Science and Religion: Drawing the Line

By Talavera, Isidoro | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Science and Religion: Drawing the Line


Talavera, Isidoro, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

The problem of drawing the line between science and religion may be considered a subset of a wider problem in the philosophy of science: the demarcation (or boundary) problem. This is the general problem of drawing the line between science and non-science (most importantly, pseudoscience). But, can we draw the line between science and religion? For some religious believers, things are not always that clear-cut and it can be difficult to tell the characterizations of science and religion apart. For example, consider popular notions like: science is a secular or humanistic religion, science is a hostile materialistic or mechanistic faith, and/or science is just a theory or belief system.

To be sure, areas exist where theistic religion and modern science are clearly not compatible, but demarcation for the defender of the faith may get blurred. This may be especially the case when the religionist dismisses or discredits reasoning and critical thinking, is armed with a characterization that confuses science with scientism, adopts a too narrow vision of what knowledge is, and/or argues that science and religion must be compatible because key aspects of modern science are based upon (or have something in common with) religion.

Furthermore, passion (or commitment) born out of doctrinal certainty (or religious imperialistic ideology) may also motivate individual or dominant faith to blur the line between science and religion. In such cases, religious faith may seek to uncompromisingly extend the rule or influence of a body of alleged spiritual truths proposed (or dictated) to direct the beliefs, expectations, and actions of others. Yet such individual or dominant faith may be founded on false beliefs based on a misguided identification of causation, beliefs that are not falsifiable, and/or beliefs that are not physically (and logically) possible. Accordingly, in this essay I provide some overriding reasons why modern science is not a religion, faith, and/or just a theory or belief system.

Like A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail

To be sure, one cannot, on pain of contradiction, reason against demarcation, yet appeal to it by reasoning that different disciplines require different methods of analysis or evaluation--suggesting that the progress sought in this discussion cannot be achieved by appealing to reason because religion governs its own separate domain by faith and is, in this sense, immune from rational analysis or evaluation. For, in the sense that religion is an attempt to try to argue and/or invoke method to determine or make known the truth about what is (e.g., via scriptural reference or interpretation, metaphysical claims, metaphor, or analogical reasoning), there is the need to analyze or evaluate its arguments by crossing the different domains. Moreover, by refusing to conform to logic one cannot, on pain of contradiction, sidestep the reality that method itself implies a logically ordered way of accomplishing something--as the detailed procedures and techniques that suggest order characteristic of a particular discipline or field. Religion, then, is also not immune from the logical analysis or evaluation of its procedures and techniques. (1)

It does one no good to dismiss logical analysis or evaluation and/or material evidence (i.e., argument and/or supporting evidence), since to argue against the truth or correctness of the logical principles of reasoning amounts to adopting a position that makes reasoning theoretically impossible. For ... the laws of logic are embedded in our thinking and our language ... (2) So, for instance, the skeptic (or person refusing to conform to logic) cannot, on pain of contradiction, hope to persuade by presenting the argument (possibly critiquing logic as a blatantly absolutist enterprise) that all rules are oppressive, logic is a set of rules, so logic is oppressive (3)--that is, one cannot use logic to reject (or defeat) logic. …

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