Saturday, August 05, 2006

Science vs. religion

Chris Davis brought me up short in a letter to the editors of New Scientist (29 July 2006). He points out that one of my basic assumptions – that science and religion can co-exist amicably – may be a convenient fiction.
“[S]cience and religion tenaciously pretend - at least when in each other's company - that they "respect" each other. In recent times this nonsense has started to dissipate, and the camps are becoming more honest about their mutual antipathy.

“And they are right to be so. Both science and religion claim superiority in the fundamental search for truth and the nature of reality. They encroach absolutely on each other's territory, as they battle for the minds of the populace. There is no reason to be abusive to each other, but to deny that a conflict exists at all is naive, and confusing for honest seekers after truth encountering the matter for the first time.”

Descartes crafted the entente between science and religion. The dualist assumption of two non-interacting worlds meant that scientists and priests could each have their own domain: body/mind, things/souls, physics/metaphysics. This carved out room for science to flourish unencumbered by the authority of the Church.

The Intelligent Design debate may signal a return to the struggles of the 17th Century, such as those over the ideas of Spinoza. It’s a fight for hearts and minds, the stuff of politics and propaganda. Davis’s closing line reveals the why school textbooks are the battle ground: “It is these undecideds and newcomers - especially children - to whom both sides owe honesty.”

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