Evolution, Religion, and Race: Critical Thinking and the Public Good

By Graves, Joseph L., Jr.; Bailey, Gary | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Evolution, Religion, and Race: Critical Thinking and the Public Good


Graves, Joseph L., Jr., Bailey, Gary, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


I. Critical Thinking, Religion, and Race: Why Critical Thinking Matters

It is the intention of this paper to address certain issues concerning the relation between science, religion, and the public good. These relations are often discussed without clear, critical articulations of what is meant by the terms and without clear, informed understandings of what others, particularly those outside of a given discipline, mean by the terms. For example, discussants often assume their own particular, experiential understandings of religion, without expressing knowledge of the diversity of religions in the world, or even the diversity of historical manifestations of their own religions. Many discussants are unaware of critical scholarship in the study of religion, including informed and intense argument over definition, theory, and meaning of religion in human history. Likewise, discussants often assume narrow understandings of science. Many equate "science" with the natural sciences, and even more narrowly, with a stable body of knowledge about the natural world, as opposed to broad processes of critical inquiry into many different objects, including natural, social, and aesthetic objects. The 19th century Continental understanding of science as critical and systematic inquiry into all possible areas of thought is largely unknown in contemporary discussions in which the term "science" appears.

This paper will do two things. First, we will define what we mean by "science" in differentiation from "religion" and articulate how we believe science and religion should be related. By science we mean a set of critical principles and rules for evaluating and testing data and arguments about the meaning of data. Such principles and rules are appropriate for investigating all areas of experience, including natural, social, and aesthetic phenomena. In order to obviate too-narrow understandings of "science" we will use the phrase "critical thinking" to refer to these principles and rules. As for religion we will remind readers both of the wide diversity of religious traditions and the wide diversity of scholarly interpretation of religion. Whether and to what extent religion and science are compatible depends centrally on how both religion and science are defined and understood. Many broad religious traditions include strands that understand religion and science in ways that make them necessarily antagonistic to one another, as well as strands that understand them in ways that make them compatible, complementary, or even identical. Fruitful discussions about the proper relations between science and religion require careful definitions and presentation of this historical and conceptual diversity. We will argue for the view that all religion should be governed by the principles and rules of critical thinking. In the second part of the paper we will provide examples that demonstrate how religious views that contradict critical, scientific thinking lead to pernicious consequences for those who hold the views, for particular individuals and groups that are damaged collaterally, and for the larger public.

What is science? We mean by "science" the various, broad-based methods of discovery, critical thinking, experimental testing, systematic critique, and collaborative discussion used in principle by all of the modern scientific disciplines, including the social, natural, and text-interpretive sciences. Central to all these disciplines, but employed in different ways on different objects by each, are the following:

* basic principles of logic and inferential thinking: principles of identity, contradiction, and excluded middle, and deductive and inductive inference; perhaps no rule of thinking is more important than the following: treat like cases alike;

* admitting ignorance, asking questions, desiring to know;

* A commitment to admit only that evidence which is in principle available to any and all investigators;

* developing informed, fruitful, falsifiable hypotheses in response to the questions;

* drawing implications of the hypotheses;

* developing controlled, replicable experiments that allow one to test the hypotheses;

* Submission of the entire experimental process and results (questions, hypotheses, and experiments) to the public for discussion and debate

* The willingness to admit error and ignorance throughout the process, even when the evidence appears overwhelmingly strong;

* Careful attention to, and control for, the manifold ways in which human beings deceive themselves and/or are deceived by biases (social, psychological, ideological, etc. …

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