Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Science and Religion.......not again

Its amazing how many people on both sides of the political/worldview divide have the impression that if you believe in G-d you cannot truly be a man of science. My students constantly bring this point up and are surprised when I tell them that the two are not mutually exclusive. While it is true that no definitive proof for G-d exists within the frame of logic that underpins science this in no way invalidates G-d.

Lets not forget that science operates within limits - limits set by empirical evidence and the self-contained rationalism that allow us (as scientists) to infer from the evidence available. Like any system of knowledge it also accepts certain constructs apriori and as Godel showed with his incompleteness theorem, cannot be verifiable within itself. Nevertheless science is the best system for elucidating the mysteries of the universe as it constantly requires more stringent levels of checking and retesting. Couple this with the strength of Popper's falsification argument and it is easy to see why science is successful as a epistemological tool (its also why those who argue that climate change is a fact and that this point need not be debated are in reality anti-scientific).

Science has played a vital role in my life and I am deeply passionate about my commitment to it. However I choose not to succumb to the lure of scientism, a barren locale that seems to attract more than its fair share of individuals. My ultimate belief is that there is simply more out there than what science can ever hope to deliver. Can I prove this? Not anymore than a gnat can understand calculus..... but so what? My life is hardly poorer for the uncertainty (and faith) that I permit and I am no less enthralled by my personal championing of physics - my favourite science.

I am not a biblical literalist in that I see that what purports to be the bible as a mixture (albeit a valuable one) of oral history and ancient mythology. I have also dismissed the scientific validity of intelligent design. Darwin's descent with modification makes sense to me, but at the same time I am skeptical of the random mutation arguments so favoured by the various Neo-Darwinian schools. I am more inclined to see evolutionary changes being driven by systems of self-organization. A methodology that is likely to be explained by science although not within the paradigm from which it currently operates at present.

(Thomas Kuhn was correct in his assessment of how science evolves from periods of gradualism to those of radical transformation - its ironic how this philosophy parallels Gould and Elridge's model of Punctuated Equilibrium).

Physicist-theologian Ian Barbour writes extensively about the interaction of science and religion and from his work I take much solice in an integrationist model that seeks to build connections instead of divide. For me this makes sense and it is from this platform that I see the world - open to reason but at the same time mindful about a greater presence that exists.
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