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The Boundaries of Science May 21, 2009

Posted by earthking in Uncategorized.
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While looking at different blogs, I notice a theme that keeps popping up:  science has replaced religion.  The rational has buried the irrational, and faith is no longer needed.  Some people go as far as claiming that religion is bad, and the world is better off without it.  Science has triumphed, or has it? 

With any intellectual endeavor, the purpose must be defined.  While taking a college algebra class a few years ago, a syllabus with learning outcome statements was issued on the first day.  It defined what the goal of the class was and what students were expected to learn.  It is difficult to put boundaries around science because it is such a broad discipline.  It includes biology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, micro-biology, etc.  Scientists study a lot of things, which may make it difficult to define.

Richard Dawkins wrote a book, The God Delusion.  In it, he attempts to dispel the myth of God.  I have not read the entire book, but I did read the part on the proofs of God’s existence from Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas is a saint in the Catholic Church, was a prolific writer, philosopher, and theologian.  Aquinas has five proofs that attempt to prove that a deity or God must exist.  These proofs are based heavily on metaphysics and attempt this proof from reason alone.  The idea is that anyone could arrive to the conclusion that God exists from a reasonable search, even if that person had no faith.  Back to Dawkins and his book.  Can a scientist prove without a reasonable doubt that God does or does not exist by using science?

I think we can all agree that science deals with studying stuff- trees, brains, monkeys, oceans, weather, etc.  Scientists attempt to understand better material things.  It may do this either directly or through inference.  For example, scientists did not see or observe dinosaurs roaming the earth, but they can assert their existence in the past because of fossils.  Other times, scientists can observe directly, like when studying stem cells.  However, in all scientific endeavors, scientists study material realities. 

When people try to debunk the idea of a god by appealing to science, it is using the wrong discipline.  I would compare to an  astrophysicist trying to do brain surgery- he is stepping outside his field of expertise.  Science as a whole deals with the material world by using scientific methods.  God/gods are not material beings, and so science should neither try to prove or disprove the existence of God.  This idea goes back to Aristotle, yet is still relevant today. 

Some might object- then keep religion out of science.  I would agree with those up to a point.  Religion should stay out of scientific explanations and let science do its job of trying to explain secondary and tertiary causes of things and explain how material realities operate.  However, religion can and should shape the morality of science.  The nuclear bomb has already been developed, but should it be used?  Does might make right?  Should handicapped people be killed so as to spare society a huge future expense?  These are the kinds of questions religion, and any moral authority, should attempt to answer.  Science does not study morals, nor should it. 

Science has yielded great results in the last few hundred years.  I would probably have died 3 or 4 times already had it not been for scientific advances.  We all need science to continue to advance itself.  But, religion and science need to respect one another lest the boundaries be crossed.

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