Religion and Science: a View

Earlier this year Terry Kelly was  interviewed by the RoyalAuto . It was a great opportunity to get the skeptical message out to the wider community.  However, with such a large readership the article was bound to have some detractors.

One letter took Terry to task for his views on religion and science, in particular the statement:

But really, science and faith are contradictory.

With due respect to the author of that letter, we’re not going to reproduce it.

We thought Terry’s response was worth posting.

President, Terry Kelly

Dear (RoyalAuto Reader),

Thank you for taking the time to write and I am pleased you read the article in RoyalAuto. While there were some hostile letters published afterwards, and a supportive one, I have to say that we have had a lot of formal and informal positive response. Several people I’ve spoken to expressed surprise that the article could be considered controversial at all. You may be alarmed to learn that a hell of a lot of people think like I do.

To address some of your points :  I know a lot of Scientists had/have religious and other superstitious beliefs. I think Newton believed in astrology, for example. My point is that religion and science are very different ways of attempting to understand the world. I’m a little offended (but not surprised) that you suggested that the opinion that science and faith are contradictory is “arrogant and ignorant”. Science is based on evidence and controlled testing, replication and academic rigour and scientists try to disprove their own hypotheses. Faith at times attempts to overcome evidence that is contrary to a belief. St Augustine was one of the most influential advocates of the attitude that faith, not rational thought, always had the final word. When people with religious beliefs (such as Copernicus) were making their discoveries they were practising science, not religion. Copernicus didn’t make his discoveries by praying. He did it by practising science. I don’t see how both can be applied together. You can’t play a guitar and drive a car at the same time. One activity impedes the other. They can be done separately but not practised simultaneously.

Science and religion can co-exist but one has to compartmentalise them to make that happen – sort of a cognitive dissonance. How much scientific truth was revealed in the Bible?  It is full of blatant absurdities and is often self-contradictory. The Bible reflects a pre-scientific outlook.

And what of the dreadful traumas Galileo had to go through at the hands of the church which considered itself the holder of truth and knowledge at the time?

While Mary Mackillop was undoubtedly a great person (and something of a rebel and an iconoclast), when the church declared that she had performed miracles, after her death, the church was practising religion, not science. While it was a great PR exercise for the Catholics, it further reduced the church’s credibility within the scientific community. The so-called scientific proof the church accepted was a joke.

As you rightly point out “there are many highly qualified and respected scientists today who are believers in the concept of God or a Spirit Creator”. But there are not, relatively speaking, as many as there used to be.  The percentage of atheists amongst scientists is much higher than in the average population. Being a scientist is more likely to make you a non-believer but, also, people from a non-religious background are more likely to become scientists in the first place. More and more people are finding the two very different approaches incompatible.

Personally, I am not antagonistic to religious people. My mother goes to church. A friend of mine is a Uniting Church Minister (he went to Assumption College and, interestingly, joined the UC later). Many of my friends still go to church and take their kids. I just happily don’t go with them.

In the RoyalAuto article I did not mention the violence and sexual abuse that I observed and experienced from clergy at Assumption College. While there were some wonderful teachers, there were some scum too. And the church protected them. My understanding of this is that the church has perceived itself to be above the law. The “revealed wisdom” from God overrides science and human made laws and the transgressors must be forgiven, protected and enabled to continue God’s holy work. This is changing, but very slowly and only because of outside pressure. Interestingly, Assumption, like most catholic schools, has hardly any clergy on staff any more. The violence and abuse didn’t exactly turn me off religion at the time, but it did foster a healthy scepticism about authority figures. An early turning point for me, actually, occurred in a Form 1 religion class when the teacher (a paedophile as it turned out) was banging on about how “God could do absolutely everything” until a 12-year-old asked him if God could draw a square circle. The teacher duly backed down and modified his statement. “Repeatedly science has modified religion, never vice versa” (Lewis-Williams in “Conceiving God” p289).

I should also tell you that I have the distinction of getting 100% for Religion, not once but twice. In the Form 2 Term 1 exams I got 100. In Term 2 I got 100 again. How does a 13-year-old kid get 100% for religion? Well, I was cute looking, innocent, fairly good at writing and bulldusting and the teacher was a paedophile and he fancied me. I only got 93% in Term 3…by which time that Teacher had been surreptitiously shuffled off to another state. Probably to re-offend.

You and I possibly agree on more things than you might think. As a Christian I’d be willing to bet that you probably don’t give much credence to astrology, or re-incarnation, or past-life regression, or the notion that an angel dictated the whole of the Koran to an illiterate peasant in a cave, Rastafarianism (they worship Haile Selassie), Hinduism, psychics, charlatan spoon-benders etc, etc, etc. Am I right? I’d suggest that you might be sceptical about everything except your own beliefs. It’s just that I’m sceptical about your beliefs too.

To me religion is a bit like an addiction. It’s very hard to give up. Even more like a gambling addiction than a drug addiction because of the powerful and insidious impact of “intermittent re-inforcement”. I gave up religion in much the same way I gave up smoking…gradually and relatively painlessly. I can tell you it was incredibly liberating. No more fear of everlasting punishment for wrong-doing or rewards for goodness. Just do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. My inspiration is, lately, Huckleberry Finn (via Mark Twain)… “All right then I’ll GO to hell” he said (p283) when deciding not to turn his black friend over to the slave owners. He actually had to overcome his conscience and the conventional morality to act out of pure love and compassion. And he didn’t need a vengeful god to make him do it. He defied god and acted better for doing it.

You make the peculiar statement that “whilst evolution may not have been taught there at Parade, neither was evolution excluded”. Huh? I would have thought that not teaching it was excluding it. Whatever. I find it inexcusable that religious schools do not always teach evolution properly. In fact keeping “Creationism” out of Science classes was one of the early reasons for the Skeptics’ existence. The battle is still going on. We’ve had Science Teachers from Catholic schools speak at our events and they do still have to struggle to teach Evolution at times.

I have been a Social Worker for almost 30 years. I work for a public hospital in aged care. Before that I was an English Teacher. I even taught at a Catholic school for a while, even though I was an atheist. I am very tolerant and accepting of people (in fact I really enjoy them) but I am less accepting of some of their ideas and beliefs. I don’t think it was “arrogant and ignorant” of me to represent my organization and tell part of my personal story as openly, honestly and sincerely as I could in a short interview. I was attempting to perform a public service by encouraging scientific literacy in the general public, one of the main aims of the Australian Skeptics.

I know what you mean when you say “common sense does not always hold the truth”. Scientific findings may, indeed, be counter-intuitive. But I prefer the scientific approach to seeking truth to the religious, faith based, received knowledge one.

Yes, I am biased. I am biased in favour of Science rather than religion which has been, I have to say, fairly disappointing. My views are open to change if the evidence is good enough and the “experts” credible enough. Religion just isn’t producing much good evidence.

It certainly wasn’t a biased article, though. It wasn’t intended to be a balanced debate about religion. It’s in the “People” section. Several different people are presented each edition and their stories are told, not the RACV’s. They reflected my approach pretty well. In fact, whatever bias the writer or editors may have is not apparent. They are to be congratulated for that. It was just a well – written, intriguingly photographed story which presented a reasonable picture of what the Skeptics, and me, are on about.  In future they may choose to do stories on people with religious beliefs. But you may have to put up with RoyalAuto producing more stories you don’t agree with. They seem to be trying to make the magazine more interesting. And atheists drive cars too, you know.

The Australian Skeptics is not essentially an anti-religious organization, actually. We focus more on the claims made by religious people. They are treated in the same way as any other “paranormal” claims. So far, no paranormal claim has stood up to scientific scrutiny.

Finally, I’m not sure I’d want to go to heaven, even if it existed. I couldn’t trust God. He seems too cruel and capricious and unpredictable. And hell for me would be to be in heaven knowing some of my friends were in hell.

Regards,

Terry Kelly.

11 Responses to Religion and Science: a View

  1. What science, religion, Hawkins or Dawkins thought impossible has happened. History now has it’s first fully demonstrable proof for faith. And coming from outside all existing faiths, clearly has ‘tradition’ in the cross hairs. Quoting from an online review:

    “The first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged is now a reality. A teaching that delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, direct cause and effect, evidence based truth embodied in experience. For the first time in history, however unexpected or unwelcome, the world must contend with a claim to new revealed truth, a moral wisdom not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rational and justifiable belief! ”

    If confirmed and there appears a growing concerted effort to test and authenticate this material, this will represent a paradigm change in the nature of faith and in the moral and intellectual potential of human nature itself;  untangling the greatest  questions of human existence: sustainability, consciousness, meaning, suffering, free will and evil. And at the same time addressing the most profound problems of our age.

    And if those who claim to be of an Enlightenment mind are unable to comprehend or appreciate this change in the historical faith paradigm, to one that conforms precisely to criteria subject to test and scrutiny, then their own ‘claim’ to rationality is no more than pretension nor better then those theological illusions they find so abhorrent.

    A unexpected revolution appears to be under way. More info at http://www.energon.org.uk

  2. scott says:

    Interesting correspondance, I do think it is a bit of a cheap shot to only post a reply on the site without including the original letter, as a scientist I consider that to me in the least data choosing and condescending.
    After all is not the *point* of skepticism and the scientific method to consider all the observations?

    Literary interpretations of the bible aside ( No logical person can intepret the bible as a literal recording of historical events) faith, not religion is still very prevalent amongst all societies on the planet.
    As we become more and moreskeptical of major religions, due to incidents of rampant profiteering, paedophillia and the like many people are also choosing to maintain believe in a higher power, without relying on the interpretation of another. This more is the development of personal observation and understanding, and is wholly faith based and unprovable as the faith becomes truly subjective.
    Within the freedoms of our society which allows a freedom to believe in anything so long as it doesn’t encrouch on the freedom of another this faith can be used to support those phenomenon which are unable to be explained by science… yet.
    Thus within the two separate and distinct methods, faith and science, we can develop an understanding or the world around us and our place within.

    • malvickers says:

      Errr…Scott. It’s simply that the author of the original letter to Terry didn’t give us permission to publish. Thanks for your interest however.

  3. Terry Kelly says:

    Further to Mal’s comment. The original letter was a private one to me, not a comment on our website. We don’t have permission to publish it. The basis of the letter was in relation to my comment that I find religious faith and science contradictory. The letter gave examples of people who were prominent scientists, e.g. Copernicus, who had religious beliefs and also practised science.

  4. Terry Kelly says:

    In relation to Robert Landbeck’s comments: I spent a lot of time trying to work out what you were saying then I went to the website mentioned “energon”. I was trying to work out what was being said there (big words, convoluted sentences and vague meanings don’t necessarily equate with depth and profundity for me) and then I came across something about “Jesus The Christ”.
    Interestingly this website, in support of whatever it’s saying, quotes several poets and writers, and even The Who (special favourites of mine). I’m on board with poets and writers and musicians – far more wisdom and insight there than in religious tracts, I reckon. I loved how there’s a quote from Mark Twain, well known for his opposition to racism, militarism and religion. And Lenny Bruce – Jewish, died of an overdose, arrested for obscenity, performed in strip clubs…not much of a “Jesus The Christ” man, probably. My favourite song by “The Who” is “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which is probably my skeptics motto. I probably will be, though, being human. But not by “energon”.
    You say “demonstrable proof for faith”. Well I don’t need “proof for” it, I know people have it. I just think it might be misplaced. Your claim seems to fit one of the Skeptics criteria “…if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true”.

  5. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

    I give Radhasoami Faith view of Creation Theory. In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by His Holiness Soamiji Maharaj the August Founder of Radhasoami Faith the details of creation and dissolution has been described very scientifically. It is written in this Holy Book: Only He Himself (Supreme Father)and none else was there. There issued forth a great current of spirituality, love and grace (In scientific terminology we may call this current as gravitational wave). This is called His Mauj (Divine Ordainment). This was the first manifestation of Supreme Being. This Divine Ordainment brought into being three regions, viz., Agam, Alakh, and Satnam of eternal bliss. Then a current emerged with a powerful sound. It brought forth the creation of seven Surats or currents of various shades and colours (in scientific terminology we may call it electromagnetic waves). Here the true Jaman or coagulant was given (in scientific terminology this coagulant may be called as weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force). Surats, among themselves, brought the creation into being.

    These currents descended down further and brought the whole universe/multiverse into being i.e. black holes, galaxies etc. were born.
    .

    Newton said the speed of gravity is infinite but according to Einstein (and some nifty interstellar measurements), it most certainly is not.

    But Newton is right.

    We know that even the light cannot escape black holes. Why? There is only one possibility that gravitational force pulls light with greater speed than the speed of light. The speed of gravitational wave is many times higher than the speed of light at black holes. On Earth gravity is subordinate to electromagnetic wave but on black holes electromagnetic wave is subordinate to gravitational force.

    The Universe includes everything that exists. In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars. These stars are distributed in the space in huge clusters. They are held together by gravitation and are known as galaxies. Sun is also a star. Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force. Gravitation force is the ultimate cause of birth and death of galaxy, star and planets etc. Gravitation can be considered as the cause of various forms of animate and inanimate existence. Human form is superior to all other forms. Withdrawal of gravitational wave from some plane of action is called the death of that form. It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’. Gravitational Field is the supreme soul (consciousness) and its innumerable points of action may be called as individual soul (consciousness). It acts through body and mind. Body is physical entity. Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system. Electromagnetic waves are its agents through which it works. This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction. This can remove misunderstanding between science and religion and amongst various religions. This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.
    .

  6. malvickers says:

    Hi Anirudh
    “In Sar Bachan (Poetry) composed by…” Poetry, might sound wonderful, might be deeply moving but it is not science, for example, can the claims made in this poem be falsified? I suspect not, which makes it simple assertion, not science.

    “It is written in this Holy Book” Ah yes, but there are holeyer than holeyer words in existence, that out holey any words so far written, they can be found on this blog :-)

    “Newton said the speed of gravity is infinite…” I’ve read a number of Newton’s biographies and I don’t recall seeing that statement, could you give me an exact reference please? Newton was also well known for having wasted a lot of his time perusing alchemy and astrology. Most of Newton’s writings in these areas where never published, Newton understood it wasn’t science.

    “On Earth gravity is subordinate to electromagnetic wave but on black holes electromagnetic wave is subordinate to gravitational force.” Hug? What do you make of Hawking radiation from black holes?

    “Various members of the solar system are bound to it by gravitation force.” Err… I would say all members of the solar system are bound to the sun by gravity, it’s actually what defines the solar system.

    “It can be assumed that gravitation force is ultimate creator. Source of it is ‘God’.” – assertion without evidence.

    “Gravitational Field is the supreme soul…” Hug? “Mind can be defined as the function of autonomic nervous system.” Hug?

    “This can be realized through the practice of meditation and yoga under qualified meditation instruction.” Oh… now it get it! And how much do these meditation courses cost? A lifetime contribution to the faith perhaps?

    “Radhasoami is a faith….” Wikipedia.

    All that you say so far confirms Terry’s original statement; science and religion are contradictory. In some places you are making statements that are confirmed by experiment and observation – “In the Universe there are billions and billions of stars”. However you’re appropriating science for your own use, it doesn’t make your faith scientific because you make some science based statements.

    “This is the gist of all religious teachings – past, present and future.” Very grandiose, evidence free statement, rather typical of religious dogma, and now for my grandiose statement – once you’ve conned someone out of thinking for themselves and being skeptical, their wallet will follow. You can quote me on that :-)

    Thank you for taking the time to comment Anirudh, however I’m not yet convinced by your arguments.

  7. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

    Thank you very much Malvickers for your very nice response to my comments. It does not matter whether one agrees to others view point or not. But it is important how a person reacts to others. You are excellent Mr Malvickers.

    Good luck, best wishes

  8. Terry Kelly says:

    Good response, Mal. My understanding is that the First Law of Science says something along the lines that for every observable effect there is a physical cause. Hence the contradictory approaches of Science, religion and superstition.

  9. Anirudh Kumar Satsangi says:

    Modus Operandi of Radhasoami Faith View of Creation – Part II
    Here the true Jaman (coagulant) was given. The spirituality coagulated as it were, and Surats (spirit entities), among themselves, brought the creation into being. Thereafter, another Jaman (coagulant) was given. Regions from Agam Lok (Inaccessible Region) to Sat Lok (True Region) were created during the first creational process. That creation is true. That region is eternal. There is no trace of evil and suffering. This was the creation for many Yugas and ages. Then there appeared a dark coloured current
    That current appeared like a dark coloured stone set in a white one and was absorbed in the Darshan of True Being. Then there appeared two Kalas i.e. currents (viz. Niranjan and Jyoti) and they together evolved the creation of five Tattwas (elements) four Khans (species, categories of life) and three Gunas (qualities). The three Gunas (qualities) brought about the expansion and proliferation . They created Rishis and Munis (sages and holy men), gods and godly human beings and demons. Egotism then increased much. Niranjan separated himself from the rest, putting the burden of looking after the creation on them. Nobody could know of Niranjan. Even the Vedas referred to Him as Neti Neti (Not this, Not this). They did not get Darshan (Vision) of Niranjan. They made conjectures. Then how can anybody have knowledge of Sat Purush (True Being), Source of Niranjan and all that exists. (Source: Sar Bachan Poetry)

    Scientifically here Jyoti represent three Fundamental Forces of Quantum Mechanics i.e. electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force and strong nuclear force. NIRANJAN is the fourth Fundamental Force i.e. Gravitation Force.

    • Terry Kelly says:

      Come again? How does “spirituality coagulate”? …”Scientifically”?… It seems that the process of “creation” created “evil and suffering”. So much for “Creation”.

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