Yet again, another Jesus flare-up. Rob Knop posted his personal religious views and the prophetical shit hath hit the fan. I swear the science and spirituality debate is like a bad case of hemorrhoids.
Some of us just never had these problems that result from self-identification. I stress the self part because, as Chris Rowan points out, the whole discussion really is about how individuals reconcile their personal views with physical realities. We only run into problems when we start trying to pigeon-hole everybody else.
Which is why when it comes to my personal beliefs/lack thereof, I do an end run around the entire issue by avoiding labels as much as possible.
Labels create an attachment, and being overly tied to a category that doesn’t necessarily have the same boundaries from person to person will inevitably lead to conflict. For instance, I like Buddhism. There’s a lot of truth to be found in Buddhist philosophy and I have a lot of respect for it (notice I specified Buddhist philosophy as opposed to a Buddhist religion. See, it’s starting already!) Ironically I don’t consider myself to be a Buddhist precisely because that would require that I form an attachment; something that I cannot, in good conscience, do as a Buddhist. So by refusing to be a Buddhist, I become a better one! (Buddhists everywhere are rolling their eyes at my shitty rhetorical paradox).
That being said, I have held a number of religious and philosophical outlooks. I’ve never found any of them to be in conflict with science. To illustrate, I’ll just post for you a short essay I wrote for the Alliance for Science’s Member Opinions page. It is focused on the evolution/intelligent design “conflict” in particular, but the message is applicable to all scientific endeavors. Likewise we can apply it to all religio-theo-philosophical worldviews.
Throughout my life I have described my religious and philosophical outlook in a number of different ways; I was raised Catholic and considered myself such through high school, then nondenominational Christian my first few years of college. Towards the end of college I deconverted to atheism, adopting more of a secular humanist worldview. Lately I have been investigating Theravada Buddhism as a non-religious philosophical perspective due to its compatibility with neuroscience and theories of consciousness.
Despite the vastly different outlooks I have held in my life, I have never considered any of them to be in conflict with the science of evolutionary biology. When I was Christian I believed that the Bible was, as the popular saying goes, a book that tells us how to get to heaven, not how the heavens go. Quite simply it was never meant to be a hard science book, but a metaphor for godly living. I reasoned that it was arrogant to try and fit God in a box labeled “science”, and likewise if the evidence from the natural world suggested that evolution was the mechanism by which God chose to shape human life, then it would be nothing less than idolatry of the Bible itself to deny the natural evidence in favor of a narrow, rigid scriptural interpretation. In other words we were meant to merely study the creation, but worship the creator.
I also find no conflict between science and Buddhism. Indeed, a central tenant of Buddhism is that suffering is borne of ignorance. Evolutionary theory provides us with a mechanistic explanation through which we can alleviate suffering; we can understand and predict the spread of antibiotic resistance in bacteria with evolution and thus prevent outbreaks of “superbugs”, or extrapolate how biota will react to the sudden introduction of foreign species. We can understand how to protect our food supply from diseases and pests by using other organisms and without destroying the effectiveness of pesticides. We can, using the explanatory and predictive powers of evolutionary theory, make the world a better place for those who come after us.
Intelligent design, on the other hand, is one giant argument from ignorance. If a biological phenomenon is purported to lack an explanation then “solving” the problem by saying “a designer did it” (thus concluding the phenomenon constitutes evidence of design) will get us exactly nowhere. No natural phenomenon should be regarded as intractable; this is intellectual laziness and not excusable, and certainly does future generations an injustice.
This is the strength of our science; anyone, of any religious creed or none, can agree upon the central tenants of the scientific method. We can also achieve consensus on evidence supporting the theory of evolution, provided we agree to leave religious or philosophical presuppositions at the door and let the natural world speak for itself. The supernatural, by definition, does not fall under the purview of science. Forcing God into a test tube is not doing science, for the result of any experiment will ultimately be then fixed upon a predetermined outcome. Herein lies the primary difficulty of Intelligent Design Creationism, who state that we can see the designer’s handiwork in nature. However, the conclusion flows from the premises, creating a logical fallacy and empirical contradictions; IDC’ers like to trot out examples like Mount Rushmore as support for design, stating that it could not be the product of wind and erosion, but conveniently ignore the infamous “face on Mars”, which is the result of natural processes. They give us no objective criteria by which we can distinguish what is actually intelligently designed. The supernatural, while being compatible with everything, never really explains anything. Multiple supernatural “explanations” are available for any given phenomenon, but there is no conceivable experiment to parse out what a correct one might be. Our only recourse, if we wish to progress as a society, is to agree to disagree on metaphysics and to get to work in the laboratory.
The magic prescription to all this scientific/spirituality conflict? Keep it to yourself, or at least keep it jovial. Just have a small slice of humble pie. No Excedrin necessary.