2009 07 20

Karl Giberson: "When Science Becomes Religion"

Part of a session on "200 Years of Dawrin"

Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Weinberg, and Edward. O. Wilson are all larger-than-life scientific figures. Their unusual gifts for communication have given them platforms to speak to millions outside the scientific community. They are contemporary Oracles—Oracles of Science—because our culture looks to them to answer the deepest and most meaningful question of life.

The popular writings of Sagan, Hawking, Gould, Weinberg, Wilson, and Dawkins, however, suggest that most scientists are either agnostic or atheistic. These popular writings also suggest that science is incompatible with and even hostile to religion. But none of these characterizations are true. Science is not hostile to religion and scientists are not consistently atheistic.

Other than a small vocal minority of scientists, there is no documented widespread opposition in science to religion. No scientific body has ever endorsed a ‘position’ critical of religion. The scientific community, like the crowd at a baseball game, symphony, or in the shopping mall, simply has no reason to be talking about religion, and no reason to wonder collectively about it.

The problem is that the Oracles of Science make statements about religion cloaked in scientific rhetoric. But these grand “now-here-is-the-point” conclusions that come at the end of their books articulate the personal worldviews of the scientists making the claims, not the implications of the discussion that has preceded them, and certainly not the consensus of the scientific community.

The influence that well-known scientists have when criticizing religion is all out of proportion to their expertise to do so. But, curiously, their critiques of religion seem to indicate that, rather than seeing religion disappear, they would prefer that science become a replacement religion.

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