In Science and Anti-science, we looked at two theses. One: that exclusion of any possibility of the supernatural is bad science. Two: that some atheists depart from science altogether, subverting its principles, by attempting to brand their opponents “anti-science.”
An astute comment to that post occasions this expansion of it. The suggestion is made that theists and scientists should maintain separate lanes, so to speak, and that “anti-science” accusations stem from lane encroachment.
The number one mistake of scientists (not “science,” perhaps) is to fail to follow the evidence where it leads. A scientist with a strong prior commitment to atheist materialism may fall into the trap of following the evidence where it leads only as long as it doesn’t lead to God. It’s one thing to confine one’s study to material things. It’s quite another to say that that study of material things disproves the existence of non-material things.
Given that, can scientists avoid the mistake by simply staying “in their lane?” And is it correct to say that “religious folk should stay in their lane as well?” It sounds like simple fair reciprocity, employing the notion of distinct, non-overlapping “magisteria” (Stephen Gould) as between religion and science. But science and religion do not inhabit two neatly compartmentalized, side-by-side boxes. Consequently, the mental picture of two distinct, never-intersecting lanes is not quite apt.
The Competing Claims
Materialists say that material reality, x, is all there is. Theists say that there is also a non-material reality, y, which coincides with x but also transcends x.
Science vs. Religion?
The study of x does not prove that x is all there is. Neither is the study of x inconsistent with y. There isn’t really a war between religion and science. Whether God created the material world or not, the material world can and should be studied within a paradigm of natural laws acting on material substance, without consideration of metaphysical influences.
Indeed, theists ought to welcome this approach (and so, in this sense at least, “stay in their lane”) not only because it results in greater understanding and helpfulness to people in this life, but also because it tends to prove by exception the truth of the supernatural.
There is a sharp line between that which complies with the laws of physical reality, and that which doesn’t. The contrast demonstrates the truth of the supernatural. A miracle is defined as an event in defiance of materialistic constraints, such as virgin birth; walking on water; resurrection. Even one minor miracle entirely validates the existence of non-material, super-natural, reality.
A miracle is also the exception that proves the rule of the natural world, however, and therefore also validates the usual operation of material laws. The fact that miracles are exceptional should reaffirm for us that they are exceptional to the normal workings of material processes. We can believe that God authored those material processes, or that they are somehow self-generating, but neither of those beliefs is required in order to do science. There is no divergence, in doing science, except when the materialist leaves his lane and asserts that the material is all there is.
On the theist side, however, there is no similar “lane” to keep. Remember that theism posits that the supernatural, y, not only transcends the material, x, but also coincides with it. The presence of God precedes and is in and is through every mechanistic process. That doesn’t mean that we’re to assume that a supernatural-only explanation pokes through and explains every poorly-understood material process, as with “god of the gaps” arguments. God created with uniform, comprehensible laws that we can come to understand. The theist’s search for truth about God is not constrained to study of the material, as is the scientist’s.
The mission of both atheists and theists should be to learn the truth. That goal is not furthered by proceeding as if they’re on two separate tracks, running parallel and never meeting, as if they occupied two distinct realities. A better understanding of the nature of philosophical inquiry, and of scientific inquiry, is called for. Here is how it might apply, in a couple of examples.
The Big Bang
Consider the Big Bang. It’s a fascinating theory of the origin of the universe, and many physicists consider it settled science. The physical theory of sudden expansion into a flat universe may very well be true. It would not be inconsistent with there being a God who created the first something out of nothing. It would be explanatory of how God went about creation.
There are some scientists (like Lawrence Krauss, mentioned here and here) who attempt to explain the Big Bang without an uncaused-cause, explaining how something came from nothing, so that God is unnecessary to the equation. The attempts fail, as a matter of logic. But is Krauss “outside his lane” in attempting it? No. Wrong, but no. And theists are not “anti-science” nor “outside their lane” if they question the explanation.
Now consider evolution, as a theory of biological development. It doesn’t attempt to explain the origin of life nor the origin of matter. It only attempts an explanation of the mechanism for development of life. As such, it is not necessarily inconsistent with theism. God obviously employs natural mechanisms.
There are some scientists (like Richard Dawkins, whose book on the subject is reviewed here) who attempt to make evolution negate the existence of God. It is thought to “raise consciousness,” as Dawkins said, because it indicates matter before Mind. If matter can cause more complex matter, then that suggests that matter can be self-created, he says. It’s quite an extrapolation, however, and atheist polemicists are no longer doing science when they make it. They’re engaged in amateur and amateurish philosophy.
It is offensive that atheist polemicists label their opponents “anti-science” for not accepting the materialist atheist point of view on metaphysics. It is also offensive that someone be labeled “anti-science” for opposing evolution or materialist theories of the origin of matter on scientific grounds. It is offensive that someone be labeled “anti-science” for having a different interpretation of data, as with climate change. Having a minority view on a question of science doesn’t place one in opposition to the whole enterprise of science. And, having the view that science is not the exclusive vehicle for discerning truth does not make one “anti-science.”
As for “lane encroachment,” we’d like to have a tidy separation, but we look in two entirely distinct directions when we do philosophy, and when we do science. Would that it were as simple as maintaining one’s lane. Instead we should better understand what religion is asking, and what science is asking, and stop insisting on a war between them.