All of us, at one time or another, have had it impressed upon us that there are certain things one does not speak of in polite company. Here at politicoid, it is fair to say that we are quite opinionated. Naturally, we consider the aforementioned opinions to be almost 100% correct. It is therefore advisable that under no circumstances are we ever let loose on polite society. To inappropriately paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, there are some things of which I am proud to be impolite.
In the interests of clarifying our position on various political and philosophical issues, it would seem that a series of comment pieces on some enduring controversies would be expeditious. These questions have defied humanity’s talent for solving problems, despite the answers’ being blindingly apparent to the rational mind. They prey on another side of human nature – a metaphysical and insular nature, a tribal mentality that yearns for stability and the status quo. The philosophies of science and religion, politics and economics all fall within this remit.
Why not begin with the most contentious of all? Yes, you guessed it – science versus religion. Where in times past we quarrelled over scriptural interpretation (and many still do), for the last several centuries the real battle has been the dichotomy between religion and science, and the heart of the debate comes down to this: is it possible to hold both a scientific and a religious worldview at the same time? As with so many questions, there are semantic issues to contend with, the first and most pressing being the definition of ‘religious worldview’. For the sake of brevity, I shall limit the definition solely to the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Now, clearly one can hold both positions at the same time, as some scientists do claim to be religious, although they constitute a pitiful minority of the whole and I would argue that they are not being intellectually honest with themselves (more on that another time).
So, perhaps the question should be whether it is reasonable to hold both positions simultaneously. If we use a literal definition of the word reasonable, then we rapidly arrive at the true contention. The question now becomes one of whether both positions are based on reason; if one or both proves to be irrational and thus unreasonable, then the proposition must therefore be false. It should be self-evident that science is reasonable – it is arguably the most reasoned process that we know of.
But what of religion? Apologists may argue that the application of reason leads them to interpret their experience of cosmic complexity as having some divine, supernatural cause. This, they name God. While this interpretation may well have been perfectly reasonable at a time when our mechanistic understanding of nature extended to leech-bleeding and witchcraft, the notion has been wildly outdated by subsequent discoveries. Let me explain further why this notion is both ridiculous and incompatible with a scientific understanding of nature.
The scientific axiom of uniformity states that the laws of nature should be the same everywhere in the universe and at all times. This basic assumption has allowed the scientific method to exist and has led to an understanding of our universe the likes of which we have never before known in all of history. By invoking the supernatural, one immediately assumes the existence of that which operates under rules that are somehow different. If that is so, then either the axiom is incorrect or God exists outside our universe and is thus unable to influence anything within it. If God exists outside our universe, operating under entirely unknowable laws then no amount of scriptural interpretation can give us any insight into his will. It is therefore pointless to attempt to satisfy him. On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that uniformity is incorrect; science has continued to progress rapidly under this assumption. Ergo, belief in God is both unreasonable and completely pointless.
Now, before the religious sophists get their panties all messed up, I am not trying to deny the existence of anything outside of science. Science is not nature and there exists much which it has not or cannot explain and to state otherwise is to misunderstand the limits of the scientific method. What I am saying is that religion, if it is to co-exist with science and reason, must understand the space which it inhabits. That space is also occupied by science, and hence religion must understand the limitations which our tried and tested understanding place on what is and is not in its remit – in a similar way that science has its limits. In short, it must be bound by reason. If it is not – as is presently the case – then truly science and religion will remain mutually exclusive and the faithful should proudly exclaim their unreason, in opposition to the rational world. For my part, I would then disagree with them no less, but respect them far more.