After having watched a recent episode of ABC’s Q&A on which panelists discussed science and religion, it seems as though there are some strange charges being leveled. While it’s usually fairly easy to shrug them off when they’re presented as an argument against atheism, such accusations should never be dismissed when they focus on science. It would seem that in the mind’s of many, science and atheism are synonymous. While it appears to be true that science tends to lead people to atheism, they are not, have never been and will never be considered to be the same thing.
Introducing The Q&A Panel
The panel included theoretical physicist, director of the Origins Project at Austin State University and author of the book “a Universe from Nothing” Professor Lawrence Krauss, ancient historian Dr. John Dickson of the Centre for Public Christianity, author and medical commentator Dr. Cindy Pan, Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek, and Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage Greg Hunt. The discussion was, almost remarkably, civilly toned. It was a single, almost inane, comment from Greg Hunt that motivated these thoughts and, ultimately, transformed them into this article.
“Each [religion and science] has been used for good, each has been used for bad on different occasion. That’s about the hands in which it’s exercised.”
Since that was the spark, that will be the first item to be addressed.
The Mutual Wickedness and Benevolence
Let’s be honest. There is no mutuality between religion and science as far as acts of good and evil go. Almost unanimously, you have religion committing atrocities in one form or another for as long as history has recorded on one side, and the net benefits of scientific discovery on the other side. At no point has science made an ideologically informed decision to torture and execute people based on their superstitious practices or beliefs. At no point has science made examples of non-believers by beheading them on film for the rest of the world to see. At no point has science attempted to stifle free speech or disseminate obvious falsehoods to the impressionable and the young.
Even today we see the tyranny, the bigotry and the outright terror inspired by theocratically aligned countries in our world. To confuse the issue by calling that an example of a minority and not a majority is sidestepping the issue at the very least, enabling at the worst. The Catholic church still upholds its position against the use of condoms in HIV/AID’s stricken Africa and fundamentalist Christians still picket the funerals of returning soldiers who, in their view, “support the gay lifestyle”. They even go so far as to liken natural disasters as gods wrath for the USA’s growing acceptance of permitting equal rights to the gay community.
It’s obscene to draw the correlation between religion and science in this manner, and it undermines the noble pursuit of knowledge for which science stands. It slows our progress and marginalizes the marvelous improvements to leisure and life which come, exclusively, from scientific discovery.
Who Causes War?
To say that neither science nor religion, but people, cause war is to state something which is patently obvious. People will find a reason to go to war with or without religion, just as they have without science for thousands of years. But, we must ask ourselves whether this position is really tenable–does religion or science have a direct hand in the beginnings of war?
From the Bible we have God permitting war, genocide and the wholesale slaughter, rape and genocide of people who refuse to follow him. It openly calls for the killing of non-Christians (Deuteronomy 13:6-10, 2 Chronicles 15:13), homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), blasphemers (Leviticus 24:13-16), and witches (Exodus 22:18). For the most part Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus read as a list of people you can and should kill with a smattering of people you should hate and enslave, or a few absurd asides.
The Quran doesn’t read much better.
If you’re interested, have a look over at the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. They also do the Quran and the Book of Mormon.
Creation in Schools
Creation should, under no circumstances, be taught in public schools. I don’t mind entering first person here for a moment to openly state that I was utterly horrified to learn that it was here in Australia. It is a disgusting abuse of the duty of care teachers have to their students.
As Greg Hunt says, “Science for the science classrooms and religion for the religious instruction cl–” Why even have religious instruction classrooms? If parents want their children to learn about religion, they should be taking them to church. Religion has no place in schools and even less place in the publicly funded school system.
What is Science Really?
Ultimately, science is the systematic accumulation of knowledge through a robust process designed to eliminate ideology and personal bias. You begin with a hypothesis based on observations. Then you devise and engage in experimentation designed to falsify the hypothesis. From the experiment, you collect information which you analyse. Finally, you submit your findings to peer review where others can retest your hypothesis to find supporting or falsifying evidence. If bias gets in the way anywhere along the line, the peer review and retesting will rather quickly remove it–not everyone shares your bias.
When all is said and done, however, science speaks for itself. The benefits which science provides us with are far too numerous to count. We live longer, eat healthier, have enough food for almost everyone, experience more leisure time, and can travel and communicate worldwide with relative ease. We have been to the Moon, sent robots to Mars and have even launched probes beyond our solar system. We have peered into the most distant recesses of the Universe to watch the birth and death of the stars themselves.
The Universe is an enormous and hauntingly beautiful place.