When science is perceived as 'How things work' ("the understanding of physical systems"), there is no tension with the "spiritual and moral issues" often associated with religion. The harmony appears to be broken when more fundamental questions are asked. This is the territory explored recently by two social psychologists:
"Although science and religion do not always conflict, a frequent source of tension concerns the competition for explanatory space."
Are polarised views inevitable? (Source here)
Before considering their experiments in more detail, it is worth examining their perceptions of intelligent design (ID) arguments. They locate ID on the religious side of the divide and consider that ID aims to provide an explanation of the world around us in terms of divine causation. They write:
"The central argument of intelligent design theory is to point out gaps or failings in scientific explanations, thereby enabling explanations based on other (generally divine) causes. This is sometimes called the God of the Gaps argument - where science cannot explain, God is invoked as a cause. [. . .] Most modern day religions depict God as the "unmoved First Mover" that is the ultimate cause of everything but itself has no cause."
It would be good practice for researchers to spend a bit of time talking to ID advocates. They could learn first-hand that ID does not perceive its arguments as "God of the Gaps", but as 'inference from evidence'. The argument proceeds from knowledge, not from ignorance. Furthermore, ID advocates perceive their inferences as part of a scientific process: causation can be according to natural law, stochastic processes or intelligent agency. Science should not be in the business of declaring what the world is like before it has fully explored the solutions space; rather it should identify and test alternative hypotheses for observed phenomena. ID theorists are troubled by the behaviour of some fellow scientists, who do not test ID hypotheses as part of a scientific discourse, but choose to exclude ID on ideological grounds.
This brings us to the authors' perception of science. When they unpack their understanding of this discipline, what we read is a clear description of scientism!
"Science theoretically promises a method for understanding all of one's natural observations, with the principal goal to uncover the mechanisms that underlie all known phenomena. The search for the theory of everything, a single equation that would be able to describe all aspects of matter and physics without appealing to any deeper explanatory base, has been dubbed the holy grail of physics (Barrow, 1992) in a nod to the anticipated meaning that such an equation would provide."
These flawed definitions do not necessarily undermine the design principles of their experiments, but they do open the way for a different perspective on their findings. The subjects were university students who were seated in front of a computer and asked to make instant reactions to information provided. The researchers explain their aims thus:
"Experiment 1 investigated the use of scientific theories as ultimate explanations. We were interested in questions of origin that might be explained by a creator, specifically the origin of the universe and the origin of life on Earth. We predicted that better theories would increase automatic positive evaluations of science, whereas weaker theories would decrease these evaluations. More important, we predicted that evaluations of God should be inversely related to the explanatory power of these scientific theories. Experiment 2 investigated whether manipulating the perceived value of a religious explanation would produce the opposite interaction, increasing positive automatic evaluations related to religion but decreasing those related to science."
In Experiment 1, students were supplied with a passage of text that informed them about the Big Bang theory of origins and another that described the Primordial Soup Hypothesis. 50% of students were supplied with the additional information: "this was the best scientific theory on the subject to date, and does much to account for the known data and observations" (the Strong explanation). The rest of the students were told "this was the best scientific theory on the subject to date, but it does not account for the other data and observations very well, and raises more questions than it answers" (the Weak explanation). Then, for each passage, students were asked to choose between "God" and "Science". The result:
"In Experiment 1, exposure to apparently poor scientific explanations for the origins of the Universe and life on Earth enhanced positive automatic evaluations of God relative to Science, whereas apparently strong scientific explanations resulted in more positive evaluations of Science relative to God."
The second experiment was informed by previous research work involving people who actively used religious explanations in their daily lives. These students were divided into two groups. The Explanation group was asked to "list SIX things that you think God can explain". The Control group was given the instructions: "list SIX things that you think can explain or influence God". Then both groups completed Experiment 1 and some other exercises. The researchers reported their findings thus:
"In Experiment 2, a reciprocal relationship was found when God was used as a strong explanation. When people actively used God as an explanation for a variety of phenomena, automatic evaluations of science were diminished as evaluations of God were enhanced."
The conclusions of the researchers are not good news for those who support the NOMA approach of Stephen Jay Gould, or the complementarity approach of Theistic Evolutionists:
"These data suggest that using scientific theories as ultimate explanation can serve as an automatic threat to religious beliefs, and vice versa. Perhaps more important, these findings also indicate that explanatory weakness in one belief system can bolster automatic evaluations of the other. These automatic oppositions emerged despite making no explicit mention of the potentially opposing belief system or to the possible conflict between science and religion."
According to some, the most obvious implication of the research is that "to be compatible, science and religion need to stick to their own territories, their own explanatory space". Jesse Preston, co-author, is quoted as saying:
"However, religion and science have never been able to do that, so to me this suggests that the debate is going to go on. It's never going to be settled."
Further discussion of these findings is needed. I have received some comments from John Calvert of Intelligent Design Network, Inc., which are worth sharing. He starts by pointing out some implications relating to the philosophy of science:
This research confirms the seemingly obvious conclusion that origins explanations have an unavoidable impact on religion. It also shows that Methodological Naturalism (MN), a doctrine that permits only strong natural cause explanations of origins, necessarily produces an automatic negative evaluation of God and positive evaluation of no-God or Atheism. Since Atheism is a religion, the research shows that MN is effectively a religious orthodoxy.
Thus, the research is inconsistent with the unsupported assertions of many science "experts" that MN and evolution's materialistic theories of origins do not conflict with theistic religions.
The Authors focused on scientific explanations of origins because they concluded that origins explanations were "ultimate explanations." Unlike an explanation of photosynthesis, origins explanations deal with a "fundamental human issue."
There are legal implication for US citizens:
The Supreme Court agrees that religion in the comprehensive sense contemplated by the First Amendment address matters of ultimate concern, such as the relation of the life of man to the world in which he lives. Origins explanations do precisely that and are therefore religious or "ultimate explanations." Accordingly, courts have held that natural as well as supernatural explanations of origins are inherently religious and that religion includes non-theistic beliefs like Atheism and Secular Humanism.
The Authors propose no solution that might resolve the conflict [they have identified].
The obvious solution is simply for science to recognize that religion is not limited to just theistic beliefs and that it includes non-theistic religions like Atheism and "Secular" Humanism. Those non-theistic religions depend on strong natural cause explanations just as theistic religions depend on weak explanations.
When science defines religion inclusively, then it will recognize that it cannot use Methodological Naturalism in origins science without promoting a particular religious perspective. This is because MN mandates only strong natural cause explanations of origins, the core tenet of non-theistic religions.
The science community also needs to respond. Scientism is not science, but the inevitable consequence of the secularising trend that started in the Enlightenment. But secularism, like Darwinism, is a dangerous idea. It consumes all in its path and ends up destroying itself. Those science leaders who are steering their communities down this path carry heavy responsibilities: not the least is to encourage academic freedom to discuss these issues without the threat of dissenters being ostracised or outlawed.
Science and God: An automatic opposition between ultimate explanations
Jesse Preston and Nicholas Epley
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45 (2009) 238-241
Science and religion have come into conflict repeatedly throughout history, and one simple reason for this is the two offer competing explanations for many of the same phenomena. We present evidence that the conflict between these two concepts can occur automatically, such that increasing the perceived value of one decreases the automatic evaluation of the other. In Experiment 1, scientific theories described as poor explanations decreased automatic evaluations of science, but simultaneously increased automatic evaluations of God. In Experiment 2, using God as an explanation increased automatic evaluations of God, but decreased automatic evaluations of science. Religion and science both have the potential to be ultimate explanations, and these findings suggest that this competition for explanatory space can create an automatic opposition in evaluations.
Yates, D. God or science? A belief in one weakens positive feelings for the other, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 15 December 2008
Calvert, J.D. Kitzmiller's error - Use of an exclusive rather than inclusive definition of religion. Liberty University School of Law, February 6, 2009
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