Originally, what we know as “science” was known as “natural philosophy”, and it was Catholic educational institutions that first structured that knowledge and passed it from one generation to the next systematically.
Now, it is all called “science”, yet that strand of philosophy has not been lost; indeed, for Professor Stephen M. Barr, author of the CTS booklet Science and Religion: the myth of conflict, it is a philosophy “that falsely claims to be the logical outcome of scientific discoveries”, not science itself, that has caused problems in creating conflicts with religion.
According to proponents of this view called “scientific materialism” or “physicalism”, nothing exists save matter governed by the laws of physics; this starting point rules out the existence of souls, as well as God. Professor Barr sums up this idea and its shortcomings, like so:
“Science has shown us a universe that is cold, uncaring, inhumanly vast, and governed by ‘blind, impersonal laws.’ This suggests to some people that religious believers are engaged in wishful thinking in imagining that a personal, loving being is behind it all. Christians, however, have never imagined that the physical universe cared about them or was personal in any way. The impersonality of the physical world may be an argument against pantheism or paganism, which see nature as a god or as filled with gods, but not against Judaism or Christianity, which sharply distinguish nature from God. And, as far as the laws of nature being ‘blind’ and ‘impersonal’, what else would they be? It is not the law that ‘sees’ or is personal, but the Lawgiver.”
The more complex point that follows on from this philosophical idea is why has this scientific materialism become so popular? There are many historical-cultural factors but it could also be said, as Professor Barr does, that:
“As the saying goes, ‘To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Psychologists tend to look for psychological explanations, political theorists for political ones, and economists for economic ones. Those in the physical sciences are prone to reduce everything to physical explanations.”
The fact is that those in physical sciences have become more important and more vocal as time has gone on, but the scientific materialism some of the most famous ones advocate, is not science, but philosophy. It is important to understand the distinction between gathering the evidence and drawing conclusions from it.
Tomorrow, we will look at what are known as “anthropic coincidences”, showing just how lucky we are to be here at all.
Science and Religion: the Myth of Conflict is available from CTS priced £2.50
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