Science vs. Religion: Can This Marriage Be Saved?

On 9 November 2013, the present author presented a talk at a symposium on Science and Mormonism held in Provo, Utah. Bailey’s full presentation, entitled “Science vs. Religion: Can This Marriage Be Saved?”, can be viewed Here. A nice synopsis of Bailey’s presentation is given in a report on the Meridian Magazine website.

[Added 19 Dec 2013: A full paper is now available Here. This is slated to appear in an upcoming volume, published by the Interpreter Foundation.]

Bailey discussed the increasingly nasty “war” being fought between certain atheistic scientists and scholars, on one hand, and certain religious fundamentalists, on the other hand. He labeled these groups “Camp A” and “Camp B.”

He noted that their literature is actually quite similar in high-level style: it typically is rather blustery in tone, brushes off contributions to society of the other camp, employs fallacious arguments, ascribes many of society’s ills to the other camp, and argues that this is an all-or-nothing matter, openly criticizing those who attempt to stake a reasonable middle ground.

Bailey then outlined some specific flaws with each. Camp A literature, for example, claims scientific “proofs” that there is no God. But science, by its very definition, cannot say anything one way or the other about the existence or nature of God. Camp A writers also often cite the many religious wars through history as evidence that religion is downright harmful. But historians have long noted that religious wars were only superficially about religion, and much more about international political differences.

Similarly, Class B literature has serious flaws. To begin with, their technical arguments against evolution, or that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, are widely judged by the scientific community (even among highly devout scientists) as deeply fallacious and of no merit. More importantly, these writers, in their attempt to identify phenomena that can’t be explained by present-day science, are guilty of “God of the gaps” thinking, which has inevitably led to disillusionment as science advances.

The last straw for many readers is Camp B’s promotion of the “appearance of age” theory — the reason that the world appears very old is that God deliberately created it to look that way, as a test of faith. This absurd notion, which suggests that God altered the isotopic profile of every speck of rock worldwide, and constructed quadrillions of photons in transit to the Earth appearing as a supernova explosion, is tantamount to saying that God is a Great Deceiver.

So can this marriage be saved? Bailey argues a resounding “yes.” First of all, both camps need to respect the other. Science has vastly advanced our knowledge of the world about us, but it can say nothing about the existence of God, the purpose of existence, morality or salvation. Similarly, religion is central to the lives of people worldwide, but its scriptures provide no clues as to the mass of the electron, the equations of general relativity or the cause of the Permian-Triassic extinction.

Furthermore, both science and religion have much in common. Both movements thirst for knowledge, never saying “we have enough.” Both movements espouse the “idea of progress,” noting that mankind has advanced in the past, is advancing today, and will advance through the future. Finally, both science and religion can stand in awe at the wonders of the universe, which is now known to be vastly larger, more magnificent and more exotic than ever before imagined in history. So why the fighting?

For additional details, see Bailey’s viewgraphs and full paper.

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