RELIGION VS. SCIENCEFebruary 26, 2002
Someone recently said to me, "With both science and religion it is, quite frankly, easy to find the good and bad in both. Let's look for the good."
It is possible to "look for the good" in just about anything, and find it too if you set your standards low enough. The weight of the bad compared with the good MATTERS. So let's look at both the good AND the bad in religion and in science, and see how they compare.
The good in religion is that it provides comfort and a set of moral rules for its adherents. The bad in religion is that its price is belief in unjustified supernatural claims. This is bad because the responsibility for justifying a claim falls on whoever issues it. Religion reacts to this responsibility irresponsibly, by demanding "faith".
The good in science is that it discovers things about the universe which we are justified in believing. The bad in science is that its discoveries can be used by bad people to do bad things. This is bad because when bad people get powerful tools, they can do worse things. The danger of abuse does not invalidate the justification for belief in science's discoveries, however.
These two sets of characteristics are often seen as complimentary. Science provides a justification for believing certain things while religion does not, and religion tells people how to be good while science does not...
But that is a false symmetry. The things which science has provided a justification for believing do not include the claims of religion. In fact, science has provided a justification for believing that many of the claims made by religion are false. And since religion's claims are the reason for its moral rules, it follows that if religion's claims aren't true then its moral rules carry no weight.
But religious faith doesn't merely result in a false sense of comfort and an invalid justification for rules of behavior. It is an active obstacle to science. Every time the advancement of human knowledge uncovers clear evidence that one or more of religion's claims are not merely unjustified but WRONG, the adherents of religion (who fear the loss of their comfort and moral rules) become motivated to attack that new understanding.
We certainly do need a way to decide whether a particular use of science's discoveries is desirable or not. But until religion can provide an actual justification for belief in its own core assumptions, it cannot show that its moral rules are valid. We will have to look elsewhere. A number of ethical systems have been proposed which do not require faith in unproven supernatural claims. That is where we need to be looking.