Against religion in a laboratory and science in a church
Against religion in a laboratory and science in a churchthe attacks on the practice of science --from religious establishments -- are symptomatic of a confusion of issues. While there is no question about the fact that religion and science have sociologically important roles, it should be obvious that there is no epistemological symmetry between the two. Which means arguments emanating from the realm of science should not -- and, in fact, cannot -- be used to undermine matters of faith. And, similarly, matters of faith cannot be used to undermine the progress of science. There can, possibly, be arguments against, say, cloning or stem cell research -- but they can come only from principles relating to the broad church of humanism.
The question of the epistemological status of religion and science is best showcased in the creationism debate. In several countries of Europe and the us it has been argued that students should be given the choice of studying creationist, Biblical theories as an alternative to scientific theories about the creation of the universe. The idea is sheer bunkum.
Creationist theories are not based on any form of verifiable evidence, and do not follow the principles of testability, the very hinges of science. Doubtless, people are free to believe that god created the world. But that belief cannot be elevated to the status of science and taught in a science curriculum. Equally, no one should have the right to ban the teaching of scientific theories or pursuing research or even exercising lifestyle options -- abortion ought not to be outlawed on spurious grounds connected to, for instance, Catholic theology. Nor should there be a recurrence of the infamous Scopes monkey trial case of 1925, in which a teacher in a State-aided school in the us was fired for teaching the Darwinian theory of evolution.
Religion, a philosopher famously said, is the heart of a heartless world, the sigh of the oppressed creature. Thus far the going is good. But what it cannot do is set the conditions under which the pursuit of knowledge of the physical world or scientific innovation must happen. Obscurantism is not the way to moral and material progress. The church could not stop Galileo and it is unlikely that it will be able to stand in the way of his intellectual inheritors.
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