Sunday, February 08, 2009

The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail.

Jerry Coyne convincingly argues that the empirical nature of science contradicts the revelatory nature of faith in his aforereferenced article published in the February 4, 2009 edition of the The New Republic.

I think its fair to say that for almost 100% of theists, and most deists, one of their key arguments for their theism or deism is that god belief provides explanatory utility - it explains what otherwise is unexplained, and therefore theism or deism is rational. Whatever is explained by a hypothesis ipso facto connects that hypothesis to the corresponding elements of our knowledge base that are being explained. So if the theism hypothesis is defined as claiming to be a total explanation for "everything", as is often the case, particularly as asserted by Muslims, Christians, and Jews, but also by many other monotheists and even many polytheists, then such theism must ipso facto be connected to all of our knowledge base.

The problem for theism is that its explanatory value added assertion is vacuous. The god did it concept is like spinning wheels, it is a mere declaration lacking any explanatory substance that advances us not an iota toward explaining anything, precisely because god, in fact, has no connection to our knowledge base. God is a "there is no need for this hypothesis" hypothesis that theists just arbitrarily insert into the discussion by relying on the Special Pleading fallacy. This is the insight that virtually all theists, including liberal monotheists like Kenneth R. Miller and Karl W. Giberson, who advocate full acceptance of our knowledge base by redefining god to fit somewhere in the remaining knowledge gaps, and conservative theists, who falsely keep selectively insisting that our knowledge base is wrong whenever it conflicts with their concept of god, keep missing.

Appeals to faith as a replacement for reasoning from knowledge to defend beliefs makes no sense because faith alone provides no intelligable way to distinquish what we should believe from what we should not believe. Faith alone provides no restrictions, no boundaries, no rules, no genuine justifications. Quoting from Steven Pinker, "The same standards of evidence that rule out unparisimonious, unfalsifiable, or empirically refuted hypotheses in science also rule out crackpot conspiracy theories, totalizing ideologies, and toxic policy nostrums."

It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified. In other words, the price of philosophical harmony is cognitive dissonance. Accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard: rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births. Without good cause, Giberson and Miller pick and choose what they believe. At least the young-earth creationists are consistent, for they embrace supernatural causation across the board. With his usual flair, the physicist Richard Feynman characterized this difference: "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool." With religion, there is just no way to know if you are fooling yourself.
—Jerry Coyne