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October 29, 2006

Relgion and Science -- 5

Michael Shermer, the man behind Skeptic magazine, proposes this "three-tiered model on the relationship of science and religion":

1. CONFLICTING-WORLDS MODEL. This "warfare" model holds that science and religion are mutually exclusive ways of knowing, where one is right and the other is wrong. In this model, the findings of modern science are always a potential threat to one's faith and thus they must be carefully vetted against religious truths before acceptance; likewise, the tenets of religion are always a potential threat to science and thus they must be viewed skeptically.
2. SAME-WORLDS MODEL. More conciliatory in its nature, this position holds that science and religion are two ways of examining the same reality; as science progresses to a deeper understanding of the natural world it will reveal that many ancient religious tenets are true.
3. SEPARATE-WORLDS MODEL. On this tier science and religion are neither in conflict nor in agreement. Today it is the job of science to explain the natural world, making obsolete ancient religious sagas of origins and creation. Yet, religion thrives because it still serves a useful purpose as an institution for social cohesiveness and as a guide to finding personal meaning and spirituality.

Shermer, like Richard Dawkins, seems a natural partisan of the first and more aggressive model. However, he gives some credit to the third model. Too much?

The problem with attempts at blending science and religion may be found in a single principle: A is A. Or: Reality is real. To attempt to use nature to prove the supernatural is a violation of A is A. It is an attempt to make reality unreal. A cannot also be non-A. Nature cannot also be non-nature. Naturalism cannot also be supernaturalism. Believers can have both religion and science as long as there is no attempt to make A non-A, to make reality unreal, to turn naturalism into supernaturalism.
The Separate-Worlds Model is the only way to do this. Thus, the most logically coherent argument for theists is that God is outside of time and space; that is, God is beyond nature -- super nature, or supernatural -- and therefore cannot be explained by natural causes. This places the God question outside the realm of science.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at October 29, 2006 11:31 PM


I think there are two glaring instances where the Seperate-Worlds model fails.

1. Interaction.
If god interacts with the natural universe (miraculous events), it would be measurable by the Scientific method, and no longer entirely supernatural, but at least partially natural. This would brake the "A cannot also be not-A" axiom. Since most religions claim their deities do (or did at one time) interact with the universe, they have to explain this blending of natural and supernatural if they want to claim the Seperate Worlds model is true.

2. Ensoulment
For us to have immortal souls, we must be both natural and supernatural. We have to have both a detectable, measurable bit (our bodies) and an undetectable, unmeasurable bit (the soul). We become both natural and supernatural, and the same axiom of the Seperate-Worlds model is challenged.

Posted by: Crosius at October 30, 2006 9:33 AM

One has to make assumptions just to ask the question; does God exist? One has to assume there is a void to be filled by an answer to that question. Only after that leap of faith can one divide people into the believer/non-believer paradigm.

The question splits the universe. The question invades the space of importance with irrelevance.

Instead, imagine a world of people divided into those who think those assumptions into being and those who do not. In that universe one can assume there is no void, there is no question of the existence of any God(s).

I choose to believe this worldview, question/no question, makes it possible to find peace in a world filled with questions. It is a more elegant place where relevance is priority; how can I best deal with the world I create and how can I best create the world in which I must deal?

Nothing saves us from our paradox of reality.

Posted by: Jay Saul at October 30, 2006 1:12 PM

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