Science, Religion, and Pins

Over at Pharyngula a comment prompted PZ Myers to address the question (originally phrased only in the context of evolution):

I understand it as, “Does understanding science [it’s not just biologists who exhibit this phenomenon!] lead to an abandonment of religious beliefs?”

I agree with Myers that understanding science is corrosive to religion. But, at the risk of arguing about dancing angels on pins, I thought I’d take a different tack than he took in his post. I’ll try to be as brief as possible, since I think this has a tendency to be really overdone and irrelevant. So I’m not sure how useful it will be, but maybe it will have some entertainment value. Go ahead and throw rocks at it.

Being a Java coder these days, every once in a while I’ll abstract things out into the object metaphor. Take God for example. We need some suitable definition of God, say, something like transcending the laws of physics and having conscious will. This most abstract superclass doesn’t necessarily have any public interface we can access and isn’t necessarily interested in us. Then we come to specific implementations. The one I am most familiar with is the Christian implementation, so I’ll deal with that here.

First is the Bible inspiring guy who created the world in 6 days roughly 6000 years ago. Possible new Java methods might be doSmiting() and impregnateVirgin(). Of course, science (old age earth, evolution, etc.) has thoroughly trashed this implementation. We know the story told by scripture is wrong. Along with many of the scientific inaccuracies contained with the supposedly inspired scripture. One interesting side trail of this is that it takes away the story of Adam and literal Original Sin. Original Sin is the entire foundation of Christianity, the whole reason Christians say Jesus had to come and be sacrificed. From a literal fundamentalist point of view, evolution and everything else that comes with it absolutely derails Christianity. Now, I do know moderate Christians such as members of my family and even famous biologist Ken Miller who accept the reality we have painstakingly learned through science but believe that stories like Adam and Eve are metaphorical. But now Original Sin has dissipated into something more nebulous and the whole redemption story loses some punch. In fact though, where does one stop metaphorizing the Bible away? There’s so much wrong with it that before long, the whole thing has become unraveled and the emperor is naked. Indeed, how can one tie in the need for a blood sacrifice anyway, especially since God caused us to be this way via natural processes? Instead of belaboring that point, I refer, once again, to one of my favorite bloggers who explores the various angles on this. It does strike me that to accept scientific reality and hold religious views is to compartmentalize without subjecting the foundation of the religious views to critical examination. People may have interesting reasons to do this, but that’s a subject for another time.

But what else is there to support Christianity from a scientific point of view? Christians place great emphasis on the historicity of Jesus and the resurrection. Unfortunately, critically examined, this too vanishes (same aforementioned writer). There’s simply no evidence Jesus even existed as the person the gospels claim. Of course, that’s the science of historical investigation, not the natural sciences, but still a valid criticism.

So what about the ultimate abstract God superclass (I leave as an exercise to the reader to draw UML diagrams for this mess)? As it stands, this doesn’t seem to be a very useful God. But although this God does not have to interact with us, it might. A possible public method may be doSomethingThatBreaksPhysicsLaws(). In a talk given at Notre Dame, Sean Carroll had a pretty good sign this God could give. Create an electron out of the vacuum without a positron partner. Well, if we could set things up to detect that and get a positive signal, finally science could say something positive in favor of some sort of god. So far it has never been seen and perhaps this God simply chooses to not give this sign. In that case, science can say nothing about this noninteracting, useless God. But then again, we have as much reason to think that such an entity exists as for Russell’s teapot. That is to say, none. There is simply nothing hypothesizing such a god (or any implementation of it) answers. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin is not even a proper question.


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