Science and Religion (Creationism, etc.)

From what I understand, science seeks measurable truth. By “measurable” I mean something that is verifiable. Logical proofs are verifiable (as are mathematical proofs), and so are things we can touch, see, etc. Anything beyond measure is of no interest to scientists.

There will always be a point where things become “unmeasurable” and “unknown.” It’s sort of like how you run out of answers to a 7-year old’s rigorous adherence to the Socratic method: if you keep asking why something is the way it is, you will eventually run out of answers. You will eventually run up against that boundary of measurable truth.

So this is the reason why I don’t understand why some people think that science can’t coexist with religion. Religion steps in exactly at the point where you cross into the unmeasurable truths. Religion answers questions like, “What happened before the Big Bang?” or “Why did the Big Bang occur?” where science cannot (at least currently). Science and religion, as far as I can see, are our eyes in the realms of measurable and unmeasurable truths, respectively. Interestingly, the study of philosophy sits right on the border, between what is measurable and not measurable, but what is still “true” in some sense of the word.

The problem with Creationism is that it tries (to comedic effect) to claim a huge chunk of science (evolution) as “unmeasurable.” It says that the human eye is so complicated yet so perfectly tuned that it must have had an intelligent creator behind its design. It says that the reason behind the existence of complex, inter-dependent organs is “unmeasurable” — unexplainable — by any scientific means. Of course, they have to blatantly ignore the mountains of evidence in support for the theory of evolution in doing so, as well as the beautiful consistency of it all.

I think the Creationists fear that the teaching of evolution will somehow destroy one’s belief in their Judeo-Christian God. But once you see that the realms of science and religion are *completely* separate, you quickly realize that such fear is unfounded. Rather, the Creationists should be concerned about the teaching of philosophy, as it asks questions that touch on religious teachings more directly.

Alas, unfortunately for the Christians, their Holy Book is embarrasingly wrong (this is the Word of God we are talking about!) on a lot of things because, like Creationism, it makes lots of utterly false statements that fall into what is measurable, into the domain of science. The story of Noah’s Ark is probably the best example. The “Earth is less than 10,000 years old” inference drawn from gathering the ages and lives of those described in the Bible is another one (it’s just plain wrong if you accept that fossils are real; and I’m not talking dinosaur bones — google “stromatolites” for some really ancient fossils). The whole thing about miracles is also problematic, because what was a miracle 2,000 years ago is not a miracle today. And for some reason all the miracles that happen today are limited to those that can be scientifically explained (but this is getting a bit off topic…).

Hmm, I guess teaching scientific knowledge in general will point to a lot of holes in the Bible, or any other Holy Book that dares to come under genuine scientific inquiry. Maybe the Bible should be rewritten. It could be that Noah’s Ark and the other accounts (some guy lived for 500+ years, IIRC) were just falsely written by some crazy guys in 100 BCE. You could just re-write the Bible and get all the good parts, like “love your enemies.” But this will never happen.

Indeed, the problem with pretty much all the world’s religions are that they have a “creation” story about how the Universe began, and end up with wonderfully confusing and comic descriptions that clash against modern scientific knowledge. I guess this is one reason why there has been an increasing rise in Atheism recently — the traditional religions have too many flaws!

Me, I just follow 1 simple code: “do good stuff, and don’t do bad stuff.” Simple, direct, and always correct. Plus, seeing the world this way, the vast majority of people I meet are also adherents of my code, at least from judging how they treat me. I don’t care enough about atheism or agnosticism to identify myself with one or the other.

EDIT: Grammar fix and clarify the title.
EDIT January 3, 2012: Minor wording tweak.

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8 thoughts on “Science and Religion (Creationism, etc.)

  1. So I have finally found someone in this debate who can think logically. Thank you. 😀

    I would like to add that the skill and tendency of shooting oneself in one’s foot is not exclusive to Creationists: Folks whom I hence coin inverse Creationists will claim similarly large chunks of religion as “measurable”. In doing so, they too ignore the obvious reality that the aforementioned chunks are not measurable. [Linked: humorous inverse-creationism in action]

  2. @Antaku: Hmm, I understand what you mean by inverse-creationism (haha, funny term), and I see why you posted that link. I.e., a creationist would say “science (evolution) is bad, because it damages religion”, whereas the guy in the link would say “religion (faith) is bad, because it damages reason”. What he should be saying instead, is: “faith is fine, but some people get fanatical about it and cause problems for us and this is where it’s unacceptable”. It’s one thing to chew one’s food, and another to spit it out into someone’s face. Because, let’s face it, having faith in some god or religion or whatever, ultimately affects only the person who has faith. There are lots of religious people who are 100% law-abiding, helpful people who actually tolerate other faiths and treat everyone with respect (such people do exist in real life, and I’m also reminded of a quote from Moby Dick, “I’d rather be with a sober pagan than a drunk Christian”.). It’s when the faithful believers start to blur the lines between reality and Holiness that things start to get hairy…

  3. @Shinobu: I propose action: We purchase ourselves large buckets of chalk and spend the night inscribing our respective local pavements with zen Buddhist sayings. 🙂

    Are peaceful protests boring? Are violent ones exciting?

    Perhaps this is the reason why some will refuse to try to understand the viewpoints of others and create stupid conflicts like this (inverse-) creationist crap?

  4. @Antaku: People instinctively love conflict (sports, debates, wars (yes, people do love them, as long as they’re on the winning side), etc.). But conflict is a product of differing views. It’s just unavoidable. You can be Catholic or Buddhist or whatever all you want, but by definition, your views will conflict with others (even other like-minded believers!) because no one else on Earth has your exact views. You probably don’t even have the same views you had from 5, 10 years ago (I’ve certainly changed my views).

    But yes, I’d certainly appreciate it more if people kept their arguments (1) civil and (2) precise (too many atheists (like Pat Condell, the guy from your link) attack “religion” when they use the word to mean “rude, fanatical Christians”.)

  5. @Shinobu: I assume you took “view” as synonymous to “opinion” in the above. I don’t see how conflicts can be products of “conflicting views”. Views on a subject cannot conflict. They can only differ.

    “I believe there is a God” and “I believe God does not exist” are views; theories. They are all “precursors” of fact, awaiting proof or disproof. While none has received judgement and thus has not yet become fact or falsity, all are equal. One who believes something IS when it MAY NOT BE and another who believes it IS NOT when it MAY, would each be stupid to challenge the belief of the other, as the other can always counter by throwing back the inverse of that challenge. Arguing one’s view is by definition an exercise in futility. Neither will win until new information comes along.

    In a logically beautiful inverse correspondence, facts on a subject cannot differ, but may only conflict. Facts, by an argument orthogonal to the above, are hence by definition always worth arguing if they conflict.

    This is the reason I will leave Christians and atheists alone (I cannot prove or disprove their views, nor they mine) but attack Creationists and inverse Creationists (as they present falsity which I can disprove).

    There is no such thing as incivility or imprecision in factual argument. It wouldn’t be fact if there were. Occurrences of either indicate that that argument is really an argument about views, which is (as mentioned) a futile pursuit.

    And that’s fact.

    Now for some views! I believe that understanding is the means and purpose of our human lives. I believe people who argue over differing views are wasting time they could be using to further understanding. I believe understanding is everything.

    I present my view, but cannot argue it. But perhaps it can nevertheless be understood? 🙂

  6. @Antaku: Well, just how different is “view” vs “opinion”? I can’t really see the difference between the two, at least when it comes to how 99% of English-speaking people use the two words in everyday life.

    > Arguing one’s view is by definition an exercise in futility. Neither will win until new information comes along.

    You know, that’s a very interesting point you make, which I have never really thought about before. Some things are beyond “proof” or “measure”, I suppose, and indeed, arguing about “views” is an exercise in futility. But I am not so sure about “opinions” — opinions are statements drawn from facts (ah, maybe this is where “view” differs from “opinion”.) And opinions get argued all the time — courts do this, and also any time a Leader consults his Advisors, he seeks their opinions.

    Hmm, so I guess “views” are drawn from things inside the “unprovable” set, whereas “opinions” are drawn from facts (provable set). I’m beginning to like this distinction. It certainly explains how differing views cannot really conflict, and how opinions can conflict (by comparing how intelligently they are drawn from the facts at hand).

    > In a logically beautiful inverse correspondence, facts on a subject cannot differ, but may only conflict. Facts, by an argument orthogonal to the above, are hence by definition always worth arguing if they conflict.

    Hmm, again, very interesting. I tried really hard to attack your statement above (I do this every time I come across something new), and I can’t come up with anything solid. Maybe Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems have something to say against your statement — I’m not smart enough to see how this fits into your position about facts, but I’m just throwing it out there for the record. I guess for all practical purposes it is worthwhile to sort out conflicting facts (although some facts are inherently paradoxical (e.g., particle-wave duality of electrons)).

    > This is the reason I will leave Christians and atheists alone (I cannot prove or disprove their views, nor they mine) but attack Creationists and inverse Creationists (as they present falsity which I can disprove).

    Yes, this makes sense and I agree. However, I will note that we are using a very strict sense of the word “views”, as in things that are not falsifiable. I think the real reason why atheists attack Christianity so much is because they are frustrated by what appears as billions of years of existence without any shred of evidence for the existence of a supernatural being that is in connection with us. They have the same impatience a parent has toward a child who refuses to let go of the idea of “the Boogie man”. (Though here, the “Boogie man” is not supposed to be under the bed, but is supposed to exist in a dimension that will never be reachable by anyone, unless by a “miracle.”)

    > “There is no such thing as incivility or imprecision in factual argument. It wouldn’t be fact if there were. Occurrences of either indicate that that argument is really an argument about views, which is (as mentioned) a futile pursuit.”

    Technically speaking, yes, I agree with you. But we are talking about beliefs and people and arguments. Almost any “argument” you have with another person really comes down to facts and your interpretation of those facts. It’s the way we operate. If you are Christian, God’s existence is a fact, or better yet, truth itself. So by definition, when you argue about facts with a Christian, you will run into a factual argument. And we know how civility can break down very quickly if you challenge a person’s deeply held religious beliefs.

    Maybe the real problem is how whenever people get into an argument, certain facts are given more precedence over others. Yes, the Church has been wrong many, many, many times in the past (e.g., Galileo and the heliocentric orbit of the Earth), and these are facts. But Christians don’t feel that these facts really mean anything (well, they once did have strong views about the Solar System, but not any more, of course).

    > Now for some views! I believe that understanding is the means and purpose of our human lives. I believe people who argue over differing views are wasting time they could be using to further understanding. I believe understanding is everything.

    Quite a noble view. Although, I wonder, who was the first to refuse to “understand” the other — the Aztecs or the Spanish Conquistadors? Hmm…

    If I didn’t write coherently in some places, it is because I am tired and/or stupid. Anyway, your thoughtful comments are much appreciated (and hopefully, I’ve understood them with enough understanding!) 🙂

  7. @Shinobu: In summary:

    Easy things are hard. 0 == 1. Plato’s cave seems, unfortunately, infinitely recursive, but the Matrix’s stack can’t seem to overflow. This sentence is false. Possibly. The set of all sets can neither really contain or not contain itself. Insert division by zero joke here.

    We’re never going to understand everything, but I can’t think of anything else to do. I like collecting facts. I can’t see why people argue about a possible invisible man in the sky, when there are so many interesting things we can actually understand. Even this framework of guidelines that I’ve set up hinges on an axiom that just happened to make sense to me: “Facts are good.” You’re completely right in pointing out that morality is a mess and my framework is unrealistic deep down. I don’t know the answer. I like to believe understanding is the answer, but, again that’s just me.

    [[ Meta-comment: Oh dear, now that I read that after writing it, it seems so arrogant, so dismissive, so over-simplifying, so worst-parts-of-xkcd. No wonder this is the material of conflict, the enriched Uranium of the masses. I just couldn’t think of a better way of saying it. ]]

  8. @Antaku: This conversation has reached many topics, but I think I agree with 90%+ with everything you’ve said.

    > You’re completely right in pointing out that morality is a mess and my framework is unrealistic deep down. I don’t know the answer. I like to believe understanding is the answer, but, again that’s just me.

    Hey, I believe it was Socrates who once said “I know nothing.” You are in excellent company. =)

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