Chapter Five

Are Science And Religion Compatible?

Adams (U.C. Los Angeles): Certainly they are compatible. There's a lot of scientists who are religious. Science is a human activity which proceeds on certain principles, has certain institutions, and serves certain functions of human life. It has produced a large body of beliefs which are widely held among our society. There are also some beliefs on the frontiers of research that are more controversial. And religion is a very different sort of set of practices, institutions, and beliefs. The religious beliefs and practices have obviously quite different functions from those of the scientific beliefs and practices. They have, generally speaking, different subject matter. There are different motives involved in pursuing the subject. The beliefs and practices have different relevance in human life. I'm not sure if a onelevel answer is desired to that question. There are all sorts of ways in which one can compare religion and science.

Arntzenius (University of Southern California): The major difference is that scientific claims can be assessed in the light of mathematical deduction and experimental evidence, i.e., objective criteria for deciding if scientific claims are true or false. Religious claims I think by their very nature are not so sensible, that is what I take to be the major difference. Their compatibility depends a bit again on what you mean by religion (it used to be the case that religion was taken literally). I take it that the evidence goes against them and that they are not compatible. After the middle ages, most people became convinced that the world had more objective grounds to believe the scientific claims than the religious claims, and such claims should not be taken literally.

Beckman (Harvey Mudd): Scientists devote a great deal of time to observing the world around them and to constructing highly technical and precise languages for communicating their observations. I think they do this to a far greater degree than do theologians. Like theologians, scientists propose theories which are pictures or models they claim to represent the real world (whatever that is). They have in common the fact that these theories are articulate, coherent systems of thinking that communities of people take seriously and utilize in organizing and understanding their observations and experiences. If there is any sense in which scientific theories are "better" than theological ones, I would say it lies in the fact that science has substantially more practical success in predicting future events and properties in the observable world. I do not take this to be a devastating point to theology; that is, they have a perfect right to continue practicing their theoretical under tanding of the world. There is an interesting side question of whether separation of church and state should also require separation of science and state. I won't jump into that one; but it is clear that we unblushingly pour huge amounts of economic support into science.

Churchland, Paul (U.C. San Diego): That's a complicated question. I'm going to deliberately make it simple. I think that religion has two sides to it. One of them good, one of them unfortunate. The two sides are this: First of all, all of the world's religions attempt to give a cosmological theory of the origins of the universe and the human race's place in it and the significance we have. Christianity does it. Buddhism does it. Islam does it. Hinduism does it. Judaism does it. All of the religions do it. And I think that 2,000 years ago, when we were very ignorant, it was entirely permissible. Indeed, I would have done this thing, to try and come up with theories that could explain these things. So, in some respect religion attempts to function as science. On the other hand, the second thing that religion does is to attempt to engage in moral questions; to find basic principles on which answers can be given to new moral problems. And, this kind of activity I think is essential to human happiness I don't think that it will ever go away. I think that it is unfortunate to some degree that this necessary activity has been the principal property of the world's religions because I think they tied it to false theory.

Cohon (Stanford University): Science aspires to discover truth by means of a thoroughly objective, empirical method that is repeatable and available to all, and to detect and root out erroneous beliefs by using such a method. It is not the aim of science to console people or to make them good or to bring them happiness, although its discoveries are sometimes very useful for these purposes (as well as for frightening people, corrupting them, and bringing them miseryalso not the purposes of science). Religion takes many different forms, of course, but all those that I know of also aim at some truth, at least, although their method of getting it is usually not empirical and often not available to everyone. But most religions I know about also have further aims: to give people hope, or to improve them morally, or to lead them to eternal salvation (happiness, I take it), or to provide inner peace. Some religions are compatible with science. Some are not, e.g., the sort of Christ an fundamentalism that denies that evolution occurred or sets the age of the earth as very young. It is incompatible with science because it rejects the empirical methods of science for finding out such things in favor of appeals to revelation. Not all religions make pronouncements about such things; some say that God exists (and this is not empirically testable), and then go on to provide consolation and moral guidance.

Davis (Claremont Scripps College): Well I suppose that the major difference between science and religion. . . has to do with subject matter and mythology. Subject matter religion deals with questions like God and the after-life, and the way in which human beings ought to live which are not questions that are directly addressed typically by scientists. Scientists as human beings are of course perfectly free to talk about this question like any others, but they don't. They aren't the kind of topics that scientists deal with. A scientist will accept something only if it seems that the claim is empirically verified or verifiable. They can conduct a crucial experiment that proves it or fits into a very successful theory. But a typical religious person is quite prepared to accept something on authority because the Bible or a certain clergy person said so, and that is a myth that would not be accepted by a scientist. Are they compatible? Well, yes or no. I mean it is clear there are claims made in religion that is compatible to some claims made in science and vice versa. Are they incompatible? Yes I think they are. Believing in God as I do, I think both scientific and religious truth are aspects of the overall universal truth which God is responsible for. So I think they do fit well together. It's just that we don't see how they fit together very well.

Dreyfus (U.C. Berkeley): I think that the major difference is science is trying to find out the causal properties of natural kinds which refers to water and electrons and they do have causal properties and our science is getting it right, but finding out about the ultimate particles doesn't tell us anything about the meaning of life. Since religion only talks about meaning and science only talks causality there shouldn't be any conflict providing that science doesn't try to make pronouncements about ultimate reality as some people do who are called naturalists or reductionists and that are claiming more that they can do on the basis of science.

Dumont (Mt. Saint Mary's College): Frankly I see both as relying heavily on faith in the unknown. Both are human disciplines/activities, expressing human aspirations and subject to human limitations/faults. Both are institutions and belief systems. I see many problems with both as they are practiced today. At its best science is humble before its limitations and honest in its claims. At its best religion provides comfort, consolation, inspiration, and motivation without claiming to have all of the answers nor to order people around. I see no reason to think that they should in principle conflict, since to me they are both human pursuits of truth. There is a lot of bad religion around (arrogant and unloving) but the good religion that is there could do a great deal to support and limit (through true humility before nature and our limitations and through a proper sense of responsibility for life) the aspirations of science.

Fischer (U.C. Riverside): That is a very complicated question. The main difference is in the methods. In science, methods are used proportional to belief and evidence. We remain skeptical and we are not going to form conclusions for which there is no strong evidence. In religion, there is none of the same evidence. People accept on faith and not on concrete facts. Religion involves a leap of faith, accepting that it can be proved. They are and they aren't compatible; that depends on religion. If religion says God created the world in six days, etc., then science is probably incompatible. There are forms of religious belief that don't make those kinds of claims.

Friedman (U.C. Davis): Science is a traditional enemy of traditional religion. However, science is compatible with enlightened religion.

Griesemer (U.C. Davis): Science by common consent of practicing scientists is revisable in the face of experience (observation, experiment, calculation). Religious beliefs typically (though not universally) are not. Now the nature of the revisablity of science is a difficult set of problems that I can't address briefly (I don't subscribe to a simple "falsifiability" concept of what distinguishes science from religion), but whatever it is, it seems implausible to me that we would find practitioners of a religion using them to revise the tenets of their religion. I do think science and religion are compatible in the sense that we all live with logically incompatible beliefs, so science and religioneven if they entail a contradiction like, evolution says humans evolved from primitive ancestors and religion says we were created by Godare compatible in a practical sense. And this practical sense is the sense that goes in science, too. A contradiction that is never noticed or never invoked in a argument can't do much damage, so it doesn't matter too much if some of our beliefs are logically incompatible. This fact allowed many famous evolutionary biologists and other scientists to also practice a religion. However, there are certainly some sciences (e.g., evolutionary biology, geology) and some religions (e.g., the form of biblical literalism that goes by the name of creation science) that are incompatible in both logical and practical senses. One can't believe and practice both together.

Jolley (U.C. San Diego): The short answer is that the claims of science are empirically falsifiable, those of religion (at least on one interpretation) are not. Whether religion and science are compatible depends on how religious claims are interpreted.

Jubien (U.C. Davis): The major difference is that they generally have distinct goals (e.g., theorizing about the nature of the physical world versus saving souls). To this extent they are compatible. Of course, some religions make claims that are in conflict with science (not to mention common sense). Such claims may be an essential part of certain religions, but they aren't an essential part of religion per se.

Lambert (U.C. Irvine): I think there are two major differences. In science, you can strive to be able to predict phenomena. Predictions are different than prophecies. In science, you also try to find corroborative explanations. Those are explanations which can be corroborated by appeal to experience. In short, I think these are two segments of rational activity. There are characteristics of science that are simply not characteristics of religion. So I think the difference is in these two activities. Predicting on the one hand and producing corroborated explanations on the other, that's scientific. I don't think that's part of religion. I think that science is a kind of rational activity. Those are two segments that I do not think of religion as a rational activity. Though there is a tradition in which it would be nice if somebody actually produced proof that God exists. In fact, one of my friends by the name of Robert Meyer, a mathematical logician, has written a paper entitled "God Ex sts." He proved the existence of God by using some of the materials in mathematics. Surely, religious activity I regard as not irrational but other than rational, outside what we pretend to be rational. I don't mean every part of it. Its goals are not those of science and its activities.

Lloyd (U.C. Berkeley): Well, in religion you have a lot more scope. You have a lot more freedom to believe what you believe. In science there is a certain amount of play, but according to the nature of science, people have to agree that the evidence offered supports the conclusion. It tends to be much more restricted. Scientific knowledge is more restricted. I think that religion and science are compatible, but I think that they are about different things that we can observe and run into, and manipulate, and build things with and understand. And I think that religion is about everything else.

Matson (U.C. Berkeley): Science is based on beliefs that have been tested (note: I do not say, "are in principle testable") in experience. Evolution favors believers whose tested beliefs are true. Religion is based on untested beliefs that are held on account of their social usefulness. Evolution does not tend to eliminate such beliefs on the ground of factual falsity. Thus, science and religion are fundamentally incompatible, insofar as science is able to extend the scope of experience to the point of putting religious beliefs to experimental tests (as has happened with Christianity and Islam at least).

McCann (University of Southern California): The major difference is that science looks to empirical evidence as the touchstone of truth, whereas many religions see themselves as resting on faith rather than evidence. . . I also point that, again historically, the scientific claims in these disputes have been the only one vindicated.

McGray (University of San Diego): I fail to see any real conflict. The questions are different.

Needleman (San Francisco State College): Yes.

Neumann (Claremont Scripps College): It can or can't mix; it depends. The problem is that religion is very mythical, most of it doesn't change, which in turn is completely the opposite of science. In reality science and religion are only man's way of finding a reason for existence.

Pippin (U.C. San Diego): Yes, I think they are compatible. Religion seems to be an expression of some sense of a deep human finitude, an ability to direct or orient all or our most fundamental activities on the basis of well grounded reasons. Since this is not itself an empirical claim about anything, it is not inconsistent with anything in science.

Roth (Claremont McKenna College): Religion operates with certain categories that don't enter into science. The main one would be something like the category sacred. Science can have a relation to that idea, but when it does it's really beyond the parameter of science to some extent and starts being religious. We know people who study science can often have religious sensitivity that is increased because of what they know scientifically, but I think when they are expressing their religious or spiritual views that they are probably leading outside the realms of science. So I think that would be the biggest difference, that religion has attention focused on things (we might use the words sacred or divine), and science does not. That leads to some other differences that we have to deal with. The ways communities are formed and the way rituals occur you could argue that science has its communities and rituals and practices and religion has its own as well. In other ways are science and religion compatible? es, I would say certainly they are. Partly for reasons I mention that they are not operating as competitors, but as a way of organizing and looking at experience as different dimensions. Some people would argue that the dimensions are incompatible. I don't find that myself.

Schwyzer (U.C. Santa Barbara): They can be compatible. A good Christian can still believe in science. He can believe in Genesis as a myth. I don't believe that religion can swallow the evolutionist theory, just as I don't believe that science disproves religion. Religion has a different origin than science; it is not from an intellectual motivation. They both answer different questions. They have different realms of inquiry. Religion deals with the fate of mankind and is not straightforward curiosity as is science.

Shalinsky (U.C. San Diego): The major difference is faith, while the other is required to meet a stringent set of requirements. That is, a scientific theory has to meet a number of criteria: it has to explain empirical data, it has to accurately predict events, it has to be internally coherent. Religion need not meet any of these criteriaiteria need not, by definition, be confirmed. Even so, it had an interesting feature: any evidence, even countervailing evidence, can be used in its support. Thus one can point to the absence of God as proof of His existence, the presence of evil as proof of His existence, the presence of flowers and bees as evidence of His existence, and so on. The question of the compatibility of religion and science depends upon some characterization of the religious doctrines involved: if the religious claim is that humankind started with Adam and Eve, then such a claim obviously clashes with evolutionary theory; if the religious claim is that humans ought to observe the various co mmandments, then such a claim might clash with scientific theory. The question really depends upon the scope of the religious theory: if it makes claims about the ultimate nature of reality, then there may very well be conflict; if it simply concerns questions about morality, then there may not be.

Sircello (U.C. Irvine): Science and religion are compatible, but they don't have anything to do with one another. In other words, they answer the same questions, but in a different way. Where science is a controlled means, religion is not.

Suppes (Stanford University): I think that religion of course in many ways has helped form the setting for modern science and that there are forms of religious beliefs that people can have which are very inconsistent with good evidence. A good example would be the creationist movement. Creationists are against teaching evolution as a scientific theory. Now I think that the creationist viewpoint is naive and a bad example of the interaction of religion and science.

Wollheim (U.C. Davis): Science offers explanations. I do not see how religion can, because what religion proposes goes beyond what we look to for making things explicable. God could not be constrained by our categories.

Woodruff (U.C. Irvine): I think originally religion was a substitute for science. That is, as a method of control over the environment or as an explanation of things. So to the extent that that is true there is some competition between them. But certainly my own view of theology, as expressed before, is not incompatible with science. I don't see any reason for them to be incompatible. I mean fundamentalists who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, of course there will be a conflict there. But I don't see that as a necessary aspect of religion. So I think they are perfectly compatible. They are just addressed to different things. Science tries to describe the way the universe is, and religion tries to give us some kind of emotional relation to the whole.