The Church of Science

September 29th, 2008

I happen to think this temple of science, called the Atheon, in Berkeley,CA is a terrible idea. However, I do understand where the idea comes from.

Anyone involved in science these days is well aware of the gulf between science and religion. It is a gulf that has been apparent since before Copernicus revived the theory of heliocentrism, since before Galileo was punished by the Catholic church for teaching it as truth.

Religion is doctrine for a belief system based on mythology. The mythology was necessary in a time before science to explain the world, and doctrine to create order amid chaos. Science, as a tool to understand the world around us, slowly chips away at the myths. Of course, this is threatening to many religions. If the myths weaken substantially will the doctrine have any basis for control?

So, for ages there has been a perceived conflict of interest between science and religion. Fine, but does it really have to be such a deep and wide rift? I for one agree with those who think that science and religion both have their places in this world, their own jobs to do. And, I’m normally a champion of projects that try to make peace between the two.

This project in Berkeley, though, is getting in the way of that kind of progress. Science is not religion. It’s hard enough to teach people that science is simply a tool without so-called artists actually going out and promoting it as religion. This way of thinking is part of the problem rather than leading to a solution.

Religions that fight science are afraid that science wants to replace them with a purely scientific institution. How many times have I heard people refer to the Church of Darwin, or talk about scientific dogma? This use of words promotes the idea that science is thought of as a religion.

Science is a tool, a methodology, for examining the universe, not a belief system. It is a mistake to equate the two.

9 Responses to “The Church of Science”

  1. Ike on September 29, 2008 4:12 pm


  2. Ed on September 30, 2008 1:00 am

    A lot of bloggers I interact with are Evangelical Christians. They did not understand that science, as I described it, was a process, not a system of belief. Once we discussed this point they had no trouble understanding it.

    I have not been in school in over 50 years, but it would appear that we still need to improve how we teach science, starting with what it is.

    For me the most important point is too teach kids how to conduct experiments, create a test, to validate a theory. I want young students to not be afraid to challenge any theory, even evolution, as long as they understand how the process of validating an idea works.

  3. Tim on September 30, 2008 4:34 pm

    Can I get an amen? 😉 Well said.

  4. Ruth on September 30, 2008 10:07 pm

    I agree with you that this project could very well be one that gets in the way of any kind of breaching of the gap between science and religion that we can conceive of. It’s more likely to make the rift that much larger. A better example of bridging the gap is Healing the Rift by Leo Kim, scheduled to be released in October. Kim’s book and blog provide a really insightful look at how the conflicts between science and spirituality can be resolved through the blending of mind and spirit. If you get a chance to check it out, I think you’d find it an interesting read.

  5. Logan on October 1, 2008 8:13 pm

    A “myth” can be defines as story attempting to define or explain the inexplicable. Inexplicable at the time the story is told at any rate. While most people now days don’t believe in actual gods, heroes, and supernatural forces, there are still ideas that fit the definition.

    “TOE”, whether string, quantum gravity or mandala are mythic in that they are -currently- unprovable ideas attempting to explain the -currently- inexplicable.

    Theories about what came before the Big Bang are myth. The BB itself is mythic. A creation myth no less.

    The last decimal place of Pi is mythic.

    Eventually, probably, these and others will be quantified and belief will be replaced with knowledge.

    (still hoping for more Science Word)

  6. Herman on October 2, 2008 9:22 am

    “this project could very well be one that gets in the way of any kind of breaching[sic] of the gap between science and religion”

    Breach? Do you mean broach?

    There is already a natural breach between science and religion, for they are mutually exclusive concepts. One deals with observation, fact and analysis; the other deals with woo, mythology and magical thinking. There exists no rational means of broaching the gulf between these two philosophies. In reality, the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism.

  7. Ed on October 4, 2008 2:22 pm

    Abdus Salam was a devote Muslim who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in Electro-Weak Theory. There are many other scientist who believe in God and also follow the process of Science in their work.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Abdus Salam was a devout Muslim, and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who saw his religion as integral to his scientific work. He once wrote: “The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”

    During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics, Salam quoted the following verses from the Quran:

    “ Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary. ”

    He then said:

    “ This, in effect, is the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze.[6]

  8. Eric Susch on October 6, 2008 4:42 pm

    I’ve noticed that the thing that scares religious fundamentalists most is change. Whey want the world to be static as in, “It’s all written down in this book. You don’t need to know anything else.” Science is always becoming and they can’t deal with that so they instead morph science into a static opposition to their own beliefs. They’re creating a straw man to fight head on and unfortunately most people, even scientists, fall into the trap because it’s so familiar.

    One thing I hate is when people ask me if I believe in evolution. I always respond, “It doesn’t matter if anyone believes in it or not. It’s not a religion.”

  9. Howard on October 8, 2008 9:21 am

    Very well put – science is the methodology not belief in the findings of science. This concept behind Atheon doesn’t seem to be about science, but rather worship of the findings.

    I think Ruth meant bridging not breaching.

    Atheism is just another form of religion. Whether you believe in God or believe there is no God, it’s still belief. That has nothing to do with science.

    The natural breach is between science and some religious factions who feel threatened by scientific findings that challenge their narrow-minded belief systems (granted it’s not a small number). To say that science and religion are mutually exclusive concepts just means that you have accepted their narrow-minded views. There are many who have no difficulty accepting that neither religion nor science have all the answers.

    In scientific methodology, we formulate hypotheses and theories to fit available data, then modify them as more data become available. It is sometimes difficult for us to let go of what seems to be a very good hypothesis when contrary comes along. I saw that from time to time during the time that I managed a R&D facility. People became attached to their hypothoses, developed belief in them and could not see the data that challenged them. These were examples of scientists not practicing sound scientific methodology.

    There are religious views that are not ossified and accept that human understanding of God is limited and subject to change. There were many among the founders of this country who held this sort of view. They were challenged by the same kind of religionists that seem to be so prominent today. That’s what prompted them to push so hard for separation of church and state.

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