Fwd: Protecting Science from Religion
- My son just sent this to me today and I thought it might be apropos
to our ongoing discussion about how to teach evolution in our classes
to students whose religious beliefs impede their understanding of
Begin forwarded message:
> From: "Miller, Samuel D." <sdmiller@...>[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
> Date: February 9, 2007 8:18:38 AM CST
> To: <lloyd.miller@...>, "David Goldman"
> <DavidGoldman@...>, <norman.mandelbaum@...>,
> <director@...>, <karneyp@...>,
> <DKaufman@...>, "Vanderlinden, David W."
> Subject: Protecting Science from Religion
> I prefer the judge’s solution on The Simpsons: “As for the issue
> of Science vs. Religion, I’m issuing a restraining order.
> Religion must stay 500 yards away from Science at all times.” But
> this blog from Scientific American’s website is good too:
> April 18, 2005
> 02:12:03 am, Categories: Archaeology, Philosophy, I.D. and
> Creationism, 1085 words
> Protecting Science from Religion (and Vice Versa)
> Two posts elsewhere today give me the occasion to talk about
> religion and science, and the importance of keeping them separate.
> Chris Mooney brought my attention to this speech that the physicist
> and educator S. James Gates, Jr. gave at last February's AAAS
> meeting on the rich intellectual legacy of Albert Einstein. At one
> point, Gates reflects:
> Due to this cautious approach to wisdom, science casts its greatest
> achievements in the forms of theories. An accepted scientific
> theory must explain many, many facts, sometimes hundreds,
> thousands, or tens of thousands, but a single fact can destroy a
> Let me paraphrase Einstein about this. He said, "The unhappy fate
> of most theories is to be proven wrong shortly after being
> introduced. However, for those not so treated, at best nature says:
> 'Maybe.' "
> I believe part of his legacy should guide our community in a debate
> that's occurring today in our nation. There is a set of
> suggestions, known as intelligent design, which have been offered
> as a scientific theory by some. We, in the scientific community,
> owe this discussion a respectful debate. First, to not do so would
> be a betrayal of our own cautiousness in approaching the gaining of
> wisdom. Second, historical examples show that faith-based
> communities do have the power to turn off science. Unless we
> rigorously and openly join this debate, our nation will move into
> the third millennium educating young ones who will be less than
> able to continue the progress we have seen so far.
> The "single fact can destroy a theory" idea is one that modern-day
> creationists love to cite. And yet it's not entirely true as
> As Michael Shermer pointed out in his "Skeptic" column some months
> ago, the facts never speak for themselves. Facts only mean
> something in the context of some framing theory. Creationists
> constantly ask questions like "where are the transitional fossils?"
> and point to unanswered problems in evolution, and they seem to
> think the absence of those "facts" contradicts evolution. Not so.
> Only the right fact can destroy a theory: if somebody discovers the
> fossil of a housecat in pre-Cambrian strata, that could destroy
> Furthermore, it's reasonable for Gates to emphasize how
> provisionally scientists can say that they know anything--but it is
> recklessly naive to acknowledge it without being aware of how some
> enemies of reason will twist that admission.
> First and more generally, they will cite this statement as evidence
> that scientists don't really know anything absolutely, and that
> science is therefore nothing more than another type of faith. This
> is nonsense, however. I know that if Socrates is a man and all men
> are mortal, then Socrates is mortal; I know this through logical
> deduction. It's possible to claim that deduced conclusions
> represent just a form of belief, but only if you're willing to
> assassinate the concepts of knowledge and belief.
> As for respectfully debating the intelligent design theorists,
> events are well past that. The "debate" happened a long time ago,
> when biologists first pointed out that ID theory falls far short of
> being a scientific theory. If ID's proponents were interested in an
> honest discussion, they would have recognized that they had been
> rebutted and moved on to something else rather than continuing to
> recycle the same dishonest arguments.
> But I do agree much more with Gates's next point, and I wish that
> the critics of evolution who will pounce on the preceding
> paragraphs would pay equal attention to this one:
> But, for me, personally, this debate has another dimension. I spent
> all of my teenage years, as mentioned in the introduction, in
> Orlando, Florida. As many people know, the southern African
> American community is one with a deep tradition of religious faith.
> The bulk of my religious training occurred in the confines of the
> African American Methodist Episcopal Church. There, we were taught
> that faith is to be anchored on the inhuman perfection of religion.
> If intelligent design is accepted as science, then like all
> scientific theories, it is in principle possible to disprove it by
> the actions of human observation and thought. Thus, those who would
> join the inhuman perfection of religion to the human imperfection
> of science put both at grave peril for anyone who deeply
> contemplates them. Many in the AME church tradition, like me, must
> reject this idea that by thoughts and actions of man our faith can
> be called into question. This is the very greatest danger, in my
> opinion, of the notion of intelligent design.
> Hear, hear. Intelligent Design is terrible science, but it makes
> for worse theology. All those people who feel that denial of ID is
> heresy are missing the damage they do to their own faith by forcing
> it to sit atop a platform of scientific argument.
> Meanwhile, Sean Carroll over at Preposterous Universe writes about
> his unease with the aims of the Templeton Foundation, which
> ultimately led him to decide not to participate in particular
> The Templeton Foundation was founded by Sir John Templeton, one of
> the world's most successful investors. Its primary purpose is to
> encourage a reconciliation between science and religion. It has
> been fantastically successful, at least with respect to public
> relations. In recent years there has been a spate of stories in
> major news outlets about how new discoveries in science are
> bringing modern science closer to religion. There have been no such
> discoveries, of course. What there has been is money -- buckets and
> buckets of money, largely from the Templeton folks, to give prizes
> and host conferences and support scientists who will say nice
> things about religion.
> ...The point is that the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation
> is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly
> religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are
> part of one big undertaking.
> Read it all. Sean writes as a committed atheist, but the point
> fundamentally holds true even if one is devout. Contrary to the
> maunderings of Gregg Easterbrook, science and religion are not
> merging. They never can. They are not complementary approaches to
> reckoning ultimate Truth. Science can only study phenomena bound by
> natural physical law; God (at least as most of the faithful
> conceive of God) exists outside of natural law. I'm not arguing
> that science and religion can't intersect: science poses
> interesting challenges to some religious beliefs and that religion
> is a healthy reminder that some questions may be forever beyond
> science's reckoning. But generally, science and religion are best
> kept separate, for their mutual benefit.
> Posted by John Rennie