Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Science and Religion are both Biased and Faith-Based

Science and religion have one main thing in common. They are both influenced by subjective interpretation. They both are biased systems of thought. Thus, they both need some more humility - especially toward one another. So let me knock them off their high horse by stating the obvious. Science is not objective - and it doesn't lead to objective facts. Religion is not objective - and it doesn't lead to objective truth. Everything is subjective because everything is interpreted. And our interpretations are influenced by our culture, environment, context, etc. Therefore, there is no such thing as objective facts, truth, or observation. Reality is always shrouded in mystery. As Apostle Paul says, "we see through a glass dimly" and "know only in part." The best that either science or religion can do is interpret what they see - with their bias in store. This means that religious fundamentalists and scientific fundamentalists both make the same mistake of assuming (wrongly) they have access to The One objective "Truth." This is the topic that is making the rounds in blogs and newspapers recently. They all suggest that believing in scientific positivism might be as faith-based as believing in religion. And that suggests that science isn't inherently better or more objective than religion. I thought the following quotes were especially insightful.

Stanley Fish writes in his essay "God Talk":

"...as for the vaunted triumph of liberalism, what about the misery wreaked by racism and sexism, the sordid history of colonialism and imperialism, the generation of poverty and famine? Only by ignoring all this and much more can the claim of human progress at the end of history be maintained: If ever there was a pious myth and a piece of credulous superstition, it is the liberal-rationalist belief that, a few hiccups apart, we are all steadily en route to a finer world."

"All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment. Meaning, value and truth are not reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them. Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them."
Stanley Fish writes in his essay "God Talk 2":

"...evidence comes into view (or doesn’t) in the light of assumptions – there are authors or there aren’t — that produce the field of inquiry in the context of which (and only in the context of which) something can appear as evidence."

"...there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take placewithin hypotheses (about the way the world is) that cannot be observation’s objects because it is within them that observation and reasoning occur."

"...what is noticed and perspicuous will always be a function of what cannot be noticed because it cannot be seen. The theological formulation of this insight is well known: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11). Once the act of simply reporting or simply observing is exposed as a fiction — as something that just can’t be done — the facile opposition between faith-thinking and thinking grounded in independent evidence cannot be maintained...the epistemological critique of religion — it is an inferior way of knowing — is the flip side of a na├»ve and untenable positivism."

Paul Campos writes in his essay "The Atheist's Dilemma":

"No believer will find his faith shaken by evidence that is evidence only in the light of assumptions he does not share and considers flatly wrong."

"...evidence must always be interpreted within the context of interpretive assumptions which necessarily determine what that evidence is understood to signify, and which by their nature are themselves matters of faith."

Postmodern thinkers, such as these quoted, suggest that religion is not an inferior way of knowing. Science and religion are both biased and faith-based. And they're both important. Perhaps it's time for religion and science to sit together at the table of ideas. They both have much to teach each other - and learn from one another.

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