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the other side of the fence

May 28, 2010

[Guardian] Are religion and science incompatible?

Some scientists assert that valid knowledge can only come from science. They hold that religious beliefs are the remains of pre-scientific explanations of the world and amount to nothing more than superstition.

On the other side, some people of faith believe that science conveys a materialistic view of the world that denies the existence of any reality outside the material world. Science, they think, is incompatible with their religious faith.

I contend that both – scientists denying religion and believers rejecting science – are wrong. Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.

The scope of science is the world of nature: the reality that is observed, directly or indirectly, by our senses. Science advances explanations about the natural world, explanations that are accepted or rejected by observation and experiment.

Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.

Science has nothing to say, either, about religious beliefs, except when these beliefs transcend the proper scope of religion and make assertions about the natural world that contradict scientific knowledge. Such statements cannot be true.

People of faith need not be troubled that science is materialistic. The materialism of science asserts its limits, not its universality. The methods and scope of science remain within the world of matter. It cannot make assertions beyond that world. (read)

Francisco J. Ayala

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