Monday, June 25, 2012

Science and Religion illustrated

There are maybe three or four major views on the relationship between science and religion.  I'm in an artistic mood, so I decided to illustrate these views.  It's also an exercise in understanding one's opponents, though it is inevitable that I misrepresent them in some way.

1. Science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria.

NOMA is simple enough, and the easiest to represent.  I don't have a scanner, can you tell?

2. Science and religion should interact for mutual benefit

People with this view ask why there must be so much conflict between science and religion.  Clearly, we can only answer our most profound questions if they team up.

3.  Science and religion are in conflict, and religion is in the right.

This representation is the one I'm least sure about, since who knows what creationists really think?  I guess they think that science is only honest if it confirms religious precepts.  I'm not sure how to draw that.

4. Science and religion are in conflict, and science is in the right.

Since this is the camp I'm in, I can vouch for the accuracy of this representation.  However, I know it does not represent all views in this category.  Some might say religion should merely have a reduced role, or science should have an expanded role.


Larry Hamelin said...

One issue is that both "science" and "religion" are vague, equivocal terms, at least in common usage. "Science" can refer to a broad epistemic method that privileges observation and evidence as a foundation; it can refer only to what serious-looking people in white lab coats do with particle accelerators, tons of glassware, or cages full of mice; it can refer to all of our modern technological culture, the good — antibiotics, painless dentistry — as well as the bad — environmental destruction, napalm.

Likewise, "religion", a slightly broader term, can can refer to a broad epistemic method that relies on faith and revelation as foundational; it can refer only to very specific kinds of writing, i.e. scriptures; it can refer to the more-or-less arbitrary cultural practices that provide a sense of unity and community to a society; it can refer to all the things that self-identified religious institutions do, the good — charity, counseling — as well as the bad — inquisitions, the sanction of bigotry.

Of course, I see the crucial debate as between the first senses of the term described above, which can be more precisely characterized as naturalism and supernaturalism, respectively.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Larry that you should define what you mean by religion. The broadest definition that I can think of is that it is a deeply held belief or set of beliefs that is logically indefensible. For example, I deeply believe that all men (and women) are created equal. This is the most important tenet of my religion, and it is also the basis of my political beliefs. However, I know it is not literally true. Someone who is born with a mental deficiency that makes it virtually impossible to cope with the problems of living independently in this world is hardly my equal. Nevertheless, I feel that I must treat him as an individual who is just as important as I am. I acknowledge that this is a religious belief.

miller said...

For the purposes of illustrating common views on science and religion, I think it is most appropriate to defer to the definitions used by the people holding those views. For example, Creationists might believe that evolutionary biology is a pathological science rather than a real science, and I tried to reflect that in my drawing. Similarly, anti-religious people would typically categorize the belief in equality as secular rather than religious, thus the "other secular stuff" category.

People supporting positive interaction between science and religion may hold a broader definition of religion. For instance, in my recent reading of Einstein, he argued that belief in induction was a religious view, and certainly induction is a necessary part of science. I would argue that even if induction could in principle be categorized with such things as Christianity, it is dissimilar enough that it should be categorized separately.

Anonymous said...

You may think that the example that I gave is secular, but certainly it was not deemed to be secular when Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." I think that your definition of religion is too narrow.

miller said...

Are you offering Thomas Jefferson's opinion as an argument, or simply as a description of Jefferson's views?

One could also interpret the quote as Jefferson offering a supernatural, but not necessarily religious, justification (endowment by a creator) for a secular belief (unalienable rights).

miller said...

Note that there are several distinct ways in which a definition could be "too narrow". I could be using a definition that is narrower than the way the word is typically understood. I could purport to use a particular definition, but misapply this definition by excluding certain things. Or perhaps it is a moral statement, saying that I should use a broader definition because a broader definition would be more useful. Which of these are you claiming?

(BTW, I permit anonymous comments, but I encourage people to use pseudonyms. It's not as if I can't immediately tell who you are based on your voice anyway.)