TBH, these thoughts will never be final.
To what factors do you attribute the historical antipathy between biblical authority and scientific inquiry? In your opinion, does such an antipathy persist today? Or can these systems be reconciled with one another? Should scientists take into account the scruples of religious believers in the course of their research? To what degree (if any) should religious discourse accommodate developing scientific models of and for the world?
There has been an ongoing antipathy between science and religion that has persisted since Darwin’s work was published (or Galileo’s Trial, if we want to push it back further), this is difficult to refute. However, the real question is not whether or not the two systems have been reconciled, it’s can they?
In the beginning, religion and science were wed together. As the bible spread across Europe, the pursuit of knowledge turned from inward thoughts to outward physical truth, and technological advances were made at the same time. The scribes who studied the bible were the same people who conducted experiments on the natural world as a general pursuit of “truth”.
The idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria (NOMA), proposed by Stephen Jay Gould, suggests a happy ending. Since science and religion occupy different spheres of our human experience, one using our understanding of reason and the other of morals, values, and emotion, they can coexist as two different kinds of truth that do not contradict or overlap. This is all very idealistic, and works in general, until we try to define the boundary between the magisteria. Don’t we make moral decisions in how we use science? Can’t we experience awe solely from understanding the physical world? If we ask more questions like this, we find that the magisteria he proposes are not non-overlapping at all. Especially more so now when we are approaching times when we must think about transhumanism and how human dignity is dependent on how we treat nature/our physical bodies.
When Galileo was defending his new discoveries made with the telescope, he emphasized that scripture doesn’t err, which doesn’t mean that the interpretations of it are necessarily correct. Galileo believed that both nature and scripture are derived from the divine word, so there was no danger of truth contradicting truth. Even while nature doesn’t need to be understood, scripture doesn’t need to teach everything, but only what is necessary for salvation. Retrospectively, we understand this, especially since we know where our earth stands in the solar system, but looking into the future technology which we could contrive, things become trickier.
William Paley, a natural theologist, provided the famous analogy of Intelligent Design: if one finds a watch in the middle of the woods – one must assume that it had a Maker. Such a thing does not appear from mere stones. If we look at the natural world and see “Design” – how well all organisms are adapted to their environments – we see proof of a “Designer”. From his point of view, the physical world is living evidence of the existence and benevolent attributes of God. But this seems all a little bit too perfect. It’s true, our supposed Maker allows us to feel pleasure in existing, but there is pain too! For every species that has lasted to this day, many others have become extinct to make room for them. Darwin explains this in his treatise on natural selection. Is all this death, predation, and fitness necessary? Paley was either blindly or purposefully naive in his knowledge on God’s personality.
In the end, Darwin lost his faith because supposedly evolution removed the need for a God in the world. Ironically, Francisco Ayala uses evolution to explain that the world’s imperfections were not a result of God’s failed design, but that they were intentional, since he acts through secondary causes (evolution is the method of divine intelligence).
Transhumanism is the belief that technology for human enhancement should be widely available, that parents should be able to choose these enhancements for their children, and overall that human nature is improvable (via genetical engineering, virtual reality, AI). The flip side to this is bioconservatism – the party which is opposed to technology being used to modify human nature because the “posthuman” state undermines something about our natural human dignity, not to mention could pose a threat to the “ordinary”. Nick Bostrom, a transhumanist, tells us the way it is: nature’s “gifts” are sometimes poisoned, and the world isn’t perfect. We get cancer, we starve, age, lose our memory, and contract diseases. What comes “naturally” to us includes murder, rape, cheating, and racism. We don’t have to accept these gifts. Bostrum also says that we already have people who are disabled, if we enhance people via genetic engineering, we’re simply enlarging the spectrum.
If Bostrum says that enhancing our life is no big leap from enhancing our technology (wasn’t Galileo just enhancing his abilities when he put the telescope to his eye?), what’s holding us back?
What is progress, anyhow? We can change things without necessarily progressing. How much lifespan, libido, or intellect do we really need to have an epitomized experience? If we forget transhumanism for now, and go back to Darwin, we will find that certain people have taken his theories a few steps further so as to apply it to human society. In this way, Social Darwinism can be used as an excuse to propagate racism and class divisions. Francis Galton says that if people are in a certain position, they were meant to be there. A capable lower class man could rise up through societies out of his own ambition and zeal. However, if we switch back to the animal world, we find that this may be an unfair way to treat the human species. Certain traits have been sexually selected within populations that don’t have the immediate need to struggle for survival. Is attraction and the value, and possibly the intelligence of each human “inheritable”, then? If so, do we sterilize or restrict those considered “moronic” so that the overall intelligence level of society can increase? Does “race” not exist except as a construct of society?
It turns out, we cannot measure intelligence between populations, but only within them. There is no evidence that the volume of the head has any correlation with intelligence. The Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was originally only meant as a diagnostic tool for children who need extra help in school, and so the rankings and value we place on them today are unfounded. Today, social prejudices are propagated by standardized tests which only demonstrate how much education the children have been given, not their innate potential.
So what is the real struggle between science and religion in the modern world? Is it the origin of man? Do we believe in the bible or evolution? Can we believe in both? If God didn’t make man in his own image, then what reason for existence do we have? If evolution isn’t God’s plan, he no longer influences our world, and therefore there’s no need for his existence. We cannot say that Christ was just a man because this takes away “the miracle” of the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the atonement, which would mean no church.
The Scopes Trials (whether or not modern science should be taught in schools) is the first instant where a legal debate was held over the consistency of Creationism and Evolution (although this is superficial, a law cannot change your belief without your consent). In the sense that this was a conflict over anthropology – the origin and destiny of man – it’s comparable to Galileo’s trial. Obviously, we know who was right back then, but to what extent are religious parties supposed to accommodate scientists, and vice versa?
We could also interpret Scripture in light of scientific discovery, as William Brown did. If theology is faith seeking understanding, and science is understanding seeking understanding, then there is nothing the bible has to fear from science, and in fact, it can learn from it in its methodological differences. He goes on to demonstrate several parallels (for example, humans were created from dust = dust in space forms stars and planets; the fabric of the cosmos = spacetime).
This is the debate where it stands today. For now, we’re at equilibrium. But in the near future, technological advancements may soon move faster than our moral understanding. If one day, we can choose genes, especially those of our children, that may take away the purity of parental love. Instead of accepting children the way that they come, our love becomes conditional. Holding back from the use of technology becomes not a theological question, but a moral one. Changing our genes, according to Michael J. Sandel, is the deepest form of disempowerment, because while Prometheus brought fire to change the world, this entails changing ourselves to fit the world.
And furthermore, if we continue to enhance ourselves, say we choose to go down this path, will it ever end? The norms of health and fitness will always keep improving. If we bring up those who are below “average”, soon those who are average will feel that they’re not. Furthermore, this slope would enhance class divisions – the rich would quickly not only have more and better belongings, but have different, nearly immortal bodies. What should we do so that we can reap the benefits of these technologies but defend human dignity at the same time?
What’s wrong with any of this? Where do our sense of morals come from anyway? Are they naturally imbued within us regardless of our being raised in society? To an extent, I think these future issues on the table have less to do with religion and more with philosophy and the moral system as a whole.
Thank you for reading! Perhaps I spend more time asking questions than answering them, because I do not have all the answers in this discussion, which has become more, not less relevant over time. This just goes on to show how important it is to be aware of the arguments that are out there to inform our choices in the future.
Thank you especially if you have been following my thoughts since the very beginning of the semester. For your reference, I have included a catalog below of every post I’ve written on the topic “Science & The Bible”.
Catalog of Discussions in “Science & The Bible”
Back to our primary question, Jerry Coyne says no. If we look at religion the way we look at science, which is a rational way of understanding the world, religion is a hypothesis which we must reject until we get more data. Since those who have faith have the excuse to reject all evidence, no matter how sound the reasoning it will always stand as a stumbling block to the scientific method, and as a way of finding out the truths in the universe. Accomodationism is simply a self-serving means to keep religion and turn it into a metaphor once science proves a biblical event is “not completely true”. It doesn’t resolve the question of reason vs. faith, it just tries to have the cake and eat it too. Finally, if the two were compatible, the debate should have ended long ago, Coyne argues.