Science and religion operate in different domains

From “10 Things Your Pastor Wants to Tell You.” P. 7

Religion deals with what theologian Paul Tillich called ‘ultimate concerns’ — abstract philosophical questions such as what the nature of life is and why we are here. Religion seeks meaning, purpose, and moral truth, not physical knowledge.

Science, on the other hand, seeks to understand the natural, observable world around us. Unlike religion or philosophy, the claims of science are falsifiable. That is to say, they are capable of being proven or disproven. Scientific progress is only made as its hypothesis are rigorously tested, analyzed, and refined.

While science asks us to accept nothing on faith, religion asks little else. No one can prove whether there is one God or many gods or whether God’s spirit is alive in a particular human being, but we can most certainly prove whether the earth is six thousand years old or six billion years old. In short, science is an essential tool to understanding the world in which we live. Science cannot, however, tell us how to live or answer our ultimate questions.

As dominant as science has become in our world, we might be tempted simply to discount anything that is impervious to its probing finger, including religion, but that would be a mistake. The truth is that the things we care about most deeply — starting with love — lie beyond the reach of science.

Consider again the question of origins. If, for example, scientists are able to take us back to a big bang, nagging questions remain. Why did it all happen in the first place? For what purpose? What does it all mean? How should we then live? Only the philosophers and theologians can help us here.

Occasionally scientists venture outside their discipline and into the realm of theology. Carl Sagan was guilty of this when he opined that the cosmos ‘is all there was, is, or ever will be.’

Says who? Or, better yet, prove it!

When scientists give in to the temptation to address ultimate concerns, the result is ‘scientism’ — philosophy masquerading as science. Sagan’s statement is no more scientific than that of the fundamentalist preacher who claims that God created the universe in six twenty-four hour days.

Similarly, religion can masquerade as science. Consider the Christians who ask public schools to give ‘balanced treatment’ to creationism and evolution. Creationism is not an alternative scientific theory. It is a nonfalsifiable claim that a divine being intervened in the natural order to create life. Calling a cow a billy goat doesn’t make it one, and calling creationism ‘intelligent design’ doesn’t make it any less religious. It’s still a nonfalsifiable claim that a supernatural force (which by definition is one coming from outside the natural order) accounts for life on earth. Intelligent design is just creationism in a suit.

When science and religion stick to their respective realms, all of society benefits. Science helps us understand the world around us, and religion helps us make sense of it all.

In this case, good fences really do make good neighbors.”

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