Do not mix spirutuality with science

Ludwik Kowalski, Professor Emeritus
Montclair State University
New Jersey, USA

In October 2010 something prompted me to write about conflicts between between those who believe in God and those who actively criticize believers. Yes, a long time ago I was an aggressive atheist, as described in my on-line autobiography (1). This certainly has something to do with my motivation. In any case, after realizing how poorly qualified I am for dealing with the ongoing ideological conflicts, I started probing the Internet. The following set of questions was posted on several websites.

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Can science and religion coexist peacefully? This is a good question to start an interesting discussion.

Person 1: Did God create us on his image? Did we create God on our image?

Person 2: The answer is “yes” to each of these questions.

Person 3: 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.

Person 2: 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.

Person 3: 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. Yes, holy books contain pronouncements about the physical world. Such pronouncements should not be taken literally. They represent incorrect beliefs of our ancestors. Faith and science were not yet separate disciplines. The world was not created in seven days, six thousand years ago. Theologians know this; many of them do not take such stories literally.

Person 2: 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 spiritual entity.

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Qeuestions asked by Persons 1 and 2 were mine, other questions were from Internet strangers. My goal was to generate more Internet comments, and to learn from what other people think. I was overwhelmed by the number of replies, some of which are shown below. They made me think but they did not enable me to write the intended essay. Instead of abandoning the project I decided to share selected message, as received, and add my own comments. I hope that this will be useful to some people.

Replies and comments

What follows are comments made by strangers and my insertions (in red).

Comment 1
...The answer "YES" to the first question and "YES" to 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. ..."

No, the “cat and the mouse” is not a good analogy. The accusation of mental incoherence would be valid to a person who rejects the idea of peaceful coexistence of science and faith--a person who wants one area of inquiry to win over the other. Does it have to be this way? Who benefits from such conflicts? “God created us in his image” is spiritually acceptable. And “we created on God in our image” is physically acceptable; God belongs to the spiritual world, not to the physical world. Our ancestors believed that God is a material entity but we do not have to accept this.

A year ago my dentist was very frightened, after a diagnosis of aggressive cancer. Six months later I saw her again, still working. But her head was covered; she had lost her hair. But she was very different yesterday--her hair had grown back.. I am fine, she said, because God is in my heart and because he does not want me to die. How can anyone have doubt that God exists in her spiritual sphere? Telling her that God does not exist would be just as arrogant as telling Galileo that his astronomical findings should be ignored.

Comment 2
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. ...

Comment 3
... Clearly, most humans “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...

Comment 4
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 possession 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.

Comment 5
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.”

The “soul” is also not a material entity, as imagined by our ancestors. My arguments are based on the assumption that we live in two words, material and spiritual. The brain is a material entity.

Comment 6
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 theologians; 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.

Yes, the idea of living in two worlds, spiritual and physical, will generate many difficult questions. Are these two worlds influencing each others, and to what extent? That is one of such questions. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to answer.

Comment 7

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.

How can I, a nuclear physicist, disagree with this?

Comment 8

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.

Comment 9

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.

Yes, indeed, many of ancient beliefs, such as flat earth, age of the universe, etc. were shown to be wrong. That is why I think that it is useful to recognize that God should not be associated with beliefs of our ancestors. S/he is not a material entity. This is just as important as recognizing that scientific findings, such as moons of Jupiter or process of evolution of species, should not be rejected when they disagree with holy books.

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.

Prayers might not result in miracles but they often help people to deal with difficult situations. This is one of the topics to address, in thinking about the interactions between the two worlds, spiritual and material.

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.

I also do not think that God is a material entity.

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.

This is another topic to address in discussing interactions between the two worlds, spiritual and material.

Most people are neither professional scientists nor professional theologians. Some of them believe only what theologians say, while others believe only what scientists say. Some accept the authority of both and some are indifferent to both. Peaceful coexistence, between science and faith, is threatened by those who attack theism pretending to be scientists, and by those who attack science pretending to be theologians. It is also threatened by politicians who exploit people’s beliefs (to promote wars and revolutions).

Many scientists and many theologians believe that peaceful coexistence between these two fields is possible, at least in principle. Yes, methods of validation in these fields are very different (authority of holy books versus reproducible results from experiments and observations). Methodology of validation used by theologians does not apply to the material world and methodology used by scientists does not apply to the spiritual world. That is what should be recognized by all. Mutual respect is possible and desirable. What is wrong with trying to promote this idea. What is gained by endless fighting?

Comment 10

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.

Comment 11

... 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 through 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.

Yes, methodologies are different. But I do not think that science and faith have “radically different goals.” The goal, in each case, is to improve our lives, both materially and spiritually. The word “supernatural” probably stands for “non-materialistic.” Both physical worlds, material and spiritual, are part of nature, according to my terminology.

Comment 12

God means something more sophisticated that the old man in the sky, rewarding the good and punishing the bad like 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 really] and zealous undercuts the very real benefits 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 expressed approaches the level of tragedy. Theology should not be left to dogmatists--to those who cling to dogma precisely because of the insecurity of fanaticism. 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.

Comment 13

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.

Comment 14

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.

Yes, theologians should not use their methods of validation to answer questions concerning the material world. And scientists shouldn’t use their methods to answer questions about the spiritual world. But I see nothing wrong with people who are both scientists and theologians, as long as they do not mix the two fields of investigation.

Comment 15

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.

Yes, the two worlds, science and belief, should not mix.

Comment 16

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.

Yes, it is “a serious mistake,” and yes, “it cheapens both of them.”

Comment 17

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!

Comment 18

Whether we evolved from ape-like creatures or not, it does not tell us where we came from or what we're here for!

Comment 19

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.

Comment 20

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 so.

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.

Spiritual claims also require evidence, but not material evidence. You are free not to believe, and others should be free to believe. What is gained by harassing them?

Comment 21

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.

As I wrote earlier, theologians should no longer make claims about physical reality. Holy books in the 21 century should not be interpreted in the same way as they were one thousand years ago.

Comment 22

Most people seem to forget that most religious texts are allegorical.

Comment 23

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.

Yes, interpretations of holy books should be changed. I suspect that some theologians are working on this. It will probably be a difficult and slow process, considering the accumulated tradition. But this is necessary, to create preconditions for peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

Comment 24

... 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.

One should recognize that scientific methodology is not applicable to either validate or refute spiritual claims, and vice versa. Why do I keep repeating this? Because I want everyone to accept this position. Each comments helps me to see it from a slightly different perspective.

Comment 25

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.

I do not think that “religious mindset is the enemy of rational thinking.” I have met excellent scientists who also believed in God. You are right that evidence is needed in all areas of investigation, and that educating people in that way is desirable. But kinds of evidence in two worlds (material and spiritual) are different. The concept --the “invisible hand of the market”--was introduced by Adam Smith. My understanding is that this model of reality was very useful to economists.

Thank you for reminding us about the political dimension of our material world, Religious commitments have often been used by politicians. This is an important topic to consider, in the context of peaceful coexistence of science and faith. Religion is not only Theism; it is also a social structure, except in some cases. My intent is to focus on an idealized world without political and economic problems. This is already challenging enough. Once we agree that theologists and scientists can coexist peacefully, then we can start addressing other aspects of the world in which we live. I know my limitations.

Comment 26

If the Bible is wrong, how did the writer of Genesis know that the plants came before the Sun was placed in the sky.
Comment 27

Why should religion and science be competitive to each others? Each are matter of different field. Do religion limit science?

Comment 28

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 conclusion?

Comment 29

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 body.

Comment 30

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?

I wish I knew how to answer. Ask a theologian. They spend years debating various aspects of the spiritual world. But do not expect them to describe God in terms of physical attributes, such as mass, height, shape, color, etc. Spirituality is God, and everything associated with God. My basic assumption is that scientific attitude toward our material world, and belief in God, can coexist peacefully. Neither believers nor non-believers should be ridiculed. That should be a spiritual commandment.

Comment 31

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 outside of our understanding? Neither scientists nor theologists say that they know and understand everything.

Both scientists and theologians must accept the idea that their methods of validations are not acceptable outside their own worlds. Is this too much to ask in order to create peaceful coexistence? I do not think so. The number of topics to study, in each world, as you say, is practically endless.

Comment 32

... 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. ...

Comment 33

You 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 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 the 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.

Comment 34

Referring to science and religion, Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "The methods of one are inappropriate for the studies of the another's problems."

Comment 35

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 bath water’. 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.

Comment 36

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.

Comment 37

I think a definition of "religion" would be helpful. How about, an working definition of what things are, and why they are?

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.

Comment 38

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.

How can these two methodologies be compatible, or not compatible, when we accept that each is valid in its own world only? Each side gives away something and peaceful coexistence becomes possible. What do they give away? An arrogant claim--”my methodology has no limits of validity.”?

Comment 39

I agree that mixing science and religion are not useful. They operate with fundamentally different methodologies that are completely incompatible.

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.

This retreat (of theologians from the world of science) is as desirable as the retreat of scientists from the spiritual world of theologians (trying to either validate or refute the existence of God).

Comment 40

Define religious habits and especially ways of knowing, compare w/ scientific habits and ways of knowing and you'll find they are incompatible.

They are neither compatible nor not compatible--see my remark below Comment 38.

Comment 41
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.

Comment 42
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.

Comment 43
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.

Comment 44
.... 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 theism.   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.

Comment 45
I think that I have carefully pointed out that there certainly are differences 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. ....

Yes, the political dimension should eventually be addressed. But see my remark below the Comment 25.

Comment 46
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...

Comment 47
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".

Comment 48

Of course they can, not all religion is fundamentalist bullshit...

Comment 49

They can coexist, but I don't think religion will let science reach it's full potential.
To coexist peacefully means “not to fight with each other.” It does not mean that every scientist must be a theist (believer in God) and every theist must be a scientist.

Comment 50

Religion and science are beliefs and, like all beliefs, they don't mean shit unless they're yours. The line is crossed when people start forcing beliefs onto each other.
In other words, theologians should not validate/refute scientific claims and scientists should not validate/refute spiritual claims. Debates among scientists, and debates among theologians are most often very useful. Civilized debates usually lead to progress, in each area.

Comment 51:

I don't see why "scientific" people and "religious" people think their "truths" conflict so much (or why these types of discussions are overgeneralized so much). Science and religion are two sides of the same coin in regards to truth; science is attempting to answer "how" and religion is attempting to answer "why". Neither has, nor will probably ever, have a complete answer. The value of both is that they can provide great clarity and insight to those who seek it, while the danger of both is that they can cloud the waters and isolate people for those who seek to do so. ...

Yes, “two sides of the same coin.” Science and faith complement each other. That is a very important point. And yes, science and faith can be used for wrong purposes. But please note that scientists and theologians share the same language. Reserving the “why” word for one group of investigators and the “how” word to another, makes no sense to me. Both words are intimately linked with the ideas of truth and causality. A scientist may ask “why does the speed of a falling stone increase”? And a theologian might ask “how do we justify prayers”? What is is wrong with this? But that is a side issue, in our context.

Comment 52:

I know both 'how' and 'why' of solar eclipses, if I stand in front of you, you will not be able to see what's behind me. The 'how' and 'why' contain no science nor religion, they're just bloody obvious. As for how do we cure Malaria. That is not necessarily but most likely a scientific question, why we do it is a philosophical question, encompassing meta-ethics, politics and ideology. Religion doesn't enter into it.

Comment 53:

... Putting the answer to the final "why" in "the province of religion" is debatable. It certainly isn't the province of science, but religion has little to contribute here either, other than more or less ancient man-made myths. Since those answers are speculation of the most idle kind, I would not give religion the comfort of thinking that they have found an answer to a question that science cannot. To assume that religion rules here is, just as accepting a "god of the gaps" argument, a dead end. Historically, science has repeatedly moved the limit of the final question down the road, each time pushing the "province of religion" before it. It seems clear to me that religion has nothing of value to offer as an answer the final "why" question, any more than science does--less, in fact, since we can assume that the efforts of science will in fact move the final "why" further along with time.

Comment 54:
AFAIK, either Science or most (if not all) religions do try to answer both the hows & the whys without any help of each other. Modern scientists regularly consider that the scientific research will never end; on the other hand, several religious groups ostensibly consider that they (i.e. each one of them) already have the whole truth. That said, as a rule of thumb, Religion and Science should never ever be mixed.

Comment 55:

Someone wrote: “I am an atheist and I don't believe in God or religion. That being said, I would like to have a debate about God existing and whether or not religion is correct. My point is there is NO proof of God. All religions are based on faith, which is belief that's not based on proof. I am sure somebody is going to bring up "Well the bible said [blank] is true..." This would be an example of circular reasoning, you cannot prove something by what you are trying to prove.“

The word proof belongs to mathematics (logic). To prove a statements means to show that it is consistent with already accepted statements. But mathematics, which plays a very important role, is not science, in my opinion. The ultimate validation of a scientific claim is in the results of experiments and observations. Logic alone is not sufficient. God is not a material entity. What kind of proof are you asking for? Every theologian, even every atheist, would probably agree with you that religions are based on faith. That is a starting point, like an axiom in mathematics.

To accept is not the same thing as to tolerate. Mutual tolerance is sufficient for peaceful coexistence of science and faith. Some people are comfortable with believing in God; other people are comfortable with rejecting God. That is OK with me. Why should we criticize each other? Some people are comfortable with being scientists; other people are comfortable with rejecting science. That is also OK with me. Why should we criticize each other? What is gained by trying to look down on others? As I wrote earlier, many atheists (those who want "to convert" others) are neither scientists nor theists; the same applies to many proselytizers.

Comment 56

IMHO, religion and science are 2 sides not of the truth, but of the human needs. Religion gives answers that work on psychological level, providing security and satisfaction to the worried human soul. Science gives answers to the curiosity of the human mind. Different people have different ratios of needs - some need security more than curiosity and vice versa. So they choose which way to turn, and from which river to drink, so to speak. All is fine, I think, as long as one knows himself/herself enough to search for what they need in the place they can find it. A breach in the human psyche occurs not when 1 person follows the way that responds to their needs, but some other way - for example, a person who needs science to feed his/her needs is for whatever reason choosing to have religious affiliations /it may be from social pressure, or the personal unwillingness to pay for his choice/, and he/she has to go to church, keep appearances and so on...then such a person may develop a serious psychological duality that may come to the surface like anger against the religion that the said person feels as an obstacle to their freedom, happiness, etc...this is only a personal reaction to the psychological uncomfortableness that such a dual life can produce.

So, in my opinion, one has to get to know himself, I mean really to know, by being honest with himself/herself, and then choose one of the roads to satisfying whatever need they have, and pay the price for it.
About the "language police" - do you mean like "political correctness"? After all, it's all in our heads, all based on our needs that we accept one or another method of looking at the world /science or religion/ as true.

Comment 57

A very good post. As Shakespeare said: "Above all to thine own self be true."This whole debate between religion and science (for those who are conflicted about it) will never be settled. For sure it won't be won rationally because rationality has no place in it. Science gives you a comfortable life, religion gives you peace of mind, an anchor so to speak. (Religion also does a lot of other things but that's beside the point.)

Comment 58

I fully agree with you; that's why I generally don't get into debates like that, I only drop in now and then to say my two cents. This is one of those eternal debates that actually don't have an "absolute truth" side to them, just human.

Comment 59

Well, I'm curious about religions, all religions, and I'm fond of reading religious philosophy, history, even mystic writing...but I'm not religious by any means, practical or psychological; my intesert in religion is scientific so to speak. I personally don't see certainty in science, it's science exactly because it doesn't give any promises, or consolations, and because if's constantly updated, refuted and argued about. This is why I accept it as a method of thinking and research (I don't believe in security, what's more, I fear it).

Comment 60

I hate the term "religious." It describes people who follow without asking questions. It includes cermonies, repetition, outward appearances, heirarchy, and organization.

I much prefer the term spirituality. It describes people who follow their convictions, ask questions, look within themselves, see their own limitations and look somewhere else to make sense of it all. Spiritual people recognize that there is something more than what we can see, feel, and touch. It gives us a sense of awe about what it all means.

There is no conflict between science and spirituality. The historical church had no business making pronouncements that were later refuted by science. I believe that in every conflict between religiion and science, science prevailed. What does that prove? It proves that religion is the product of dulled people who have lost the spiritual element.

Now, what does science do for us? It gives us tools. It solves problems. It gives us understanding about this physical world. But science is not all we need. Just because we CAN clone a human doesn't mean we SHOULD clone a human.

That part of ourselves that asks "should I..." What is that? It's something that recognizes that all the answers are not going to be found in calculations and equations.

It is time to stop showing typical messages. I have no conclusion. That is why I am not going to write the intended essay on “Science and Spirituality.” My knowledge of the spiritual world is not sufficient for this. But the attempt to compose such an essay, based on ideas expressed by others, was an engaging exercise. I learned a lot from numerous contributors, and I am thankful.


Ludwik Kowalski, “Diary of a Former Communist: Thoughts, Feelings, Reality,” at