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Are science and religion compatible?

July 19, 2009

An age-old question, with attempts for answers from many, and Loyd at project mayhem has another answer.

I think that in most cases, asking if science and religion are compatible is like asking if mathematics and poetry are compatible. The question really doesn’t make sense. Sure, perhaps they can probably share the same room, but in most cases unless one is trained in both, they usually have no idea what the other is talking about.

To ask if the Genesis account of creation is compatible with evolution is to totally misunderstand the Genesis account. It was never meant as a scientific or literal account of creation. Anybody who goes through the LDS endowment should be acutely aware of that (though unfortunately most are still too obtuse to realize it). The seven creation periods are no scientific accounts, but is simply a means to use the numerically significant seven (which means totality) to break apart the known world into seven parts and show that for God the totality of creation was good.

…I think we could all find a greater use of our time if start recognizing the categorical differences between religion and science and realizing that in so many cases the question of their compatibility is simply nonsense.

Exciting. Another take on the non-overlapping magisteria approach.

What’s more fun about this entry are the comments, where Loyd comes up against some dude dbd insists that the comparison is not apt. After all, science, dbd says, casts a light on the dark spots of religion, marginalizing religion bit by bit. And religion has traditionally stepped in science’s way in the first place in a way that poetry has never done to math. And in response to dbd, Loyd says:

…you obviously don’t understand my analogy or are reading way too much into it. The analogy is that religion and science, like poetry and math, are categorically different and that therefore talk of compatibility is nonsensical. Sure, religious nuts have misread their own religious myths and used it to trample on science. In the same manner too many scientists misunderstand religion and think that they have something to say when they really don’t either. Your claim that science shows the lies in most religious myths simply just shows that you are another confused ignoramus who is making the same foolish mistake that religious nuts are making.

This is an interesting response, because in it, Loyd presents a rather ambitious view of religion. He assumes that religion (or at least Genesis) rightfully should be viewed as “mythic,” and those who would interpret it in other ways (in ways that could come into conflict with science or history) are “nuts” who “have misread their own religious myths.” So, because religion was not supposed to be interpreted in such a way, those who interpret it as such aren’t doing it right, and this includes scientists, anti-theists or whomever else who propose to “show the lies in religious myths.”

I can see Loyd’s point from the other side: when scientists do it wrong. I recognize that scientific hypotheses and theories are descriptive…they do not answer the grand philosophical questions of life. So for example, I often hear people say, in a rather scientistic sort of way that because humans are driven by hormones to reproduce and because evolution is “about” (whatever that means) the conveyance of genetic material from generation to generation, that this somehow means that human purpose should be to spread genes.

And I say, “You’re a freaking retard.”

Just because we have a description of what humans do (and why) does not tell us if that is what we should do or if that is our purpose. That we have certain traits that can be described in a scientific model doesn’t mean that we should have these traits or that they say anything of the sort.

So I understand Loyd’s view from that perspective.

At the same time, I don’t think I can let him off the hook. Because I think Loyd goes against a current of MANY more theists and religious people who have a rather different view of religion. As much as he wants to call them nuts, it has far been from solved what the role of religion should be. And insofar as most religious people (or at least the ones with power and influence) view it as something more than myth or more than inspiration, we should judge it on those terms, and not on the theoretical terms of certain people on the internet. I do not feel that science is the same way in its corruption of scientism. Most scientists (or the ones with influence, at least) do not interpret it as a mandate for scientism.

So, if we change the question to “is science as it is commonly understood and practiced compatible with religion as it is commonly understood and practiced?” I think Loyd would have to answer differently.

But then again, I’d have to see more of what Loyd believes as per religion. If Genesis can (and should, according to him) be interpreted as myth, what about…the New Testament? What about the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham? Is it a religion if we do as John Shelby Spong and interpret God as myth or should we get a different name for this bundle of answers and beliefs?

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4 Comments
  1. Interesting take as usual. I thought you might be interested in S Faux’s analysis where he puts evolution inside the creation story in Genesis.

    http://mormoninsights.blogspot.com/2009/03/biblical-genesis-corresponds-with.html

  2. I have no problem with such an analysis. I simply would say: when you get every Christian (or whatever) to believe in it like that, then call me. I do think S. Faux has to grasp at straws in some places (see: day 4 “smog” hypothesis).

    in other words, my problem is not that religious texts *can* be interpreted in such a way…but rather that they commonly aren’t, and you actually would have to fight with your very own co-religionists over if they *should* be interpreted in such a way. Remember, those who are called ‘religious nuts’ by Loyd are not the heretics, and yet those like you or S.Faux are.

  3. Perhaps I should have articulated myself better. I don’t mean to say that anyone who believes that religious myths (narratives) make scientific claims are religious nuts, only that one is a religious nut when she makes an absolute claim about the possible scientific claims of a religious myth.

    For example I would not call someone a religious nut just because she believes that the Eden myth is an accurate scientific account of the creation of humans. However, if she is going to deny solid scientific evidence because, according her, the Genesis account must be a scientific description and cannot have any other reading, then I would consider her a religious nut.

    On a side note, I see you listing my blog under ‘cultural, NOM, former, etc’. I do consider myself a faithful Mormon and not a NOM or former.

    I enjoy your blog though.

  4. Link moved.

    As for the meat of your reading, I would still say that there are more so-called “religious nuts” even by your articulated statement than there are who would take your view (although probably not to the same margin) — or at the very least, people who insist that Genesis *must* be a scientific description still have quite a bit of influence in religion circles.

    So, still, I find myself thinking something of the sort, “I like the way you look at it, but that’s simply not how most of the people I’m dealing with see it and furthermore, these people would have your hide if you said what you are saying to them.

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