Tuesday, November 07, 2006

science v. religion

I get a little worked up from time to time. I have several hot buttons, but I try to stay informed rather than to cloister myself in my private world of "right." So the other day I saw a link on cnn.com to this story: God vs. Science

It struck me as an interesting topic, what with all the intelligent design, anti-evolution stories that are out, not to mention the many stories about GWB ignoring the input of the most highly regarded scientists in the world. Because this was a summary of the cover story from Time Magazine I thought it was going to be somewhat impartial, or at least balanced. Then I read the first paragraph:

"It's a debate that long predates Darwin, but the anti-religion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines' increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience."

I started by looking for the quotes. Which religious individual was being quoted here? I read it to a colleague to find out what he thought. He found it rather inflammatory. So without further ado, let me provide some balance.

The title of the article is "God vs Science" and it positions an atheist Biologist against a Christian geneticist. I'm assuming that the geneticist is not a direct conduit to Yahweh, just as the atheist is not the all-knowing scientist, and thus the title is a bit misleading.

Paragraph One:
The debate between science and religion does indeed pre-date Darwin, just ask Galileo. For a long time the financial power was in the hands of the church, while scientists were just poor schmucks with some good ideas, working out of their garages or kitchens. In today's age technology is power, and scientists finally have the resources to pursue the unknown, to explore that which had until recently been taken on faith. Does doing our job and sharing the knowledge with key decision makers constitute "promoting with increasing insistence?"

The use of "anti-[insert movement]" is a divisive and dirty tactic. In the abortion debate pro-lifers use "anti-life," pro-choicers use "anti-choice." Equating scientists with "anti-religion" is just plain incorrect, unless the opposite of "pro-religion" is "pro-truth," something I'm sure religious folks would take offense to. Religion has a vital role to play in our lives and communities, but it does not belong in policies relating to global warming, education about science, or wildlife preservation.

Yes we take offense to non-scientists trying to promote false theories, just like doctors get mad about snake-oil salesmen. Yes we get excited about new discoveries. Science is one of the best jobs in the world, because instead of doing a crossword puzzle or filling out forms or tracking a known phenomenon, we get to draw conclusions, make new observations, see things that no one has ever seen before. But intoxicated? Again with the dirty tactics - please don't imply that we drink on the job. And worse still, don't imply that we let our desire for a result guide our research. We don't imply that fear of rotting in a coffin is the fundamental basis for religion.

As for the last part, science is indeed mapping and quantifying our world, in bits and bytes. But changing human experience? Do we really have that much power?

Maybe that is what the battle is all about.


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