Atheist activists and atheist fundamentalists have been bombarding us with assertions that science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable. One such activist and fundamentalist is Victor Stenger, who contributes yet another confused essay to the Huffington Post entitled, Science and Religion Cannot Be Reconciled.
The first part of the essay contains the standard Gnu talking points. Stenger defines faith as “belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in the light of contrary evidence.” Since I do not agree with his definition, his argument has lost all credibility from the start. He then adopts that simple-minded, black and white position that needs to portray science as the savior at war with the evil demon known as religion, even to the point of making arguments that sound like they came from a bumper sticker:
Science has earned our trust by its proven success. Religion has destroyed our trust by its repeated failure.
Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.
Notice that Stenger doesn’t want to compare religion with atheism. For he can’t say that atheism has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. And he would open the door to people pointing out that atheism has brought us gulags, killing fields, and an internet community that regularly makes rape threats.
What’s even more ironic is to hear a fundamentalist like Stenger blame religion for intolerance. Is he blind to the fact that the title of his essay could just as easily have been “Why No One Should Tolerate Religion!” and that intolerance is a defining trait of the Gnu movement?
Stenger then tries to come up with yet another fanciful way in which science supposedly can incorporate and build upon supernatural causation:
Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies — the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside the body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations made of the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments.
By contrast, all major religions teach that humans possess an additional “inner” sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world — a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. If it does not involve the transcendent, it is not religion.
Most of the scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science as they are currently practiced exclude supernatural causes. However, if we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.
If someone’s inner sense were to warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, which then occurred on schedule, we would have evidence for this extrasensory source of knowledge. Claims of “divine prophecies” have been made throughout history, but not one has been conclusively confirmed.
I see. So if God exists, we would predict that people could use their inner psychic powers to predict impending earthquakes. Is Stenger even aware that there are many psychics out there who claim to have predicted the Japan earthquake from a couple of years back? What if some of them did? Stenger would accept this as evidence for extrasensory source of knowledge? What kind of scientist would make that sort of leap?
Seriously. Can Stenger, or any other Gnu, answer two simple questions that should be at the heart of any true scientific investigation?
1. How does the existence of God entail the ability to predict earthquakes? Unless a prediction is logically entailed by the proposed explanation/hypothesis, it is not a scientific prediction.
2. If someone could or did accurately warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, how does that translate as scientific evidence of supernatural reality? All I see is a God of the Gaps argument.
It’s clear to me Stenger does not have a good understanding of the “inner sense” and his understanding of how science works has atrophied into incoherence.