3 - Easton, Taking Sides, 5th ed., pdf here Is Science a Faith

3 - Easton, Taking Sides, 5th ed., pdf here Is Science a Faith

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–9. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 8
Background image of page 9
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Is Science a Faith? YES: Daniel Callahan, from "Calling Scientific Ideology to Ac- count,” Society (May/June 1996) N0: Richard Dawkins, from "Is Science a Religion?” The Human- ist (January/February 1997) ISSUE SUMMARY YES: Bioethicist Daniel Callahan argues that science’s domination of the cultural landscape unreasonably excludes other ways of under— standing nature and the world and sets it above any need to accept moral, social, and intellectual judgment from political, religious, and even traditional values. N0: Biologist Richard Dawkins maintains that science "is free of the main Vice of religion, which is faith” because it relies on evidence and logic instead of tradition, authority, and revelation. Science and technology have come to play a huge role in human culture, largely because they have led to vast improvements in nutrition, health care, comfort, communication, transportation, and humanity's ability to affect the world. However, science has also enhanced understanding of human behavior and of how the universe works, and in this it frequently contradicts what people have long thought they knew. Furthermore, it actively rejects any role of God in scientific explanation. Many people therefore reject what science tells us. They see science as just another way of explaining how the world and humanity came to be; in this View, science is no truer than religious accounts. Indeed, some say science is just another religion, with less claim on followers’ allegiance than other reli- gions that have been divinely sanctioned and hallowed by longer traditions. Certainly, they see little significant difference between the scientist's faith in reason, evidence, and skepticism as the best way to achieve truth about the world and the religious believer’s faith in revelation and scripture. The antipathy between science and religion has a long history. In 1616 the Catholic Church attacked the Italian physicist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) for teaching Copernican astronomy and, thus, contradicting the teachings of the Church; when invited to look through the telescope and see the moons of Jupiter for themselves, the Church’s representatives reportedly refused (Pope John Paul II finally pardoned Galileo in 1983). On the other side of the con- flict, the French Revolution featured the destruction of religion in the name of rationality and science, and the worship of God was officially abolished on November 10, 1793. To many people, the conflict between science and religion is really a con- flict between religions, or faiths, much like those between Muslims and Hin- dus or between conservative and liberal Christians. This View often becomes explicit in the debates between creationists and evolutionists. The rejection of science is also evident among those who see science as denying both the existence of God and the importance of "human values” (meaning behaviors that are affirmed by traditional religion). This leads to a basic antipathy between science and religion, especially conservative religion, and especially in areas—such as human origins—where science and scripture seem to be talking about the same things but are contradicting each other. This has been true ever since evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. Religious people are not the only ones who see in science a threat to "human values.” Science also contradicts people’s preferences, which are of- ten based less on religion than on- tradition and prejudice. For instance, science insists that no race or gender is superior to another; that homosexuality is nat- ural, not wicked; that different ways of living deserve respect; and that it is possible to have too many children and to cut down too many trees. It also ar- gues that religious prescriptions that may have once made sense are no longer relevant (the Jewish practice of not eating pork, for example, is a good way to avoid trichinosis; however, says science, so are cooking the meat at higher temperatures and not feeding pigs potentially contaminated feed). Many people feel that there is a baby in the bathwater that science pitches out the window. Science, they say, neglects a very important side of human existence embodied in that "human values” phrase. Daniel Callahan sees this side as the source of moral, political, and intellectual judgment, which science by its dominance of society tends to evade. Science, he argues in the following selection, has become an ideology in its own right, as intolerant as any other, and it sorely needs judgment or criticism to keep it from steamrollering the more human side of life. In the second selection, Richard Dawkins maintains that science differs profoundly from religion in its reliance on evidence and logic—not on tradition, authority, and revelation—and is therefore to be trusted much more. YES Daniel Callahan Calling Scientific Ideology to Account I come to the subject of science and religion with some complex emotions and a personal history not irrelevant to my own efforts to think about this matter. It seems appropriate for me to lay this history out a bit to set the stage for the argument I want to make. For the first half of my life, from my teens through my mid-thirties, I was a serious religious believer, a church member (Roman Catholic), and someone whose identity as both a person and as an intellectual had a belief in God at its center. During that time I had little contact with the sciences; literature and philosophy caught my imagination. I was a fine example, for that matter, of the gap between the two cultures that C. P. Snow described, caught up as I was in the humanities and generally ignorant about science. I spent most of my time among humanists and religious believers (though believers of a generally liberal kind). All of that changed in my late thirties. Two events happened simultane- ously. The first was a loss of my religious faith, utterly and totally. I ceased to be a theist, became an atheist, and so I remain today. I did not, however, have any revolt against organized religion (as it is sometimes pejoratively called) or the churches; nor did I lose respect for religious believers. They just seem to me wrong in their faith and mistaken in their hope. The second event was my discovery of the field of biomedical ethics, seemingly a fertile area for my philo- sophical training and an important window into the power of the biomedical sciences to change the way we think about and live our lives. With this new in- terest I began spending much of my time with physicians and bench scientists and worked hard to understand the universe of science that I was now entering (through the side door of biomedical ethics). Meanwhile, as I was undergoing my own personal changes, the relation- ship between science and religion was shifting in the country as well. When I was growing up, there was still considerable debate about religion and sci- ence, with some believers arguing that there was a fundamental incompatibility between them and others holding that they were perfectly congenial. Some sci- entists, for their part, wrote books about religion, saying that they had found God in their science. Others, of a more positivistic bent, thought that science had forever expunged the notion of a God and that science would eventually offer an explanation of everything. From Daniel Callahan, "Calling Scientific Ideology to Account,” Society, vol. 33, no. 4 (May/June 1996). Copyright © 1996 by Transaction Publishers. Reprinted by permission. 74 YES / Daniel Callahan 25 This debate seemed to subside significantly in the 19705 and 19805. Science came almost totally to win the minds and emotions of educated Americans, and technological innovation was endlessly promoted as the key to both hu- man progress and economic prosperity, a most attractive combination of doing good and doing well. While public opinion polls and church attendance figures, not to mention the gestures of politicians, showed the continuing popular- ity of religion, it was science that had captured the academy, the corridors of economic power, and high-brow prestige in the media. There remained, to be sure, skirmishes here and there over such issues as the teaching of creationism in the schools, particularly in the Bible Belt, and mutterings about the I’reli- gious Right" and its opposition to abortion, embryo and fetal research, and the like. Although there had been some bursts of anti-technology sentiments as part of the fallout of the 19605 culture wars, they had little staying power. The "greening of America” soon ran into a drought. Science, in short, finally gained the ascendancy, coming to dominate the cultural landscape as much as the economic marketplace. This was the world of science I entered and in which I still remain enmeshed. My reaction to the news in May 1995 that a religious group, with the help of Jeremy Rifkin, was entering a challenge to the patenting of life was one of rueful bemusement: what a quixotic gesture, almost certainly doomed to failure but not, perhaps, before a round of media attention. Such battles make good copy, but that’s about it. The specific issue of the patenting of life deserves discussion, and some- one or other would have raised it. Yet it hardly signals a new struggle between science and religion. It is neither that central an issue, nor did it appear even to galvanize a serious follow-up response among most religious groups. Congress, moreover, has given no indication that it will take up the issue in any serious way. In other words, it appears to have sunk as an issue as quickly as it arose. Yet I confess to a considerable degree of uneasiness here. Science should not have such easy victories. It needs to have a David against its Goliath. This is only to say that scientific modernism—that is, the cultural dominance of science —desperately needs to have a serious, and ongoing challenger. By that I mean the challenge of a different way of looking at nature and the world, one ca- pable of shaking scientific self-satisfaction and complacency and resisting its at—present overpowering social force. Science needs, so to speak, a kind of loyal opposition. This kind of opposition need not and should not entail hostility to the scientific method, to the investment of money in scientific research, or to the hope that scientific knowledge can make life better for us. Not at all. What it does entail is a relentless skepticism toward the View that science is the single and greatest key to human progress, that scientific knowledge is the only valid form of knowledge, and that some combination of science and the market is the way to increased prosperity and well-being for all. When religion can only fight science with the pea-shooters of creationism and antipatenting threats, it has little going for it. That response surely does not represent a thought- ful, developed, and articulate counterbalance to the hold of science on modern societies. 26 ISSUE 2 / ls Science a Faith? I say all of this because what I discovered upon entering the Culture of science—that is, scientism—was something more than a simple commitment to the value and pursuit of scientific knowledge. That is surely present, but it is also accompanied socially by two other ingredients, science as ideology and science as faith. ' Science as Ideology By science as ideology I mean that constellation of values that, for many, con— stitutes a more or less integrated way of interpreting life and nature, not only providing a sense of meaning but also laying out a path to follow in the living of a life. At the core of that ideology is a commitment to science as the most reliable source of knowledge about the nature of things and to technological innovation as the most promising way to improve human life. Closely related features of that ideology are an openness to untrammeled inquiry, limited by neither church nor state, skepticism toward all but scientifically verifiable claims, and a steady revision of all knowledge. While religion should be toler- ated in the name of toleration rather than on grounds of credibility, it should be kept in the private sphere, out of the public space, public institutions, and pub- lic education. The ideology of scientism is all-encompassing, a way of knowing, and, culturally embodied, a way of living. By science as faith I mean the ideology of science when it includes also a kind of non-falsifiable faith in the capacity of science not simply to provide reli- able knowledge but also to solve all or most human problems, social, political, and economic. It is non-falsifiable in the sense that it holds that any failure to date of science to find solutions to human problems says nothing at all about ' its future capacity to do so; such solutions are only a matter of time and more refined knOwledge. As for the fact that some of the changes science and tech- nology have wrought are not all good, or have both good and bad features, science as faith holds that there is no reason in principle that better science and new knowledge cannot undo earlier harm and avoid future damage. In a word, ‘no matter what science does, better science can do even better. No religious believer, trying to reconcile the evil in the world with the idea of a good and loving God, can be any more full of hope that greater knowledge will explain all than the scientific believer. And there is no evidence that is allowed to count against such a belief, and surely not religious arguments. It is at just this point that I, the former religious believer, find it hard to confidently swallow the ideology of science, much less the serene faith of many of its worshippers. I left one church but I was not looking to join an- other. Nonetheless, when I stepped into the territory of science that appeared to be exactly the demand: If you want to be one of us, have faith. Yet a perspec- tive that aims to supply the kind of certain metaphysical and ethical knowledge once thought limited to religion and to provide the foundations for ways of life seems to me worthy of the same kind of wariness that, ironically, science first taught me to have about religion. If science warns us to be skeptical of tradi- tionalism, of settled but unexamined views, of knowledge claims poorly based on hard evidence, on acts of faith that admit of no falsifiability, why should I YES / Daniel Callahan 27 not bring that same set of attitudes to science itself? That interesting magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer, dedicated togetting the hard facts to debunk supersti- tion, quackery, and weird claims by strange groups, does not run many articles devoted to debunking science or claims made in behalf of the enlightenment it can bring us. (I believe it has yet to publish even one such article, but I may be wrong about that.) Maybe that is not so surprising. Such rebelliousness seems utterly un— acceptable to scientism, utterly at odds with its solemn pieties and liturgical practices. To question the idea of scientific progress, to suggest that there are valid forms of nonscientific knowledge, to think that societies need something more than good science and high technology to flourish is to risk charges of heresy in enlightened educated circles every bit as intimidating as anything that can be encountered in even the most conservative religious groups. The condescension exhibited toward the "religious Right” surely matches that once displayed by Christianity toward "pagans." Even a Republican-dominated, con- servative Congress knows it can far better afford politically to drastically cut or eliminate funding for the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts than for the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health. Now I come to the heart of my problem with the ideology and faith of scientism. Like any other human institution and set of practices, science needs to be subject to moral, social, and intellectual judgment; it needs to be called to task from time to time. Ideally that ought to be done by institutions that have the cultural clout to be taken seriously and by means of criteria for judg- ment that cannot themselves easily be called into question. Religion itself has always had this notion as part of its own self-understanding: It believes that it —churches, theologies, creeds—stands under the higher judgment of God and recognizes that it can itself fall into idolatry, the worship of false gods. One might well complain that the churches have seemed, in fact, exceedingly slow in rendering negative judgment upon themselves. Even so, they have the idea of such judgment and on occasion it has indeed been exercised. Unfortunately—and a profound misfortune it is—science no longer has se- riously competitive ways of thinking or institutions that have a comparable prestige and power. Science no longer has a counterweight with which it must contend, no institution or generally persuasive perspective that can credibly pass judgment on scientific practices and pretensions. No secular force or out- look or ideology exists to provide it. Religion once played that role: Popes, prelates, and preachers could once rain some effective fire and brimstone down on science, often enough mistakenly yet sometimes helpfully. But religion, too concerned to protect its own turf, too unwilling to open its eyes to new pos- sibilities and forms of knowledge, offered mainly condemnation along with, now and then, some lukewarm support. Moreover, the gradual secularizing of the cultures of the developed countries of the world, relegating religion to the domestic sphere, took away religion’s platform to speak authoritatively to pub- lic life. Scientific modernism was there to fill the gap, and it has been happy to do so. It is not possible to utter prayers in public schools, but there are no limits to the homage that can be lavished upon science and its good works. 28 ISSUE 2 / Is Science a Faith? The absence of a counterweight to the ideology ofscience has a number of doleful effects. It helps to substantiate the impression that there is no alter- native, much less higher, perspective from which to judge science and its works. If you are the king of the hill, all things go your way and those below you are fearful or hesitant to speak out. It helps as well to legitimate the mistaken belief that all other forms of knowledge are not only inferior but that they are them- selves always subject to the superior judgment of science. Accordingly, claims of religious knowledge of a credible kind were long ago dismissed by science. At its best, science is benignly tolerant of religion, patting it on the head like a kindly but wiser grandparent. At its worst, it can be mocking and dismissive. The kinds of knowledge generated by the humanities fare a little better, but not all that much. From the perspective of my own field, bioethics, it is distressing to see the way that claims for the value or necessity of scientific research are treated with an extraordinary deference, usually going unquestioned. A recent federal panel on embryo research, for instance, set the issue up as a struggle between the moral status of the embryo, on the one hand, and that of the "need" (not just desire on the part of researchers) for embryo research, on the other. In a fine display of nuanced, critical thinking, the panel took apart excessive claims for the rights of embryos, urging “respect” but allowing research. As for the claims of research, they were accepted without any doubts or hesitations at all; they seemed self-evident to thepanel, not in need of justification. Even Henry VIII, the king of his hill, hardly got that kind of deference, even from those luckless wives he had beheaded. In a culture saturated with the ideology of science, there seems hardly any forceful voice to call it to account. If there was a loyal opposition, it would not let the claims and triumphal- ism of the scientific establishment go unchallenged. It would treat that estab- lishment with respect, but it would fully understand that it is an establishment, intent on promoting its own cause and blowing its own horn, critical of its opponents and naysayers, and of course never satisfied with the funds avail- able to it (funds that, if forthcoming in greater quantity, will someday find a cure for cancer, discover the molecular basis for disease, give us cheap energy generated by cold fusion, etc., etc.). A loyal opposition would bring to science exactly the same cool and self-critical eye that science itself urges in the testing of scientific ideas and hypotheses. One of the great intellectual contributions of science has been its methodological commitment to self-criticism and self- revision; and that is one reason it came to triumph over religion, which has not always shown much enthusiasm for skepticism about its key doctrines. But if self-criticism and self—revision are at the heart of the scientific method, then a good place to begin employing them is at home, on the scien- tific ideology that culturally sustains the whole apparatus. A loyal opposition would do this not only to temper exaggerated self-congratulations on the part of science but also to keep science itself scientific. The insuperable limitation of the scientific method is that it cannot be used to criticize the ideology of science or its methods. To try to do so only begs the question of its validity. In the end, we judge that method more by its fruits and consequences than by its a priori validity. The problem here is YES / Daniel Callahan 29 that science cannot tell us what consequences we ought to want, what kind of knowledge we need, or what uses are best for the knowledge that science demonstrates. Science, that is, is far more helpful with our means than our ends. Good science cannot tell us how to organize good societies or develop good people (or even tell us how to define ”good”) or tell us what is worth knowing. There is no scientific calculus to tell us how much a society should invest in scientific research; that is a matter of prudence. It is here that the other forms of knowledge ought and must come into play: the knowledge developed by the humanities or the “soft” social sciences; the political values and structures created by democratic societies, built upon argument, some consensus, and some compromise. My own domain, that of the humanities, was long ago intimidated by science. It does not complain about the grievous disparity between research resources lavished upon it in comparison with science. Those humanists who dare enter the church of science and mutter to its high priests are given the back of the scientific hand, quickly labeled as ' cranks or, black mark of black marks, Luddites. The scientific establishment should help to encourage and support other forms of knowing and should be willing to learn from them; that would be to display the openness and creativity it touts as its strength. It does not, however, take the fingers of even one hand to count the number of Nobel laureates in science who have petitioned Congress for stronger support for the humanities. What is a proper role for religion in a society captured by the ideology of science? Its most important role, the one it has played from time to time with other principalities and powers, would be simply to urge some humility on science and to call it to task for pretentiousness and power grabbing. Science ought to stand under constant moral judgment, and there is an important role for religion to play in formulating some of the criteria for such judgment. It is thus proper for religion to remind science of something religion should always be reminding itself of as well: Neither science nor religion are whole and entire unto. themselves. Religion stands under the judgment of God (it tells us), and science stands under the judgment of the collective conscience of humankind (which religion does not tell us). Religion can remind the world, and those in science, that the world can be viewed from different perspectives. And it can remind that world, including science, what it means to attempt, as does religion, to make sense of everything in some overall coherent way. There is no need to agree with the way in which religion comprehends reality in order to be reminded of the human thirst for some sense of coherence and meaning in the world. There has always been an aspect of science that overlaps with supernatural religion. That is the kind of natural piety and awe that many scientists feel in the face of the mysteries and beauty of the natural world. This can be called a kind of natural religion, and some scientists easily make the move from the natural to the supernatural, even if many of their more skeptical colleagues— who also share the sense of natural awe—do not follow them in taking that step. This natural awe frequently expresses itself in a hesitation to manipulate nature for purely self-interested ends, whether economic or medical. The concern of ecologists for the preservation of biodiversity, the hesitations of population 30 ISSUE 2 / Is Science a Faith? geneticists about germ-line therapy, the worry of environmentalists about the protection of tropical forests or of biologists for the preservation of even rare species, all testify to that kind of natural piety. It is here that there is room for an alliance between science and religion, between that science that sees the mystery and unprobed depths of the natural world and that religion that sees nature as the creation and manifestation of a beneficent god. It is important, for that matter, that science find allies in its desire to keep its natural piety alive and well. The primary enemies of that piety are the casual indifference of many human beings to nature and the more systematic despoil- ing of nature carried out in the name of the market, human betterment, or the satisfying of private fantasies and desires. Environmentalism has long been torn by a struggle that pits conservationists against preservationists. Conserva- tionists believe that the natural world can be cultivated for human use and its natural resources protected if care is taken. Preservationists, and particularly the "deep ecologists,” are hostile to that kind of optimism, holding that nature as it is needs to be protected, not manipulated or exploited. Conservationism has a serious and sober history and has been by no means oriented toward a crude exploitation of nature. But it is a movement that has often been allowed to shade off into that kind of technological optimism that argues that what- ever harm scientific progress and technological innovation cause, it can just as readily be undone and corrected by science. This is the ideology of science taken to extremes, but a common enough viewpoint among those who see too much awe of nature, too much protec- tionism, as a threat to economic progress. Religion could well throw its weight behind responsible conservation, and it would not hurt a bit if some theolo- gians and church groups took up the cause of deep ecology. That is an unlikely. cause to gain great support in an overcrowded world, and particularly in the poverty-stricken parts of that world. But it is a strong countercurrent worth introducing into the larger stream of efforts to preserve and respect nature. A little roughage in the bowels helps keep things moving. Perhaps the cultural dominance of science is nowhere so evident as in a feature of our society frequently overlooked: the powerful proclivity to look to numbers and data as the key to good public policy. Charts, tables, and graphs are the standard props of the policy analyst and the legislator. This is partly understandable and justifiable. With issues of debate and contention, hard data is valuable. It can help to determine if there is a real problem, the dimensions of that problem, and the possible consequences of different solutions. But the soft underside of the deification of data is the too frequent failure to recognize that data never tells its own story, that it is always subject to, and requires, interpretation. There is no data that can carry out that work. On the contrary, at that point we are thrown back upon our values, our way of looking at the world and society, and our different social hopes and commitments. The illusion of the inherent persuasiveness of data is fostered by scientism, which likes to think that there can be a neutral standpoint from which to assess those matters that concern us, that Scientific information plays that role, and that the answer to any moral and social battles is simply more and better information. YES / Daniel Callahan 31 The dominance of the field of economics in social policy itself tells an in- teresting story: the need to find a policy discipline that has all the trapping of science in its methods and that can capture its prestige. It is a field that aspires to be a science and that speaks the culturally correct language of modeling, hy- pothesis testing, and information worship. And it has been amply rewarded for its troubles, recently gaining the blessing of a Nobel prize for its practitioners to signal its status as a science, and for many years capturing the reins of public power and office in a way unmatched by any other academic discipline. There is a prestigious government Council of Economic Advisors. There is not now, and probably never will be, a Council of Philosophical Advisors, or Historical Advisors, or Humanistic Advisors. But then, that is likely to be the fate of any field that cannot attach itself to the prestige of science. It will lack social standing, just as religion now lacks serious intellectual standing. Note that I say "intellectual standing." There is no doubt that religion can still have a potent political status or that religion can from time to time make trouble for science (or, more accurately, make trouble for the agendas of some scientists, for example, for those who would like to do embryo re- search). But in the larger and more enduring world of dominant ideas and ideologies, science sits with some serenity, and much public adulation, in an enviable position. It is interesting to note what no one seems to have noticed. In the demise of communism as a political philosophy and a set of political regimes, one of its features has endured nicely: its faith in science. That is the one feature it shared with the Western capitalist democracies that triumphed over it. It is also, let it be noted, a key feature of a market ideology, the en- gine of innovation, a major source of new products, and—in its purported value neutrality—a congenial companion for a market ideology that just wants to give people the morally neutral gift of freedom of economic choice, not moralisms about human nature and the good society of a kind to be found in the now-dead command economies of the world. Allow me to end as I began. There was a time when I hoped my own field, bioethics, might serve as the loyal opposition to scientific ideology, at least its biomedical division. In its early days, in the 19605 and 1970s, many of those first drawn to it were alarmed by the apparently unthinking way in which ‘ biomedical knowledge and technologies were being taken up and disseminated. It seemed important to examine not only the ethical dilemmas generated by a considerable portion of the scientific advances but also to ask some basic questions about the moral premises of the entire enterprise of unrelenting biomedical progress. That latter aspiration has yet to be fulfilled. Most of those who have come into the field have accepted scientific ideology as much as most scientists, and they have no less been the cultural children of their times, prone to look to medical progress and its expansion of choice as a perfect comple— ment to a set of moral values that puts autonomy at the very top of the moral hierarchy. Nothing seems to so well'serve the value of autonomy as the ex- panded range of human options that science promises to deliver, whether for the control of procreation or the improvement of health or the use of medical means to improve our lives. Not many people in bioethics, moreover, care to be thought of as cranks, and there is no faster way to gain that label than to raise 32 ISSUE 2 / Is Science a Faith? questions about the scientific enterprise as a whole. Bioethicists have, on the whole, become good team players, useful to‘ help out with moral puzzles now and then and trustworthy not to probe basic premises too deeply. Unless one is willing to persistently carry out such probes, the idea of a loyal opposition carries no weight. Can religion, or bioethics, or some other social group or force in our society call science to account when necessary? Can it do so with credibility and serious credentials? Can it do so in a way that helps science to do its own work better, and not simply‘to throw sand in the eyes of scientists? I am not sure, but I surely hope so. I can only say, for my part, that I left one church and ended in the pews of another one, this one the Church of Science. In more ways than one—in its self-confidence, its serene faith in its own value, and its ability to intimidate dissenters—it seems uncomfortably like the one I left. How can it be made to see that about itself? NOW Richard Dawkins Is Science a Religion? It is fashionable to wax apocalyptic about the threat to humanity posed by the AIDS virus, "mad cow” disease, and many others, but I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn’t based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. And who, looking at Northern Ireland or the Middle East, can be confident that the brain virus of faith is not exceedingly dangerous? One of the stories told to young Muslim suicide bombers is that martyrdom is the quickest way to heaven—and not just heaven but a special part of heaven where they will receive their special reward of 72 virgin brides. It occurs to me that our best hope may be to provide a kind of "spiritual arms control”: send in specially trained theologians to deescalate the going rate in virgins. Given the dangers of faithaand considering the accomplishments of rea- son and observation in the activity called science—I find it ironic that, whenever I lecture publicly, there always seems to be someone who comes forward and says, "Of course, your science is just a religion like ours. Fundamentally, science just comes down to faith, doesn’t it?” Well, science is not religion and it doesn’t just come down to faith. Al- though it has many of religion’s virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its in- dependence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops. Why else would Christians wax critical of doubting Thomas? The other apostles are held up to us as exemplars of virtue because faith was enough for them. Doubt— ing Thomas, on the other hand, required evidence. Perhaps he should be the patron saint of scientists. One reason I receive the comment about science being a religion is be- cause I believe in the fact of evolution. I even believe in it with passionate conviction. To some, this may superficially look like faith. But the evidence that makes me believe in evolution is not only overwhelmingly strong; it is freely available to anyone who takes the trouble to read up on it. Anyone can Study the same evidence that I have and presumably come to the same conclu- sion. But if you have a belief that is based solely on faith, I can't examine your reasons. You can retreat behind the private wall of faith where I can’t reach you. From Richard Dawkins, "Is Science a Religion?" The Humanist (January/February 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission. 34 ISSUE 2 / Is Science a Faith? Now in practice, of course, individual Scientists do sometimes slip back into the vice of faith, and a few may believe so single-mindedly in a favorite theory that they occasionally falsify evidence. However, the fact that this some- times happens doesn’t alter the principle that, when they do so, they do it with shame and not with pride. The method of science is so designed that it usually finds them out in the end. Science is actually one of the most moral, one of the most honest dis- ciplines around—because science would completely collapse if it weren’t for a scrupulous adherence to honesty in the reporting of evidence. (As [famous magician] James Randi has pointed out, this is one reason why scientists are so often fooled by paranormal tricksters and why the debunking role is bet— ter played by professional conjurors; scientists just don't anticipate deliberate dishonesty as well.) There are other professions (no need to mention lawyers specifically) in which falsifying evidence or at least twisting it is precisely what people are paid for and get brownie points for doing. Science, then, is free of the main vice of religion, which is faith. But, asI pointed out, science doeshave some of religion’s Virtues. Religion may aspire to provide its followers with various benefits—among them explanation, consolation, and uplift. Science, too, has something to offer in these areas. Humans have a great hunger for explanation. It may be one of the main reasons why humanity so universally has religion, since religions do aspire to provide explanations. We come to our individual consciousness in a mysteri- ous universe and long to understand it. Most religions offer a cosmology and a biology, a theory of life, a theory of origins, and reasons for existence. In do- ing so, they demonstrate that religion is, in a sense, science; it’s just bad science. Don’t fall for the argument that religion and science operate on separate dimen- sions and are concerned with quite separate sorts of questions. Religions have historically always attempted to answer the questions that properly belong to science. Thus religions should not be allowed now to retreat from the ground upon which they have traditionally attempted to fight. They do offer both a cosmology and a biology; however, in both cases it is false. Consolation is harder for science to provide. Unlike Religion, science can- not offer the bereaved a glorious reunion with their loved ones in the hereafter. Those wronged on this earth cannot, on a scientific view, anticipate a sweet comeuppance for their tormentors in a life to come. It could be argued that, if the idea of an afterlife is an illusion (as I believe it is), the consolation it offers is hollow. But that’s not necessarily so; a false belief can be just as comforting as a true one, provided the believer never discovers its falsity. But' if consola- tion comes'that cheap, science can weigh in with other cheap palliatives, such as pain-killing drugs, whose comfort may or may not be illusory, but they do work. Uplift, however, is where science really comes into its own. All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation. And it’s exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath—catching awe —almost worship—this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide. And it does so beyond the wildest dreams of saints and mystics. The fact that the supernatural has no place in our exnlanations. in our NO / Richard Dawkins 35 understanding of so much about the universe and life, doesn’t diminish the awe. Quite the contrary. The merest glance through a microscope at the brain of an ant or through a telescope at a long-ago galaxy of a billion worlds is enough to render poky and parochial the very psalms of praise. 249‘ Now, as I say, when it is put to me that science or some particular part of science, like evolutionary theory, is just a religion like any other, I usually deny it with indignation. But I’ve begun to wonder whether perhaps that’s the wrong tactic. Perhaps the right tactic is to accept the charge gratefully and demand equal time for science in religious education classes. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that an excellent case could be made for this. So I want to talk a little bit about religious education and the place that science might play in it. I do feel very strongly about the way children are brought up. I’m not entirely familiar with the way things are in the United States, and what I say may have more relevance to the United Kingdom, where there is state-obliged, legally enforced religious instruction for all children. That’s unconstitutional in the United States, but I presume that children are nevertheless given religious instruction in whatever particular religion their parents deem suitable. Which brings me to my point about mental child abuse. In a 1995 issue of the Independent, one of London’s leading newspapers, there was a photograph of a rather sweet and touching scene. It was Christmas time, and the picture showed three children dressed up as the three wise men for a nativity play. The accompanying story described one child as a Muslim, one as a Hindu, and one as a Christian. The supposedly sweet and touching point of the story was that they were all taking part in this nativity play. What is not sweet and touching is that these children were all four years old. How can you possibly describe a child of four as a Muslim or a Christian or a Hindu or a Jew? Would you talk about a four-year-old economic monetarist? Would you talk about a four-year—old nee-isolationist or a four-year-old liberal Republican? There are opinions about the cosmos and the world that children, once grown, will presumably be in a position to evaluate for themselves. Re- ligion is the one field in our culture about which it is absolutely accepted, without question—without even noticing how bizarre it is—that parents have a total and absolute say in what their children are going to be, how their children are going to be raised, what opinions their children are going to have about the cosmos, about life, about existence. Do you see what I mean about mental child abuse? Looking now at the various things that religious education might be ex- pected to accomplish, one of its aims could be to encourage children to reflect upon the deep questions of existence, to invite them to rise above the humdrum preoccupations of ordinary life and think sub specie alternitatis. Science can offer a vision of life and the universe which, as I’ve already rnmwr‘znr‘ cm- hummmn nontir‘ insnirafinn far ontclasses anv of the mutu- 36 ISSUE 2 / ls Science a Faith? ally contradictory faiths and disappointingly recent traditions of the world’s religions. ' For example, how could any child in a religious education class fail to be inspired if we could get across to them some inkling of the age of the universe? Suppose that, at the moment of Christ’s death, the news of it had started trav- eling at the maximum possible speed around the universe outwards from the earth? How far would the terrible tidings have traveled by now? Following the theory of special relativity, the answer is that the news could not, under any circumstances whatever, have reached more than one-fiftieth of the way across one galaxy—not one-thousandth of the way to our nearest neighboring galaxy in the 100-million-galaxy—strong universe. The universe at large couldn’t pos- sibly be anything other than indifferent to Christ, his birth, his passion, and his death. Even such momentous news as the origin of lifeon Earth could have traveled only across our little local cluster of galaxies. Yet so ancient was that event on our earthy time-scale that, if you span its age with your open arms, ‘ the whole of human history, the whole of human culture, would fall in the dust from your fingertip at a single _stroke of a nail file. The argument from design, an important part of the history of religion, wouldn’t be ignored in my religious education classes, needless to say. The children would look at the spell-binding wonders of the living kingdoms and would consider Darwinism alongside the creationist alternatives and make up their own minds. I think the children would have no difficulty in making up their minds the right way if presented with the evidence. What worries me is not the question of equal time but that, as far as I can see, children in the United Kingdom and the United States are essentially given no time with evolution yet are taught creationism (whether at school, in church, or at home). It would also be interesting to teach more than one theory of creation. The dominant one in this culture happens tobe the Jewish creation myth, which is taken over from the Babylonian creation myth. There are, of course, lots and lots of others, and perhaps they should all be given equal time (except that wouldn’t leave much time for studying anything else). I understand that there are Hindus who believe that the world was created in a cosmic butter churn and Nigerian peoples who believe that the world was created by God from the excrement of ants. Surely these stories have as much right to equal time as the Judeo-Christian myth of Adam and Eve. . . . When the religious education class turns to ethics, I don’t think science actually has a lot to say, and I would replace it with rational moral philosophy. Do the children think there are absolute standards of right and wrong? And if so, where do they come from? Can you make up good working principles of right and wrong, like "do as you would be done by” and "the greatest good for the greatest number” (whatever that is supposed to mean)? It’s a reward- ing question, whatever your personal morality, to ask as an evolutionist where morals come from; by what route has the human brain gained its tendency to have ethics and morals, a feeling of right and wrong? Should we value human life above all other life? Is there a rigid wall to be _ built around the species Homo sapiens, or should we talk about whether there are other species which are entitled to our humanistic sympathies? Should we, NO / Richard Dawkins 37 for example, follow the right-to-life lobby, which is wholly preoccupied with human life, and value the life of a human fetus with the faculties of a worm over the life of a thinking and feeling chimpanzee? What is the basis of this fence we erect around Homo sapiens—even around a small piece of fetal tissue? (Not a very sound evolutionary idea when you think about it.) When, in our evolutionary descent from our common ancestor with chimpanzees, did the fence suddenly rear itself up? [Slcience could give a good account of itself in religious education. But it wouldn’t be enough. I believe that some familiarity with the King James version of the Bible is important for anyone wanting to understand the allusions that appear in English literature. Together with Book of Common Prayer, the Bible gets 58 pages in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Only Shakespeare has more. I do think that not having any kind of biblical education is unfortunate if children want to read English literature and understand the provenance of phrases like "through a glass darkly,” “all flesh is as grass,” "the race is not to the swift,” "crying in the wilderness,” “reaping the whirlwin ,” "amid the alien corn,” "Eyeless in Gaza,” "Job’s comforters,” and "the widow’s mite.” I want to return now to the charge that science is just a faith. The more extreme version of this charge—and one that I often encounter as both a sci- entist and a rationalist—is an accusation of zealotry and bigotry in scientists themselves as great as that found in religious people. Sometimes there may be a little bit of justice in this accusation; but as zealous bigots, we scientists are mere amateurs at the game. We’re content to argue with those who disagree with us. We don’t kill them. But I would want to deny even the lesser charge of purely verbal zealotry. There is a very, very important difference between feeling strongly, even pas- sionately, about something because we have thought about and examined the evidence for it on the one hand, and feeling strongly about something because it has been internally revealed to us, or internally revealed to somebody else in history and subsequently hallowed by tradition. There’s all the difference in the world between a belief that one is prepared to defend by quoting evidence and logic and a belief that is supported by nothing more than tradition, authority, or revelation. POSTSCRIPT Is Science a Faith? The conflict between science and religion is deep and broad. The root reason may be simply that science says, "Check it out—don’t take anyone’s word for the . truth,” while religion says, "Take the word of your preacher or your scripture. Believe—but don’t even think about checking.” Scientific skepticism is always a threat to established authority. It challenges old truths. It revises and replaces beliefs, traditions, and power structures. Does this mean that science is a threat to society? Those who share the beliefs under attack often think so. They may believe that the Bible or the Koran is a much better guide to the nature of the world than science is. They may believe in crystal power and magic spells. They may tie knots in their electric cords to trim the size of their electric bills. They may even be postmodernist university professors who say that science is just a "useful myth,” no different from any other fiction. As Mano Singham writes in l’The Science and Religion Wars,” Phi Delta Kappan (February 2000), "In the triangle formed by science, mainstream religion, and fringe beliefs, it is the conflict between science and fringe beliefs that is usually the source of the most heated, acrimonious, and public debate.” There are also those, like Callahan, who wish that there were some segment of society with sufficient stature to sit in judgment over science, to criticize it, and perhaps to rein it in, certainly to keep it from arrogantly 7 quashing other views, such as those of religion. And although most Americans welcome the benefits of science and technology, they are often very leery of the unrestricted inquiry that characterizes science and challenges tradition. See, for example, Janet Raloff, "When Science and Beliefs Collide,” Science News (June 8, 1996); Gerald Holton, Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion Against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century (Addison-Wesley, 1996); and "Science Versus Antiscience?" Scientific American (Ianuary 1997). Some scientists even feel threatened by the conflict between their professional and private beliefs. Some have therefore spent a great deal of effort searching for ways to reconcile science and religion. For instance, Leon Lederman and Dick Teresi write about the quest for the most fundamental fragment of the atom in The God Particle (Dell, 1994). Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time (Bantam Books, 1988), expresses the thought that science might lead humanity to "know the mind of God.” Can these scientists be speaking in more than metaphorical terms? Per- haps not, for science deals in observable reality, which can provide at best only hints of a designer, creator, or God. Science cannot provide direct access to God, at least as people currently understand the nature of God. Still, it is not only creationists who see signs of design. Some scientists find the impression of design quite overwhelming, and many feel that science and religion actually (, have a great deal in common. Harvard University astronomer and evangelical Christian Owen Gingerich says that both are driven by human beings’ "basic wonder and desire to know where we stand in the universe." It is therefore not terribly surprising to find the two realms of human thought intersecting very frequently or to find many people in both realms concerned with reconcil- ing differences. See Gregg Easterbrook, “Science and God: A Warming Trend?" Science (August 15, 1997). ' On the other hand, some scientists find attempts to reconcile science and religion strange at best. Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science Ed- ucation, insists that "science is just a method” and that people who see God in the complexity of biology or astronomy are "going beyond their data” and misusing science “to validate their positions.” Paul Gross, former director of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and coauthor of Higher Supersti- tion: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), even finds those who see God in science frightening. More recently, Gross, Norman Levitt, and Martin W. Lewis coedited The Flight From Science and Reason (New York Academy of Sciences, 1997) to consider the opposition to the scientific, rational approach to the world that now finds wide expression in many nonscientific academic areas. Are such views no more than an illustration of Callahan’s contention that science—or "scientism”—has become an ideology and a faith as intolerant of others as any religion? Certainly some feel that science can provide many of the same rewards as religion. See Chet Raymo’s Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion (Walker, 1998), in which he seeks a kind of spirituality without belief, finding all the awe, wonder, and mystery anyone could wish in the universe revealed by science. ...
View Full Document

Page1 / 9

3 - Easton, Taking Sides, 5th ed., pdf here Is Science a Faith

This preview shows document pages 1 - 9. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online