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Do scientific and religious explanations necessarily contradict each other?

It is often claimed that scientific and religious explanations contradict each other. That is often the case, but not necessarily so.

The statement according to which God created the universe 6000 years ago in six days with all animals and plants contradicts everything that science knows about the past of the Universe and life.

But the statement "God created and sustains the universe and all living beings" is of course by no means contradictory to the findings of science. The religious explanation is simply not on the same level of explanation as what science can say at all.
-> Religion just adds another layer of explanation.

Let's take an everyday example: Susan is lying in bed with a severe flu. Why?
Explanation 1: Because she was infected with the influenza virus H1N1 and her immune system was unable to fend off the virus.
Explanation 2: Because God allowed the influenza viruses to infect Susan.

Are the two explanations in (logical) contradiction? No.
Explanation 1 is what science can say about this case ; explanation 2 is a fictitious explanation, and science is simply unable to say anything about the truth of it. All science is able say about explanation 2 is: There is zero evidence for this.
But since we are all constantly making statements every day about things science cannot say anything about, there is no rational or logical reason why Type 2 explanations should be ruled out a priori.

The totality of all entities in the world in which we live as human beings is much greater than the totality of all scientific facts.

Conclusion: It is up to each individual whether he or she finds religious explanations plausible or not. Some people have a deep need that things should make sense and have a meaning, and that some intentional agent is "behind" the bloody machinery out there, and they prefer to be able to say "God is the ultimate cause of everything - and I trust Him that in the end everything will be fine" - when the alternative are dismal and grim statements like "bad luck" or "shit happens".

(Disclaimer: I do NOT argue that scientific and religious explanations are equally valid when it comes to knowing the world "out there".)

By Matias8
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28 comments

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5

Depends entirely on how you interpret them. When science can get over its squeamishness about studying human psychology and symbolic imagery, it will find religion to be completely in line with a scientific understanding of human nature.

skado Level 8 Apr 24, 2019

I see the two sides of the coin happening these days and I'm really happy about it. From the scientific side, I enjoy Jordan Peterson explain religious ideas in terms of psychology and on the other side, I watch a lot of videos by a Greek Orthodox Christian named Jonathan Pageau who is an icon carver and explains psychological symbols in Christian terms. He also explains the symbolism of modern movies like Logan, Spirited Away and Star Wars.

@brentan
I didn't know he was a sculptor! Cool. Thanks for that.

5

As you point out, "God allowed the influenza viruses to infect Susan" is a baseless assertion, not an "explanation". By that logic, "Susan is being punished by the godess of influenza" or "Susan brushed up against a venus flytrap" or "Susan ate an artichoke" are other possible explanations. The problem here is putting an explanation connected to the real world and with evidence to argue in its favor, over against random flights of fancy. There is no comparison.

Is it up to each person whether to buy an explanation with no other criteria than that it seems intuitive or comforting? Sure. Is it often at least superficially easier and a deflection from bare-metal reality for people to do that? Sure.

But I'm not sure what you're actually arguing for here. Are you arguing that "Susan stubbed her toe against a Sniffly Nose Gnome" is not "in conflict" with "Susan was infected with the H1N1 virus"? I'm afraid that it is. This means people have to choose which is the "better" explanation but it doesn't mean they aren't in conflict.

Maybe the gnomes causing flu is a more pleasing explanation for me, and maybe I have a right to believe in flu gnomes. So what? Maybe you are arguing for "people need hope and comprehensibility, even if ill-founded". If that's the case then I'm not trying to take people's illusions from them, they are welcome to them if they want them, so long as they don't make policy decisions based on them or otherwise impose them on others.

mordant Level 8 Apr 24, 2019

Maybe a better example of what you are trying to say is the real life example of people in Africa attempting to cure their aids by sleeping with virgins because the shamans told them that, based on the WHO recommendation to limit the spread of SDI's by limiting the number of sexual encounters.

4

True, but no person, scientist or not can ever refute a fictitious statement of any sort. Fiction obeys its own rules. I can not say that a hat in the Harry Potter novels can not appoint students, since a fictional world like the novel makes and obeys its own rules, which do not have to answer to any test valid for reality. The statement therefore says only that religion obeys the rules of fiction, and no more than that. (Though you can sometimes say that fictions are not self consistent, and many religious texts do fail even that test.)

Fernapple Level 8 Apr 24, 2019
3

IMO deeply religious people love science, and they readily incorporate the findings of science into their body of awareness. Their religion was never based on belief in the first place, rather it was a practice and a state of reverence and awe.

Quibbling over who believes or disbelieves this or that—yuck!

3

S J. Gould said that religion and science can easily get along because they operate in different realms, but that is only true if both agree to stay their own side of the fence. Generally science does that, but of course religion does not.

Fernapple Level 8 Apr 24, 2019

I don't think science should agree to be fenced in by anything. I believe it should be bolder than it has been about studying religion, as Dan Dennett suggests.

@skado That is certainly true, the fence idea only really works with Gould's two realms theory.

@TheAstroChuck Yes I think that there is bound to be some overlap, life is not that neat.

3

I think the two are only contradictory when science can outright disprove religion.

Young Earth Creationism being a good example. Science proves that it's ridiculous. What irks me is when people dismiss creationism entirely on the basis of this "the whole universe, this planet and life on it were created in literally 144 hours, roughly 4000 years ago" nonsense. But Young Earth Creationism is a recent and largely American phenomenon, that's really failed to gain traction elsewhere. Perhaps because it's so clearly bollocks.

Catholicism now accepts the theory of evolution. It still attributes the original creation of the universe and the spark of life to God, and of course believes that God has steered that evolution over time. I don't see any conflict between that and commonly accepted scientific theory and fact.

A lot of what was once explained by religion is now explained by science. The Biblical ban on shellfish presumably being because God would smite you with a bad dose of food poisoning (possibly fatal) if it wasn't cooked properly. We now know the real reason why this happens, but prior to gaining that knowledge, all that was obvious was that bad things often happen to people who eat the stuff. The connection wasn't made, so an angry God must be the link. A similar risk of blood poisoning is probably the reason for the prohibition of tattoos. In a culture where God punishes you by making you sick (or dead) anything that makes you sick (or dead) must clearly put you on the naughty step.

Religion is becoming increasingly redundant. If something comes along that gives the same comfort in mortality, the same sense of ultimate justice in an unfair world, and the same hope in hopeless situations, we might finally out-evolve it. But science doesn't have those answers just yet.

3

In early Mesopotamian mythology, the world was portrayed as a flat disk floating in the ocean with a hemispherical sky-dome above, and this forms the premise for early world maps like those of Anaximander and Hecataeus of Miletus. During the 3rd century BC, Hellenistic astronomy established the spherical shape of the Earth as a physical given and calculated Earth's circumference. The Bible agrees with the Mesopotamians that the earth is a circle with a firmament over it. When Christians argue that the Bible is scientific they will point to the circle and assume it means a sphere to make it jive with science. The Bible may have been right once or twice but I can't think of one example. It's usually people doing the same thing as above and jumping through hoops trying to make their book reasonable. Your argument is a god of the gaps one, that simply says that if science as yet doesn't have an explanation then insert god. As scientific knowledge grows god diminishes.

gearl Level 7 Apr 24, 2019

I think it was incorrect to translate the word as 'sphere'. To the best of knowledge, the correct translation is 'circle' and should be understood as a flat circle with two side pillars where the firmament was locked into place over it.

A good point but probably not quite on the money. As we learn more about time and space etc. the more we discover we can’t answer. We open up questions we didn’t know existed. Therefore the gaps get larger and likewise the god-shaped hole.

2

The definition of religion is belief in the supernatural. Science asserts there is currently no evidence for the supernatural. Which one is correct? Well for me I’ll go with the one that explains; physics, medicine, astronomy, geology, anthropology and let’s me watch YouTube on my iPhone. smile001.gif

Charl5 Level 4 Apr 24, 2019

That is what I said in my post: all science can say about the "supernatural" is that there is no evidence whatsoever in favor of it.
But my argument was that there is no necessary logical incombatibility between religious and scientific explanations, because the religion adds another dimension to facts that have been established by science (even if that extra dimension is fictitious!).
The two are not operating on the same level, so to speak: science operates on the level of facts, religion on the level of meaning

@Matias wow!!! You said religion adds another dimension to the facts established by science. Then admit that dimension is fictitious. Mind blown. No one should ever claim to know anything without good, solid reason. Your post is a jumbled mess of contradictions. You are desperately looking to link religion and science because you know your beliefs are irrational. Just let the supernatural Magic man who watches and punishes you go. You will be much happier.

2

I believe that Science and Religion are like 2 games played in different ball parks!

interesting.. could elaborate on that a bit ?

I am too tired from physical projects, to think that hard....I just looked at the two big pictures in my mind and that was the bottom line...personally, they are different things...they support different aspects of human beings trying to make sense of their worlds!

2

The real problem with science and religion is they both, all to often, contradict themselves and each other which lends to the statement, The truth is always the truth. If something is true there are no variations. All other adaptations are suspect and most likely fabricated. There are no alternative points of view, no contradictions. The truth is absolute.

IMO the concepts of truth and falseness have meaning only in the setting of human thought and psychology. They are nothing but language related human value judgments with no significance on the cosmic level.

There are many assertions that are true in one system of thought and false in another. Some perfectly meaningful assertions can be neither proven nor disproven, while others are simply undefined or meaningless.

We give way too much attention to the concepts of belief, truth, faith, proof, and knowledge. Our most rational state of mind should be absolute and total bewilderment.

Sometimes theologians use the word “truth” in a different context but I am not addressing that.

@William @Donald I wonder is there objective truth either in our world or out in the great beyond. I had come to the conclusion that truth of any matter was the total aggregation of opinions on the topic - a Hegelian way of thinking that may not be correct but it sure keeps me calmer about opposing ideas. I'm suspicious of Hegel's thinking because so many stupid ideas would also end up in the mix. But what about objective truth on the cosmic level? If the cosmos is conscious, would it recognise certain things to be self-evident? Maybe, or maybe its only interest is in Being.

2

The only religions people I have the slightest amount of respect for are the ones who just admit that what they are saying isn't literally true and instead argue that it's metaphysically true. It's the only way that everyone has a chance of getting along. After all, the purpose of religion is just to make people feel comfortable with there lives, and give them some higher sense of purpose so that they will actually try to accomplish something.

Some people just are not capable of putting away childish things and accepting the world for what it is, in all its horrific splendor.

There are some religious folks who don't even argue it's true in any sense at all, it is symbolic or allegorical wisdom is really all they are saying. And I can respect that, with very few exceptions indeed. These are people who have effectively wrung out of religion the dribs and drabs of meaning it actually possesses, and don't reach beyond that. There are actually quite a few such people, but they are not nearly so likely to debate others about who is more "right" and so we discount their influence.

@mordant Have you seen the musical, The Book Of Mormon? They really drive the point home. As far as debating goes, the really can't be a debate because they don't contend with each other at all.
Science says: this is fact
metaphysical religion says: this is how we accept that
At least that's how it should be. Religious apologetics get in the way because they are more content with fighting about who is right than about what should be right. Science is not capable of hurting itself in this way, and so it increases at an exponential rate.

@Happy_Killbot Nope, haven't seen The Book of Moromon. Heard good things about it. One of these days I guess.

You are right, fundamentalism especially is about being right rather than good. And it is an understandable stance, because if they "get it wrong" they displease god and bad things happen, maybe they even go to hell.

While I agree science, broadly and institutionally speaking, can't "hurt itself" like that, individual scientists can and do, because they are chasing tenure or funding or easy acclaim or don't want to rock the boat with peers. But in the large picture it's a self-correcting system or it definitionally becomes something other than science.

1

Unfortunately for those people who want the world to "make sense and have meaning", a God who intentionally allows a virus to infect one person but not another makes no sense and is utterly meaningless. Worse, he's just plain mean. Why would such a god exist? Why would he/she/it create the virus in the first place? Why would a god who supposedly favors and loves humans above all else in the universe fill said universe with deadly perils? Why create carnivores, parasites, and disease? Why design a human body that breaks down as it ages, leaving the victim prey to debilitating and humiliating conditions that sap our very minds and humanity? Why allow children to be born with illnesses and syndromes that make life a hell on earth for them and their families?

It's actually far more grim to postulate a god who intentionally inflicts these cruelties on a helpless and hapless humanity. This is a god who pulls the wings off flies for fun. (And does. Just look at the Ichneumonidae Wasps, who lay their eggs in other insects for their larvae to paralyze and devour the living hosts. Some god.)

Paul4747 Level 7 May 4, 2019

“Why would such a god exist?”

Because any other kind of god would not fit our reality.

@skado Our reality doesn't admit of the existence of god.

@Paul4747
One is just a symbol of the other.

Even if God did exist it would be better for his reputation if he didn't.

1

Science allows for "new" information. I put new in quotes, because technically the information was always there, science at the time just didn't have the means/ability to access interpret it. Religion doesn't allow for new information... Although they do tend to alter their interpretation of their texts at will at times. smile007.gif

Veldoran Level 6 May 2, 2019

Of course religion allows for new information. The most successful ones are built on the absorption and adaptation too new information to stay relevant. The Catholic Church is a prime example. Throughout their history they have altered scripture and added new canon to their faith. Religion apart from the mythological and spiritual delusions are built on an understanding and manipulation of human nature. One of the most dangerous things I think Atheists do is operate under the delusion that the power structure of organized religions are nothing but superstitious idiots. This is why they have persisted into the information age. Only when all humans are allowed or achieve the ability to exist without a need to spend the majority of their energy working/taking care of each other etc. will controlling power structures religious or secular lose their power and influence. Of course these structures will fight tooth and nail to prevent this including going so far as to destroy the world to stop its dawning.

1

Not if the religious belief is based on actual human experience and had happened to stumble upon an insight that had a basis in reality. The same way reading a comic book might lead one to better understand the world. Or porn.

The quest for meaning always transcends reality as it is.

1

Absolutely!

zesty Level 7 Apr 25, 2019
1

My view is that the biggest and most important difference between science and religion is the scientist's demand for evidence and religion's demand for faith and belief without evidence. If you 'trust'or 'believe' in any kind of supernatural being, or 'ultimate cause' without evidence, then you have surrendered your critical faculties and can be led to believe in whatever suits those in authority.

CeliaVL Level 7 Apr 24, 2019
1

Science has nothing to do with religion. Fireside stories are just fireside stories even if you write them in a book and force people to believe them.

lee_man Level 7 Apr 24, 2019

Science and religion are neither “natural kinds” nor “cultural constants.” The two developed into distinct concepts only over the past three centuries or so; hence, we must be cautious about analyzing the more distant past from our modern perspective. “The fundamental weakness of the conflict thesis is its tendency to portray science and religion as hypostasized forces, as entities in themselves,” wrote British historian of science John Hedley Brooke as early as 1991.

@Matias Science definition...

The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

Religion definition...

The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

I don't get the confusion. When a person is presented with something that they believe is true is incorrect they should consider the proof and learn. Children do this all the time.

smile001.gif

1

religion has fallen into the realm of control and power. Once people start to believe in their religion, it has to be the only truth, the greatest thing, the end all. They resent other religions that may be even more religious than them.. and start to pay attention more to their own religion. It's very messy and sickening. I guess that's why we here have decided that we just don't want anything to do with those groups.

AmmaRE007 Level 7 Apr 24, 2019

Religion has always been about control and power. It is also about community conformity using power and control to achieve it.

I would say that it is human beings that have fallen into the realm of control and power, rather than religion itself. It's what we do everywhere. We do the same thing with government, for example, but I don't hear many (some, but not many) people advocating the abandonment of government. Humans seek power and control by any means at their disposal, and the minute any organization is formed, the corruption of it begins. That still doesn't mean organizations per se are a bad thing; it just means reform is a never-ending maintenance responsibility inherent in any organization.

@skado YES, THIS is a better distinction.. thanks

@skado I feel that religions have fallen so far down.. that TO ME.. they aren't worth saving.. that is the major corporate religions

@AmmaRE007
Likely so.

1

I doubt a person who believes in god would care about the contradiction you have framed. They would simply say it was god who breathed spirit into life, which enabled both the flue and its victim and what happened after that you can read in your evolutionary science books.

The main thrust of Dawkins' The Extended Gene is that phenotype should not be limited to biological processes such as protein biosynthesis or tissue growth, but extended to include all effects that a gene has on its environment, inside or outside the body of the individual organism, then perhaps religion is in our phenotype, part of our naive reaction to the world.

cava Level 7 Apr 24, 2019

Interesting point. Religion as part of culture may be viewed as an aspect of our "extended phenotype".. Carel van Schaik and Kai Michel in their Book "The Good Boook of human nature" describe culture in general and religion in particular as our "protection system"
But it is important to see that there an important difference between a beaver's dam and culture: all beavers more or less build the same kind of dam, because the structure is hardwired and determined by their genes, but the specifics of culture are not hardwired. Religiosity as such is part of our (biological) first nature, but not the religion itself, the cultural phenotype

0

I do understand what you are saying and I believe that impartiality is the most important thing. If a catholic evolutionary scientist contradicted my understanding of evolution I wouldnt answer back. fyi there is such a person, name escapes me.

In the general sense I acknowledge that not all religion contradicts science, it just simply can't be proved or disproved. Per se I agree. However in reality the conception of God is based on the bible and you even used the bible as an example "God created the universe.........." Science cannot prove or disprove. The biblical God is based on a very strict premise. That it is perfect, infallible, and error free. So even one tiny infraction, one sentance that contradicts hard science, histotical fact makes it invalid. Like a house of cards you take out one and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

Now I know how it works. You can believe in God and not the bible, its just a reference, etc but the people who introduced this God into the world made the rules. And if my premise assumes that God was just a product of their imaginations then people are just using their imaginations to take a fictional idea and alter it as they please.

There will always be a way to make God fit and I would like to say this is fine as long as one doesnt ignore science. However is that the case? Pascal's wager was strongly built on the premise that there is nothing to lose by believing in a deity that doesnt exist. Psychologically speaking believing in a deity that doesnt exist however benign is damaging.

0

The questions you should contemplate on are these: why are the religious trying to support god with science? Why are they abandon faith and using logic and reason? Do they really care that you believe in god, or that you are part of their tribe?

0

Of course they contradict each other. There is absolutely nothing scientific about religion. I find that religions just make shit up. Science actually tests things and if it no longer fits the model they find evidence that does fit.

0

I can disprove God in one word,,, "dinosaur"! Done and done!

Coffeeman Level 6 Apr 26, 2019

Sure. And apes, birds, turtles, dragonflies.... they all disprove god. Funny.

@Matias How can you disprove the impossible to prove? The proof of God's lack is irrelevant to believers who's faith is based in no way on reason. If one can consider action and result as proof of a thing for example the effects of gravitational forces from a object in space we cannot see on objects or phenomena we can observe then does a believers actions in the name of "God" represent proof of that "Gods" existence even as an abstract? Too me the greater effect to combat religion is furthering real world efforts to educate the youth and create a real world were people have access to basic needs without expending all or most of their energy to simply meet those needs.

0

Yes, unless the religion accepts the reality of scientific facts.

wordywalt Level 8 Apr 24, 2019
0

The difference is illustrated by the example you gave with the flu. Let’s say that Susan has the flu, was that because god let her get it, or because of a weakened immune system? If it was god, what would be the the proper response? Is she being tested to see if she can maintain her faith and therefore she needs to pray and grow in order for god to free her of her affliction? Is she being punished for her lack of faith or a sin that she committed and therefore needs to repent to heal? If everything good and bad that happens to a person is the result of the whims of an all knowing, yet ultimately unknowable being, how does one take control of their life?

Now if the flu was caused by natural means, next year Susan can get the flu vaccine, she can make sure to eat well and exercise, or to get enough sleep. Non of these things will guarantee that she won’t get the flu next year, but they have a better chance of it then praying for the best.

The real difference between science and religion is that science strives to discover the hows and whys of the world and universe around us, it’s dynamic and able to change as new information comes available. Religion on the other hand starts with the explanation and try’s to shoehorn in the universe into its narrow understanding.

In other words science is a quest for understanding and religion is an assertion of truth (generally based on the best guesses of people who lived millennia ago)

The real difference between science and religion is that science gives us the facts, and religion opens up another dimension: the sphere of meaning. That Susan caught the flu because of the virus is a fact, and most religious people today, at least here in Europe would accept that without hesitation. But the virus does not mean anything, it is a brute fact. Religion takes the virus and then suffuses the fact with meaning coming from a realm that transcends the sphere of facts. Therefore the worldview and life of religious people, as long as they do not deny facts, has one dimension more: meaning

@TheAstroChuck I disagree. That religion operates with illusions goes without saying. BUt these illusions do open up a new dimension for those who believe in them, not for those who refuse to believe. Whether this meaning is emotionally charged or whether it is purely intellectual is of secondary importance.
What is important: facts can never add up to something like meaning.
You can investigate a living body with all means that current science offers... you'll never find something like its "meaning".
What you can find is purpose, in a technical sense: The heart's purpose is to pump blood... and so on. But what the person "inside" this body calls "the meaning of my life" will never appear during even the most rigorous scientific investigation.
Science simply is blind to this (fictitious!) dimension

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