University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne has an interesting post over at Why Evolution Is True, which hits on something I care a lot about: science and religion. Specifically whether they go together or not. Coyne mentions two posts from the New York Times blogs, one against naturalism and one in favor of it. Neither of them are very interesting in my opinion. But Coyne summarizes part of the second one (the one in defense of naturalism) thus:
Science wins because it works. That’s a quote from Stephen Hawking, and Rosenberg, like me, agrees: we can ground a philosophical naturalism in the remarkable success of methodological naturalism in helping us understand nature, and the abject failure of any other methodology, especially religion, to find the truth…
This is called a false dichotomy. Pick two things, say they oppose each other, and that you must choose one or the other. (And Coyne informs you which one to choose, if you didn’t notice.)
Yes, science “wins” because it works. And if we remember that science is an offspring of a particular metaphysical view, then we come to see that the fact that science works is actually a very good thing for Christianity. It makes theists “win” too.
Science has a metaphysics under it. Yes, a set of assumptions that are not subject to experimental testing of any sort. Science relies on quite a few metaphysical premises in order to operate, such as beliefs that the world is good (therefore worthy of study), real (not an illusion), rational, orderly, homogeneous, not sacred (it is a creation, not the sacred creator itself), investigable by the human mind (which is imago Dei), not logically necessary but contingent (therefore requiring empirical investigation, not only pure logical thought), and that truth ought to be shared freely.
These are all metaphysical premises drawn from the environment that created science: a religious environment that started separately with Aristotle and the ancient Hebrews, joined and moved through Christianity and Islam, and culminated in the medieval and Renaissance West.
The fact that “science works” (which has somehow become a taunt of the new atheists, see Coyne say it in another place here) is actually great for Christianity because it shows our metaphysical assumptions – and therefore our theology insofar as it informs those assumptions – produces a science that works! It’s really very good.
But Coyne doesn’t know that. So he says this:
Religion has an epistemology, too: dogma and personal revelation (seasoned with wish thinking) but in thousands of years it hasn’t vouchsafed us one bit of verifiable knowledge about reality.
This is a ridiculously ignorant caricature of religion. All about dogma and personal revelation (oh, and wish thinking), huh? Because actually religion has vouchsafed us at least one bit of “verifiable,” or perhaps “working,” knowledge. It’s called the scientific method.