Science versus Religion: Considerations of Process
and Product in the Search for Truth
Donald B. McCormick (April, 2006)
Much discussion continues to be made as to the nature and meaning of life and how it should be taught and lived. Cyclically the matter affects the laws that are promulgated to control the elements of our education and the limits allowed the educators. It may be instructive for some to reflect on points garnered by an educator and scientist during his career; at least it may provoke some further thinking by the reader and certainly provides opportunity for the author to explain his meaning.
The current legislation that attempts to separate church and state and within the latter the teaching of religion and science is probably a good thing inasmuch as people by nature tend to zealously defend their beliefs and often are intolerant of others with differing beliefs. Unfortunate for the common weal, there is too little attempt made at clarifying meanings to be sure that one understands another. It is the purpose of this article to open a helpful and continuing dialog between those who may seem "ruled" by science and those "ruled' by religion, while recognizing that most accept some components of each. It remains valid to argue, however, that science and religion are not the same and should not be confabulated in the education process as is still periodically attempted by those who would replace science with religion in such courses as biology.
An intrinsic part of human nature is to mystify that which is not understood at any moment. This has led to the numerous elements of mythology, and through time, to the diverse aspects of religions. Much documentation of such has been by scholars who have studied the origins of our beliefs through language and archeological discovery. A commonality of many religions is the circumscription around a supreme being who is often endowed with human-like behavior. This anthropocentric view of an anthropomorphic god really underlies most of the adherents of both catholic and protestant forms of religious practice in our country and includes similar views held by those in other major religions including Judaism and Islam of the Middle East. This belief based on a faith in an omniscient and omnipotent being with the ability to offer a better afterlife, in some cases mediated through intermediacy of a prophet or priest, is appealing to many. There are, however, rational alternative views.
The word "agnostic" was coined to mean one who realizes that the human mind cannot know whether there is a God or an ultimate cause, or anything beyond material phenomena. In the most open-minded view, this is simply a statement that one can neither prove nor disprove there is a God, because we lack an evidence-based, experimentally verifiable means of doing so. Many scientists recognize this verity. Those who want to claim there is such a supernatural creator must argue from a basis of faith and revelation rather than scientifically provable fact. This is not to say there was no beginning, but there is no proof for a super-humanoid creator. No credible cosmologist has evidence for the deification of an event.
There are those who reject all religious beliefs and deny the existence of God however named. This is the current and most negative definition of an "atheist". Less stringent terms that are intended to specify those who do not accept any religious belief are "unbeliever", or an "infidel" if applied to a person not believing in a certain religion or the prevailing religion. It may be helpful to recognize that there are some who would qualify themselves as of atheistic bent because they argue, perhaps correctly, that the set intolerance of humans toward those who do not share their particular religion was and is a major cause for conflict often leading to war. The history of humankind as far as we know it today bears strong argument for this. Though religious beliefs seem to have been an element in the psychological support of many, there is ample record of the bellicose nature of those with divergent views and the massive and continuing deaths due to resultant wars, "cleansings", and other attempts to have only one view.
What then is the purpose in stating the above tenets and terms? It is simply to remind us that there are different approaches to our processes of seeking knowledge and the truth we hope to acquire. The objective scientist uses an experimental, testable, fact-based approach to study the natural and observable universe. Scholars in many disciplines seek only human-made artifacts and events, e.g. art, music, and philosophy including a faith-based inclusion of religion. There is no a priori reason that all should not be part of the process and product in the search for truth. We fall short of our potential betterment when we fail to understand science or religion, but we must not confuse the purpose of either and falsely claim one is the other.