Over at BCC, Ben F posted a nice little intro to a series which he plans to post regarding science and religion. It’s a friendly, uplifting and informative post which nobody but the most stick-in-the-mud-know-it-all would ever ever take issue with. But hey, what are blogs like this for, if not taking issue with innocent things which don’t really have that much bearing on the rest of our lives, right?
As Mormons, we preach the profoundly uplifting doctrine that all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole. In fact, we are instructed to actively learn and teach each other about all kinds of truth, of “the doctrine of the kingdom” and “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass,” and so on… And why even bother to distinguish between Gospel truths and natural truths? In my opinion, the doctrine of God’s kingdom includes the mysteries of the Higgs Boson just as much as the mysteries of Christ’s infinite Atonement… Science and religion aren’t just friends—they’re siblings.
As with all good siblings, however, science and religion aren’t without their fights. To a certain extent, substantive quarreling between science and religion is a good thing. It shows people are actually thinking about these two topics together, which is where they belong…
The truth is, we have a lot to learn about both God and this universe we find ourselves in; meanwhile, we get to look at our half-finished jigsaw puzzle and excitedly anticipate the breathtaking perfection with which it will all come together. In that moment, we will realize that neither faith nor science could ever be complete without the other.
I want to suggest that this mentality is biased and wrong-headed from the very start. It is to construe the relationship which exists between religion and science in scientific terms which are themselves rather foreign to the religious mindset. To whit, only a scientist would ever think that a certain amount of quarreling in the puzzle-solving process which leads to truth is a good thing. Neither Jesus nor Paul would have endorsed such an attitude (said the philosophically minded blogger!).
At this point, let me slow down a bit in order to unpack what I mean. To the pre-modern or religious mind, truth is a soteriological concept which I have compared to a compass which points us toward salvation or the “good life”. The modern or scientific mind, by contrast, sees truth as an epistemological concept which I often compare to a picture of the world, divorced from any notion of direction or value. (For the sake of completeness, the post-modern mind sees truth in terms of solidarity – a kind of tool or glue which binds people together.)
Back to quarreling in the puzzle-solving process, when Christ said that he was the Truth, the Way and the Life or that the Truth would set us free, he wasn’t simply describing the benefits which a comprehensive and fine-grained picture of the world around us could offer. Rather, he was telling us what we should do to be saved, and any quarrels regarding the fine-grained details along the way would only distract us from the journey at hand.
This, then, is my main objection to Ben’s post: that it views religion and science as two different ways of doing epistemology, two different strategies for solving the same puzzle. But religious truth isn’t really about solving any kind of puzzle at all; it’s about getting to heaven and progressing spiritually. Of course, knowing a lot of epistemological truths might(!) be helpful at this point in our soteriological journey… or they might not. Either way, the worst thing that a scientist could do is pretend that they are actually in the same “Truth business” that the prophets have been in this whole time. They’re not. At all. One has been in the epistemology business while the other has been in the soteriology business.
Now that I’ve spent some time pulling science and religion apart, let see if we can’t put them back together into “one great whole”. In another post I portrayed Lehi’s dream as a pre-modern depiction of how science and religion fit together. Briefly, I suggested that studying and following the path are two separate things and that there is nothing wrong with the former so long as it does not interfere with the latter.
A post-modern metaphor would probably place a stronger emphasis on the compatibility of two. In this vein I sometimes compare the relationship between religion and science to the a nail/hammer toolset and a screw/driver toolset. While each has it’s own weaknesses and strengths, there is a significant overlap in the tasks to which these sets can be put. Furthermore, nothing prevents every good carpenter from owning and using both sets. However, only the fool would try to use a driver with a nail or a hammer with a screw.
Finally, a modern and more scientific metaphor would simply embrace the puzzle metaphor, for if truth is indeed a puzzle, then it is more like a two-sided (or more, if you can imagine it) puzzle in which the same world is carved up in different ways and according to different rules. In this case, the fool would be he who constantly confuses the two sides of the single, unified puzzle or even forgets that the puzzle has more than one side.
Whatever metaphor you choose, I guess the material point I wish to get across is this: Yes, the truths of religion and science can peacefully coexist as a harmonious whole within one and the same mind, but don’t think for a second that religion is science by another name or that scientists are the prophets of the modern era.