Are Science and Religion in Conflict?
Citation (APA): Harrison, P. (2016). Are Science and Religion in Conflict? [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
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Are Science and Religion in Conflict? By Peter Harrison
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We can divide this question into three components. First, do people generally believe that science and religion are in conflict? Second, does the historical record suggest an enduring or inevitable clash between science and religion? Third, ought science and religion be in conflict?
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TRE QUESTIONI DISTINTE
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Conflict in the PresentThere’s
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Jonathan Hill provides an excellent survey of American attitudes toward science and religion in his essay “Do Americans Believe Science and Religion Are in Conflict?” According to Hill, while the data suggest that a slight majority of Americans believe that science and religion are in conflict, they do so for different reasons.
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CREDENZA DEL CONFLITTO
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According to the latest Pew survey, from October 2015, the primary issue for these people is evolution, with general concerns about belief in God and miracles in second place, and abortion
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EVOLUZIONE E ABORTO
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In sum, very few Americans— seventeen percent of the total sample— believe in a genuine conflict
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Conflict in the Past
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Following the pioneering work of British historian John Hedley Brooke and American historians David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, most now believe that what we see in the past is a complex range of relations between science and religion— some negative, many more positive, and others more or less neutral.
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RELAZIONI DIFFERENTI PER LO PIÙ POSITIVE
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If theology is a science, the idea of a conflict between theology and “science” makes a lot less sense.
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a key difference was that past disciplines such as natural philosophy and natural history were not naturalistic in the same way as modern science today. Indeed, they often included references to God and were directed towards the discovery of God’s design of the natural world. Religion, in short, was to some extent integrated into both natural history and natural philosophy.
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STORIA E FILOSOFIA NATURALE
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Johannes Kepler regarded his astronomy as a form of divine praise, while Robert Boyle characterized scientists as “priests of nature.” Other scientists saw their work as having religious goals, including Isaac Newton, who hoped the principles outlined in his famous Principia Mathematica might promote “belief of a Deity.”
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SCIENZIATI E RELIGIONE
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Francis Bacon, for example, maintained that modern science could help the human race re-establish its God-given dominion
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Bacon also insisted that because scientific advances promoted human welfare, science was itself a form of Christian charity.
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this was not a straightforward case of science-religion conflict at all. At the time, there was compelling scientific evidence against the Copernican view defended by Galileo. Moreover, the condemnation of Galileo was quite atypical of the Catholic Church, which had for centuries been the most prominent supporter of astronomical research in Europe.
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we should remember that Darwin had both religious supporters and scientific detractors, suggesting that there was more going on that just straightforward “conflict.”
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Ought Science and Religion Be in Conflict?
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Draper and White offer extensive and influential catalogues of putative instances of conflict. The Galileo affair figures prominently in both, along with historical examples now discredited (or complicated) by historical research: Hypatia’s death at the hands of a Christian mob; medieval belief in a flat earth; papal excommunication of a comet; the Church’s ban on dissection; Copernicus’s dethroning of humanity; and Bruno’s execution as a martyr to science.
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Draper’s book is less about science and religion than science and Catholicism. It was stimulated in part by contemporary issues concerning Catholicism, not least the promulgation of the controversial and conservative Syllabus of Errors (1864) and the declaration of papal infallibility at the first Vatican Council (1869– 70).
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MOTIVAZIONI DI DRAPER
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White had been wounded by staunch clerical opposition to the founding of Cornell University,
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MOTIVAZIONI DI WHITE
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a key element of the motivations of Huxley and Tyndall was their desire to professionalize science, advance its social status, and liberate it from the domination of the Anglican clergy.
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Specific events— such as parochial controversies concerning the teaching of evolution in schools or, on a larger scale, the tragic events of 9/ 11— are supposed to exemplify this larger clash between science and religion.
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Thus “Science Must Destroy Religion” is the mantra of Sam Harris and the new atheists. This is a moral imperative: Harris urges scientists to relinquish their sentimental religious
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There are many reasons to resist this tendency. As philosopher Ray Monk reminds us, there are many questions that do not have scientific answers because they were not legitimate scientific questions to begin with. Many of these questions concern the things that are most important of all: faith, hope, love, truth, beauty, and goodness
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LE QUESTIONI PIÙ IMPORTANTI
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More broadly, this discussion leads us to two further sets of exploratory questions. One has to do with the nature of science, how scientific theories change over time, and the justification of scientific theories. The other concerns the more general question of the foundation of and warrant for beliefs:
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NATIRA DELLA SCIENZA E DELLA GIUSTIFICA
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2 reasons: Science depends on propositions being falsifiable. Religion is based on revelation and its propositions cannot be falsified.
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D. 2 DEMARCAZIONI
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1. The idea that falsifiability is a criterion of scientific knowledge was proposed in the middle of the last century by Karl Popper, who was seeking to find a way of distinguishing science from pseudoscience. This was the so-called “demarcation” issue, for which Popper relied upon some of the ruling trends in contemporary logical positivism. But while falsificationism represents an improvement over naive inductivism, and while many scientists still believe that if offers a distinguishing mark of genuine scientific knowledge, most philosophers of science have long since abandoned it— and for good reason.
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(Lakatos spoke about “research programs,” and Thomas Kuhn spoke about “paradigms.”)
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Copernican hypothesis, for example, should have been falsified by the apparent lack of stellar parallax at the time. But the hypothesis had other things going for it, and, eventually, a way was found to account for this and other anomalies.
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FALSIFICAZIONE DI COPERNICO
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Finally, there are many instances of what philosophers call the “underdetermination,” which arise when the empirical data simply do not provide information
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2. Science is not “based” on logic either. Many sciences do rely on logical induction, but there are numerous problems with naive versions of inductivism (as Popper realized).
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LA SCIENZA NN È LOGICA. LIMITI DELL INDUTTIVISMO
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Often they will invent ad hoc placeholders to fend off falsification. Postulating the existence of “dark matter” and “dark energy” is an instance of this.
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ENTITÀ METAFISICHE DELLA SCIENZA
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any evidentialist framework must rest upon premises that are themselves ultimately not capable of justification— otherwise the process of justification would never end. Call these “foundational beliefs” or “basic beliefs.” Some theistic philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, have suggested that belief in God is one such properly basic belief. It would then be true that this belief was not subject to the principle of falsification.
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PLANTINGA E LE CREDENZE DI FONDO
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Typically, advocates of inherent conflict will define science and religion in global terms. For example, science = falsifiable claims and religion = non-falsifiable claims; or science = reason, religion = faith.
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I provide a body of evidence in The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge, 1998) that shows how medieval and patristic exegetes typically read Genesis in a non-literal way.
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On the modernity of young earth creationism, go no further than Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists
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I’m not pointing this out to claim that Judaism is somehow “better,” but that Christianity’s *modern expression* (take careful note of that) includes a large number of non-college educated priests, pastors and ministers.
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L EDUCAZIONE DEI PRETI
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Now, through all of this I’m NOT defending the religious views of the bible, or of its adherents. What I’m attempting to do is to show that, properly understood, the cultural origins of this text should have no conflict whatsoever with science.
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BIBBIA RETTAMENTE INTESA
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The Republican “Contract with America” of the 90’ s had a tremendous impact, especially on evangelical voters, precisely because of their fundamental orientation towards a social contract as a template for how life should be. In the bible, the mode of social contract between God and man evolved tremendously over time.
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Yuval Levin’s book “Fractured Republic,” hits upon these same themes. The Left views the social contact between government and man through the filter of the 60’ s and seeks a return to that golden age, whereas the Right views the social contract between government and man through the filter of the Reagan era.
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