Saturday, May 8, 2010

random thoughts on science

Trying not to get too distracted after reading this [I'm such an emotional cuss], I'll focus instead on scientism, so-called, and the problematics of a dialogue between science and faith.
The difficulties and pitfalls of such a dialogue are certainly highlighted by the discussions at the Biologos site. In fact the Benner article isn't representative of Biologos, which has a specific and quite narrow agenda, clearly stated in its mission statement:
The BioLogos Foundation explores, promotes and celebrates the integration of science and Christian faith.
So, it has no interest in any other faith, and it has no interest in a dialogue with those who can't clearly see any positive value in Christian faith. So it's not about promoting dialogue between religion and science generally [that was my mistake], and it would naturally tend to take the view, not only that science can't explain everything, but that science can't explain anything really important, because Christianity covers all the really important stuff.
So it's hardly surprising that the concept of scientism is highlighted at such a site, for the purpose of condemnation. Scientism, a term I've only recently encountered, is, as its name suggests, the belief that science rules, ok? Of course it is defined negatively as hubristic, shallow, positivist, rationalist, ideological and so forth. These claims are countered, I think rather effectively, by pointing out that the methods of science are multiform and open-ended, with an emphasis on skepticism, on evidence, on testability and reproducibility, and that the scientific approach has changed our world for the better. Another development that has changed the western world for the better is the secularisation of our political system. This is not directly attributable to science, but both science and secularisation have been helped along by the values of the Enlightenment, and as such I think they are quite close relatives.
I could say a lot more about this, but I think it's an old argument. Those non-believers who have taken the 'new atheists' to task for rudeness, aggressiveness and so forth have tended to defend the smaller, more 'harmless' religions rather than the ones politically powerful enough to purvey their own brand of 'truth'. I'm sympathetic to the point that many people, or peoples, seem to need religion, at least in the short term. And that they derive a strong sense of identity and integrity and purpose from those beliefs. We've all come across people with whom it would be useless to argue on religious matters, so ingrained and irreplaceable is their faith to them, people who are yet very humane and worthy individuals. The question of whether their worthiness is a result of their faith, or something that shines through in spite of it, is an almost impossible-to-answer question, but nevertheless one always worth asking.
Science helps us to better understand humans as social animals, and so it helps us in our ethics and our politics. In fact there is no area of life, I feel, to which a scientific approach can't contribute. Science is by no means narrow, it's as broad as can be - it's often a matter of basic astuteness or acuteness, formalized. At our best, we all practice it, to some degree.

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