After my last post–yes, I knew it would draw a lot of comment–I think it is perhaps necessary to follow up with some more thoughts on how I, an “atheist reconciliationist,” view the science-religion relationship. It’s a subject on which (let’s face it) there is much emotion and polemicism, but not nearly enough tolerance, calm discussion, or meeting of minds.
The first point to emphasize is that I don’t much care to comment on how people reconcile science and religion in their personal lives, and do not presume to judge whether this behavior is “rational.” Frankly, I don’t think any of us is so peerlessly rational that we ought to be sitting in judgment on others. To me, it’s enough to say that such “reconciliation” happens all the time, and I know and respect many people who are religious and yet fully accepting of evolution. They’re intelligent people (sometimes brilliant), they’re civil people (sometimes wonderful), and I’m glad they’re both in my life and on my side.
To me, then, the point about religion to remember today is that while many of its manifestations may remain in conflict with science (e.g., various fundamentalisms), others have matured into a form that does not require any contradiction of scientific knowledge. Take a man like John Haught, the Georgetown University Catholic theologian and prominent defender of evolution, who argues that had a camera been present at the scene of Christ’s rising from the dead, it would have recorded nothing. “We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable?” Haught has commented.
To me, if a guy like Haught wants to defend evolution, great–and I don’t care about the rest. Would I myself believe in the Resurrection, or anything else for that matter, without any evidence that could be verified? No. I’m not constitutionally capable of making such a leap. Still, what Haught believes doesn’t hurt me, is none of my business, and he’s a powerful ally to have in defense of evolution.
Perhaps an analogy helps. I’m sure that, much like Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA principle, some will be inclined to poke holes in it (which won’t be hard to do), rather than recognizing a hopeful (if un-achieved) prescription for how science and religion ought to interrelate so that both can get along and coexist. Still, let’s try it out for a test run, recognizing that analogies aren’t perfect, but can still perhaps help our thinking.
Try, then, to think of the development of scientific knowledge as a long and quite wonderful piece of music. Let’s say, to simplify, that each new confirmed discovery represents a note, each new field a progression. Perhaps each movement from one note to the next represents our understanding of a “cause” in nature.
In this musical movement, science provides the bass line and the overarching theme–the song that we should all have in our heads. But then on top of that, it is possible to have one or many solos, belief-centered improvisations atop the theme that do not conflict with it. One type of solo would be atheism or agnosticism, but there are a vast myriad of creative religious solos as well.
If you don’t like the concept of solos, meanwhile, consider another analogy that I believe Kenneth Miller uses somewhere or other–dances. Picture that we’re all at a dance together, and science is the D.J. But then, everybody gets to dance his or her own tune that’s consistent with it.
In this context, the problem with anti-evolutionists–both young-Earth creationists and also intelligent design proponents–is that they can’t face the music. They literally attack the underlying theme, and their “solos” create dissonance with it. Their dances, meanwhile, cause them to knock over the loud speakers.
As for some atheists, well, they don’t want anybody else to have a solo. And when they’re dancing, they bump into others. Some act like they think it’s a mosh pit.
For these two groups there is, in a very real sense, a science-religion conflict. And there’s no denying there are quite a lot of members of both groups in the world today. But that doesn’t make the conflict itself necessary: We might instead argue that it simply makes them bad listeners–or bad dancers–who have the potential to spoil the party for everybody else.
In the end, however, the battles just aren’t worth it. Everybody needs the underlying theme (science), and everybody needs the solo or dance (meaning). And when we all get off the floor–without conflict–there are a host of issues we should be getting together to work on.
Links to this Post
- Science is a beautiful springtime meadow at Tête-à-Tête-Tête | April 30, 2009