Religion and science

POSTED: 10/15/15 3:46 PM

What is the difference between religion and science? That question came up in a column by Bert Keizer in Trouw and Ger Groot reacted to it. Keizer wrote that we do not consider religion as a physical reality. But people have been doing this for a very long time, Groot counters. Centuries have gone by before believers learned to see biblical stories as metaphors for the mystery of the human existence. And not as some sort of alternative cosmology.

This way a warm relationship between religion and science became possible, with mutual respect for each other’s truth. But the last sentence of Keizer’s column, Groot notes with dismay, disturbs that feeling that all ends well. “How it is,” he wonders, “that science, after some explanation, appeals to all people, while religions in Western Europe has a much smaller circle of clientele?”

After such a question you are gasping for breath, rather embarrassed too. All philosophy falls out of your hands because no matter how good your arguments may be, the reality has already ruled against you a long time ago. Religion is again involved in rearguard action, this time not in the field of truth but in the field of public success. Science appeals more to people, that’s the way it is.

But what is it actually that appeals so much in science? The fact that it provides knowledge about nature, you would think. But I honestly doubt that a little bit. If this were really so, then the hunger for knowledge would be larger and then the beta-courses would not have such a tough time to attract enough students. In reality that curiosity remains limited to anecdotal little facts and every now and then a nature movie on TV or a success movie in the cinema. True nature researchers remain much too scarce in the western world.

I think, Groot notes, that people’s leaning towards science is for a large part appearance or superficial. We love to use the blessings of all discoveries but you should not talk about real knowledge with most people. In fact we are still behaving as mythical as our predecessors did centuries ago.

Science therefore has more of a different function than that of pure knowledge. She has become the justification of many of our ethical and political decisions. She gives our world vision the seal of certainty and inviolability – even though this is not about scientific matters at all.

How we have to arrange our society is a political matter, but that is settled beforehand when we give it a neo-Darwinistic answer. How we have to deal with others seems no longer open for debate if we ask a socio-biologist about it. What we have to do and what we don’t have to do also becomes a fake-question if everything, according to the latest fashion, is a matter of our genes.

While religion left its claim to nature-truth to science, it unobtrusively obtained the authority over matters of world view. With the certainty and the standing of her undisputable knowledge she also was assigned authority over areas in which, strictly speaking, she had no business at all. Opposed to that religion could forget it. Not science itself, but an ideological scientism broke through the entente that seemed to promise such a clear division of tasks.

For the real science this is as devastating as the double function of worship once became for religion. A culture that has started to believe in science in an authentic religious way, must derail sooner or later. In the meantime, we are struggling with it, Groot concludes.

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