Chapter 9
Scientism and religion

9.1  Militant atheism

The relationship between religion and the natural sciences, as we have noted in some previous chapters, is currently of great social significance. It is the subject of ongoing legal battles, the focus of concern about education, and a topic that provokes passionate debate. There has over the past decade been a spate of aggressive atheist polemic books arguing that religious belief is disproved by science, explained away by science, and in any case intrinsically evil. The phrase recently used most widely to denote these polemics is `the New Atheism'. We'll have a little bit more to say about the extent to which their arguments are new; but certainly they are immoderate, dismissive, disdainful, and discourteous. Some have called them `hysterical atheism', but let's settle for a more neutral adjective, `militant'171. These militant atheist arguments are notable for their assertive scientism. We will examine a few examples.

Science disproves religion

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is perhaps the best known of the militant atheist books of the early twenty-first century. In it Dawkins is pretty much as direct as he can be. About the existence of God he writes "Either he exists or he doesn't. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, ..."172 Or again, "Contrary to [T.H.] Huxley, I shall suggest that the existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other. ... God's existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice."173 Actually Dawkins' book does not "suggest", or even argue, it assumes, and repeatedly asserts that the question is a scientific question. For example he later states "The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question ..."174 It then goes on at length to try to show that, regarded as a scientific question, the existence of God has poor evidence in its support. The question of the strength of the evidence is important but that's not what I want to focus on. I am drawing attention to the remarkable fact that Dawkins asserts that the existence of God is a scientific question. Why so remarkable? Well, if there were ever any meaningful distinction between "scientific" questions and other possible types of question, surely the distinction between scientific, physical questions (about nature) and metaphysical questions (about God) is the most obvious and traditional one. But Dawkins does not even bother to acknowledge the possibility of such a distinction. Instead he castigates those who regard themselves as agnostics as failing to pay attention to the scientific evidence (or lack thereof) in forming their theological opinions.
But since the existence of God has, from time immemorial, been considered not to be scientific question, or, to express it less anachronistically, not a question of natural philosophy, how can Dawkins get away with a bald assertion to the contrary? It is because he is relying on the widespread acceptance of his scientistic outlook, even among those who disagree with his theological views. The reference to "scientific fact" betrays his implicit assumption that all significant "facts" are scientific. Otherwise, it would be just as sensible to assert that the existence or non-existence of God is a historical fact, or a legal fact, or a sociological fact, or a religious fact.
In criticizing evolutionary paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould's avowed agnosticism and "Non Overlapping Magisteria" approach to the relationship between science and religion, Dawkins betrays himself further. He is at pains to oppose Gould and other scientists who draw back from using science to dictate metaphysical conclusions, because he thinks their reticence is motivated by the attitude "theologians have nothing worthwhile to say about anything else; let's throw them a sop and let them worry away at a couple of questions that nobody can answer and maybe never will."175 Then he is overtaken by his own rhetoric in questioning Gould's de facto atheism by asking "On what basis did he make the judgement, if there is nothing to be said about whether God exists?"176 Again this is elementary scientism at work. Actually, although Gould betrays his own substantial scientism by implying that religious matters are not matters of fact, he never asserts "there is nothing to be said about" God's existence. Gould's position appears to be that science does not prove or disprove it. Dawkins' "nothing to be said" reinterpretation of Gould is a distortion of his position, one that could be overlooked only by someone who completely takes for granted that the only sound basis for judgement is science. In other words, Dawkins' whole viewpoint is sustained by overriding scientism; without it his arguments are utterly hollow.
About questions of the historicity of Biblical events such as the resurrection, Dawkins says "There is an answer to every such question, whether or not we can discover it in practice, and it is strictly a scientific answer. The methods we should use to settle the matter, in the unlikely event that relevant evidence ever became available, would be purely and entirely scientific methods." Well, actually, no. These are questions about history. Natural science is almost completely powerless to answer historical questions about unique events of human history. If you insist that there is no useful evidence except that of "purely and entirely scientific methods", then of course there is not going to be such evidence. But that's not all the evidence that historians consider for these or for any events of history. Only a blatant scientism would insist on "purely and entirely scientific methods" for historical matters.

Science explains the mind

The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker is a more multidimensional figure in the scientistic front line. His book How the Mind Works is a an eclectic smorgasbord of ideas and opinions ranged artistically around the main course consisting of the advocacy of the computational theory of mind and of evolutionary psychology. Pinker contradicts many of the more mechanistic approaches to psychology such as Behaviorism. The "big picture" he says is "that the mind is a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors in their foraging way of life." The computational theory of mind is that "beliefs and desires are information, incarnated as configurations of symbols. The symbols are physical states of bits of matter, like chips in a computer or neurons in the brain... the symbols corresponding to one belief can give rise to symbols corresponding to other beliefs ... The computational theory of mind thus allows us to keep beliefs and desires in our explanations of behavior while planting them squarely in the physical universe. It allows meaning to cause and be caused."177
"Beliefs and desires" as information is innocuous enough. Something like this `computational' description (vague though it is) may well turn out to reflect reality, though science is a very long way from demonstrating that it does. More positively, Pinker clearly acknowledges that beliefs and desires can't possibly be excluded from a description of the actions of humans (or animals) without making nonsense of what we know introspectively to be the case for ourselves, and what we routinely use with great success to explain the behavior of others.
The evolutionary part of the argument, which is its major subject, is less persuasive. Pinker echoes Dawkins in saying "Natural selection is the only explanation we have of how complex life can evolve..." and dismissing teleological explanation with "One of the reasons God was invented was to be the mind that formed and executed life's plans. The laws of the world work forwards, not backwards: rain causes the ground to be wet; the ground's benefiting from being wet cannot cause the rain. What else but the plans of God could effect the teleology (goal directedness) of life on earth? Darwin showed what else."178 This forwards-causality argument sounds plausible. But let's dig a bit deeper. Consider irrigation; it is precisely an example of the ground's benefitting from being wet causing the `rain'. Irrigation does not happen to concrete patios, rocky outcrops, or lakes. Neither theist nor atheist attributes crop irrigation to something supernatural. It is attributed to the intentionality of the human agents that implemented it. But Pinker's argument dismissing God could equally well be applied as follows "One of the reasons human mind was invented was to be the mind that formed and executed life's plans. The laws of the world work forwards, not backwards: rain causes the ground to be wet; the ground's benefiting from being wet cannot cause the rain." Does Pinker really mean to imply, as his argument does, that we are in error when we speak of human intentionality as a cause? Presumably not, since he has allowed "beliefs and desires" as explanations. But then why is the intentionality explanation disallowed when God is referenced? Perhaps the Darwinian theory removed the necessity to posit a Creator, at least in respect of biological diversity, but it hardly rules one out. It disabled the argument from design as far as it is based on biological adaptation. Perhaps, by Dawkins' memorable overstatement, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist", but he did not make it impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled theist.
It seems that if Pinker, and those who argue in the same way, concede that humans and their intentionality are part of nature, then as a consequence there can in nature be such a thing as "backward causation", call it teleology, purpose, or intentionality. Either that or he must reverse his opinion that human intentionality is a process of the physical universe. He's trying to have it both ways. But either explanation in terms of intentionality is permitted by natural science, or else human (as well as divine) intentionality is ruled out in scientific explanations. Both Pinker and I think that intentional teleological explanations are not part of science's methods, that the laws of science do "work forwards, not backwards". My position is that intentionality is nevertheless a perfectly acceptable (indeed obvious) way to understand many phenomena, but that it is part of non-scientific knowledge and explanation. Pinker however is trapped in a contradictory scientism. Scientism's argument against God amounts in summary to the following.
Purpose and personal agency is deliberately omitted in science's descriptions of the world. All real explanations are scientific explanations. Therefore all real explanations are impersonal; God, being personal, is not a real explanation. Impersonal evolutionary explanation remains.
But this argument, whether Pinker likes it or not, applies equally to any explanation in terms of human agency. It rules out human purpose as a valid explanatory factor, which seems to me, and to many, as a disqualifying fault.
A key weakness of evolutionary psychology is that it makes even fewer specific predictions than biological evolution. It is generally content instead with composing stories that are purported to explain some fact of psychology in terms of a hypothesized evolutionary history. In most cases such stories are independent of other phenomena. They are not integrated into a scientific explanatory web that would make them a robust part of theory; they are subject-specific, and regularly sound like special pleading or mere speculation. In this respect they contrast with evolutionary explanations of biology and physiology, some of which do gain strong plausibility from serving as consistent integrated explanations of multiple phenomena. Evolutionary psychologists often cite successes of evolutionary explanation in physiology or physical biology as arguments in favor of evolutionary psychology. This seems a non-sequitur. It is perhaps appropriate to explore the degree to which evolution can be extended to explain psychology, but sometimes the evolutionary enthusiasm of the advocates gets the better of them. For example, Pinker sets out to counter the claim that "natural selection is a sterile exercise in after-the-fact storytelling" by quoting Mayr
The adaptationist question, "What is the function of a given structure or organ?" has been for centuries the basis of every advance in physiology. If it had not been for the adaptationist program, we probably would still not yet know the functions of thymus, spleen, pituitary, and pineal. Harvey's question "Why are there valves in the veins?" was a major stepping stone in his discovery of the circulation of the blood179.
And Pinker immediately goes on "... everything we have learned in biology has come from an understanding, implicit or explicit, that the organized complexity of an organism is in the service of its survival and reproduction."
Pinker's escalation of Mayr's already hyperbolic claim is based on a fundamental confusion. He is confusing the search for function, which has indeed been a vital principle of biology for millennia, with Darwinian adaptation. Notice that when Mayr wrote about what had been the case "for centuries", it was only 123 years after Darwin's "Origin" was published. His example of the circulation of the blood dates from Harvey's notes in 1615. So Mayr could not justifiably have meant Darwinist when he said adaptationist. He presumably meant nothing more than that organs have valuable functions and we learn most by looking for their function. Certainly adaptation, in the sense of fitness to the environment, was noted long before anyone thought to address it in terms of evolution. But for the purpose of his argument Pinker makes the further unjustified leap that all biological knowledge comes from a focus on survival and reproduction, on a Darwinist program. He's implying in effect that, even before Darwin, biology proceeded only by a closet ("implicit") Darwinism. That is a ludicrous attempt to have it both ways. Darwin's ideas made a big difference to the progress of biology, but you can't prove it by saying that centuries before his time scientists were dependent on those ideas by some mysterious `implicit' process.
The sort of psychological explanation that Pinker favors, which would escape the just-so-story criticism, is when predictions are made on the basis of evolutionary arguments, and prove to be correct. To cite such occasions is a principled approach to trying to demonstrate his case. How convincing is it? Here's one example concerning the question "How do parents make Sophie's Choice and sacrifice a child when circumstances demand it? Evolutionary theory predicts that the main criterion should be age ... right up until sexual maturity." In order to try to validate the `prediction' based on life expectancy, that parents would not sacrifice an older child when a younger one is born (actually a postdiction, since this is already an observation in all existing cultures) he offers this. "When parents are asked to imagine the loss of a child, they say they would grieve more for older children, up until the teenage years. The rise and fall of anticipated grief correlates almost perfectly with the life expectancies of hunter gatherer children."180 This "almost perfectly" is an almost perfectly gratuitous claim of numerical correlation that can't possibly be backed up. Grief can't be unambiguously quantified or measured. It obviously does not possess the Clarity required for such quantification. That's quite apart from the fact that the life expectancies of hunter gatherer children from prehistory are thoroughly speculative. Pinker refers to them (strangely) as "actuarial tables", although he appears to mean three numbers derived from guesses at mortality rates. Pinker devotes two pages to birth-order arguments like this, which by the way, even his own sources acknowledge to be considered by the majority in the field as a "mirage"181. Just pause for a moment from the evolutionary enthusiasm and consider the possibility that parents feel the way they report, not because of some evolutionarily programmed survival calculus, but because they realize that their love for their children grows through the shared experiences of their years together. This seems a far more sensible explanation, but of course it doesn't have the honorific of being scientific, or evolutionary. I suppose that is why Pinker prefers his actuarial tables.
When it comes to religion, Pinker no longer offers anything even as feeble as this in support of his opinions. "What we call religion in the modern West", he opines, "is an alternative culture of laws and customs that survived alongside those of the nation-state because of accidents of European history."182 A profoundly ill-informed remark like this about the roots of western culture hardly constitutes an argument. It is of a piece with his purely rhetorical litany of the evils and self-interest of religion. Referring to witches, shamans, ancestor worship, the Bible, rites of passage, and so on, we are informed that although "Religion is not a single topic", it "cannot be equated with our higher, spiritual, humane, ethical yearnings". Clearly Pinker wants to leave the field free for ethics and `spirituality' without having the unpleasantness of religion. We get the picture. He's against religion. But it would have made his diatribe more an integral part of his exposition of evolutionary psychology if he'd actually offered some evidence relating the two. Without it, we are in a position analogous to that of the two Victorian parishioners discussing the week's sermon:
"What was the sermon about?"
"And what did the Vicar say?"
"He was against it."
Pinker is of course completely at liberty to advocate his opinions about what people believe and why they believe it. In the case of religion he doesn't seem to think that he needs any justification for those opinions. In the case of many other beliefs, his book offers evolutionist stories in justification, or explanation, of his opinions about them. In all too many cases those justifying stories appear to be just-so stories, plausible sometimes - sometimes not - but hardly compelling, falling far short of what most scientists consider demonstration demands, yet all too often spuriously portrayed as some kind of scientific consensus, rather than what they are: his opinions.
Evolutionary psychology seems to draw much of its momentum from a fundamentalist scientism, which regards naturalist explanation as the only explanation worth having - even of the human mind and society. It has appeal as a way to incorporate consciousness and culture into a scientistic world-view, especially for those who want a stick with which to beat religion. But it falls far short of the convincing explanations science offers of the physical world, of nature. And it must do so, because much of psychology does not possess the characteristics that are required for scientific analysis.

Science explains away religion

Daniel Dennett, even though he is a philosopher, not a scientist, does try to offer evidence that relates evolutionary psychology to religion. Indeed, his Breaking The Spell. Religion as a Natural Phenomenon sets out to argue that religion is convincingly explained by evolutionary arguments about human psychology, and that it is thereby debunked.
Right from the outset, Dennett wants to draw on, and exploit indirectly, descriptions of the natural world for his argument. Religion is to be understood as analogous to a parasite invading our brains, causing us to set aside our personal interests in order to further the interests of an idea: religion. For his purposes, Dennett defines religions as "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought"183: a definition, as he readily admits, crafted to avoid the "delicate issue" that the scientism that permeates his views is arguably a religious commitment and certainly a metaphysical commitment. Let's pass quickly over the difficulty that his definition excludes Confucianism, Buddhism, most Deism, and sundry other obviously religious teachings from its scope.
"Eventually", says Dennett, "we must arrive at questions about ultimate values, and no factual investigation could answer them". But it is "high time that we subject religion as a global phenomenon to the most intensive multidisciplinary research we can muster..."184. Even though (three pages later) this "might" break the spell of religion, we must carry out a "forthright, scientific, no-holds-barred investigation of religion as one natural phenomenon among many."185 Wait a minute, though, what just happened to "questions about ultimate values", or "multidisciplinary"? Well, any scientific discipline is allowed, I guess. In Dennett's view the neglect of this scientific program has been because of a "largely unexamined mutual agreement that scientists and other researchers will leave religion alone"186, but now we need to "set about studying religion scientifically". The study of religion as a natural phenomenon, Dennett asserts, is no more presupposing atheism than is the study of Sports as a Natural Phenomenon or Cancer as a Natural Phenomenon. The metaphor gets a bit out of hand when sports "miracles", by a strange transition, become the topic. But a miracle, and presumably by extension all of religion, requires us to "demonstrate it scientifically" Was Gould right that there is a boundary between two domains of human activity? Dennett shows his identification of "scientific" with "factual" by saying, "That is presumably a scientific, factual question, not a religious question"187.
Dennett shares in the disingenuousness of most of the militant atheist writers when he bemoans the neglect of this project as caused by academic distaste begotten by biased prior studies, and portrays himself as representing a small band of "brave neuroscientists and other biologists who have decided to look at religious phenomena"188. The embattled potential-martyr self-portrait - even though he's not the first to paint it - is not particularly convincing for a best-seller author on the fashionable anti-religion band-wagon.
Dennett spends significant effort confronting the [supposed189] "worry that such an investigation might actually kill all the specimens" [of religion]. In the process we learn that "music is another natural phenomenon ... but is only just beginning to be an object of the sort of scientific study I am recommending", by which he means for example "why is it beautiful to us? This is a perfectly good biological question."190 It does not appear to cross Dennett's mind that there might be structural or methodological reasons why scientific study of non-scientific topics like music and religion are circumscribed. His concern is to combat what he thinks is simply the "propaganda ... from a variety of sources" that religion is "out-of-bounds".
Dennett thinks that goods (moral and physical), for which he instances deliberately problematic cases: sugar, sex, alcohol, music, and money, can anchor their value only in "the capacity of something to provoke a preference response in the brain quite directly."191 A co-evolutionary "bargain that was struck about fifty million years ago between plants blindly "seeking" a way of dispersing their pollinated seeds, and animals similarly seeking efficient sources of energy" explains "sharpening our ancestors' capacity to discriminate sugar by its "sweetness." " All values "started out as instrumental", as a biologically programmed preference conferring survival value, and "The same sort of investigation that has unlocked the mysteries [sic] of sweetness and alcohol and sex and money" needs to be applied to religion.
The argument here becomes puzzling and self-contradictory, which makes it hard to summarize. On the one hand a biologically costly activity (like religion) can persist only if "it somehow provokes its own replication ... to ask what pays for one evolved biological feature ... nicely captures the underlying balance of forces observed everywhere in nature, and we know of no exceptions to this rule"192. [Emphasis his. Actually organs like the human appendix are such exceptions if they are truly vestigial, as one major evolutionary argument maintains.] On the other hand, the spectrum of possible evolutionary explanations of religion includes both those that maintain there are benefits to religion, and also those that "we may call the pearl theory: religion is simply a beautiful by-product." By pearl theory, Dennet means that "religion is not for anything, from the point of view of biology; it doesn't benefit any gene, or individual, or group, or cultural symbiont." This description appears to be almost the same as what Gould and Lewontin call a spandrel.
Figure 9.1: The spandrel referred to by Gould and Lewontin.
The word refers to the tapering triangular surface region that occurs where the bases of arches meet, notably in St Mark's Cathedral in Venice, where they are exquisitely decorated with mosaics that exploit their geometry. The spandrel might be thought the reason for the surrounding architecture, but this would invert the proper interpretation. The spandrel is a by-product of the overall architectural design. It is then used opportunistically by the mosaicists for their purposes193. In evolution, argue Gould and Lewontin, some things are not justified by an adaptationist story, they are just opportunistic by-products. Incidentally, their article exemplifies some penetrating criticism by biologists of evolutionary explanations in anthropology and psychology (E.O.Wilson being an author cited, and cannibalism the topic!). In fact their criticism is precisely of the position adopted by Dennett's "we know of no exceptions". Their whole point is that there are exceptions. I am tempted to speculate that inventing a new metaphor (pearl) rather than adopting the one already in common currency (spandrel) is motivated by Dennett's realization of this fact, and his desire to avoid promoting the ideas of two of the strongest critics of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology: Gould and Lewontin.
Returning to the evolutionary explanation of religion, at times it seems that Dennett is going to settle for the pearl/spandrel theory, seeing religion as a result of "our overactive disposition to look for agents"194. But it serves his approach better to remain non-committal and follow a speculative and eclectic narrative pathway that allows different (and sometimes incompatible) stories to serve for different phenomena.
Dennett's ideas and those of E. O. Wilson and Pinker, which he freely draws from, have been directly subjected to withering criticism from many quarters. The more pertinent of these criticisms have come not from religious advocates, but from atheists and agnostics. Perhaps the most telling are from evolutionary biologists, such as Richard Lewontin and H. Allen Orr, from experts in cognitive psychology and computational linguistics such as Stephen Chorover and Robert Berwick, and from philosophers of science such as Philip Kitcher195. Pinker attributes this criticism to left-wing ideology,196 which he dates to the strong repudiation (in 1975) of Wilson's book Sociobiology in a review by 17 authors, including five Harvard professors197. But the more plausible reading is the one given originally in the critiques and re-expressed in a response to Pinker: "To us Darwinian fundamentalism is a form of irrationalism that, left un-checked, erodes the very theory of evolution it embraces."198
Experts who understand evolution, psychology, and the philosophy of science quite well, and who see the weakness of applying simplistic adaptationist arguments to society and religion don't want biology to be tarnished by the association.
It would not be very interesting go into greater detail and rebut the individual assertions that Dennett makes, or to dissect the logical argument, in so far as there is one. What I have been trying to do, though, is to draw attention to the all-pervasive scientism that informs his position. I see no reason to deny there is such a thing as human nature, or that human nature has been influenced by biological evolution as well as cultural evolution (meaning cultural development). It is not that discussing religion (or music, or anything else for that matter) from a scientific, or even a specifically evolutionary, perspective is improper or out-of-bounds. Rather, the fallacy is to imply that by doing so one is discovering their real explanation, the scientific facts that render superfluous all other descriptions, that debunk other claims of significance or knowledge. Actually it is even worse than that, and this is a feature of evolutionary argument that, I must admit, drives this physicist crazy. When Dennett says "The only honest way to defend" an explanation of religion in terms of God's actions is to consider "alternative theories of the persistence and popularity of religion and rule them out"199, he is privileging so-called scientific explanation to the extent that in order to displace non-scientific explanation, even in non-scientific fields, it only has to meet the standard of not being ruled out. Since when has not being ruled out been enough to sustain a theory in science - or in any other discipline? This astonishingly lowered standard of what will count as a sufficient scientific demonstration and explanation is one reason for the low esteem in the natural science community, and elsewhere, of the specific theories of evolutionary psychology. Not only that, but since music is in fact well explained to the satisfaction of its professionals in ways that actually provide useful predictive knowledge but are expressed in non-scientific, musical terms, would it not be folly to discard those explanations in favor of a scientific analysis of music? If so, why would one think this way for religion? On what basis does it make sense to rule inadmissible religious explanation of the things of religion, and prefer a list of alternative, unsupported, speculative, possible, `scientific' explanations? Only on the basis of scientism.

Summarizing the Militant Atheist Arguments

The popular militant atheist writers of this century spend a great deal of effort to retell anti-religious arguments which have a long history, dating from the nineteenth century and in some cases much earlier. That is only natural. However, the strong impression is given by writers that I've already cited and others such as Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris, that there is new knowledge that supports their arguments. It seems nearer the truth that there are some new twists on the old arguments. It is worth trying to gather them systematically, in the light of our discussion of scientism. In broad strokes, the case made by the militant atheists consists of three assertions: (1) God is a scientific hypothesis that has been essentially disproved200 by science. (2) Evolution explains religion as nothing more than a natural phenomenon. (3) Religion is demonstrably evil.
(1) The existence of God is, in my view, a factual question. Either he exists or he doesn't. I see no reason to dispute this. But insisting that God's existence is a scientific question is a leap further that only scientism justifies.
To identify factual with scientific - with knowledge gained through the methods of the natural sciences - is the fallacy I am addressing. It is so much a part of modern thought that even Michael Polanyi falls into it in the midst of his systematic repudiation of scientism. In his book Personal Knowledge, Polanyi's intent is to describe knowledge as founded on personal commitment, more than a supposed objectivity. He says "We owe our mental existence predominantly to works of art, morality, religious worship, scientific theory and other articulate systems which we accept as our dwelling place and as the soil of our mental development. Objectivism has totally falsified our conception of truth, by exalting what we can know and prove, while covering up with ambiguous utterances all that we know and cannot prove, even though the latter knowledge underlies, and must ultimately set its seal to, all that we can prove."201 This is an important thread of Polanyi's argument. It is that scientific knowledge depends for its existence upon much knowledge that is completely informal, unspecified, and unscientific, for example our understanding of the meaning of language. But Polanyi, most unhelpfully, identifies fact and natural science, for example when saying
Ever since the attacks of philosophers like Bayle and Hume on the credibility of miracles, rationalists have urged that the acknowledgment of miracles must rest on the strength of factual evidence. But actually, the contrary is true: if the conversion of water into wine or the resuscitation of the dead could be experimentally verified, this would strictly disprove their miraculous nature. Indeed, to the extent to which any event can be established in the terms of natural science, it belongs to the natural order of things. However monstrous and surprising it may be, once it has been fully established as an observable fact, the event ceases to be supernatural. ... Observation may supply us with rich clues for our belief in God; but any scientifically convincing observation of God would turn religious worship into an idolatrous adoration of a mere object, or natural person.202
I completely concur with this important recognition that miracles, by their very character, cannot be scientifically proved. The main reason is that they are, practically by definition, not reproducible. If they were reproducible, they would instead be part of natural science, as Polanyi notes. But I find it most unhelpful and confusing when he implies that resting on "factual evidence" is equivalent to being "experimentally verified", or that being "established in the terms of natural science" means the same as "established as an observable fact". Polanyi wants to draw some fine distinctions: "The words `God exists' are not, therefore, a statement of fact, such as `snow is white', but an accreditive statement, such as ` "snow is white" is true'... " And the way he sees it is that God exists but "not as a fact - any more than truth, beauty, or justice exist as facts"203. Yet he immediately afterwards tells us that religious conviction depends on factual evidence. I want to be clearer than this. As far as I am concerned, there are scientific facts, and there are non-scientific facts, such as facts of history, jurisprudence, politics, personal acquaintance, and religion. Just as science is not all the knowledge there is, scientific facts are not all the facts there are. This is where I contradict the presumptions of the atheists.
A crucial recent move of the militant atheists is the argument that evolutionary explanations are intrinsically more satisfactory than others because they explain the complex in terms of the simple. Complex life is explained in terms of simpler chemical and physical laws of nature. In contrast it is argued that explaining anything in terms of God is to explain the simpler (things in the world) in terms of the more complex (God). We've dispensed with that argument in section 5.4.
(2) Explaining away religion as a natural phenomenon is not new. Seeing religion as a product of human psychology is as old as religion itself. Religions recognize the religious impulse as a universal part of human nature. They have not regarded the universality of spiritual yearning per se as a disproof of its truthfulness; on the contrary, they argue that a universal religious tendency is just what one might expect if God really exists. Unbelievers doubtless have thought religion was merely natural. Seeing religion as having developed over human history is a similarly ancient understanding, and is similarly accommodated by most faiths. For example, the Bible portrays God's self-revelation as developing through a sequence of events of history. Explicitly Darwinist explanations of religion are, practically speaking, as old as Darwin, even though the Origin of Species was at pains to avoid that hot issue. So there's nothing new in the idea that religion is a universal part of human nature or in atheists arguing that religion is nothing but a natural phenomenon. What is taken to be the recent arguments' additional plausibility is based upon the `progress' in evolutionary psychology and sociobiology in recent decades. I have pointed out the controversial standing of these disciplines within the science community.
For the most part, the arguments that are offered to explain away religion are not scientific. We do not require any evolutionary theory to tell us that humans can deceive themselves, are prone to wishful thinking, exercise commitment to ideas, or have heightened ability to detect agents. These traits might lead to stubborn belief in the supernatural, which might be mistaken. But the ideas surrounding them are not scientific. They are pop-psychology to which is being attached a spurious honorific as if they were derived from scientific analysis. Yet, trite as they are, these are essentially the explanatory options that evolutionary psychology supposes itself to have `discovered'. What's more, the polemicists have no basis for making specific choices between the options, so they leave them open. For their purposes, it does not matter which of the dozens of different evolutionary explanations might be correct. Provided we can be persuaded that some natural explanation or combination of explanations is going to work, their point is made. It does not matter to them whether the explanation is of the type that variously sees religion as having actual survival value for the group, or is of the type that sees it as a by-product of some other trait with survival value for the individual. The by-product theories include for example, "children are native teleologists and many never grow out of it"204, "Could irrational religion be a by-product of the irrationality mechanisms that were originally built into the brain by selection for falling in love?"205, "irrationally strong conviction is a guard against fickleness of mind", "hiding the truth from the conscious mind the better to hide it from others", "a tendency for humans consciously to see what they want to see."206. And if these biological-evolution explanations don't seem persuasive, one can always fall back on the concept of "memes", those hypothetical entities which "evolve" as viruses of the mind, providing the aura of scientific explanation to anthropological analysis of cargo cults, for example, but working just as well or as poorly, as far as I can see, for pretty much any fashion of the moment.
A truly scientific explanation ought to be different. It ought to be uncomfortable with the myriad of possible explanations (with no way to decide between them) not, like the polemicists, seemingly happy to pile up more and more possibilities as if their multiplicity somehow made the argument weightier. In any case, psychological analyses, whether evolutionary or not, do not decide whether the content of the beliefs analyzed is true. Dawkins might say that I believe in God because I was taught to do so by my parents, or because it comforts me to do so, or because I was programmed by evolution to do so. I might say that Dawkins disbelieves because he was taught so by his parents, or because it serves his desire for personal liberty to do so, or because he was programmed to disbelieve by evolution. The arguments on both sides are, I suppose, as convincing or unconvincing as one another, but they don't settle the question of whether God exists one way or the other. That's quite apart from the self-defeating logical status of psychological determinism. If one supposes that the ideas humans have are fully explained by a physical analysis of the brain, or by a behaviorist analysis of training, or an evolutionist description of inherited predispositions, or some combination of these or other `scientific' analyses, then presumably the very belief that this is the case is determined just by these influences. If that were so, then why should we suppose the content of the belief to be true? In short, if our beliefs are determined by evolution or psychology, why should one believe so?
(3) The assertion that religion is evil is not really part of the scientism discussion, but for completeness I offer a few observations. The fact that religious organizations and individuals do evil is amply demonstrated by history.
1 1
1 2 1
1 3  3 1
1  4  6  4  1
1 5 10 10 5 1
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
Figure 9.2: Pascal's Triangle. It is a table whose nth row contains the coefficients of algebra's "binomial expansion" of (x+y)n. Each entry is the sum of the adjacent values of the row above. The number of rows is unlimited.
Blaize Pascal, a convinced and earnest Christian, as well as a remarkable mathematician and scientist, said it in the mid seventeenth century "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."207 What Pascal recognized was, first, the simple point that people do evil intending and thinking that they do good when they do it from conviction. Second is the more complex point, that religious conviction has no monopoly on truth, yet is conviction's strongest form. In Steven Weinberg's memorable atheist aphorism, the claim becomes "With or without it, you'd have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion." Weinberg's punch line is either patently false, since obviously many non-religious people who are otherwise `good' do evil things, or else, if we charitably seek a serious meaning for the aphorism, it is an extrapolation of Pascal to the point of asserting that people do evil they take to be good only by religious conviction. But even that is false unless you remove the word religious, and say "only by conviction". The convictions that have led people to what one might term `principled evil' have almost all not been religious during the past couple of hundred years. Realizing that, one is left only with the practically tautological first part of the meaning of Pascal's pensée: people do evil they take to be good only by conviction.
When it comes to assessing how good is the track record of Christianity in its influence on society and history, it is not enough simply to point to the evil that it may have inspired, demanded, or permitted. One must ask, how good compared to what? From this perspective, the recent militant atheist writings betray themselves. They recount the now familiar list of evils of religion, but largely ignore the evils of the atheist alternatives, which in the twentieth century have inflicted suffering and death on an unprecedented scale. By the simple measure of executions, for example, atheist regimes have already outstripped the body-count of Christianity for its entire history by an enormous factor208. Perhaps sensing the weakness of their position on this score, the militant atheists try to minimize the extent to which religion inspires good, and maximize its responsibility for evil. Mother Teresa is scurrilously attacked by Christopher Hitchens, and if Dawkins is to be believed, Martin Luther King's "religion was incidental"209. They argue "Individual atheists may do evil things but they don't do evil things in the name of atheism. ... Religious wars really are fought in the name of religion, and they have been horribly frequent in history. I cannot think of any war that has been fought in the name of atheism."210 This is double-think, which can immediately be refuted. No war has ever been fought in the name of generic `religion' or `theism'. Wars have been fought in the name of specific religious beliefs and groups. Similarly no war has ever been fought in the name of a generic `areligion' or `atheism'. But many have been fought in the name of specific atheistic beliefs and groups. The atheists' argument is: when religious people do good, their religion is incidental, but when they do evil, their religion is to blame; when atheists do good it is because they are enlightened, but when atheists do evil, they do it as individuals, and their atheism is not to blame, or if it looks as if they are motivated by shared conviction, then this conviction is a kind of `religion', so religion is (still) to blame. The inconsistency and special-pleading is palpable.211

9.2  Rocks of Ages: A niche for religion

One of the better-known attempts at a kind of reconciliation of science and faith of the past decade or two comes from a person active on the evolutionist side of the school textbook debate, Stephen Jay Gould. In his (1999) Rocks of Ages Gould puts forward his "central principle of respectful noninterference ... the Principle of NOMA, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria"212. He summarizes this simple approach by saying "Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values - subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve."
Gould cites the example of Thomas Burnet (1635-1715) whose The Sacred Theory of the Earth is now dismissed as trying "to reimpose the unquestionable dogmas of scriptural authority upon the new paths of honest science". Incidentally, this is the same Burnet who played a vital role in the accession of William of Orange to the English throne and whose History of his own time served as one of the major sources for Macaulay's History of England since the accession of James the second, which I've cited earlier. Gould gives several examples from twentieth century textbooks of unrestrained condemnations of Burnet's concordist approach to natural history. The Sacred Theory is largely an attempt at harmonization of the Bible with the science of the day. In Gould's view Burnet was unfairly castigated because, though he practiced both magisteria, he kept them separate. Gould quotes from Burnet as saying
'Tis a dangerous thing to engage the authority of scripture in disputes about the natural world in opposition to reason; lest time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be evidently false which we had made scripture assert.213
Gould's fairness and scholarship are evident in many places, for example his discussion of the reasons for Darwin's loss of faith, largely as a reaction to the problem of suffering, brought into sharp personal relief by the untimely death of his daughter. But Gould's attempts to argue that T.H.Huxley also practiced NOMA and is unfairly portrayed as being anti-religious, ring hollow. Or perhaps rather, one should say that they reveal the very limited qualities of what Gould allows as religion. The shallowness of Gould's and Huxley's permissible form of religion is epitomized by this quote from Huxley's letter to Kingsley, saying that he is led
... to know that a deep sense of religion was compatible with the entire absence of theology. Secondly, science and her methods gave me a resting-place independent of authority and tradition. Thirdly, love opened up to me a view of the sanctity of human nature, and impressed me with a deep sense of responsibility ... I may be quite wrong, and in that case I know I shall have to pay the penalty for being wrong. But I can only say with Luther, "Gott helfe mir, Ich kann nichts anders".214
What Huxley (and it becomes clear Gould too) values, then, is a "deep sense of religion" totally devoid of doctrinal content, or indeed apparently any factual content. The authority that remains is science and her methods. Huxley's image of himself is the embattled hero, standing, like Luther, before a modern-day Diet of Worms, willing to sacrifice his immortal soul for what he believes. For all the ironic oratory, Huxley as martyr is not exactly a convincing portrait. Though perhaps it is more convincing than the similar self-portraits of the militant atheists of the early twenty-first century.
For Gould the second magisterium seems to consist of matters of value. He says that it is "dedicated to a quest for consensus, or at least a clarification of assumptions and criteria, about ethical `ought', rather than search for any factual `is'..." and includes "much of philosophy, and part of literature and history" as well as religion.
He rightly denies to science the ability to say anything about "the morality of morals", citing as an example that the possible anthropological discovery of adaptively beneficial characteristics of infanticide, genocide, or xenophobia doesn't at all justify behaving in that manner.
Gould is at his best when supporting the idea of NOMA by deflating the excessive portrayal of warfare between science and religion. He summarizes the arguments of Mario Biagioli215 to the effect that the Galileo affair was more a matter of court intrigue than intellectual contest. And he discusses the openness of the Roman church to evolution, as represented by Popes Pius XII (Humani Generis, 1950), and John Paul II (1996). He devotes substantial space to critiques of Andrew Dickson White's famous "History of the warfare between science and theology in Christendom"216 (1896) and of the similar "History of the conflict between religion and science" by John William Draper (1874) and some of the political background of their times.
The flat-earth myth - that the church taught that the earth was flat, and had to recant when Columbus proved otherwise - is delightfully exploded. As shown by J.B.Russell Inventing the flat earth (Prager, 1991) this fairy tale can be proved fictitious by documentary evidence. The earth's sphericity was known from Greek antiquity and promulgated throughout the middle ages by the Venerable Bede, Roger Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, and others, who represented the cosmological orthodoxy within Christianity, not the rare enlightened individual. History texts prior to 1870 rarely mention the flat-earth myth, while almost all those after 1880 do. It is not a coincidence then, that the flat-earth myth gains its currency at just about the time of the warfare advocates, and that both White and Draper cite it as a prime example of warfare. Gould points out that the celebrated exchange between Bishop Wilberforce and T.H.Huxley on the descent of man took place at an 1860 meeting of the British Association whose formal paper was an address by the same Draper on the "intellectual development of Europe considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin". In other words, it arose not in the context of a scientific debate, but following an early discussion of "social Darwinism".
Gould cites with approval the physiologist J.S.Haldane, whom he calls a "deeply religious man", in whose Gifford Lectures for 1927 a most telling phrase appears "If my reasoning has been correct, there is no real connection between religion and the belief in supernatural events of any sort or kind". This is the religion that Gould has in mind as the candidate for NOMA, because he says "... NOMA does preclude the additional claim that such a God must arrange the facts of nature in a certain set and predetermined way. For example, if you believe that an adequately loving God must show his hand by peppering nature with palpable miracles, ... then a particular, partisan (and minority) view of religion has transgressed in the magisterium of science ..."217
The creationism and evolution textbook debate is one in which Gould was directly involved. Two important general points that he makes are that there is probably a majority of clergy (as well as scientists) against imposition of specific theological doctrine on the science curricula of public schools; and that the controversy is a remarkably American phenomenon. "No other Western nation faces such an incubus as a serious political movement". He attributes the latter predominantly to America's "uniquely rich range of sects". I think there may be more cogent reasons218. Gould's recounting of the Scopes trial of 1925 is interesting in focusing on the difference between the reality and the 1955 cinematic version of Inherit the Wind, not to mention the polemic of H.L.Mencken. Both the Dayton creationists and their opponents, the ACLU, were looking forward to a guilty verdict so that the case could move on to higher courts where the real issues of constitutionality were to be fought. The conviction was overturned on the technicality that the judge had no authority to impose the fine of $100 (exceeding his limit of $50) and although this is portrayed by evolutionists as a victory, it was more like a defeat for both sides, since it prevented the real issues from being joined.
Gould also writes passionately about William Jennings Bryan, the famous creationist prosecutor of the Scopes trial, recalling that, far from being by nature a benighted traditionalist, he was, for his whole political career, a liberal and progressive reformer. Gould attributes Bryan's uncharacteristic position to his misunderstanding.
Bryan's attitude to evolution rested upon a three-fold error. First, he made the common mistake of confusing the fact of evolution with the Darwinian explanation of its mechanism. He then misinterpreted natural selection as a martial theory of survival by battle and destruction of enemies. Finally, he fell into the logical error of arguing that Darwinism implied the moral virtuousness of such deathly struggle.219
While acknowledging that Bryan was in part responding to the misuse of Darwinism by scientists and their acolytes, he concludes that "The originator of an idea [Darwin] cannot be held responsible for egregious misuse of his theory"
I take Gould's intentions in advocating what he calls NOMA to be entirely constructive. He undoubtedly has an agenda to defend the independence of science. But there seems no reason to doubt his genuine concern to find a place in intellectual thought for morality and value. He associates these (though not uniquely) with religious underpinnings, rather than with any vain attempts to derive ethics from science or natural history.
Gould's NOMA principle has been much criticized. As we've seen, it does not satisfy the militant atheists, of course, but it also does not satisfy militant, or even tolerably robust, theists. The weakness of Gould's position is primarily that it is scientistic. When he identifies the magisterium of science as "our drive to understand the factual character of nature" he is saying that facts are discovered by science (alone), or in other words that the only real knowledge is scientific. Undoubtedly Gould wishes to set up a contrast between facts (science) and values (religion). The problem with this common opposition is that values are not the natural disjoint of facts. The plain converse of the view that facts are the domain of science is that the domain of religion is feelings, or worse still fantasy. Gould does not mean that converse (I think), and intends to express respect for religion; but he can't avoid the implication. To be fair, he does qualify the "facts" by the phrase "of nature", and were it not for the rest of his exposition, that might leave open the possibility of there being facts "of something else". But he never refers to the domain of religion as being a question of knowledge or fact. The religion that he is making room for is a religion empty of any claims to historical or scientific fact, doctrinal authority, and supernatural experience. Such a religion, whatever may be its attractions to the liberal scientistic mind, could never be Christianity, or for that matter, Judaism or Islam.
For all of his justified critical analysis of Andrew Dickson White's polemic of 100 years earlier, and for all that he aspires to a more balanced interpretation of history, the logic of Gould's position is therefore scarcely different from White's. White was at pains to say that science's warfare was not with religion but with "theology". By this, as he clearly stated in his introduction, White meant distinctive religious doctrines that he called sectarian, but which might more descriptively be called confessional or foundational. In White's portrayal, religion's claims to knowledge or authoritative teaching are what science is disputing. For White, and for Gould, there is room for a vague religiosity which serves useful purposes as a civic religion and as an emotional source of moral authority. Both men welcome, and even promote, that religiosity. But neither has left room for anything that looks like orthodox Christianity, based on unique events two thousand years ago: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

9.3  Behind the mythology

Science and Christianity have had a lot of interactions during and since the Scientific Revolution, but none has become so iconic as that of Galileo and the Roman Catholic church.
Figure 9.3: Galileo before the Inquisition, Cristiano Banti, oil on canvas.
The popular image of this confrontation is wonderfully captured in the painting by Cristiano Banti, Figure 9.3220. Galileo stands in a heroic pose, his head set-off by what almost seems a halo of light behind it. His interrogators have their backs to the wall literally as well as figuratively. The unhappy faces of the passive inquisitors, one of which is partly shrouded by a hood, are averted from the brightness of Galileo's face. The central accuser leans forward to confront Galileo, pointing to an open scroll, next to which stands a quill and ink. He is commanding Galileo to sign a confession or a recantation. The plain wall is bright behind them, with only the legs of a crucifix visible. It seems almost as if the brightness has come directly from Galileo's saintly head, metaphorically illuminating the darkness of the nether regions and benighted religious with the breaking light of science.
Of course this portrait deliberately sets out to make a statement and to promote a viewpoint: that Galileo was an early martyr and hero in the long war between science and Christian faith. What is really interesting about it, though, is not so much its portrayal, as its date: 1857. This is the image of Galileo that was promoted in the mid-nineteenth century, more than two hundred years after the events. Almost all the empirical philosophers of the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century soon did adopt the heliocentric model of the solar system, in whose defense Galileo had fallen into papal disfavor. But even those who were Galileo's friends and admirers could hardly have seen the events of the confrontation in the way Banti paints them. Galileo's scientific evidence was weak, and some of his theories were plain wrong. He had been allowed remarkable latitude, in those troubled times, to pursue his science, provided he kept out of theology and Bible interpretation. The pope himself had been his friend and encourager. But Galileo had drained all this good-will, enraged his enemies, and alienated most of his powerful friends by publishing through what seemed like subterfuge an arrogant populist imagined dialogue promoting his ideas and portraying their opponent as `Simplicio', the Simpleton. Both the heliocentric solar system and also Galileo's approach to scriptural interpretation are now commonplace inside and outside the Roman church. And by 1857 one could see that these and other key contributions had been fully vindicated. Yet in his time, Galileo did not heroically stand on principle embodying the light of science before the ignorant Inquisition; the frightened old man would do whatever he had to do to preserve his life and comfort. One should not blame him for that. Besides, he remained a good Catholic, and so far as we can tell had not been seeking to alienate the church, or to undermine its authority, except in so far as it was represented by the schoolmen. So, to summarize, Banti's painting is revealing not of the events or the spirit of the seventeenth century, but of the attitudes towards science, and the scientism, of the mid-nineteenth.
There had not, in the minds of most scientists, been an entrenched warfare or even much of an ongoing intellectual confrontation between science and Christianity in the intervening centuries. But it served the purposes of many academics to persuade themselves that there had been. Andrew Dickson White was just beginning his campaign with Ezra Cornell to found a new model of university. They considered the influence of what they called sectarian religion to be detrimental to learning and to society; so their intention was to spearhead a new movement of essentially secular education, in place of the Christian universities which still dominated academia. Cornell University was to be an institution in which religious doctrine was to have no place221. The content of the pamphlets and articles that were his propaganda in support of this campaign eventually became White's famous book The warfare of science with theology in christendom (1896). In it he gathered and recounted numerous historical examples of areas in which the growth of what he called science encroached upon traditionally religious intellectual territory. Each development is portrayed as initially meeting with stubborn resistance from the entrenched theological power structures, but eventually from sheer force of evidence and argument overthrowing that resistance and moving forward into greater knowledge and enlightenment. The theme is repeated over and over in this long and eventually tedious book, but it lends itself to stirring melodrama, complete with martyrs, heroes and villains; intrigues and battles; and all the elements that go to make a good story.
White, like many of his contemporaries, used the word science with an enormously wide meaning; so that it encompassed the entirety of liberal scholarship. In addition to astronomy, chemistry, geology and the other natural sciences, his book has chapters on Egyptology and Assyriology, philology, comparative mythology, economics, and biblical criticism, referring to all as science, and implying that the intellectual methodologies of all are similar.
This book, and presumably the pamphlets before it, captured the imaginations of many of the academics of the day and its thesis gradually became accepted even by many Christians as representing a fact of history that science and theology were perpetually at war. For academics, who at that stage almost universally regarded science as the guiding example of all rational thought, it meant so much the worse for religion. For Christians whose faith ruled their lives, it meant, by contrast, so much the worse for science. And thus the warfare metaphor as it was gradually accepted by both sides became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The relationship of science and Christianity in the three centuries prior to this transition had been complicated, and sometimes tense. But the men who pushed forward the growing knowledge of nature, during that period, were more often pious believers than they were outspoken infidels or scientistic secularists. The universities were of course Christian foundations, Oxford and Cambridge required their ordinary college fellows to be ordained if they remained beyond a limited tenure.
Figure 9.4: The importance of religion in the founding and life of ancient universities is still evident in the dominance of the chapels among their buildings. This, for example, is the Chapel at King's College Cambridge.
But even scientists outside the universities were often either independent gentlemen motivated in part by Christian commitments, or parish clergy who saw no inherent contradiction between their professional religion and their amateur science. The tensions that exist between the `Experimental Philosophy' and Christianity were a concern for Robert Boyle, one of the founders of the Royal Society. In the terminology of 1690 someone who understood and cultivated experimental philosophy was frequently referred to as a `virtuoso'. In his book The Christian Virtuoso222, Boyle's intention was to show "that, by being addicted to Experimental Philosophy, a man is rather assisted than indisposed to be a good Christian". He addresses himself to the puzzlement apparently expressed that that he should be both "a diligent cultivater of experimental philosophy, [and] a concerned embracer of the Christian religion". So the question of the compatibility of science and Christianity was, even then, a live one. But the danger Boyle addressed was less that of a philosophical atheism than it was of a practical atheism: "... the profane discourses and licentious lives of some virtuosi, that boast much of the principles of the new philosophy. And I deny not, but that, if the knowledge of nature falls into the hands of a resolved atheist, or a sensual libertine, he may misemploy it to oppugn the grounds, or discredit the practice, of religion." While Boyle therefore is familiar with those for whom he considers "their immorality was the original cause of their infidelity", he says his personal observations make him think atheists are rarer among scientists than is popularly imagined. "And though my conversation has been pretty free and general among naturalists, yet I have met with so few true atheists, that I am very apt to think, that men's want of due information, or of their uncharitable zeal, has made them mistake or misrepresent many for deniers of God..."
Protagonists over the whole spectrum of scientific and non-scientific debate, in those days, frequently charged their opponents with religious heterodoxy, when it served their rhetorical purposes. But that was simply a characteristic of an age when religion was the foremost intellectual authority.
Undoubtedly there were many occasions when the presumptions of cosmologies based upon traditional interpretations of the Bible were challenged by the development of science, whether it was the demonstration of the vastness of the universe or its far greater age than imagined by those who interpreted Genesis as literal history. In this sense there was an ongoing process of accommodation and reinterpretation. The scientific revolution had accelerated the pace of discovery, and thereby of this accommodation and reinterpretation. But it had a long prior history. Augustine had, at the end of the fourth century A.D. wrestled with the meaning of the first chapters of Genesis. Lest incorrect interpretation and ignorant Christian speech be the cause of ridicule by a more knowledgeable unbeliever, he warned against jumping to conclusions and said he had "explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation."223
It certainly was not the case that religion and science were thought non-overlapping magisteria. The Bible was widely taken as a serious guide to life, in respect of morality, yes, but also in respect of history, politics, cosmology, and much else. What the virtuosi recognized was that much of what passed for Christian theology, particularly in areas that overlapped with empirical philosophy, was not Biblical, but Aristotelian. Moreover, they saw that there was a much more fruitful approach to understanding the empirical world than the scholastic logic-chopping that characterized the schoolmen. This new empirical approach was also supported by a fully Christian perspective that Bacon had expressed as "... let no man, upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy;"224. Both of the two books, scripture and nature, according to this widespread viewpoint, told of God's majesty and complemented each other in what they revealed to the scholar. It was of course held that the two books could not contradict one another, but it was not at all the view that their concerns were non-overlapping. When overlapping claims seemed incompatible, it called for reinterpretation either of the science or of the Bible.
The early development of the field of Geology, representative of late eighteenth century concerns, is full of interesting examples of intellectual conflict and confrontation, such as the competition between uniformitarian and catastrophist theories of the earth's past. But as has been amply documented225, the conflict was predominantly not what has often been portrayed: between hidebound scriptural literalists and open-minded scientists; it was between rival scientific interpretations held by equally religious, and equally scientific, advocates.
By the nineteenth century this process was two-hundred years on. The more directly concordist approach, of which Thomas Burnet's work is an early example, was much less plausible in 1890 than it had been in 1690. Not only had science discredited the details of so many such concordist efforts, but also the hoped-for convergence of the two books into a unified picture of the world did not seem to be happening. Science seemed to be progressing toward a comprehensive description of the universe without any assistance from scriptural revelation. And it increasingly strained credulity to suppose that reading the first two chapters of Genesis as natural history - even a highly stylized natural history - was compatible with what seemed to be established by the natural sciences. The disappointment of the simplistic concordist expectations did not greatly perturb Christians who based their faith on historic revelation, the broad sweep of philosophical arguments, and personal experience. And many scientists took this approach. It did, however, seriously undermine a strand of Christian thought and apologetics that had adopted natural theology, and the argument from design, especially in biology, as its primary rationale. The presumption that science was going to prove religion was, in effect, a subverting concession to scientism. It had led many Christian thinkers into a blind alley whose end was approaching. There seemed no prospect that this proof was going to be forthcoming, or even that traditional arguments from natural theology were going to emerge unscathed. What seemed more plausible was that science was going to continue its triumphant progress, sorting out the details of physics and taking over more and more of the rest of intellectual endeavor, until it fully unified and actually monopolized knowledge. This scientistic vision allowed a determined push by the university secularizers to win the day. The century since then has seen the philosophical foundation for this monopoly dissolve away, and the compliance of the academy to the scientistic unifying ambitions also substantially decay. Yet many in academia even today speak as if the secular `defeat' of religion based upon the scientistic outlook of the nineteenth century still holds.
In fact, however, both the scientistic attempt to found religion upon scientific proofs, and also the wider expectation that science will provide a complete unification of all knowledge - the ambition of scientism as a whole - are now intellectually unsupportable. There remain many people, both theists and atheists, who don't realize it, and who continue to thrash out the old arguments. But they are trapped in a nineteenth-century time-warp.
Probably an even greater influence on the nineteenth-century religious debate than science itself was the rise of `higher criticism' sometimes called `historical criticism' of the Bible. The Reformation had transformed the Bible from a mysterious religious artifact written in an ancient language incomprehensible to the populace, into the one book that every literate person read. Catholics still granted to the church hierarchy alone the authority to interpret the Bible. Maintaining that authority, in the face of Protestant arguments and armies, was, by the way, undoubtedly a driving factor in the Papacy's handling of Galileo. But Protestant doctrine gave a much greater role to the individual conscience. The Bible was translated into the language of the common people. The first translators had no doubt about its divine inspiration. Their profound commitment was to represent faithfully its meaning in translation. Their concerns naturally led to a scholarly attempt to establish and understand the accuracy and provenance of the text of the Bible - textual criticism. But as subsequent textual criticism gradually became a critique of the supposed sources and content of scriptures, it became more and more dependent upon both linguistic analysis, seen as `scientific', and also presumptions imported from outside the Bible, from the wider realms of philosophy and science. These supposed-scientific presumptions were increasingly thought to bring into question the Bible's reliability. Eventually, it began to be analyzed by some scholars as if it were simply another book, to be interpreted by whatever were the prevailing academic standards of the day. And by then the prevailing standards were scientistic and naturalistic. It would take us too far from our theme to pursue any significant discussion of the history of historical criticism of the Bible. Today even theologically orthodox and conservative Christian intellectuals, who believe the Bible to be the word of God, acknowledge there is some value in the analysis of its authorship and dating - topics which constitute a large part the critical focus. In the nineteenth century there were deep divisions in the church and in academia about how to respond to higher criticism's challenges to traditional views of Biblical authorship. Much of the controversy arose not because of questions of scholarship, but because of the heterodox theological views of many of higher criticism's champions. For the church, the question was, justifiably enough, whether or not the critics' teaching was still meaningfully Christian. In many cases it was not. And it hardly seems unjustified in those cases for the church to discontinue its sponsorship: to give the offenders the push.
A major part of the strategy of those committed to what would now be called the liberal theological perspective, was to portray their position as scientific226. But of course hardly any of the analyses that they offered bore any resemblance to the natural sciences, or depended upon science in any significant way. Their presuppositions were indeed often scientistic. It was commonly held that miracles were impossible; so Biblical descriptions of them were, ipso facto, clearly false. Or it was believed that prophecy could never be predictive; so one could reliably date writings that referred (even obliquely) to historical events as being after the events. In general, naturalistic and physicalistic analysis became not just an important part of Bible scholarship, but by far the preferred type of explanation of the whole of the scriptures. It was a crucial part of the rhetoric to argue that the liberal position was progressive and scientific, while the orthodox position was hidebound and dogmatic. The rebuttal, though it was vociferous, was intellectually confused. Science still held a strong appeal for the orthodox. They resisted the worst excesses of the scientistic presuppositions, but were often ill-equipped to differentiate them from science. The rhetorical battle was often lost to a portrayal that the conservatives were - `once again', as A D White would have had it - blindly opposing the progress of science by their intellectual fossilization. Scientism was the ultimate victor.

9.4  Mutual support

A serious reading of history enables us to escape the mythological grip of the warfare story. When we do so, it becomes possible to recognize that Christian believers were very active in science during its modern development. We see that, while there was a small fraction of the Scientific Revolution's philosophers who entertained atheistic speculations, the majority were Christians; while there were those who in the Age of Reason adopted the anti-religious cause of the philosophes, they were by no means predominant; and while there were some Victorian scientists who thought that science had disproved Christianity, there were more who accorded an independence to scientific professionalism and research, but still personally practised a Christian commitment. In short, science and the Christian faith were not incompatible.
Scientism was adopted by influential individuals for various reasons of conviction or expedience. It had not, during the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, achieved the dominance that was present by the start of the twentieth. If we reject scientism, we find room once again for the intellectual significance of religious claims to knowledge, alongside those of science about nature.
In fact, however, history suggests that an even more constructive relationship exists between science and Christianity than mutual toleration. The thesis, as Stanley Jaki puts it, is that there is a "single intellectual avenue forming both the road of science and the ways to God. Science found its only viable birth within a cultural matrix permeated by a firm conviction about the mind's ability to find in the realm of things and persons a pointer to their creator."227
One needs to be cautious, and not claim too much for this interpretation of history. It is, like most historical theses, neither rigorously demonstrable nor universally accepted. No one is denying the influences of the historical and social environment as a whole. Key factors may include: the means of dissemination through printing, other vital technologies that were directly used in experiments, and sufficient social stability to allow time and support for science. It is extremely difficult to assess the importance of these practical influences in comparison to the influences of philosophy itself. But the argument for a strong influence of philosophical preconceptions does have considerable evidence to support it.
There are two complementary sides of this analysis. One side is the negative. It is the observation that modern science did not arise in any of the civilizations except that of Europe. The other is positive. It is the observation that there are, in the world-view of Christianity228, conceptions that are hospitable to science, which in combination may provide a uniquely fertile mental habitat in which modern science first flourished. A.N. Whitehead, in 1925, put the negative side thus
There have been great civilizations in which the peculiar balance of mind required for science has only fitfully appeared and has produced the feeblest result. For example, the more we know of Chinese art, of Chinese literature, and of the Chinese philosophy of life, the more we admire the heights to which that civilization attained. For thousands of years, there have been in China acute and learned men patiently devoting their lives to study. Having regard to the span of time, and to the population concerned, China forms the largest volume of civilization which the world has seen. There is no reason to doubt the intrinsic capacity of individual Chinamen for the pursuit of science. And yet Chinese science is practically negligible. There is no reason to believe that China if left to itself would have ever produced any progress in science. The same may be said of India.229
The interesting question is why? Why didn't these great civilizations of the past produce a scientific revolution? Whitehead's answer is that these and the other civilizations that predated science, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, lacked an implicit faith, "the inexpungable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly general manner, exemplifying general principles." His "explanation is that faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology."230 According to Whitehead, moreover, it was the anti-rationality of the early modern scientists, tempered by this faith, that was the secret of their success. The scholastic philosophers that they rejected were not irrational, or anti-rational, as many modern commentators imply. On the contrary, the schoolmen were the rationalists of the day. It took the virtuoso's revolutionary - and by contemporary standards irrational - insistence on the primacy of empirical "irreducible stubborn facts", studied for their own sake, combined with the whole of society's inherited faith in the world's rationality, to germinate the new synthesis.
Historian of science, R Hookyaas, in his Religion and the rise of modern science (1972), sees it similarly. The weaknesses in Greek science, which "medieval science made no move to eliminate", needed to be corrected by "`de-deification' of nature, a more modest estimation of human reason, and a higher respect for manual labor". And he sets out to "... identify some general trends of thought in the Bible which could exert a healthy influence on the development of science ..."231 I would summarize some of these trends of thought as follows.
The Bible teaches that the world is the free contingent creation of a rational Creator - that God had free choices about how the world was to be. Such a teaching implies that the world can't be understood simply by theoretical philosophy, in the way that the Greeks thought it could and should. We need to do experiments to find out how God chose to create it. Experiments are the foundation of modern science.
The Bible teaches that God declared the Creation "good". This teaching contrasts with a common rejection of the physical as intrinsically evil or degrading. On the contrary, it is worthy of detailed study and investigation on its own merits, again motivating the empirical emphasis.
The Bible teaches that the world is not itself God. In contrast with the pantheism of the Greeks and Romans, and the nature worship of the tribal neighbors of the Hebrews, the God of Israel is eternal and transcendent. He brings forth a separate creation by his will, and upholds it by his word of power. "[N]ature is not a deity to be feared and worshipped, but a work of God to be admired, studied and managed."232 Christians can investigate the physical and biological universe without fear of violating the divine.
The Bible teaches that humans have been given a degree of authority and responsibility over the Creation. Therefore they have direct permission and duty to probe its secrets, provided they are truly acting as stewards of it, and respecting God's creatures.
The Bible teaches that human rationality is in the image of the creator. This gives us reason to believe that we are capable of understanding the creation, at least in part, despite its radical contingency. It provides a rationale for thinking that the order that we see in nature is not merely an arbitrary construction of the human mind, but is a reflection of a deeper rationality: the mind of God.
The Bible teaches that God is a steadfastly-consistent law-giver. This gives us reason to believe that we might discover general laws that govern the course of nature, interpreted as the regular orderly progress of the world in accordance with God's ordinances.
These are philosophical, and in fact theological encouragements to the work of empirical science. When contrasted with the relative scientific sterility observed in other cultures, they give reason to believe that far from being an atmosphere stifling to science, the Christian world-view of the West was the fertile cultural and philosophical climate in which science was able to grow and flourish.
Obviously science has now become largely self-sustaining. From a purely philosophical viewpoint, in the west we no longer need to be persuaded of the fruitfulness of the scientific empirical approach. An appreciation of the power of science is practically intrinsic to our cultural subconscious, and all too readily grows into a monopolistic scientism. What I wish to argue, though, is that it would make it easier to appreciate the true status of scientific knowledge if we recognize the underlying philosophical developments that served as its midwife. These extra-scientific beliefs and character traits are, I think, not irrelevant to a comprehensive account of knowledge, nor indeed to the continued health of science.
One current concern that illustrates the dependence of science on extra-scientific traits is the question of scientific fraud. Modern science has an elaborate and long-standing system surrounding the publishing of scientific work. Each scientific journal, when it receives the submission of a new article, sends out the article to be reviewed by one or more experts. Their job is to ensure that it constitutes a significant new contribution to the field of the journal, that it positions itself in relation to prior knowledge by appropriate citations, that it meets professional standards of descriptive and mathematical clarity, and that it appears to be free of egregious error. The peer review process is definitely a human and flawed undertaking. Professional and personal rivalries at times distort the results. Seminal papers are sometimes rejected. Erroneous papers are all too often accepted. But it is a process that has developed over centuries and, for all its weaknesses, provides an important contribution to the filtering and evaluation of scientific communication. Incidentally, the job of the expert referees in peer-review is almost universally carried out voluntarily and anonymously. The only reward a referee usually receives is the opportunity to read the latest paper before it is published, and the verbal thanks of the journal's editorial staff. Reviewing perhaps ten papers a year, as I and many of my colleagues do, is a contribution to the scientific enterprise that involves not insignificant effort, but is part of the normal professional life of a scientist.
Conscientious referees obviously read papers carefully to try to ensure they are free from error. What referees do not do is to read a paper with a view to detecting deliberate deception. The starting presumption of referees and editors is that the descriptions submitted are honest. It is perfectly possible for scientists to deceive themselves inadvertently, especially when their results contain random perturbing influences. The apprenticeship in science that is served through post-graduate and post-doctoral education and experience helps to train scientists to avoid self-deception by systematic application of the best practices of data collection and analysis, and of mathematical rigor. The reviewing process helps to enforce the observation of those practices. What reviewers can't easily do, though, is to detect deliberate fabrication or deceptive selection (`falsification') of data. Actually, inexpert fabrication or falsification is often easily discernible; and this helps to protect the journals from cranks and nuisance submissions; but falsification by someone who really knows a field is sometimes very hard to detect in the peer-review process. Because of science's focus on reproducibility, significant falsified results - at least results that are contrary to the actual behavior of nature - are eventually usually disproved and discounted. This correctability of science is much hailed and important, but not automatic. But in the mean time, false results can have a major impact on the field, and thereby cause extensive and costly misdirection of effort. In the case of engineering, applied science and medicine, they may lead to injury or death.
Perhaps the most famous scientific falsification of the twentieth century was the `discovery', in 1912, of Piltdown Man: a skull from Sussex, England, purporting to be the fossilized remains of a missing-link in evolution between apes and humans. Although there were puzzles and skepticism about this find from quite early on, it took over forty years for it to be definitively proven to be a fraud, consisting of a relatively recent human skull combined with a small orangutan jaw that had been stained and filed to assist with the deception233. Meanwhile, its misleading influence on research into human ancestors was substantial. There have been several high-profile cases of deliberate falsification of scientific results during the past decade or two, which have drawn the attention of the public and politicians. In a society whose public money supports most science it is fully justified for the government to demand stringent efforts to prevent scientific fraud and misconduct.
What this all illustrates is that science depends for its proper functioning on traits of individuals, and society as a whole, that are not scientific. It depends upon honesty, integrity, truthfulness, openness, and so on, which today's society finds, sometimes to its surprise, are not enforced by science. Indeed these traits are the sorts of traits that have traditionally been viewed as the province of religion. Not that religious people or organizations have any monopoly on the practice of them, but that they are moral virtues which in the west historically have been taught by Christianity, and enforced as much by the church and the moral expectations of society as they have by legal sanction. So what is clearer than ever today is that science is itself dependent upon certain virtues of individuals and society. This is an area where science and religion are plainly mutually supportive.

9.5  True contradiction

A very important result of properly rejecting scientism, but not science, is that it accords to both scientific and non-scientific rationality their full scope. And it permits them to interact fruitfully. This is true for all non-scientific thought but it is especially significant for religious thought. It is rarely the case that scientific and non-scientific approaches are completely `non-overlapping'. As I've shown already, science certainly influences religious thought, and religious thought influences science. There is nothing improper about these influences provided that they account for the intrinsic character of the different areas of, and approaches to, knowledge. What's more, these interactions need not just be at the level of encouragements or mutual support. In some cases they are going to be mutual correction, and even contradiction.
The fact that religious knowing is non-scientific does not free religion from paying attention to science's knowledge. And the fact that science can proceed without explicit reference to religion does not free it from paying attention to religious knowledge.
A religious faith that depended upon the belief that humans can routinely levitate runs directly up against the scientific demand for a demonstration. This demand is perfectly reasonable if the claim is for routine levitation , because that is in effect a scientific claim. It is a claim to a reproducible effect with sufficient clarity to be addressed by scientific tests. In such a situation science and faith might well contradict one another about the same matter. They are not non-overlapping, and most people, myself included, would regard the scientific conclusions as the cogent ones. However, a religious faith that depended upon a belief that levitation was demonstrated on one particular occasion, or by one particular historic character, does not lend itself to such a scientific test. Science is powerless to bring unique events to the empirical bar. It can of course assert that such an event is inconsistent with the normal course of nature. But such an assertion brings nothing to the discussion that we didn't already know. After all, the whole point was that this was apparently impossible under normal circumstances. Science might sometimes be able to help in the analysis of the evidence surrounding that event. The discovery of powerful electromagnets in the basement of the levitating guru, for example, might, in the light of our scientific knowledge, be highly suggestive that well-understood natural forces had been deployed in the phenomenon under discussion. This scientific interpretation would then definitely give rise to what might be decisive legal evidence in deciding whether fraud played a part in the event, as well as convincing us of what the probable explanation of it is. But the situation that is much more often encountered is that no such legal evidence is forthcoming. Then science has little or nothing useful to say.
In matters of natural history, there is also potential for true contradiction. As we've seen, even though science is rarely definitive for distinct events of the past, scientific investigation of the overall development of the universe, and the earth, is increasingly powerful. Religious believers who feel obliged to maintain, for example, that the earth is young, face justifiable scientific skepticism. The overwhelming evidence, which is woven into the fabric of our description of the world in modern physical sciences, is that the earth and the universe are billions of years old. It is possible to save a literalistic Bible chronology of a 6000 year-old earth only by supposing that God has deliberately made it look as if the earth is much older than it actually is234. This theory was most notably espoused by Philip Gosse, in his book Omphalos235 published in 1857, two years before Darwin's Origin. Gosse frames his argument around the repetitive circularity of nature, cycling through seasons and lives. Into this circle, instantaneous creation is obliged to break, but Gosse says it must do so by creating the requisite history of prior cycles. Thus Gosse concludes that Adam had a navel, even though he did not need this remnant of the umbilical cord, since he was not born. But God could create him with one, nevertheless. (Omphalos is Greek for navel.) While the view that God created the world with the appearance of age is a position that can't be logically disproved, it is theologically disastrous. It makes God into a deceiver, deliberately misleading us mortals by placing deceptive evidence into nature that leads us to think the earth is old, when `really' it is young. Even Charles Kingsley, Gosse's friend, called the idea a proposal that God had "written on the rocks one enormous and superfluous lie for all mankind"236.
It is not so much that the view is obscurantist as that it dismisses the faithfulness of God, which presumably is the main rationale for the young-earth viewpoint. The argument for a young-earth creationist position is that the Bible is the revelation of God, and that since God is faithful, his revelation is free from error; consequently the Biblical account of creation ought to be accepted as true. But if the `acceptance' advocated leads to the conclusion that God has deceived us by constructing a world that appears to be different from (older than) what it really is, we have undermined our starting premise. Such a deceiver God is not faithful; and thus we have no reason to continue to suppose that what the Bible says is inerrant.
In light of this contradiction, the intellectually consistent position for a Christian who holds a high view of Biblical inspiration, but also recognizes the compelling force of the scientific evidence, is to adopt a different `acceptance' of the creation account. It is to recognize that the scriptural account was addressed originally to an ancient and unscientific people, and expressed in context and metaphor that reflects the wider culture of that age. This is precisely the position most Christian scientists adopt. The American Scientific Affiliation, is a fellowship of Christians in science, whose members are required to assent to a statement of faith of which the first article is "We accept the divine inspiration, trustworthiness and authority of the Bible in matters of faith and conduct". In other words, these members are theologically conservative Christians who hold a high view of scriptural authority. The ASA polled its membership in 2010 on various questions concerning creation and human origins237. Approximately 86% of the respondents affirmed the statement "The universe is approximately 14 billion years old" is "supported by credible scientific evidence". Plainly science has had a very important influence on the opinions of these Christians, many of whom are thought-leaders on the topic of science and faith in their communities. Science does influence, and sometimes contradict, aspects of religion.
The influence of religion on science, beyond the philosophical and cultural encouragement we have already discussed, and the personal motivations of individual believing scientists, comes to a matter of contradiction mostly in topics where religion finds its most potent authority. The ethical and moral acceptability of scientific practices is strongly dictated by religious beliefs and commitments. Every research institution that receives financial support from the US government is required by federal law238 to have an Institutional Review Board that evaluates the use of human subjects in research. At a minimum this review board must ensure that risks to subjects are minimized, consent is obtained, the data is monitored and privacy observed, and that possibly vulnerable subjects are protected. There is therefore already in our system an acknowledgement that science practice must be subject to some ethical restrictions. The hot-button topic in the past decade in respect to ethical restrictions on research has been the question of research using embryonic stem cells. These cells, which are capable of growing indefinitely in a laboratory environment, and can differentiate into almost any body tissue, are technically very useful for biological research. It is thought that the research that they enable has the potential for producing, in the future, powerful medical treatments for deadly diseases. However, their use generally involves the destruction of a human embryo, which raises questions of great moral significance for the dignity and value of human life. Opinion is divided on where the limits ought to be drawn on this sort of research, but plainly the decisions ought not to be made on purely technical grounds. The religious component of this discussion is of immense importance, and cannot be excluded. Science, thoughtfully understood, does not have to exclude it. Scientists, who may or may not be believers themselves, can take the opinions of religious and moral philosophers seriously. Unfortunately there has been a more belligerent response from some scientists and activists, who have argued that religious viewpoints have no legitimate voice in the discussion; that purely pragmatic considerations overrule any foundational ethics; and that pragmatic, secular, ethics leads to a much more liberal attitude in the employment of these cells. One thread of this debate implies that it is somehow improper for science to be subject to religious criticism. This viewpoint often finds its rationale in a scientistic world-view. After all, if science is all the real knowledge we have, then it does seem to follow that there is nothing outside of science that can legitimately regulate the activities of science. But whether scientistic or not, an intransigent insistence of the freedom of science-practice from contradiction or constraint by non-scientific arguments, including religious ones, seems almost a mirror image of a religious fundamentalist denial of science.

In summary, then, there is an intellectual rivalry, involving mutually contradictory claims of priority and authority, that might reasonably be spoken of as warfare. This war is not between science and religion. It is between scientism and a whole lot of other routes to knowledge, including religious faith.