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I don't know where you're going, but have thoughts on where you might go. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, after 1) recently discovering that an old friend is staunch and intolerant in his atheism, and 2) getting science v. religion questions from my young daughter. Now I have an excuse to write about it.

Science is a way to organize your thinking/believing. A very powerful way. It is attractive to a lot of smart people in great part because they like stuff to make sense, not on the authority of a preacher or an old book, but on logical grounds.

Religions are also ways to organize your thinking/believing.

To some who are scientifically oriented, science and religion are exclusive of each other: Everything can be explained scientifically, given time, and religion represents an outmoded, illogical, repressive method of organizing your thinking/believing.

And that's kind of compelling.

But not everything can be explained scientifically. (Why is there something instead of nothing? Where's the disproveable hypothesis that'll settle that issue?)

More importantly, for many the thought that there is no long run justice (heaven and hell, karma, whatever) is very much an unthinkable one. I for one absolutely refuse to accept that idea. Not out of fear, but out of repugnance.

Finally, as an organizing principle science doesn't tell us why we should help a little old lady cross the street. Religion does. Sure, my atheist friend would help a little old lady cross the street, but coming up with a "scientific" reason for it would require a whole heap of unscientific crap like utilitarianism or facile evo-psych dressed up as science.

Both ways of organizing your thinking/believing have their merits. Ultimately science should stay out of the god question, sticking to observable, measurable phenomena. And religion should stay out of the evolution question, sticking to the unknowable and matters of virtue.

As to the poll, I think a lot of people don't believe in evolution (or say they don't when being polled) as much because atheists say it's incompatible with their religion as because preachers or old books say so. It's tribal. They are answering the question "Are you a religious/good person?" They could believe in evolution if their preacher told them that's how God set things up, but not if it means they have to be atheists.

(And some atheists are as prone to anti-religious tribalism as some non-atheists are to religious tribalism.)

Ralph H.

A lot of creationists fixate on the word "theory," as in "Darwin's Theory." What they fail to realize is that everything in science is a "theory" which might -- under certain circumstances -- be disproven. This principle underlies all of science, but is habitually misunderstood or ignored outside that discipline.



Your suggestion that religion and science should stick to their own spheres and not try to explain each other reminds me of the ideas of Stephen J. Gould and his setting forth separate magisteria for science & religion. I think Dr. Gould is considered too nambly-pamby these days for some who are hell-bent on pressing the invalidity of religion. I always thought he was very sensible at a time, in the 80s, when creationism was starting to rear up in a very serious way.



Science and religion are about different questions, different ways of knowing. Science is logos, religion is mythos. Problems arise when you try to treat religion as logos, as with creationism, or science as mythos, as with radical atheism that says you can't believe in God and evolution.


Science and religion are about different questions, different ways of knowing. Science is logos, religion is mythos. Problems arise when you try to treat religion as logos, as with creationism, or science as mythos...

That was Stephen J. Gould's position; Science and Religion occupy different Magisteria. It's fine as far as it goes. You're right that problems arise when religion tries to be logos, or science tries to be mythos.

Dr. Gould also spoke about biology's extreme sensitivity to initial conditions, and common sense should indicate that small historical changes can cause huge changes in the far future.

Evolution is a materialist proposition. To believe in evolution is to believe that natural physical processes resulted in the decent of Man and everything else we see living around us. One is free to believe that God has guided, in myriad minutest detail these natural processes in some mystical or supernatural manner, but that's not materialist, is not logos, and ultimately is not evolution. To believe, along with this, as most religious people seem to do, that God has given humans free will, is, for me, another step too far. A God that is that in-control and that not-in-control is a logical absurdity.

S McCoy

Lance - As CS Lewis (and Jesus!) taught, pride is the chief of all sins. One big symptom of pride is thinking we can somehow know everything...whereas Christianity (and most other religions) are big on humility, weakness and forsaking ourselves. What Pop Mannion and other humble scientists realize is that the more we know, the more we recognize how much we don't know. Of course, these unanswerable questions don't necessarily prove there's a god, but they certainly prove that we're not Him.

Then there's this - For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. 1st Corinthians 3:19


"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
-Marcus Aurelius

Lance Mannion

Muddy, great quote! Thanks for posting it.

S McCoy, I think you're going to like the follow-up to this.

Clark, I'm still working my way...somewhere. You've given me some good directions. Thank you for that. But I think you've gotten to some very good places yourself here and covered important ground.

S McCoy

Ok then, looking forward to Part 2. I know this is getting off topic a bit, but I want to point out my problem with Muddy's "great" quote from Marcus A - it leaves out the most fundamental possibility proclaimed by Christianity: that God is merciful, rather than just, and therefore there's a chance I can make it to Heaven in spite of all my faults. While you're working your way, please consider the option of relying on God's grace, not your own virtuous life, as a spiritual cornerstone.

Lance Mannion

S McCoy, don't have that option. Catholic, remember. All we get to take with us in the end are our good works.

S McCoy

Nooooooooooo! Don't be duped....that may be the message that's morphed it's way down the chain of command to the local clergy, but it's not the doctrine of the church in Rome. Keep exploring! Check out Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning when you can.


I don't see Pollitt making it clear that it's an either/or question. I think her piece is about how people who went to lots of school give a creationist answer in the same proportion as everyone else, so there may be something wrong with education. I can't be in her mind either, but to me she seems untroubled by people accepting biological evolution and thinking that gods were somewhere around it, hurling the thunderbolts or whatever people imagine gods doing. It's the self-identified creationists she's focusing on, and the revelation that a lot of them went to college.

I think where Part II is heading is to where you give up and say, yeah, Darwin, Mendel, DNA, flying squirrels and star-fish, all that stuff is of course true. And there's nothing in it that prevents anyone from believing in god. I think Pop knew that all along.

Even if you assume that believing in gods is preposterous, it's independently preposterous. There's nothing about doing it that requires you to reject science or evolution. You don't even have to be dumb to believe in gods. You just believe in them as instructed, and as you learn more about how things work, you adjust your gods to accommodate. It's not as if there's going to be a test, and the test is about whether your chosen evolved god knew enough about plumbing and hull fittings to make the Ark work.

It particularly easy if your god knows everything and is everything, and is all souls from the smartest 11th-century pope to some yahoo snake-handler. Gods get to do what they want, including evolution if that's their thing. There's really no problem here. Pop Mannion rules.

Also, once again for the record, Katha Pollitt didn't say it's either/or. Not as far as I could tell. It just didn't read that way to me. Although, as you say, we can't know what was in her mind.

Ken Muldrew

Science may be fine for organizing knowledge, as Clark intimates above, but it is primarily a way of generating reliable knowledge. The key words here are "generating" and "reliable". Religion generates knowledge through revelation; if people won't agree on any contemporary prophets, then all you have are some remnants from the Bronze Age. Reliability is mostly avoided by progressively reducing the domain over which scripture may be taken as unchallenged truth. Some people are satisfied with reliable knowledge, others want more. I hope that it is self evident that the people who are satisfied with reliable knowledge will have a hard time understanding what "more" there could be.

I also want to point out that when Katha Pollitt summarizes a belief in theistic evolution as, "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process", this is vastly different from Lance's reading of "evolution as the way God or a God-like intelligent being willed it or wanted it [to] happen". In the latter case, once the initial conditions are set up, then everything proceeds on its own without the need for any further interference from a god. In the former, god is poking his grubby fingers into the process every step of the way, like a chef with no confidence who adds a bit too much salt, which then must be counterbalanced with more liquids, and so on. And at each step, this god has to retroactively change the DNA of all living things who were antecedents of the organism that he is messing with, because the story of evolution is written with base pairs. The difference is vast because it is easy to grant an unnecessary god but rather troublesome to ignore a god who actually changes the laws of physics from moment to moment.


But if God is the big "I Am" then God is also another name for the subjective experience of existing. So what is there not to believe in?

What is so heard to believe about a doctrine that says the only way to Heaven is to BE your experience?
(the only way is though "me" said Jesus.)

Lance Mannion

S McCoy, well then I'Ve got one other problem. I don't believe in God.

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