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Science and Religious Belief


Daniel Peterson

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Over on another board, focused (mostly in a critical, hostile, and often mocking manner) on Mormonism, a discussion (of sorts) has been going on for a while on the topic "Does religion dampen interest in science?"

Last time I looked, to the limited extent that evidence has been presented, it's been essentially anecdotal. So I again offer "Mormon Scholars Testify" as offering anecdotal evidence of at least equal quality and relevance:

http://mormonscholarstestify.org/

http://mormonscholarstestify.org/category/testimonies

Lately, and perhaps through its entire history, the site has been (relatively speaking) awash in submissions from chemists. It certainly hasn't lacked scientists.

And this continues: Today's new, featured, entry comes from a metallurgist and engineer. After her testimony will follow, probably in this order, a chemist, a biochemist, and then another chemist, who will be followed by an electrical and computer engineer and then by a geneticist. Then, departing for a time from the sciences, we'll have a philosopher, and then an anthropologist, and so on and so forth.

There is, however, evidence beyond the anecdotal in the case of Latter-day Saints. Mormons have been found, at least in the past, to produce scientists at a comparatively high rate:

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/185/4150/497

(The article itself needs to be read. The short abstract given at the link doesn't actually address the topic, but it gives the reference.)

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"Does religion dampen interest in science?"

I don't think it does. I think it would be extremely sill to say that religion dampers interest in science. All though I think religion can create a bias in people against specific scientific theories such as evolution. An institute teacher I had once said we should embrace truth from all possible sources unless that "truth" conflicts with revealed doctrine.

There's a scene in the movie Contact in which Matthew McConaughey's character say that religion and science are both for the purpose of pursuing truth. So interest in religion and interest in science sould be one in the same.

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I find Mormonism to be a very fitting theological framework, perhaps the best in all of Christianity, for a scientist to flourish.

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So I again offer "Mormon Scholars Testify" [...]

oh...thanks. I was starting to forget about it....

"Does religion dampen interest in science?"

Let me state the obvious and say it depends on what your religion tells you. Latter-Day Saints are admonished to get as much education as possible and that has to have an impact.

In my view, though, as religion answers less and less questions with time it will discourage less and less the interest in scientific answers.

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oh...thanks. I was starting to forget about it....

Well, I'm not going to let that happen to you, so relax.

Let me state the obvious and say it depends on what your religion tells you. Latter-Day Saints are admonished to get as much education as possible and that has to have an impact.

I expect that it does.

In my view, though, as religion answers less and less questions with time it will discourage less and less the interest in scientific answers.

Don't know about this. But we'll see. Or, anyway, our posterity will.

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And this continues: Today's new, featured, entry comes from a metallurgist and engineer. After her testimony will follow, probably in this order, a chemist, a biochemist, and then another chemist, who will be followed by an electrical and computer engineer and then by a geneticist. Then, departing for a time from the sciences, we'll have a philosopher, and then an anthropologist, and so on and so forth.

Here's a quote from the metallurgist and engineer:

Our conscience, and many other things in science, clearly point towards intelligent design. The existence of the physical laws, the fine-tuning of universal constants, and our ability to think and be self-aware are all dependent on information, intelligence, and sentient life. The universe is made up of two basic building blocks:

1. that which acts.

2. that which is acted upon.

Science and engineering do a pretty good job when dealing with the inanimate, with those things that are acted upon. Drop a ball of mass m from height h and defined restitution coefficient

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I think religion can potentially help one become more objective and therefore more scientific. The scientific method was developed based on the idea that God, being good, would make the universe observable and predictable. Furthermore, religion can help one control fear of the unknown, develop character and fill basic emotional needs, allowing one to think outside the box and avoid group-think. (Granted, some sciences are hard enough that they are mostly group-think resistant, but it is human nature, regardless).

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Over on another board, focused (mostly in a critical, hostile, and often mocking manner) on Mormonism, a discussion (of sorts) has been going on for a while on the topic "Does religion dampen interest in science?"

I wouldn't think so.... Max Planck, Newton, Galileo.

IIRC 39% or so of US scientists are theists. 70%+ of US doctors are theists.

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I'll answer eiguanteloko's CFR:

This is a pretty standard position in the historiography of science. But two quite good scholars to read on the point are Stanley Jaki and Pierre Duhem.

As evidence that Latter-day Saints can be scientists, too,

A silly and quite pointless caricature. That Latter-day Saints can be scientists has, of course, never been doubted.

you've elected to spotlight a Mormon who doesn't believe in neurophysiology, psychology, behavioral ecology, or even biology generally.

Feel free to write to her and ask whether she would agree that she rejects neurophysiology. psychology, behavioral ecology, and biology generally. You can probably figure out how to reach her from one of the links that she supplies in her bio.

That's pretty telling.

It's pretty telling that, in order to imagine yourself as having scored a point, you had first to create such a transparently obvious, even flagrant, straw man.

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From the Metallurgist/Engineer:

Our conscience, and many other things in science, clearly point towards intelligent design. The existence of the physical laws, the fine-tuning of universal constants, and our ability to think and be self-aware are all dependent on information, intelligence, and sentient life. The universe is made up of two basic building blocks:

1. that which acts.

2. that which is acted upon.

Science and engineering do a pretty good job when dealing with the inanimate, with those things that are acted upon. Drop a ball of mass m from height h and defined restitution coefficient

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CFR, please.

From Wiki article, "The History of Science:"

Some of the most important debates in the history of scientific method center on: rationalism, especially as advocated by Ren
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A elder in my mission returned to BYU after his mission to earn/finish a degree in Astrophysics.

yesterday I had a brief discussion with a PhD candidate in Physics about his opinion on Stephen Hawkings latest book. i also asked him about god and manmade time, he said the discussions in his science classes are byu idaho were interesting because you could bring up God without fear.

the one time I was on byu campus, I witness a small group of guys launching a water propelled rocket

science and religion, religion and science have had and continue to have a tumultuous relationship.

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1.

I hope that Tarski will read more on MST (though, Stalker/Toady Board dogma notwithstanding, he's not really a member of the principal target audience). The entries were written by, at this point, roughly 160 distinct individuals, so it's possible that he won't actually find the pathetic hive-mind that he expects to find -- though I rather expect that he will.

2.

The difference being that neurophychology is relevant while gin rummy is not...

Oh, apologists!

Oh. I get it! You think that she has repudiated neuropsychology.

Weird.

3.

None of this -- nor any of the nonsense about it over at the Stalker/Toady Board -- has anything much to do with the actual topic of this thread.

Some were suggesting, not that religion incapacitates believers for rational scientific thinking, nor that religion and science are incompatible -- though they undoubtedly believe such things -- but that religious belief tends to decrease interest in science. To which, quite simply, the entries from scientists and engineers (applied scientists, in a sense) on "Mormon Scholars Testify" seem to suggest anecdotal counterevidence. Even assuming, for the sake of discussion, that the authors of these entries are all actually incompetent and/or irrational and/or philosophically confused, the sheer fact that they have Ph.D.s in genetics, or biology, or chemistry, or astronomy, or theoretical physics, or geology, and that they've made careers in these fields, incontrovertibly demonstrates that they are, indeed, interested in science. QED.

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From Wiki article, "The History of Science:"

Rene Descartes helped push the Age of Enlightenment into being largely through his philosophy of a rational universe, based on his well known philosophy of God being behind the universe.

He is better known for, "I think; therefore, I am," but he took things further and argued from that premise that God exists, that the universe exists, is consistent and understandable. So there's at least part of your evidence. I learned about Descartes in my modern philosophy class in community college years ago, and his philosophy was very, very much centered around God and all his arguments in favor of rationalism were centered on God.

Isaac Newton played an extremely important role in promoting science, and he too was a devout Christian. He was a proponent of religious philosophy, tying it in with science, interestingly.

Scientists from 300 years ago? I don't think the most important developments in the philosophy of science were based on "the idea that God, being good, would make the universe observable and predictable." You said "the scientific method" was developed with God in mind... that seems like quite a stretch, don't you think so?

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Tarski:

Well, human bodies have power supplied by chemical energy from food. Humans convert that energy into mechanical energy in muscles by molecular machinery (ATP, ADP, glycogen and all that). Nervous systems guide motion in meaningful patterns by computational means.

All of which answers the how of humans doing things, but not the what and the why. By contrast, if I design and operate a robot, I know the answer to all three of those questions: How does it do what it does? Because that's how I designed it and how I operate it. What does it do? It does what I tell it to do, what I program(med) it to do. Why does it do that? Because that's what I want it to do.

Nope. Sorry. Ain't goin' for your "Humans-are-just-sophisticated-robots" theory.

P.S.: Robots are adaptable only to a limited extent. They can "adapt" only to the extent that they're programmed to adapt. Animals, and to the greatest extent humans, by contrast, are incredibly adaptable. Lop off a dog's hind legs and he can, if he's plucky enough, find a way to adapt. Do something similar to humans, (lop off an arm or a leg or give them neuromuscular or musculoskeletal deficits) and they can still find ways to adapt. Do something similar to a robot, and it won't be long before you've asked it to adapt to circumstances that exceed its programming. I'm not putting myself up on any kind of pedestal here, but I do know something about adapting with neuromuscular and musculoskeletal deficits (although I haven't had any arms or legs lopped off ...)

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