are not hostile to
theology. That is how it should be--the more the better.
You wrote We have absolutely no reason to accept the premise that there is even such a thing as a spiritual
entity. What makes us, us is our personality, our thoughts, our minds. There is absolutely nothing to suggest that a
mind can exist outside of a physical brain. So start with that...if you can even offer some kind of plausible theory as to
how a mind...what makes an entity sentient...can exist outside of some kind of physical, MATERIAL, brain....then we can
move to the next step of asking if God....or any entity...actually exists. By spiritual entity I meant God, not what
makes us us.
I would argue many religions disagree. Mormonism and Islam both came to be by God issuing "orders" to people. But
I agree that mixing science with religion is not useful. Person2 wrote: Holy books do not define God in terms of material
attributes. The best a scientist can do is to confirm that God is not a material object. But that would not be a surprise to
sophisticated theologianns; they have already accepted this--God is a spiritual entity. God is not natural, however he
does have an effect on the natural world. Therefore we should expect to come across some sort of inconsistencies in the natural
world which would give evidence to a supernatural. Even then, if we did, they could simply be a matter of our own ignorance and
not god. So, its a tough question.
Person2 wrote: ...theologians say that the universe was created in seven days, as revealed in holy books. Not all
theologians. Many liberal Christians do not read the Bible literally, and "creationism" is very rare among modern
Jews. Person2 also wrote that Scientific methodology is not used to validate holy books and holy books are not used to
validate scientific claims. That is true, which is why mixing science with religion is not useful. Science cannot be
done with an eye to supernatural intervention, or we would never have learned that thunder isn't the sound of the gods'
bowling alley -- and we would still be dying of diseases that are easily prevented and cured, assuming that illness and
death were the will of God. A scientist may or may not be personally religious, but his or her religion cannot directly be
applied to the scientific work or it ceases to be science; but then, that's true of a given scientist's politics, too. Cf.
Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko. Science must be objective and free of philosophical, political or religious influence.
Yes, mixing science with religion is not useful. Science can only answer falsifiable questions; Faith is belief in the
absence of evidence. A lot of otherwise intelligent people have a lot of misconceptions about science, and I did too.
The notion that theological questions are not answered using science is nonsense. Religion makes claims about God. Some of
these claims are falsifiable thru testing. Some of them are falsifiable thru application of logic. As science progresses,
the number of claims made about God that can not be answered by science dwindles.
Religion originated as what people had BEFORE science as a means to answer questions beyond direct perception. Religion
offers narrative concerning creation, concerning the nature of the world, and concerning the causes of real world events.
These narratives can be tested.
One famous religious assertion is that God works miracles and answers prayers.
This is a testable hypothesis. Proper scientific studies demonstrate that praying has zero effect on outcomes. Ergo,
science just disproved an theological assertion. God does not answer prayers. Religion was invented to provide answers to
the questions that terrified early human cultures. These answers were made up.
With the advent of science, MOST of these questions can now be addressed experimentally. Floods and droughts are Not
divine retribution. Disease is Not the result of witchcraft. Saying God is not a material object is meaningless as
you have NO evidence for what God actually is or is not. I can as readily say that, because immaterial things simply
do not exist, God does not exist, and my statement has the overwhelming weight of evidence behind it, since all things
that do not exist show zero evidence of material existence.
Saying it is beyond the purview of science to address these religious issues is simply a delusional dodge. The religious
claim God has an EFFECT on the material world, on material existence. Fine, demonstrate that effect thru proof. Anything
that has effect in the material world is the subject of scientific inquiry.
Yes, there are many theological questions. I am a physicist, not a theologian. Holy books, by the way, are also moral
authorities to many people. But that is also a different topic. My point is that mixing religion with science is not
useful. Many theologians are not hostile to science; many scientists are not hostile to theology. That is how it
should be--the more the better.
... If science and religion don't mix, it is because they have radically different
goals, and incommensurable "methodologies" (or would be seen to be so, if the latter could be reduced to a
"method" at all). Religion, but not science, seeks to confer meaning to life throuch locating the individual
within a narrative involving higher, superhuman purposes. Causal explanation always takes a backseat to teleological
explanation. Religion not so much attempts to "explain" the universe as to justify it. Modern science, by
contrast methodologically precludes teleological narrative from the outset. It eschews any discourse of ultimate purposes
in favor of testable causal accounts of phenomena. A supernatural explanation is, by definition, outside the scope of
experimental confirmation or falsification. When confronted with such a "theory," there is nothing for scientist
to do, no experiments to run, no research program to pursue. This is why Intelligent Design will never be an attractive
alternative for natural scientists: it has zero theoretical fecundity, a point fundamentalists and the politicians who
pander to them never seem to grasp.
God means something more sophisticated that the old man in the sky, rewarding the good and punishing the badlike a
cosmic Santa Claus. It is not what proselytizers tell us, or what tells terrorists to bombs buildings and trains.
Abandoning theology to the credulous [those who believe eaily] and zealous undercuts the very real benefitsi it can
have for the rest of us. Belief was never the point: Religion is not about what happens after we die. It is about what
happens when we live:how just we are,how kind and how we infuse our lives with a sense of gratitude and mystery. To
throw out such powerful spiritual technology because we do not like the language in which it is expressedapproaches
the level of tragedy. Thology should not be left to dogmatists--to those who cling to dogma precisely because of the
insecurity of fanatecism. There is a wide spectrum of belief. To some God does not exist--God is Existence itself. To
others, God is known in the forces of eros, or justice, or both.
The two don't mix because religion is largely subjective and science is largely objective.
You might as well try to scientifically prove that roses are pretty. The world was created in 6 days 6000 years ago.
If you provide "proof" that the world is 4 billion years old a religionist might say "yeah - but we
don't know how long a 'day' was when god was creating the earth - (which is a good point). It might have been 800,000,000
years!" and so on.
Pure folly. Leave religion to the "Believers" because you will never be able to scientifically "prove"
that god is - or is not - 'x'. Leave science to the scientists because you will never be able to "prove" that
god did 'y'. It's a waste of time. Although it's certainly an entertaining way to socialize with other philosophy nerds
over a joint and an espresso.
Religion can and should be examined in the light of science. If your beliefs are contradicted by empirical evidence,
you need to rethink your beliefs. Religion can be used to fill in questions not answered by science, and in that regard
they do not mix -- however, there are fewer and fewer of these questions. There was a time when it was not believed that
science could tell us where we came from, or where the universe came from, and religion stepped in to answer those
questions. But science now CAN tackle those questions, and religion must retreat further into the shadows.
To the extent that religion makes claims about the nature of reality, those claims can reasonably be examined and compared
to existing fields of knowledge.
For instance, the Christian doctrine of Original Sin states death did not occur prior to the first human; but evolutionary
theory is clear that death did in fact occur long before the first human. There appears to be no theological middle ground
here, it is either one or the other. ... The fact is that holy books are often used to make claims about the nature of
reality, even though such claims are more properly left to science. It is normally not those using science who are stepping
on the toes of religious faith - it is more often the religious who seek to force an unscientific circular viewpoint into
the square hole of the scientific method.
Religion should be the preserve of the things that aren't inherently empirical. I know I risk being kicked out of
Secular Gang, but I don't want every question to be answered purely by empiricism. I honestly believe there are some
questions, issues and concepts that function outside it. Religion and Science are different things, they have different roles
and work in different ways. They can co-exist, and they can support each other, but I think this current obsession that we
have to make them fight is a serious mistake, and generally something that the knobs on both sides are responsible for. The
danger of putting them too close together is that science becomes a way of testing belief, and religion becomes a way of
filling in the gaps between proof. This cheapens both of them.
There was a time when it was not believed that science could tell us where we came from, or where the universe
came from, and religion stepped in to answer those questions. But science now CAN tackle those questions, and religion must
retreat further into the shadows. Ha ha ha! You will never be able to say "where we came from" by mixing something
in a test-tube or looking through a radio-telescope, for instance. You atheists don't fool me!
Whether we evolved from ape-like creatures or not, it does not tell us where we came from or what we're here for!
In terms of what your post says, I completely agree with Person 2 in his or her first statement. God created us in HIS
image--we don't know what that image actually was--and we, in turn, created Him in our image...because it was the easiest for
us to understand at the time. If a being is supposed to be extremely long-lived--if not eternal, because eternity is a concept
beyond human comprehension--then a day could be thousands, or even millions of years, to their reckoning.
This always seems like a cop-out to me. It's admitting there's no logic or reason for believing in god, so we'll just make up
some special rules that basically define it into existence. No evidence - no problem, spiritual beings don't require evidence
because I say so. Contradictory attributes - no problem, mystery is a part of the spirit world so just believe because I say
If you have to totally divorce god from reality like this, what's the practical benefit of believing in it in the first place.
It's obviously not able to survive here in the real world (it's only barely hanging on in theology-land) so it really is just
a bunch of mental gymnastics to convince yourself of something you really really wish were true.
Person2 wrote: Holy books do not define God in terms of material attributes. The best a scientist can do is to confirm
that God is not a material object. But that would not be a surprise to sophisticated theologianns; they have already accepted
this--God is a spiritual entity.
I would agree if holy books limited themselves to descriptions of God. But they don't. Almost all of them make claims in other
areas that science can validate or invalidate. Science is a method deliberately designed to be useful. Holy books are not. If
anything, science is always useful and holy books never are. Even when a holy book includes some nugget of truth, its
validation must come through science and philosophy which are independent of the content of any book.
Most people seem to forget that most religious texts are allegorical.
According to Person2: Holy books do not define God in terms of material attributes. The best a scientist can do is to
confirm that God is not a material object. But that would not be a surprise to sophisticated theologianns; they have already
accepted this--God is a spiritual entity. I would agree if holy books limited themselves to descriptions of God. But
they don't. Almost all of them make claims in other areas that science can validate or invalidate.
Science is a method deliberately designed to be useful. Holy books are not. If anything, science is always useful and holy
books never are. Even when a holy book includes some nugget of truth, its validation must come through science and philosophy
which are independent of the content of any book.
... So since you are the person who has cited "miracles" as evidence for some sort of deity (several times on
different topics), where is your objective, scientific evidence for such things then? Science and in particular
evidence to you seems to be totally one way.... you expect non theists to produce evidence to DISPROVE propositions -
such as the existence of some sort of "God", or of "miracles" - which you yourself have totally failed to
produce so much as a shred of evidence for. Thereby of course kinda conveniently turning the entire scientific process
on it's head, since if someone proposes the existence of something (such as "God" or "miracles"), the
onus is then on them to produce evidence in support of it... not on everybody else to somehow disprove evidence which no-one
has actually produced. In so doing, you're both applying a total double standard (demanding evidence which you yourself
have totally failed to produce), you're also demonstrating a total lack of understanding of scientific process, in actual fact.
Kowalski wrote: Yes, there are many theological questions. I am a physicist, not a theologian. Holy books, by the
way, are also moral authorities to many people. But that is also a different topic. My point is that mixing religion with
science is not useful. Many theologians are not hostile to science; many scientists are not hostile to theology. That is how
it should be--the more the better. I can not agree with this.
More Delusional and dogmatic belief is never better...The magical religious mindset is the enemy of rational thinking... and
in a society utterly dependent on technology and science to survive, we can increasingly ill afford a significant percentage
of the population to be incapable of understanding evidentiary argument, because they have been told that you don't NEED
evidence to support a position or a policy.
The truth is the religious folks who 'get along' with science are simply not very religious, or do not really understand nor
endorse the teachings of their faith. In which case... why bother labeling yourself as something you are not? Convenience? To
get along with the neighbors or family? And the scientist who embrace religion are either not very good scientists, or also
doing so only out of convenience.
Accepting unproven or unprovable assertions as true without evidence is bad.
Its how we get poisoned with nonsense concepts like the 'invisible hand of the market" and other absolutist idiocy that
literally threatens our survival. There is a direct correlation between how strongly a person believes in Christian doctrine,
and their skepticism about global warming. Between the intensity of their faith, and their conservative support of disastrous
political policy like cutting taxes on the rich.
These people are easily manipulated by fear and hyperbole to support agendas destructive to their own, and everybody else's
lives. Sorry, folks... I am a deeply spiritual person... but religion, in the modern world, is a force for repression,
ignorance, and authoritarianism. It is pst time to abandon magical thinking and faith in the imaginary. Critical thinking
is what we need. Its what will save us.
If the Bible is wrong, how did the writer of Genesis know that the plants came before the Sun was placed in the sky.
Why should religion and science be competitive to each others? Each are matter of different field. Do religion limit science?
You wrote: ... As John Stuart Mill summarized, No amount of observations of white swans can allow the
inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion. ...
Consider the following statement: There are many swans in my area. I saw about one thousand of them; not a single one was
black. I conclude that the probability of seeing a black swan in my area is very very small." Is this an acceptable
Plenty of evidence exists in NDE accounts to establish that a consciousness can exist outside of a body. A phenomenon
experienced by many extreme skiers is to float out of the body and watch yourself skiing. I've experienced it dozens of times,
almost always on the most extreme slopes. I literally watch myself from above the slope. It's a very cool experience. The
relaxation felt is complete.
Logical minds will look to discredit or explain away both of the above. And, they will convince themselves that they are right.
But, logical minds sometimes worship logic itself, demanding all of human experience to bow down to logic. As such, sometimes
logical minds embrace and proselytize the religion of logic, a verifiable religion as some of their tenets are taken on faith
alone. Such as, no one has direct knowledge of God. Or, no evidence exists to suggest a consciousness can exist outside of a
Person2 wrote: Holy books do not define God in terms of material attributes. The best a scientist can do is
to confirm that God is not a material object. But that would not be a surprise to sophisticated theologianns; they have already
accepted this--God is a spiritual entity. But what does it mean to say something is a "spiritual entity?" The
stuff of thought? An idea?
You asked about "spiritual entity." What is it? In the context of this thread, it means metaphysical, as
Aristotle would say. What is a better label for concepts which are ouside of our understanding? Neither scientists nor
theologists say that they know and understand everything.
... Science has been taught as "facts" rather than models that we use to explain
physical observations. This is the same way that religion is taught. Once
we disconnect science from being just facts, the problem of conflicts
between religion and science goes away. Religion is revealed, while science
is constructed by us as a rational explanation. ... I saw both sides of the coin in my brother. He flipped from a
liberal atheist to a conservative Fundamentalist. His
previous way of thinking was open to various ideas, and he would discuss
things. Now he tells you that the schools must teach the "truth". Of course he means his truth. ...
Yoy wrote: ... I think it is more interesting that atheists spend so much time trying to apply scientific standards,
often erroneously, to debunk rather than confirm or deny. ... Science is all about objectivity. It doesn't care whether there
is a God or not, or whether God or something else caused something. ...
Most physicists would say that theories are models of objective reality. Reality is infinitely complex and mathematical
models are only it's useful approximations. Here is a simple illustration. What is light? According to Newton, light consists
of tiny particles. This model was consistent with what he knew about light (it's propagation). But it was not consistent with
what became known in 19th century. A new model was develop--light was said to be mechanical waves in ether. This model was
consistent not only with what was known to Newton but also with diffraction, discovered much later by Young. The second model
was subsequently replaced by the third one, after the electromagnetic nature of light was recognized. Models of reality are
not arbitrary; in order to be useful, a model must be based of experimental facts known to scientists.
Here is what X wrote about science on another website: "Science has often been taught as 'facts' rather than models that
we use to explain physical observations. This is the same way that religion is taught. Once we disconnect science from being
just facts, the problem of conflicts between religion and science goes away."
Referring to science and religion, Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "The methods of one are inappropriate for the
studies of the another's problems."
X wrote: . . . You don't have to abandon Christ while leaving the church. As the old saying goes, don't
throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just my opinion. That is a wise observation; it applies to all kinds
believes. But how to decide what to keep and what to abandon? That is not simple. Abandoning the whole thing is much easier.
Science and religion are often considered to be on different planes. One represents reality and the other represents fantasy.
There is no way to combine logic and superstition. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
I think a definition of "religion" would be helpful. How about, an working definition of what things are, and why
As such, one need not believe in anything supernatural to have a religion. Some scientists treat science as a "religion."
Atheists are the biggest pretenders of all, for they accept, on faith, that God doesn't exist. Atheism is a religion.
Some religious people don't get along with scientists. Some scientists don't get along with some religious people (using standard
definitions here, waitingtables). Some draw inspiration from both religion and science. Some see religion and science, in their
purest form, as a quest for truth. True science and religion are not mutually contradictory, imo.
Religion and science are innately incompatible:
Science begins with evidence and works towards a conclusion. Religion begins with a conclusion (such as the existence of God)
then looks for evidence to support the presupposition.
Religion is based on dogma. Science does not make absolute claims. (although,being human,some scientists might)
Religion and science are compatible if and only if there is no conflict with dogma. When that occurs,religion always chooses
dogma ,and can be rabidly anti-science.
Some examples; Galileo,Giordano Bruno,stem cell research,even the use of condoms to help prevent AIDS.
I agree that mixing science and religion are not useful. They operate with fundimentally different methodologies that are
Religion never will be able to live up to the strict standards that comprise the scientific method, so scientists will never
take religious claims seriously, as they pertain to reality.
When scientists first started making assertions regarding reality, theologians were furious, as they believed that the nature of
reality was their domain. This conflict started a war over who had authority about describing the nature of reality. Science won,
centuries ago. Religion has been retreating ever since.
The masses still have not grasped the implications. Science continues to advance, religion continues to retreat.
No amount of fuzzy logic, poor comprehension, or circular justifications will ever change this.
Define religious habits and especially ways of knowing, compare w/ scientific habits and ways of knowing and you'll find they are
Like John, I believe we do a grave disservice to science by saying transparently ridiculous things like "there is no evidence
for Intelligent Design." Those who subscribe to ID see virtually nothing BUT evidence for their beliefs. The only
relevant point is that ID is manifestly NOT science because it is inconceivable that anyone would ever find evidence AGAINST it.
I agree that religious methodologies are not appropriate for science. However, I am getting a little annoyed with some people on this
thread painting all people with participate in religion as somehow anti-science. As I have posted before, thinking about the existence
of deities plays little part in my life. I do work at a Catholic college. The Catholic church, for the most part, is highly supportive
of science. At the upper levels, the Vatican Observatory has been a constant contributor to serious astronomy. Down in the trenches,
the church supports the teaching of evolution and never gets involved when our biology instructors discuss human reproduction and the
growth of the human fetus. Their feeling is that one can only have an honest Faith if you are educated to all the alternatives. I am
amazed how some on this list who profess to be so liberal (in the classic sense) and free thinking can come out with this knee-jerk
bigotry regarding religion.
Yes, many religions accept that science has added to human knowledge and
have adapted to findings. In my classes as I talk to students about
science and religion I say that each has its role. Religion serves many
functions that science doesn't address. Really, they are two different
human endeavors. Religious people should not be attacked out of hand for
being religious. You can be a scientist and accept the findings of
science and still belong to the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. faiths.
Others should not be so quick to judge.
.... I would suggest separating RELIGION and THEOLOGY. The former tends to be the dogmatic, ritualistic endeavors many of
us might characterize as 'superstitious nonesense' while the latter is the much more intellectual approach to the topic of deism.
It is strong belief in RELIGION that many here (if I interpret correctly) would question in as far as being able to
separate such belief from one's scientific activities.
I think that I have carefully pointed out that there certainly aredifferences in religious attitudes toward science. But at
present the anti-science religious groups have a disproportionate influence. If it weren't for the Supreme Court, probably
about 1/3 of the states would ban teaching of evolution, or at very least make ID or Creationism a mandated alternative. TX
would be in the forefront there, and they have inordinate
influence on textbooks. ....
Actually Newton was quit religious and quite successful. He did however give up on certain problems and say that God arranges
them properly. Later others "did not require that hypothesis". Physics does have beliefs that we don't have proof of.
We do assume that experiments are in principle always repeatable. We assume that the laws we find on Earth are obeyed
in the entire universe...
As to science, there are beliefs, convictions, or paradigms which scientists
use. Indeed there there are no absolute proofs of many of these things. So
this is certainly in some ways similar to religion. I already named that we
have faith that experiments are in principle repeatable, and that the laws
we create are applicable to other places in the universe under the same
conditions. Einstein had faith that a beautiful theory had to be correct.
The problem is when one tries to explicitly use religious beliefs to
generate the laws and models of science, or when you use science to prove or
disprove religion. The conflicts occur when the religion claims that
specific writings are absolute descriptions of physical reality. This sort
of conflict happened with Galileo and Copernicus, and some groups have not
learned the lesson that came out of that situation.
So both religion and science have moved on. But some churches have retained
an absolutist Fundamentalist view of their writings. This comes up against
the scientific views and conflict ensues. To a certain extent this can be
defused by teaching students that science creates models of the physical
world not "truth".
Science is, imo, a process that can help us understand how the world "works". Religion is a rigid framework for giving the world
some context/meaning. The two don't HAVE to be in general opposition, and, again imo, the factions that ARE truly opposed are
relatively small. The ranks in opposition, on both sides, however, have been swelled by the actions/words of the opposing zealots.
It need not be so.
On the one hand, we have a very vocal, but SMALL group of Christians who insist in a literal interpretation of the wording of the
Bible. On the other, we have a vocal, but probably ALSO small, group of individuals who feel it their duty to "debunk" the former
group. Unfortunately, science is the tool they choose to use in the debunking process. These two hard-line positions are
absolutely in conflict and will NEVER be otherwise. The trick is not to expand the conflict to include individuals with moderate
views who, feeling under threat, are compelled to engage.
I hope that the author of the last comment is correct that "the factions that ARE truly
opposed [to peaceful coexistence] are relatively small."
Ludwik Kowalski (see Wikipedia)
Professor Emeritus, Montclair State University