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The challenges of being a religious scientist

17 Comments
By Christopher P Scheitle

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I went to church twice in my childhood and the second time the minister made a point I've never forgotten. He said, "I turn to the bible to find out why God did something. I turn to science to find out how." Science and religion are not in opposition. The opposite of science is superstition. The opposite of religion is secularism. It's no surprise that many religious people rely on and study science. It's no surprise that many scientists are religious.

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According to surveys by the Pew Research Center, around half of Americans say they believe in “God as described in the Bible,”

And they comprise a high percentage of those banning books, wanting to limit areas of scientific inquiry, and displaying a lack of basic literacy of scientific concepts.

Christopher P Scheitle is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at West Virginia University.

Does not seem to indicate very rigorous science based analysis.

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Religion and other dogma set science back thousands of years in the West. If people can't manage to practice their faith even a little bit discretely, they don't belong in science.

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Sometimes it seems like half of all scholarship is to show how everyone is a victim. Now it is the religious and the religious scientists. Soon we will all have our very own narrative of victimhood to squabble about as we all go down the toilet together.

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Science and religion don't have to be in opposition, but unfortunately that escapes a lot of people. Of course a scientist following religious dogma instead of the scientific method is wrong, but as described in the article lots of scientists can have a religion and work in science without any problem.

Still, the problem described by the author (religious harassment and the assumption everybody must be atheist in scientific circles) seems something more local than global. And this may be a reaction to the specific culture of the US where people frequently have the position that science and religion can't coexist so people have to choose one (making atheism the "obvious choice" for researchers). I find it very difficult to believe the same degree of intolerance happening in countries like India and Japan for example.

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[S]ocial scientists have found that most of the U.S. public does not actually view religion and science as being in conflict. When religion does seem to reduce individuals’ acceptance of scientific ideas, it is typically not because of the facts themselves. Rather, religious individuals’ objections are often grounded in the moral implications of that research, or scientists’ perceived role in policymaking.

Objections by some of the faithful (and non-religious, alike), can actually be more complicated. And attributed, at least in part from a perceived intersection of science and organized religion, as joining together in influencing modern political affairs and governance on a global scale. One example is contained in the writings and teachings of the current pope. One example, of many:

The same mindset [mentioned in the previous paragraph as “[w]hat is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called “global commons.””] which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions . . . [I]t is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.

Finally, the common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.

Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si, of the Holy Father Francis, on Care For Our Common Home [Footnotes omitted].

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At least both sides have one thing in common, they cannot prove their own absolute theory of existence respectively non-existence of a higher power or god. Religious people can't present a god and scientists cannot assign a probability value of exactly zero, for illustration. But if that common fact alone is already a sufficient and durable base for limitless cooperation, coexistence, coworking etc, , that surely may be massively doubted.

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they cannot prove their own absolute theory of existence respectively non-existence of a higher power or god

Science do not have this supposed "absolute theory of non-existence" of a higher power, the position of science is that this existence is not necessary to explain the universe, and that there is no evidence indicating it, making the question irrelevant and therefore there is no need for a theory (explanation).

You can replace this "god" with anything else you can imagine (rainbow unicorns, etc.) and the situation would be the same, there is no need for it to exist, there is no evidence they exist, therefore there is no need to explain anything about it.

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It's not possible to prove a negative: that god does not exist. Science generally assumes that nothing exists, except the material. Dualism can accept the material plus immaterial consciousness as separate and fundamental. It could also be that consciousness is primary, the material world is illusory and what we call "god" could be that consciousness. You can take your choice. Science is actually no closer to explaining consciousness than it ever was.

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To be precise science is not interested in proving the no existence of anything. If there is no effect that could be measurable from a supposed source that means it has no importance and no logic in trying to prove or disprove its existence. Consciousness is explained to the degree of being able to make useful inferences (for example related to anesthesia or the biological basis for mental processes). Making any explanation that do not lead to anything would not be useful or necessary either.

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God and science walked hand for much of the last millennium, due in no small part to Aquinas.

a nice little quote from Sir Isaac Newton:

He who thinks half-heartedly will not believe in God; but he who really thinks has to believe in God.”

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For Olive: Perhaps you may enjoy reading a little more on the subject. In part:

When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering men for the beleife of a Deity & nothing can rejoyce me more then to find it usefull for that purpose But if I have done the publick any service this way 'tis due to nothing but industry & a patient thought.

To your second Query I answer that the motions which the Planets now have could not spring from any naturall cause alone but were imprest by an intelligent Agent.

Lastly I see nothing extraordinary in the inclination of the {Earths} axis for proving a Deity unless you will urge it as a contrivance for winter & summer & for making the earth habitable towards the poles, & that the diurnal rotations of the Sun & Planets as they could hardly arise from any cause purely mechanical, so by being determined all the same way with the annual & menstrual motions they seem to make up that harmony in the systeme which (as I explained above) was the effect of choice rather then of chance.

There is yet another argument for a Deity which I take to be a very strong one, but till the principles on which tis grounded be better received I think it more advisable to let it sleep.

[Normalized Text; Spelling in original]

Letter from Isaac Newton to Reverend Dr. Richard Bentley, Dec. 10th, 1692.

https://www.newtonproject.ox.ac.uk/view/texts/diplomatic/THEM00254

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Well, do these things mix well, does anything with humans being the way they are?

I recall in physics class at school John Dobbins set fire to Raj Shah’s hair, Raj was a Sikh you see and had very long hair, it went up in flames. Well, people were saying it was because of his religion you see. Raj’s dad and his brothers came to school all fuelled with anger, his father was massive and looked menacing.

Well, in the end it was all sorted. John was severely punished by the headmaster, he claimed it wasn’t due to religion but because he disliked Raj you see.

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A lot of head scratching here. How to define "religious"? Those who believe or those who would like to believe? And then what is this belief? A single god, many gods, or simply another existence we can't see?

The word "atheist" crops up in the article, but not the word "agnostic". To me, atheism suggests belief of a kind (some will disagree). Agnosticism suggests ignorance, and I like to think that is the foundation of science. There's so much we don't know.

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:Superstitions that are organized with a bureaucracy are called religions. Without a bureaucracy, they are simply superstitions.

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God did not create religion, God created man, Man created religion.. ....I do not believe in any god or religion, except that I strongly think that religions were made to control mankind, to maintain power and to rule over them.

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