Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time: The Relationship between Science and Religion

9/28/2014—David Barash threw down the gauntlet today in the Sunday New York Times. Barash is an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at the University of Washington. He was writing today about "The Talk." Barash uses this term to describe a lecture he gives now to students about the relationship between science and religion.

There is a sense in which this relationship is the key to understanding our time. All of my doubts about religion stem from the unbelievability of any reality outside the norms of the laws that science describes. I do not mean the existence of God exactly. For who knows what God is? And even Barash admits that the existence of God is not something science can tell us anything about.

No, I mean something like the resurrection of Jesus. Most miracles do not matter that much, but this one does. Something extraordinary obviously happened after Jesus's death. His followers, pious Jews, were associating with Gentiles and eating nonkosher food just 20 years after his death. That simply cannot be explained.

But, on the other hand, the body does not reanimate. I do not know how else to put it.

A lot of work has been done at this intersection. Ian Barbour spent a lifetime describing the possible relationships between science and religion. And, as Barash begins his column, Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion as compatible, "nonoverlapping magisteria". Or NOMA for short.

So, here is what Barash tells his students. First, God could exist and could use evolution to serve his purposes. However, the magisteria are not nonoverlapping. [I should add here that in terms of the Bible, the Old Testament in particular, the notion that there exists a realm in which God is irrelevant is ridiculous. So, obviously, it is not possible for biblical religion to have nothing to say about the nature the universe. That would not be biblical religion. So the two realms never could be separate]

From Barash's point of view, science has demolished "two previously potent pillars of religious faith and undermined belief in an omnipotent and Omni benevolent God." One demolition is that evolution can get to the complexity of life without a supernatural creator. Evolution can accomplish all the complexity we see within entirely natural boundaries. [This is certainly true, but it still does not mean that the process is "undirected". Barash is simply assuming a lack of telos in reality. How does he know the process is undirected?]

The second demolition is that human beings are not distinct. They are, we are, "perfectly good animals, natural as can be an indistinguishable from the rest of the living world…." [What kind of religion required otherwise? Anyway, is it not suggestive of telos that we evolved? Why exactly does the universe need our sense of right and wrong and of beauty and of order and of kindness and of non-interested love?]

But the key problem that Barash wants to point to his suffering. All of reality suffers. Evolutionary theory is filled with violence and parasites. Why did a good God work this way? The more we see, the more convinced we must be "that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator." [This one is certainly profound, but I do not think that science today has added anything to it. People have been aware since we were aware that we were eating meat that we kill to live and so does nature.]

Anyway, Barash's main point is that all of this is religion's problem, not his. The Talk makes it clear that science is solid and religion has the problem. [More to come]

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