Does science defeat religion? Is it true that science is equivalent to reason and rationality, and that religion is equivalent to superstition and irrationality?
Those who are eager to advance a materialist perspective of ultimate reality would have us believe so. If we believe that there is a God, and that acknowledging Him is not only rational, but that God Himself is the very Author of rationality in the first place, then it is incumbent upon us to understand how falsehood is advanced in the sheep’s clothing of “science.”
Doing Science; Doing Philosophy
A philosophical argument is not transformed into a scientific argument just because it is made by someone who is also a scientist. It is imperative that we distinguish between arguments ostensibly (but not actually) made on behalf of science, and metaphysical points of view masquerading as science.
Suppose for example that a physicist argues that physics proves there is no God. When he makes that argument, he is no longer doing physics, but rather metaphysics. He is out of his range as a scientist, and cannot be speaking for it. That’s not to say that his argument is invalid just because he is a scientist rather than a philosopher. He is entitled to his opinion, and the argument should be evaluated on its own merits. But it is not an argument from physics. Physics as a discipline cannot disprove the existence of God, any more than can biology or any of the other sciences.
Because science is the investigation of nature, the existence or non-existence of super-nature is beyond the scope of inquiry by definition. Scientists begin with the working postulate that the how of natural phenomena are explainable in natural terms, without considering supernatural intervention. That is to say, science proceeds as though material reality were all there is.
But that is a working postulate only. Unfortunately, it can also serve as a subtle a priori philosophical stand. Many scientists do not bother with the distinction between materialism as a working postulate for the investigation of material reality, and materialism as a metaphysical position on ultimate reality. In this way, it’s possible to close off one’s mind to the possibility that there might be more than the natural world. The result is a metaphysical commitment to materialism, though science doesn’t require it.
Materialism is the proposition that material reality is all there is. If the material of the cosmos is all there is, and science is the study of that material, then one might conclude that only science can lead to truth. But the conclusion that only science can lead to truth is not one that can itself be derived from science. It is not a scientific statement, but a statement of philosophy.
It is important to keep this in mind not only to detect a bias in the scientist expressing his atheism ostensibly on behalf of “science,” but also to understand that science cannot possibly provide answers to questions of ultimate purpose. Because of this, it is important to avoid the mistake in thinking which might cause us to dismiss purpose itself as an illusion, on the grounds that science cannot deal with it.
Reason, Rationality, Evidence
Reason, rationality and evidence are thought to lie only within the province of science, but they actually apply to both scientific inquiry and philosophical inquiry. When theists claim there is Someone who created the universe and imbues it with purpose, they are not abandoning reason, rationality, and evidence. They are simply claiming that there are certain questions which unaided reason cannot answer, so that to answer them we need another source of information, including revelation from God.
Because we can understand many of the mechanisms by which the universe operates without considering any agency behind them, it is tempting to conclude that there is no such agency. But that is a mistake in sound reasoning, and a misreading of the evidence. In the disciplines of science, we may come to understand mechanisms that account for particular natural phenomena, but it does not follow that there is no supernatural agency that is responsible for those mechanisms.
Science as God
What happens is that science is thought to be the only source of truth, and is therefore considered the antipode to religion. Religion is relegated to the same corner of our imagination as fable, superstition, magic, or wishful thinking. The awesomeness of the natural world is revealed by science, but becomes confused with science, so that science is in effect worshipped in the place of God.
Science is not an entity, however, nor even an ideal. It refers only to a process, and to a body of knowledge gained as a result of that process. The word is allowed to stand in for the natural universe itself, however, and thus “science” becomes an object of wonder, instead of God. Because science is just something we do in order to understand the material universe, what really happens is that we worship ourselves doing science. This is humanism; a-theism; materialism.
The real conflict is between materialism and theism; not between science and religion.