Terra Sigillata

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From “Lesser Known Wise and Prophetic Words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by liberal writer and California Democratic Party delegate, Deborah White:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.

The two are not rivals. They are complementary.

Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

Photo credit: Library of Congress, believed to be in the public domain


  1. #1 Gerard Harbison
    January 21, 2008

    “Science investigates; religion interprets…Science is the response to the human need for knowledge and power. Religion is the response to human need for hope and certitude…Science and religion are not rivals. They are each otherís complement and manís binocular vision. In the past science frequently aided religion to correct its perspectives and religion has delivered science from the pitfalls of naturalism, materialistic monism, and moral nihilism.”

    Rabbi Hillel Silver, 1930, in ‘Religion in a Changing World’ (New York: Richard R. Smith, 1930)


    King had, let’s say, a tendency to borrow other people’s words without worrying very much attribution.

  2. #2 decrepitoldfool
    January 21, 2008

    I dislike to disagree with King on his holiday, but religion does not deal primarily with values. It deals primarily in mythology and values comes along for the ride, quickly thrown overboard if the mythology is threatened. The King quote issues from the old canard that ethics can only happen when there’s an invisible being driving it, because we mere humans can’t spot the right course of action by ourselves.

    The fact that many good people are religious can be juxtaposed with the counterexample that many good people are atheists. If there is any value system that corrupts the use of science, it is capitalism, which makes all knowledge a slave to profit.

  3. #3 Libertarian Girl
    January 21, 2008

    “If there is any value system that corrupts the use of science, it is capitalism, which makes all knowledge a slave to profit.”

    I have to disagree with you there. What scientific discoveries have come out of labs in Cuba or Venezuela lately? Contrary to what you’re implying, capitalism allows people to make money from science and therefore gives the world some fantastic research.

    The USSR did try to give us a run for our money during the Cold War in regards to scientific discovery, but government-funded and -controlled research like the Soviets conducted is eventually a dead end because it only provides things that the government wants, and the government wants power and prestige, not good science. (Of course, power and prestige can come from good science, but governments are often short-sighted on that count.)

  4. #4 James Hrynyshyn
    January 21, 2008

    Well, he was half-right. It’s not religion that “prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” Science does that itself.

  5. #5 James Hrynyshyn
    January 21, 2008

    For a better rebuttal than my glib response, see Tom Levenson’s post at his Inverse Square blog

  6. #6 decrepitoldfool
    January 21, 2008

    Sure science has done wonderful things powered by free-market capitalism, I won’t argue with that. But capitalism’s relentless focus on profitable technology with a built-in mechanism to suppress inconvenient questions means we get some very unpleasant by-products. Science itself gets blamed for these, unfairly.

    Capitalism, like any engine, needs a regulating mechanism. And referencing Tom’s post, what power do scientists have to direct the ethics of the economic engines that drive their research? Really, I want to know because it looks like scientists are trying to say some very important things and our capitalistic society isn’t listening to them. (Just as the USSR didn’t listen to Solzhenitsyn).

  7. #7 Tom Levenson
    January 21, 2008

    Harbison, above, overstates the plagiarism case against Martin Luther King. Abel and I both used this quote (and the same picture, as it happens) in our completely independent blog postings in honor of MLK day, and when Abel alerted me to this issue, I did a little extra digging. See this post: http://inversesquare.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/more-on-martin-a-man-much-greater-than-his-faults/ for the details, but the short form is that Professor Harbison was a little too aggressive in his editing of the Rabbi Silver material for my taste.

  8. #8 Libertarian Girl
    January 21, 2008

    What types of unpleasant byproducts are you referring to?

    I don’t agree that true free markets need more regulation– I think they need less. The very fact that governments are often in charge of funding research rather than private entities (and these entities would not have to be businesses, they could be universities or nonprofit organizations or other such groups) means that any ethics involved in research is almost entirely left to the government to decide, not the scientist.

    If the scientist doesn’t go along with the ethics of the government funders, he/she doesn’t get funded. If a scientist working for a private group doesn’t agree with the ethics or methods being used, he/she could move to another private group. In a free market of science research, competition would mean that scientists could choose where they wanted to work, not just how to frame their next grant application so the NIH doesn’t turn them down. The scientist and the universities could decide for themselves on matters relating to ethics (think stem cell research), not the government and the special interests/corporations that lobby it in DC.

  9. #9 david spates
    January 21, 2008

    I made a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day video that I think EVERYONE will enjoy. It’s really short, and should put a smile on your face.


    Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day everybody

    David Spates


  10. #10 Dave Briggs
    January 22, 2008

    The two are not rivals. They are complementary.

    I think she makes a good point and in their essence it would be true.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  11. #11 decrepitoldfool
    January 23, 2008

    LibertarianGirl: “What types of unpleasant byproducts are you referring to?” and “I don’t agree that true free markets need more regulation– I think they need less…”

    I am referring to a present global environmental crisis that is the outcome of capitalism’s lazy embrace of low-hanging carbon energy fruit. I am referring to asbestos. I refer to the tobacco industry, to the Ford Pinto, and to the mining industry. I refer to the rush to find profitable uses of nanotechnology with cautions – often raised by scientists – falling far behind. And other things.

    But I am not proposing an alternative to capitalism, only saying that capitalism is not the only truth in play. A car has an engine; it also has a thermostat and radiator, brakes, steering, shocks, bumpers, seat belts, airbags.

    You have a nearly absolute faith in the power of free markets to produce positive outcomes for everyone, even those who are not part of the transaction. I have a nearly equal belief in the irrationality of greed, of the tendency of people everywhere and all times to take the short view and let the next generation sort it out. If we can skip the inevitable circling of each others’ viewpoints, it may be enough to recognize that both points of view exist.

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