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Theology vs Science

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few weeks back there was a debate at CERN (the European nuclear research organisation which runs the Large Hadron Collider) between science and religion about the origin of the universe.

The first speaker was research director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University, Andrew Pinsent. He thinks that science risked “trying to turn society into a machine” if it did not engage with religion and philosophy and that “science in isolation is great for producing stuff, but not so good for producing ideas”.

What did he mean about turning society into a machine? Few scientists would suggest that we should completely ignore fiction, mythology, and non fact-based ideas. But these ideas should be kept away from investigations of the truth. But religion has no place in science and technology. It has little place in politics and management. Maybe it has a place in society as a whole but it really needs to learn that place: we don’t live in the Dark Ages any more!

And the idea that science is not great for producing ideas is also interesting. You could possibly make a case to say that science itself doesn’t produce ideas, it just tests them, but I think that is going too far. New ideas naturally arise from scientific research and the idea that anyone could deny this is just bizarre.

There is also the point that not all ideas have equal merit. A scientific idea which attempts to explain the origin of mass is based on real world phenomena, it’s testable, and it potentially produces practical results. A religious idea which tries to explain something like why god let’s bad things happen is useless. It is based on an assumption that god exists, it can’t be tested so we would never know if it’s true or not, and it has no practical application even if it was true.

It seems that we are seeing the last desperate attempt of religious people to maintain a small amount of relevance in a world which has, in reality, passed them by. Religion just doesn’t matter any more. But many people can’t accept that. In fact, because of the inevitable demise of their belief system, religious people are turning more to fundamentalist and extremist ideas in a last desperate attempt at survival.

The director of CERN explained how the Higgs discovery provided a deeper insight and understanding of the moments after the Big Bang and hoped that people from very different backgrounds would be able to start to discuss the origin of our Universe.

But that’s a false hope, really. A belief system dedicated to discovering facts which are closer to the truth and one determined to warp the facts into an archaic system of myths are unlikely to agree on anything.

That didn’t stop another person from the religious side (notice how this becomes a competition between competing sides) saying that the Higgs particle results raised lots of questions about the origins of the Universe that scientists alone can’t answer, and that they need to explore them with theologians and philosophers.

There might be a small role for philosophers but it’s hard to see how theologians – a group who are dedicated to treating ancient myths seriously – can possibly have any meaningful input into the process. In reality they can’t, of course, but I’m sure the scientists were too polite to say so.

People who study myths dont generally ask atomic physicists for their input. What possible input could they provide? If an old story says a particular character did one thing or another then what contribution could someone who studies the reality of the quantum world offer? But for some reason the opposite, which is even more ridiculous, seems to be OK.

I guess it all gets back to the undeserved respect which religion has demanded for so long. A few hundred years ago you had to believe their myths or they would just kill you. Then you had to believe their myths because they fooled everyone into thinking that religion and morality were somehow connected. And now they demand respect because that’s just what is portrayed as fair and reasonable.

Well it’s time to stop. Some beliefs deserve respect and some don’t. If people want to believe silly, ancient myths then let them. If they even want to create academic disciplines around these myths then even that’s OK. But we shouldn’t be taking their silly ideas as seriously as this. That just fools them, and most of the population, into thinking they have an opinion worth hearing.

Well I’m afraid the truth is this: they don’t.

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