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Science and Religion: An Electronic Discussion

by Michael E. Nielsen, PhD

© 2000 Michael Nielsen
How compatible are science and religion? People have many different perspectives on this question. To some people, these are very incompatible ways of gaining knowledge, and one (either science or religion) is held to be superior over the other. To other people, they are relatively compatible--or at least complementary--ways of understanding. This topic came up as part of an email discussion list known as TIPS, a list for people who teach psychology. The discussion began when I asked the list members if they knew of any adolescent development textbooks that would be consistent with the views held at a conservative Christian religious college. (This was a question posed to me by someone who had visited my psychology of religion webpages.) What followed were several messages that discussed the idea of textbook writers having "agendas" embedded in their writing. Eventually the group's discussion turned to the theme of mixing science with religion and faith. I believe that you will find these comments interesting. I state my views at the end of this file, but I want to make it clear at the outset that I respect each of these people who contributed to the discussion. I may not agree with all of them, but I have tried to learn from each of them.

 
In case you've never participated in an email discussion list, let me first explain the general idea. Subscribers to the list send a message to a central email address, where it is then copied and sent to each of the list subscribers. The result is a large discussion, sometimes involving dozens of active participants and many different topics. It can be a very interesting way to carry on a conversation and to meet fascinating people. What you'll read now are the most interesting comments about science and religion. I have simply collected them and placed them in the sequence in which I received them. In a few cases, I have deleted from the original message a passing comment that was unrelated to this discussion; I have indicated such deletions by elipses (....). A trio of closed brackets [] [] [] separates each comment, so that you can tell more easily where one person's comments ends and where the next begins. My comments appear in italics (on Netscape; your web browser may or may not display italics), and I've also used italics to help indicate a quote.

The science and religion/faith discussion got started when one person offered the idea that our beliefs change with differing contexts, in such a way that one's beliefs in a church setting might differ from those while at work or at home. This prompted many comments that I have compiled, with the writers' permission, into the following file. Wallace Dixon was the first to respond:

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From: Wallace E. Dixon, dixon_delete_this_@nike.heidelberg.edu

I've always wondered how someone who fully accepts and preaches the tenets of science can turn around and justify belief in a religion of some form. I know lots of famous physicists do it, and I've no doubt lots of TIPSters do it too. One way to do it, of course, is to not consider it an issue, i.e., to ignore it. But other people who try to logically justify faith in their religion always end up releasing their grasp and acceptance of some component of science in the process. They might say, for example, "Faith doesn't require logic" or "Belief in the scientific method requires faith too." My mentor used to say that acceptance of the notion of genetic mutation requires just as much faith as belief in a god. ... To me, my basic core beliefs, whatever they are, would *have* to apply in *all* contexts; not just when it's convenient. This point is relevant for TIPS because I go to great length to get my students to think scientifically in *all* facets of their life, to apply scientific principles *all* the time. Now I don't mean that I tell my students they should *do* science all the time, just that they should use scientific principles in their everyday reasoning.

There, that should be enough to spark some serious contention.

Wallace Dixon

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From: Sherry A. Ferguson, sferguson_delete_this_@nctr.fda.gov

I too have a lot of trouble understanding how scientists can do this. I tend to believe in those things which have evidence of their existence - for example, I don't believe in UFO's since I've seen no compelling evidence that they exist.

Sherry A. Ferguson

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The next message suggests that in order to evaluate different methods for obtaining knowledge, we need to consider their usefulness:

From: David J. Falcone, falcone_delete_this_@aca.lasalle.edu

I only recently began following this thread so if this is a repeat I apologize.

How important is it to consider in determining the value of particular knowledge generating strategies the "use" or purpose or function of that knowledge? Scientific knowledge or knowledge gained through the use of the scientific inquiry may be of little value in many aspects of day-to-day living. On the other hand, the kinds of error-insensitive data processing which appears to be adaptive for daily survival may be a lousy way to approach learning and understanding and explaining the nature and conditions of the world and the organisms which inhabit it.

There are situations which are not resolvable ... moral dilemmas, for example, where it might very well be the case that all the data gathering in the world and all the equations to put them in won't really add much to our confidence in knowing that our eventual conclusions and actions were the "right" ones. I think democracy as a way of government and the U.S. judicial system are based on a notion that some things can never be pinned-down as absolutes and consequently, adversarial relations have been setup to allow interested parties to dance around some kind of compromise. At the same time, there are questions which we attempt to answer which appear to be "resolvable" in theory (and in practice) and here the deeper we dig the more we are able to use what we find to make a difference. No one can deny the profound changes this planet has realized because of the scientific method.

Perhaps, where we need to better articulate this landscape is in the places where we define the relationship between the nature of the inquiry and the nature of the "object" of study and the reason or hoped for objective of the whole activity of knowing.

David Falcone

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From: Noam Shpancer, noam_delete_this_@psych.purdue.edu

.... the argument that science will replace religion has been advanced many years ago, at the dawn of science and industry. the evidence, as you must perceive, is against it. science has not replaced religion. both are going strong. this may lead to one of two conclusions: 1)the people who fail to see the contradiction are fools, denial prone, unenlightened, or just plain weird. 2) the idea of the contradiction was wrong. i think the evidence favors the latter. arguing for an inherent contradiction is clinging to an outdated paradigm and a useless conceptualization of the faith-science relations. and goes against the data (did somebody say: belief perseverance phenomenon?). for a first look at a possible paradigm shift that will frame this issue in much more useful terms let me again offer the chapter on religion in Randall Collins's classic little book Sociological insights, circa 1985.

noam shpancer

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Hugh Foley responded to the comments offered by Wallace Dixon and Sherry Ferguson, who said that they did not see how a scientist can be both religious, and faithful to the philosophy underlying science.

From: Hugh Foley, hfoley_delete_this_@skidmore.EDU

Boy, you guys must be hell to shop with. Hmmm, which brand of soap should I buy? Well, I guess I'll buy a bunch of every brand available, operationally define the variables of interest (amount of lather, how long does it last in the shower, etc.), collect and analyze the data, then make a decision (and pray that no new brands emerge). Now, on to peas... ;-)

My point, obviously, is that even the most committed scientist does not *always* behave as a scientist. In fact, we regularly invoke faith in our daily lives. Moreover, we regularly invoke faith in our professional lives, which is one reason why we are outraged when we learn that a scientist has fabricated data. I certainly agree that science is a great way to learn about "the world," but science cannot *prove* that the world is all there is, because it can only assess the world, right? This strikes me as the sort of limitation on any formal system that Godel addressed.

I have a much easier time understanding how a scientist could embrace a religion (about which science has not much to say) than I can understand a scientist smoking cigarettes, eating fatty foods, being overweight, getting insufficient exercise, etc. (where science has a lot of negative stuff to say).

Hugh

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Thomas Timmerman also was prompted to reply to Wallace and Sherry's commments.

From: Thomas Timmerman, ttimmerm_delete_this_@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu

Glad you asked! Hopefully others will also answer, but this matter has consumed me for the last several years. One response to this issue was imbedded in one of the other posts in this thread. Something like "Science is the best (only?) way to discover [things about] the natural world." I agree that science is probably the best source of information about the natural world. But my experiences have led me to believe that there is more to life (and afterlife :)) than the "natural" world. I suppose it's possible (and much more comfortable) to ignore the issue (as many do) of the interaction between the natural world and "everything else," but I believe I understand myself and others much better by at least trying to think about both.

Professionally speaking, many scientists actively incorporate their "religious" (quotes because that's a dirty word to me) and their secular lives. I'm in an organization called the American Scientific Affiliation which includes hundreds of (mostly natural) scientists who are Christians. Most of them have no problem believing that God used some form of evolution to create us (Boy, I hope this doesn't turn into an evolution-creation discussion!). As for social scientists, David Myers has written a book called Psychology Through the Eyes of Faith. Hopefully, he's lurking and will chime in with his thoughts.

[Timmerman then quotes Dixon:]
> This point is relevant for TIPS because I go to great length to get my students to think scientifically in *all* facets of their life, to apply scientific principles *all* the time.

Then Timmerman continues:
Which, believe it or not, brings us back to the original theme of "agendas" and texts and teaching. Why not encourage them to decide for themselves when to think scientifically? Why do you put so much faith in science? Is someone who "preaches" that students should "think scientifically in *all* facets of their life" much different than someone who preaches that students should think Biblically in all facets of their life? (Not meant to be a flame, but it sort of puts the shoe on the other foot.)

By the way, nothing in my experience has led me to believe in UFOs.

Looking forward to reactions,

Tom Timmerman

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From: David Anderson, danders_delete_this_@alleg.EDU

There is an issue that I have been interested in concerning scientists and faith that has yet to be raised. This is an issue that has been of concern to me personally both as a former believer and as a psychologist. The question is, "Why do all cultures (as far as we know) have some kind of religious/mystical/spiritual beliefs?"

Most of the answers to this question are quite involved although one of the most interesting (and to me most compelling) trains of thought begins with some basic phenomena in perception, especially the work of Michotte on cause and effect. The idea is that just as human beings have a predisposition (built into our nervous system via Hubel and Wiesel type circuits) to provide closure in perception we have a "need" to identify causes of naturally occurring phenomena as well.

But what ever the explanation, my point is that as psychologists perhaps we might want to look at this issue from a point of view that differs from that of a chemist or a physicist.

One interesting piece of data on this issue: The highest proportion of believers is to be found among the natural scientists and the lowest among social scientists with psychologists at the very bottom. (There are lots of studies like this. There is a thorough discussion of this issue in Alcock's "Parapsychology: Science or Magic?", Chapter 2, Magic, religion, and science.)

David Anderson

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In response to Tom Timmerman's ideas, Wallace Dixon wrote the following:

From: Wallace E. Dixon, dixon_delete_this_@nike.heidelberg.edu

[Dixon first quotes Timmerman:]
>Which, believe it or not, brings us back to the original theme of "agendas" and texts and teaching. Why not encourage them to decide for themselves when to think scientifically? Why do you put so much faith in science? Is someone who "preaches" that students should "think scientifically in *all* facets of their life" much different than someone who preaches that students should think Biblically in all facets of their life? (Not meant to be a flame, but it sort of puts the shoe on the other foot.)

[Then Dixon responds:]

Well, if teaching science in a science class is an "agenda" then I suppose I'm guilty. Of course, I don't ask or even imply that students should give up religion. But there is a nontrivial difference that I think students in a science course should understand. Namely, science by definition has to remain internally consistent (or strive toward it because inconsistencies may take centuries to detect let alone reconcile) and can posit falsifiable claims about the world. The Bible is not only inconsistent, but major religious tenets (such as "God exists") are not falsifiable. I'd say that's a pretty important difference. I think I would be sabotaging my own credibility as a professor of science if I said "Science is the most accurate way we humans have for knowing things, but go ahead and accept those paranormal supernatural claims outside of this class if you want cuz they're just as accurate in knowing about the world."

And yes, when I go shopping I do "test" different brands of peas by attempting to isolate factors influencing pea quality. Don't you? I have learned, for example, that there are more stems and leaves in the cheaper Kroger Cost-Cutter brand cans of peas than in some name brand cans of peas. I also rely a great deal on data provided by Consumer Reports magazine. I read Consumer Reports regularly, and I shop according to data provided by Consumer Reports. I'm very happy with my recently purchased Eureka vacuum cleaner! Science can be applied to other aspects of life, even shopping.

Happy Thanksgiving. :)

Wallace Dixon

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Timmerman's ideas also elicited this response from Michael Scoles:

From: Michael Scoles, MICHAELS_delete_this_@cc1.uca.edu

Tom,

I routinely assign the following article to my methods classes for discussion of the relationship between science and faith:


Bernard Davis, "Scientific knowledge, moral knowledge: Is there any need for faith." Free Inquiry, Spring 1989.

Davis compares the a priori and hypothetical deductive models. The starting place for religion is postulates which remain true regardless of a conflict between observations and deductions from those postulates (i.e., faith in the postulates). Science allows for postulates to be rejected based on those conflicts. The notion that "science works" is seen as a falsifiable postulate, allowing for the method to be applied to itself.

I also assign articles on Bayesian objections to traditional hypothesis testing procedures. Those traditional procedures are examples of the hypothetical deductive method that Davis uses to characterize science. Do the Bayesian objections (e.g., application of modus tollens in probabilistic settings) apply to science?

Michael Scoles

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From: Tom Allaway, allaway_delete_this_@thunderbird.auc.laurentian.ca

David Anderson interprets the near(?)-universal human faith in some religion or supernatural system as reflecting a predisposition to perceive cause and effect. One could go on at length about the many examples of such a predisposition, from the simplest perceptual demonstrations to complex cognition. It is very real. I think the interesting question is "Why should we have evolved minds which perceive causal linkages where none exist?". To answer that question, I would suggest the following: The assumption that patterns exist even where none is perceived is a very valuable heuristic in discovering order in the world. Consider how far you'd get with the alternative ("I don't see a pattern, so there must not be one.") Our "causal bias" may occasionally lead to superstitions, but nevertheless be a good rule of thumb.

Tom Allaway

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Michael Scoles also responded to David Anderson's earlier comment about why "all cultures seem to have some kind of religious/mystical/spiritual beliefs"

From: Michael Scoles, MICHAELS_delete_this_@cc1.uca.edu

E.O. Wilson suggests that, "Religion is ultimately a product of evolution and natural selection. Above all, these feelings bind us to family and to the tribe. . . . We are religious to survive; we surrender to the tribe and its sacred rites in a gamble for both personal and genetic immortality. . . . the predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful drive in the human mind, an innate and possibly irreplaceable part of human nature."

E.O. Wilson, "Biology's spiritual products." Free Inquiry, Spring 1987.

(BTW, I do read other publications.)

- Mike

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Robert Keefer comments on specific items that Timmerman mentioned:

From: Robert P. Keefer, keefer_delete_this_@msmary.edu

[Quoting Timmerman:]
> I agree that science is probably the best source of information about the natural world. But my experiences have led me to believe that there is more to life (and afterlife :)) than the "natural" world.

Keefer responds:
I believe this is where the main problems lie; your experiences, which, apparently, you trust. Why? This actually speaks to David Anderson's point as well, when he says:

[Again quoting Timmerman]
> The highest proportion of believers is to be found among the natural scientists and the lowest among social scientists with psychologists at the very bottom.

Keefer replies:

As psychologists, we should be (and if Anderson's data are accurate, we are!) the first to acknowledge that our experiences are NOT TRUSTWORTHY, (at some times, at the very least). We know that people hallucinate, imagine things that aren't true, and in general we reject anecdote as insufficient evidence. And yet things that WE experience are somehow REAL because it's OURS. This seems especially true of religious experience/emotion.

Here's a scenario; someone has a 'religious experience' (which tend to be emotional in nature), or feels a sudden 'religious insight' of some sort. However, by definition, these experiences are not open to critical scrutiny, in that they can't be falsified. Since the experience has little/no contradictory evidence (especially in our hyper-religious culture), and provided some internal gratification, it persists.

Now, outside of religion, the same experience could exist. I would contend my experience when I finally solve some long-term problem, or have insight into a problem in my discipline, is functionally equivalent to a religious experience. HOWEVER, there are ways to prove whether my scientific insight was correct or not, or whether my solution to the problem is really a solution or not! While I might go to my grave believing I was right, if I'm a good scientist, data will convince me (usually the evidence arises quickly, in my case!) that my insight was, in fact, wrong! No matter how 'right' or 'correct' or how well it made everything else fit together and make sense, or how good it made me feel, it was wrong. THIS is why a psychologist would see science as superior to religion; it doesn't rely on individual, unfalsifiable experience.

[Timmerman:]
> I suppose it's possible (and much more comfortable)to ignore the issue (as many do)of the interaction between the natural world and "everything else," but I believe I understand

[Keefer:]

Another false assumption; that there IS an "everything else." I have no more evidence for -anything- else than I have for the tooth fairy; why should I believe/trust either one? What evidence do you have?

To put some context on my comments; it took me 33 years to break away from my early religious training and experiences, so I'm well aware of just how important and convincing these experiences can be. I'm sometimes partial to Dawkins' statement that religion is a "virus of the mind," and we know how persistent they can be, and how easily they can spread (if I can stretch an analogy....)

Robert Keefer

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From: Bob Pettapiece, Bob_Pettapiece_delete_this_@MTS.cc.Wayne.edu

I believe one issue not yet raised in this dialogue is the historical question of realm. There are certain issues which religion speaks to (existence of a god, certain morals, etc.) and there are issues of science (the existence of quarks, etc.). In the past religion has tried to do science and done it poorly and on occasion science has tried to do religion with the same results. The best course of thought is to try and let each have sway in their own realm. Now, I know some will want to discuss realms, but I am not going to get into that at this point!! Great discussion, anyway.

Bob Pettapiece

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Timmerman's note also prompted a response from Steve Flynn.

From: Steve Flynn, PSFLYNN_delete_this_@ALPHA.NLU.EDU

[Quoting Timmerman:]
>Which, believe it or not, brings us back to the original theme of "agendas" and texts and teaching. Why not encourage them to decide for themselves when to think scientifically? Why do you put so much faith in science? Is someone who "preaches" that students should "think scientifically in *all* facets of their life" much different than someone who preaches that students should think Biblically in all facets of their life? (Not meant to be a flame, but it sort of puts the shoe on the other foot.)

Tom's right in that we're back to the original point, but I fear he's missed the mark a bit. IMHO, the real issue is not whether one should or shouldn't push an agenda, because it's an inescapable fact that we ALL HAVE AGENDAS AND WE ALL PUSH THEM. From those of us who are unreconstructed positivists to those who are committed relativists, we are all going to present that which we feel to be true and correct. While the zealotry of the positivists might be easier to detect, it is no more (nor less!) an agenda than the anything-goes stance of the relativists (surely relativists are as committed to relativism as positivists are to positivism!). Thus, it is disingenuous at best to suggest (as Tom seems to) that encouraging students "to decide for themselves when to think scientifically" is to somehow bootstrap them (and oneself) above the fray of agendas. (It is not my intent to flame Tom here, and I sincerely hope he won't take this as such).

The real issue (again, IMHO) concerns disclosure, that is, the extent to which one tells students "Hey, here's where I'm coming from, and while I adhere sincerely to my beliefs/orientation, and I'm gonna work hard to convince you of the correctness of my position, you should know that there are many, many bright, sincere people out there who hold very different beliefs/orientations." A tragedy occurs when a person in power--in the present case, a professor--abuses that power by leading others to believe that she (the prof) has cornered the market on truth. And frankly, my experience has been that scientists are more guilty of failing-to-disclose than nonscientists.

This, I suspect, stems from the arrogance of surety; because the scientist is so convinced she's right, there's really no need to countenance alternative views: after all, they're wrong. (I realize I'm painting with a very broad brush here; by no means do I intend to imply that all or even most scientists are such.) What I am saying is that scientists are at least as likely to be as unyieldingly dogmatic as, say, a fundamentalist Christian. For evidence, consider (what I for one found to be) the rather sneering tone adopted by some of the more 'hard core' scientists who have contributed to this thread. And for the record, I say all this as an atheistic, radically materialist, fully committed scientist.

Let me emphasize that I am NOT suggesting that professors shouldn't push, and push hard, what they believe to their students; I agree with Allan Bloom (in *The Closing of the American Mind*) when he contends that his task as a professor is to instill prejudice, not erase it (this is about the only point of agreement between myself and Bloom!). What I am suggesting is that we owe it to our students to be as upfront as possible about the only thing we know for certain: That none of us mere mortals has special access to the Truths of the Universe, if indeed such even exists. A disquieting fact, to be sure; but then again, nobody said this education thing was gonna be easy.

As an aside: Wallace Dixon wrote, in response to a remark by Tom,
>And yes, when I go shopping I do "test" different brands of peas by attempting to isolate factors influencing pea quality. Don't you? I have learned, for example, that there are more stems and leaves in the cheaper Kroger Cost-Cutter brand cans of peas than in some name brand cans of peas. I also rely a great deal on data provided by Consumer Reports magazine.

[Steve responded to the comment, with a grin:]
Wallace my man, you must have WAY too much time on your hands! ;-) (a no-harm-intended jab at one of the better TIPSters)

steve flynn

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John Kulig quoted part of Wallace Dixon's letter, and then offered his own observations:

From: John Kulig, kulig_delete_this_@oz.plymouth.edu

[Quoting Dixon:]
>I know lots of famous physicists do it, and I've no doubt lots of TIPSters do it too. One way to do it, of course, is to not consider it an issue, i.e., to ignore it. But other people who try to logically justify faith in their religion always end up releasing their grasp and acceptance of some component of science in the process. They might say, for example, "Faith doesn't require logic" or "Belief in the scientific method requires faith too." My mentor used to say that acceptance of the notion of genetic mutation requires just as much faith as belief in a god. The post I've quoted above seems to imply that in church, Darwinian principles don't apply. To me, my basic core beliefs, whatever they are, would *have* to apply in *all* contexts; not just when it's convenient. This point is relevant for TIPS because I go to great length to get my students to think scientifically in *all* facets of their life, to apply scientific principles *all* the time. Now I don't mean that I tell my students they should *do* science all the time, just that they should use scientific principles in their everyday reasoning.

You seem to be asking me for elaboration. Ok, let me give it a spin. You are implying (? please correct if I misguess?) that students should think scientifically about Judaic-Christian biblical accounts. That's fine except it was never intended to be literal nor scientific, and to try to analyze religious myth scientifically is just as weird as a student trying to rebut Darwin by appeal to "religious perspective." The Judaic Christian creationist accounts were probably never literal even in their own time. It's likely the "formless void" refers to the periodic overflowing of the Tigris Euphrates river valley, when everything turns to mush (silt); after which everything moves toward a state of order and organization. And that's cool. It's a _symbol_ of what life is about, about our purpose, and a value statement. It says that order is better than chaos. Science may explain why rivers overflow but do not tell us that order is better than chaos, nor where we belong in the mush of silt. Some far right types in the US make the mistake of not differentiating these contexts. But that's _our_ Zeitgeist. The western world squeezes most everything into a scientific mold. That's why religious figures in the West pondered (logically) the existence of God. In Eastern Christianity you don't. You just groove on the experience, which is not logical nor easily subject to scientific investigation.

Very little of this, by the way, has to do with teaching Psychology, and I apologize for rambling. But that's what happens when your original post is short! The point I was originally trying to make was that _within_ a scientific perspective having a relativistic "anything goes" attitude is not always good. Some perspectives are better than others. Secondly, that different perspectives do exist. Science may not be the other road to truth. But acknowledgment that there's more to truth than science can provide doesn't imply that we should not teach science well.

John Kulig

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From: David Lieberman, d.a.lieberman_delete_this_@stir.ac.uk

I've found the contributions to the current thread on science and religion interesting and often impressive. My own feelings are overwhelmingly on the science side, but I do wonder if some of the pro-science contributions have overstated the objectivity of scientists in evaluating evidence. For example, Sherry Ferguson recently wrote:

"I tend to believe in those things which have evidence of their existence - for example, I don't believe in UFO's since I've seen no compelling evidence that they exist. "

There is perhaps an implication in this statement that scientists are almost wholly objective, and base their views of the world purely on evidence; if so, I think this would overstate the case. As Thomas Kuhn argued, in evaluating evidence scientists are guided by various basic assumptions about the world (paradigms), and also by their current theories. For example, if somebody told me that they had just seen a flying saucer, I would react far more skeptically than if they reported seeing a new species of butterfly: The reason is that the former observation contradicts existing knowledge and theory much more powerfully, so that I would require much more evidence to be convinced. This doesn't mean that scientists aren't guided by evidence--with enough evidence, I think most of us would accept flying saucers, ESP, or almost anything else (and some of physicists' current beliefs about the subatomic world seem to me far weirder than any of these)--but rather that existing evidence and theory do play a role in how we interpret new evidence. Put another way, I think we act as Bayesians, taking account of existing beliefs in interpreting new evidence, rather than focusing solely on the evidence currently before us.

I think scientists are guided by evidence in a way that no other intellectual discipline is, and that in the long run this makes science by far the most productive method for obtaining knowledge. In the short-term, however, I think our evaluations of evidence are affected by our beliefs. In the area of learning theory, for example, the theoretical zeitgeist for many years was behavioral/associative, and cognitive interpretations were frowned on. More recently, the pendulum has swung strongly the other way. Whichever view is ultimately supported, I think these theoretical frameworks have affected the interpretation of evidence. In the associationist environment of the 30's, for example, evidence that rats could form cognitive maps of their environments received relatively little attention, whereas similar evidence in the more cognitive atmosphere of the last 20 years received far more. In the long-term, I think the scientific process largely "averages out" the noise contributed by personal beliefs, but at the molecular or individual level, I think these beliefs do influence our evaluations of evidence.

If so, then the gap between scientists and believers may also not be as great as it sometimes seems. This is not to deny a gap--I think scientists do put vastly greater weight on evidence--but simply to suggest that there are similarities as well as differences.

Dave Lieberman

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From: Robert W. Wildblood, NVWILDR_delete_this_@NV.CC.VA.US

[Quoting Keefer:]
>Here's a scenario; someone has a 'religious experience' (which tend to be emotional in nature), or feels a sudden 'religious insight' of some sort. However, by definition, these experiences are not open to critical scrutiny, in that they can't be falsified. Since the experience has little/no contradictory evidence (especially in our hyper-religious culture), and provided some internal gratification, it persists.
>Now, outside of religion, the same experience could exist. I would contend my experience when I finally solve some long-term problem, or have insight into a problem in my discipline, is functionally equivalent to a religious experience. HOWEVER, there are ways to prove whether my scientific insight was correct or not, or whether my solution to the problem is really a solution or not!

[Wildblood responds:]

Now we can get into nitpicking again (and I'm afraid that that's what this has all come down to at this point -- we have passed a point of agreement/disagreement, we are all arguing from a point of faith). You state that there are some ways to prove whether your scientific insight was correct or not, but the sentence started off talking about the "experience" that you had when you made a discovery. While I agree that you can falsify your insight or discovery, you cannot falsify the "experience" that you had, yet you talk about it as though it were real and valuable, etc.

I just don't understand the problem. I believe in and teach scientific method yet I caution my students not to become hypnotized by the method because it is merely the way we scientists agree at this point in history that science should be done. Fifty years from now, although some of the general principles will remain the same, our methods may have changed because we have better technology and/or better under- standings about how the world works. I also believe (and teach in the appropriate context of senior high school Sunday school teacher) that God is real and manifests itself in many ways yet I caution them that some of what is taught as religion is merely a convenient way to put responsibility for things we cannot understand on some mystical power.

Whether or not some of my posts have seemed to support this, I consider myself a scientific psychologist and support the method and have faith in the findings which have been replicated and verified. I also have a very easy time in accepting the possibility of some things for which there is no scientific support or explanation (but which allow for a somewhat mystical explanation).

I believe that my life is fuller because of my ability to accept this apparent paradox. Yin and Yang has worked for the Chinese for more than 6000 years. I'd hate to be confined to a (skinner) box for the rest of my life <;-}>.

[In contrast to Keefer's comment that it took him 33 years to break away from his religious upbringing, Wildblood says:]

As an interesting contrast, it *didn't* take me 33 years to break away from a religious upbringing, it took me nearly 40 years to get into a religion that I am comfortable with. Maybe it makes a difference in the experiences that we have, accept, and believe in, scientific or "everything else." I don't know about you, but I collected a pretty penny from the tooth fairy. Sorry she never got to your house.

Bob Wildblood

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From: Thomas Timmerman, ttimmerm_delete_this_@mailhost.tcs.tulane.edu

Hello again, I've certainly enjoyed the discussion my response has generated. I wish I could respond to the individual comments, but in most cases, someone else has done a much better job than I could have.

A number of messages have questioned my "experiences" (be they emotional or physical) to which I referred that have led me to believe that there's more to life than the natural world. I was probably too loose with my use of the word and will try to elaborate. I agree wholeheartedly that my experience of the experiences (this could get ugly, I need new words) could probably ultimately be explained in neurochemical (or naturalist) terms. The way I interpret them, however, is (and should be) up to me. For example, "How/why did the neurochemicals come to act that way in the first place?" or "Why did the experience happen to me at that particular time?" There's an old cliche about science explaining the "whats" of the world and religion explaining the "whys". I don't like to separate them that much in day to day life, but it's certainly one way of "reconciling" the two.

One disturbing trend in some of the responses was addressed brilliantly by Steve Flynn who said "A tragedy occurs when a person in power--in the present case, a professor--abuses that power by leading others to believe that she (the prof) has cornered the market on truth." To which I would add "or the _way_ in which we learn/discover truth." Teaching science in a science class? Of course. But I don't think there are many literature professors telling their students that literary analysis is THE road to TRUTH in *all* aspects of life.

Robert Keefer also made several disturbing comments along the same lines. My assumption that there is an "everything else" was labeled as "false." How do you know? Do you have any evidence that there is no "everything else"? I know, the burden is on me....but the statement was made that the assumption is categorically false. For someone to come to this conclusion, in my mind, requires some sort of evidence. (Of which there is none)

I should stop before I go any further. As you may have guessed from my "ABD", I'm on the job market and this discussion has made me wonder if I can be evaluated fairly by people who think I have a "virus of the mind." This brings up another issue but it's extremely important. It is, of course, illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, but does that phrase "virus of the mind" scare anyone else? Or is it just me?

Unfalsifiably yours,

Tom Timmerman

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From: Hugh Foley, hfoley_delete_this_@skidmore.EDU

Hello All!

I'd previously made some flippant remarks about shopping in an effort to illustrate the point that scientists do not always act as scientists (presumably leaving room for scientists to engage in non-scientific activities like religion).

[Wallace Dixon responded:]
>And yes, when I go shopping I do "test" different brands of peas by attempting to isolate factors influencing pea quality. Don't you? I have learned, for example, that there are more stems and leaves in the cheaper Kroger Cost-Cutter brand cans of peas than in some name brand cans of peas. I also rely a great deal on data provided by Consumer Reports magazine. I read Consumer Reports regularly, and I shop according to data provided by Consumer Reports. I'm very happy with my recently purchased Eureka vacuum cleaner! Science can be applied to other aspects of life, even shopping.

[Hugh replies:]

From these remarks, one might infer that Wallace disagrees with what I thought to be a truism (scientists are not always scientific). I don't want to make too much of Wallace's remarks, because he was likely being as flippant as I was, but I think that a couple of points may be worth making:

1. Real science is a painstaking process, which would surely take too much time if applied to all areas of our lives. Among the pains that I would take in evaluating peas would be to insure that the consumer was blind to the brand of peas being consumed. That's too much effort for me, but would be a crucial element of a scientific study. I, for one, don't care enough about peas (or most goods) to be truly scientific in their evaluation.

2. Are we doing science when we read a journal article (or Consumer Reports)? A literature review is a likely precursor to doing science, but I liken that more to an exercise in faith than an exercise in science. We must trust that our colleagues are not fabricating data, are not hiding results that counter their explanations, are computing the appropriate analyses and then interpreting them properly, etc. I realize that one of the wonderful aspects of science is the ability to replicate the work of others, but time limitations (and the reluctance of journals to publish replications) restrict our willingness to do so with any regularity. So, faith in science plays a major role in science.

I think that one of the issues that underlies the discussion is, What is the default position? If science does not have (or can never have) data on an issue, what position should a scientist assume? I presume that as long as the scientist acknowledges that her or his position is not scientific, she/he is free to believe either side of a data-free issue until evidence to the contrary arrives.

Others have commented on the circularity of science proving that science is the best way of knowing about the world. I had tossed out Godel's notions about formal systems being based on assumptions that were untestable by the formal system (based solely on my reading of Hofstadter's book years ago). Does anyone on the list know enough about Godel to know whether or not his work applies to this discussion?

Finally, I was disappointed that Wallace chose to respond to the first part rather than the last part of my msg. I was hoping to learn that Wallace was a paragon of scientific virtue and sufficiently studly that he could fill out one of the months of the proposed Studmuffins of TIPS calendar! ;-)

And now off to that work I've been avoiding!

Hugh

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From: Paul Curtis Smith, pcsmith_delete_this_@csd.uwm.edu

[Quoting Thomas Timmerman wrote:]
> A number of messages have questioned my "experiences" (be they emotional or physical) to which I referred that have led me to believe that there's more to life than the natural world. I was probably too loose with my use of the word and will try to elaborate. I agree wholeheartedly that my experience of the experiences (this could get ugly, I need new words) could probably ultimately be explained in neurochemical (or naturalist) terms. The way I interpret them, however, is (and should be) up to me.

[Paul responds:]

Of course you're entirely correct about this. But on the other hand, it does reinforce my point that your belief in non-natural entities is based not on experience, but on faith (which is just fine, for personal beliefs).

[Again quoting Timmerman:]
> One disturbing trend in some of the responses was addressed brilliantly by Steve Flynn who said "A tragedy occurs when a person in power--in the present case, a professor--abuses that power by leading others to believe that she (the prof) has cornered the market on truth." To which I would add "or the _way_ in which we learn/discover truth."

[Paul replies:]

But of course the entire point of science is to refute the idea that any particular person or group has cornered the market on truth. Aren't the claims that science isn't any better than other methods of evaluating claims a bit like saying "People have the right to act however they want, and so if I want to put you in prison, I have that right"? Or do you propose some non-scientific, yet publicly operable method of evaluating claims?

[Timmerman:]
> I should stop before I go any further. As you may have guessed from my "ABD", I'm on the job market and this discussion has made me wonder if I can be evaluated fairly by people who think I have a "virus of the mind." This brings up another issue but it's extremely important. It is, of course, illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, but does that phrase "virus of the mind" scare anyone else? Or is it just me?

[Paul:]

I wouldn't worry too much about it. It should be pretty obvious by now that there is great diversity of opinion on this topic, and those who think that "virus of the mind" is a fairly apt description are hardly likely to discriminate on that basis. I suspect everyone who feels that way thinks that religious beliefs are reasonable but wrong (sorta like believing that you have color vision throughout your visual field).

Paul C. Smith

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From: Mike Nielsen, MNIELSEN_delete_this_@georgiasouthern.edu

I have enjoyed reading all of the responses that my question about agendas & texts has generated. I had hoped to be more involved in the discussion, but our house has been hit by the flu bug. (Nothing like that to put a damper on Thanksgiving dinner....) Because I'm at home (using a very poor line editor) and because the flu is still here, I'll keep this relatively brief.

First, regarding the story someone mentioned about Galton & the efficacy of prayer, I believe that there is a pretty full account of it in David Wulff's Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Views.

As for the relative compatibility of science and religion, I think that it depends in large part on the religious tradition. Speaking as one who practices both science and religion, I see generally little conflict between the two. Several folks have suggested points of contention between the two; let me point out a few ways that they are relatively compatible to me. I speak from (for lack of a better word) an untraditional/liberal Mormon religious perspective.

As a point to begin with, let me say that the assumptions I make as a scientist are generally consistent with those I make as a Mormon. For example, in his text on psychological research methods, McBurney lists Realism (the philosophy that objects perceived have an existence outside the mind), Rationality (a view that reasoning is the basis for solving problems), Regularity (a belief that phenomena exist in recurring patterns that conform with universal laws), Discoverability (the belief that it is possible to learn solutions to questions posed) and Causality/Determinism (the doctrine that events happen because of preceding causes) as the working assumptions of science. Each of these assumptions are compatible at least in general with the assumptions I make in my religious life. Two pose some degree of difficulty. The simpler of the two, Determinism, I deal with by assuming (like many scientists) a probabilistic position. My religious perspective has, like the humanist perspective in psychology, a fairly strong component of volition or choice. The more difficult assumption to deal with is Rationality. If one takes the position that rationality is the exclusive means for solving problems, then I see problems. But at the same time, my religious perspective suggests that prior to seeking divine guidance for resolving problems or for making important decision, I am to arrive at a decision using my own rational abilities, and then seek confirmation for the decision. I could talk about these in more detail, but my head is beginning to feel like it is about the size of Texas.

One other thing that I find very compatible between my science and my religion is the reminders that both give me that I don't know everything. As I teach my research methods students, we don't *prove* theories; we examine the data for how well theories are supported. Likewise, an important aspect of my religious beliefs is that my beliefs may change; indeed, they probably will change. In neither discipline am I taught to be dogmatic about what I understand at any one time, because better data and theories are likely to come along later in the game.

I want to emphasize that I am not trying to proselytize, nor do I claim to have a corner on TRUTH. I offer these observations merely to present a perspective that I haven't seen much of in these discussions. Again, I have found the discussion tremendously stimulating, and have saved most of the messages (something I rarely do) so that I can read them at a time when I'm not suffering from the effects of decongestants etc. Thanks for bringing some enjoyment to this tipster's flu-filled Thanksgiving.

BTW, if you haven't yet had a flu shot, I STRONGLY recommend you get one. This strain's no fun at all.

Mike

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Some Additional Thoughts

So, there you have our discussion. As you can see, psychologists hold many perspectives on the subject, and it would be quite simplistic to describe psychologists as holding just one viewpoint. I sincerely hope that this has given you a moment to think about your own views on science and religion. As I stated in my comments, I tend to think that science and religion are not necessarily incompatible ways of reaching an understanding of the world around us. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, and it is not necessary to hold strongly to one and reject the other. In my case, for example, there are some important similarities in my basic assumptions about both religion and science, and these similarities enable me to live more or less comfortably as a religious scientist. For other people the two domains are more incompatible, at least in part because of the underlying assumptions people make. I don't claim that my approach is "right" for everyone, I only say that it seems to work for me and that I recognize that there are other approaches that work well for other people. Indeed, there are some religious people I've met who have told me that because of my views, I'm not a very religious or spiritual person. I fully suspect that there are other scientists who would say that I'm not a very good scientist, either. That is OK with me; from my perspective what is important is that I must remain true to my own conscience, just as you must remain true to yours.

Now that you've heard these viewpoints, take a few moments and tell me yours. Here is what one visitor to this page had to say:

From James King, trace_delete_this_@xtra.co.nz, I received this thoughtful response to the discussion:

What an interesting discussion to read! If I could add a few points -

The process of accepting something as "evidence" is dependent on our worldview. It is unlikely that there would ever be enough evidence in some cases to accept certain sensory input as "evidence" of something that doesn't fit in with our worldview. We are more likley to process the sensory input differently. For instance:
Witness #1: A flying saucer came, two alien beings got out and gave some good and timely advice to an earthling.
Witness #2: Angels descended from the heavens bearing divine wisdom.

Our worldviews affect what we sense, or how we perceive it at a very basic level. To accept certain sensory input, it may be necessary to throw away our worldview, which most adults can't or won't do unless they are subjected to extreme circumstances.

It may be possible that we don't even see things, or can't see them until our worldview has evolved enough to see them.

Another problem for me is defining Science and Religion. In order to have a discussion about the apparent differences, we may overlook the similarities. Science has (in my worldview) two meanings. These two meanings correspond in form to (in analogy) a verb and a noun. There is the "body of knowledge" which is accepted by "scientists," and there is the philosophy, which is narrower in scope and less understood. I will regard the "accepted body of knowledge" version here.

To most "lay people" (whatever that means) science IS a religion. They have accepted the "facts" of the experts without doing their own empirical studies, and accept the stories as "true" just as in older times, people accepted the stories and proclamations of priests. Naturally, they require faith to do this. In no way am I suggesting that this process is "wrong." I, too, accept many things on faith proclaimed by experts. We have to, really, but it is better to be conscious of the process and importance of faith in this realm.

For example, if someone says "man evolved from the apes" and they have not investigated the idea for themselves, or attempted to understand the theory of evolution in any depth, then surely they are practising in essence, religion?

Many cultures do not divide wisdom and thought in this artificial way at all (science/religion). I regard science as "myth" in that science tells stories (builds models) of the world as myth has always done. Science tells stories which many people accept as good because they allow us to manipulate the world, especially the material world, but they may be incomplete stories because they don't tell us why we shouldn't. Myth in some cultures has always told a more complete story which included "religion," art, morality and wisdom of other kinds.

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Commenting on this discussion, Nathan Hunter, huntern_delete_this_@pacificu.edu, had this to say:

Hi, my name is Nathan Hunter, I am a Junior Psychology student at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. I grew in a very strong Catholic home and had a large Catholic Family. I am also a double major in Philosophy. This discussion intrigued me. I will hopefully keep my thoughts short and to the point.

First, it seems that the terms being discussed were not clearly defined. Exactly what are the criteria that are necessary and suffiecient to be considered religion. This is just a basic fundamental in science right? If the criteria are not well defined then we may paint everything with one big brush and call it religion. Science may even be considered religion under certain definitions. There is also the same discussion that is on going in philosophy. Does God exist? Kant went into great detail about intentions and moral imperatives. Aristotle argued for the uncaused cause. It seems all areas of life are able to be tied to this big question. As far as what is superior, it would clearly be answered by the teachings of the religions that the religion is more superior. This is because more often then the not, the consequenceses of not believing are very painful. The scientists seem to say that science is superior with imperical data. I do not mean to bore anyone with my ideas, but this seems to be the trend. Yet, some of the most respected thoerist in the field of psychology (Freud, Laing, Maslo, and Skinner) often wrote about things which the data was not so conclusive. The idea of the id , ego, and superego, the ontologically secure self, or behaviorism were all a combination of observations and attempts to explain reality in a bigger picture without. This is similar to relgion as well, the attempt to make sense of a world in the "Big Picture". Isn't that what science is attempting to do with the gathering of data? I think so...but science is limited to the imperfections of man. It would be foolish to think we can create the perfect expereiment with perfect data. Imperfection cannot give birth to perfection. This is true for religion and science. I am a strong Catholic even today and the teaching of Mary is based on this premis.

So, we can discuss how each area attempts to make sense of the Big Picture. Now, science can be right where reliogion is wrong, religion can be more right than science, and science and religion can both be wrong, and both science and religion can be right in there aspects of how they view the world. The key to the discussion is what key area of the big picture is science studying and how does this coincide with the specific religion? On moral issues, that is not a tangible issue, science will struggle with defining morality because it is difficult to define what is moral because science does not have a standard to go by. Religion will not have the same problem because many religions have a standard to measure, some sort of code. But, as far as creation is concerned religion will have a hard time because the facts show man could not have lived that long ago so what is written about the creation was way before man could write anything. So, the teachings based in faith of what God led man to believe. This is just one example. Each has different areas which it is lacking. (Religion and emperical data, science with set codes of definition.)What is the most powerful aspect between Psychology and religion is that they both give each other insight to the world and especially human relationships. There is just one aspect of life which Psychology will never ever accomplish. No matter how many experiments that psychologist do, they will never be able to fully explain happiness, joy, peace, and those qualites which are intangible, and it is those intangible qualities which make life worth living. Life would be empty, it would be without meaning if we never knew what it was to be loved. If you want an example, Mother Teresa in Calcutta, Martin Luther King and his fight for the abuse of African Americans, Gandi and his peacemaking. These people loved people and Mother Teresa is still doing it. Just read her Book, A Simple Path. Psychology may explain it in socialogical terms, but science will never come close to explaining the idea what it really is to love someone where Mother Teresa has changed the world, and like wise for Gandhi and other peacemakers alike motivated by a desire for peace or "love of thy niegbor"

It disturbed me to think that one of the most well known caregiver of the 20th Century is suffering from a virus.Is Mother Teresa really suffering a virus because she cares for the poor, and is strengthend by a faith in Christ? If she is sick, I would hate to imagine what it is to be healthy. I think is not wise to comment on religion and the truthfulness of the teachings as viruses when we have such excellent examples of how faith was ultimately supposed to be reflected in one another. One such an example as Mother Teresa. People blame religon for wars, when really the teachings not being lived the way they were meant to be. Does Islamic teaching condone the murder of Catholic Priests which has happend many times. Does this action mean all islamic teaching is bad? Of course not...yet, people make judgements and paint religion with one big brush because of the impefection in man's gross error in misintrepreting the faith. Clearly, Mother Teresa is not suffering from a virus, and clearly Gandi wasn't either. How proud must one be to make such a comment? Has he worked with the poor? Has he or she washed another's feet and lived among the filth as Mother Teresa has? In Pschology we should be facsinated with how such altrustic behavior can change so many lives. Mother Teresa's actions may change all of ours.

Saturday night I watched a show about aliens from above. There was a Catholic Priest who had a Father who was an Indian. Within the Show there was a theme. There was the one of science, and the one of faith. First, that all truth was based on reality. This was the scientists perspective. The Priests Perspective was that all reality was based on Faith...and truth was found by faith. What is the answer? It talked about how we have control over certain events though they may seem to be fated to happen. Does that mean we can affect our reality? Because if we what is is not matter what, then it matters not what we do, but if we beleive we can affect our reality then it gives the question of what it is to have faith, even in science. If we do an experiment, set up conditions and get a result, then we can say we had an affect, but was this of faith that we believed we could affect the reality? If not, why did we do the experiement? Tough question.

Also I thought of this too. I guess it just made me think, Socrates beleived all learnign is recollection. We know what we know, so we will not seek it,(We do not do an experiement over and over again if we already know the results are going to come out the same 99.9999999 % of the time) but we do not know what we don't know,(we do not know the affects of certain antecedent conditions) so we will not know when we find something we did not know before.(does the IV actally have an effect on the DV, how do we know for sure? The truth is that science is never 100% sure right?) Can we know the nature of something which we have not know knowledge about to begin with? Is that why we do experiements? Do we do it to confirm our hypothesis? (The rejection of the Null) or do we do it because we do not know? I guess this goes into the philosophy of science and why are we in science. Could we be scientists without the faith in the unknown? Could it be both? It is a fascinating subject. I hope I have not bored all of you with my thoughts.

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After reading this discussion, Thomas Morgan, tmorgan_delete_this_@bu.edu, at the Boston University School of Medicine, had these thoughts to add:

I define science as that knowledge which is derived from the use of the scientific method. Observation -> Hypothesis -> controlled experiment -> results -> repetition by other experimenters. The process of interpretation of results lies just outside science, but it is the most important part of it.

Religion also begins with observation, but it bypasses experiment and proceeds directly to interpretation. Some religious "knowledge" stems directly from "revelation" and is wholly disconnected from worldly experience.

The essential difference between the religious and scientific ways of knowing lies in the reliability of interpretations. We can rely on the theory of gravitation to operate on us when we step off a cliff. We can not rely on prayer to connect us with "God." Yes, we have "faith" in the theory of gravitation, but it is different form religious faith. Religious faith is blind because it predicts events without any backing form experiment. Therefore, it is unreliable.

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Anthony Edwards, ANTHONY.EDWARDS_delete_this_@NENE.AC.UK, has several important observations to add to the discussion: Dear Dr M. Nielsen,

I was interested to see the discussion of "Science and Religion" that can be accessed via your Psychology of Religion home-page. In the United Kingdom, the debate about religion and science has certainly proven to be a very "media-hot" one in recent years - indeed, it would appear to be much more of a hot debate for the British media in the 1990s than it was twelve years ago. In view of the amount of thought-provoking discussion this debate could bring forth, it would be impossible for me to set down all I have to say in a single E-mail, but I would just like to offer a few points:

(a). One could take the line that science and religion are indeed in conflict. According to this view, religion was simply the fore-runner of science in the days before the eighteenth century, when "philosophes" such as Diderot and other key figures of the Enlightenment championed world-views that would bring progress and liberate us from the chains of religion that bound us in the pre-eighteenth century world. In the nineteenth century, the theory of evolution by natural selection (which, to some extent, had been anticipated by Diderot) further strengthened the claims of science to have a monopoly on the truth and to undermine religion. The Industrial Revolution, progress in the name of science which took little inspiration from religion, which can only roughly be dated (e.g. from around 1760 to around 1850), was further evidence that modern world-views should champion science and render religion obsolete.

(b). In making the above statement, I shall now confess that I was simply playing the Devil's advocate. To agree with such a statement would be to overlook that religion before the eighteenth century was NOT simply the pre-Enlightenment fore-runner of science, for religion served (and continues to serve) many important functions not served by science. These include the function of moral guidance; the function of providing us with rituals and customs (such as the celebration of Christmas and Easter) that both provide us with a sense of social cohesiveness and help to fulfil certain emotional needs; the function of responding to emotional needs in moments of crisis; and the function of helping to provide us with enthusiasm in life by giving us conviction that life has purpose.

(c). One of the most important arguments to the effect that religion and science are in conflict goes like this. Religion, this argument goes, is very different in different cultures. A person in Tibet may become a Buddhist; a person in Brunei may become a Muslim; a person in Italy may become a Roman Catholic Christian. Science, by contrast, is universal - that sodium and chloride make up salt may be as true in Japan as it is in Brazil. It is this argument I wish to dispute. To look at science first, I do not think it is true that science is totally free of cultural milieu - e.g. in Japan, biologists tend to focus on co-operation in the animal kingdom, while in the capitalistic worlds of Europe and Western Europe, more emphasis is put on animanl competition. In physics, we even come across reference to the "Copenhagen School" of quantam mechanics, suggesting that a certain school of physics may be associated with a certain geographical area. Leaving aside reference to geographical area, we can still see how lack of consensus in science emerges from scientists working in different academic communities. Those who have worked in the paleontological community (e.g. Gould) may wish to argue that the species is the unit of natural selection, while those who have worked in the sociobiological community have tended to look at natural selection differently, taking the gene as the unit of natural selection. To turn now to religion, I think it would be wrong to claim that the world religions bear no similarity to each other - Jung's writings on the collective unconscious are surely evidence that world religions do bear similarities, while a footnote in Ruffle's "The Population Alternative" indicates how many different religions appear to have a version of The Golden Rule. Thus, it may be wrong to hold that science is about nothing but consensus, and that religion may be about nothing but divergence.

I hope that these comments are helpful. I am happy to have any or all of the above go on any web-sites.

With Best Wishes,
Anthony Edwards.

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abrewer_delete_this_@ibm.net adds a Christian testimonial to the discussion:

I am writting in refrence to the intresting discussion that you started on science,psychology and religion. I am not a scientist I'm just an undergrad with a love for science. The discussion that I read was so intresting to me. I couldn't resist writting and letting you know my thoughts on the subject. No matter how long I try to understand God or try to find answers to all of my questions I can never understand all the mysteries of God. The reason is because our human minds can not comprehend the awesome great power of a livig God. I don't care how many degrees a person has or how many years in college let's face it our minds are really small. Even with all of the discoveries that we have made in technology, medicine, and all other aspects of human life. We try to analyze God we fail so what do we do we claim that there is no God. I believe that God allows certian things to remain a mystery so we can decide for ourselves in faith to serve and love him. The main thing that he desires from mankind is for us to freely have a daily living relationship with him. I believe he made that way through Jesus Christ. Before I gave my life to Christ I was looking for something to fill the endless void in my heart. I tried everything from drugs, sex, getting married at an early age. I can honestly say that it was fun for a season after the fact it left me feeling empty and depressed. I tried to kill myself two times because of the low dark place that I was. There are no words that could decribe the pain that I lived with. The day that I reconciled myself to God and asked for his forgivness I felt a peace unspeakable. I can honestly say that I have a joyful life full of purpose and meaning. I know that I have a purpose on this earth. I know that I am loved by a true living God. Where is the evidence that God is real? It is in the lives of the true children of God. God is real. We can choose to accept this or not. The fact is that one day we will have to stand before him and answer to him of the things done while we were here on earth. I know that I dont have a PhD and many may laugh at the many errors that i am sure that I made writing this. I am just writing from the bottom of my heart. Thanks. [] [] []

Jeff Rogers adds the perspective of a PhD candidate in counseling pyschology:

I'm finishing my Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology at Texas A&M University and am currently on internship at the Portland, Oregon VA Medical Center. Having read the continuing dialogue on science versus religion, I can't help but add a few comments of my own.

In two of my doctoral statistics courses, the overview of the course material included the announcement, to quote loosely, that "Anything real must be measurable." This was followed immediately in an even more forceful tone with the statement "And nobody bring God into the equation." This had, at least in my case, a paradoxical effect. My own interpretation is that the topic of God was to be avoided in those hallowed chambers of learning simply because the professors were skirting a topic for which they had no conclusive answers or explanations. To be sincere, I never found the courage to bring it up myself, lest I be branded as someone who was somehow "less" than the other rigorously devoted statisticians with whom I was rubbing shoulders. No fool in the classroom, I shut up, took my "A", and was justifiably proud.

Still, I asked myself then, as I still ask myself, why is it that students, researchers, and practicioners of psychology, a discipline that touts itself as the true science of understanding human cognition and behavior, would avoid something so integral to most people as if it were the plague? My own experience is that clients and patients come to therapy with the expectation that the entirety of their experience will be included in the equation. A person's attitude toward religion, whether he or she be a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, is likely to form a central component of how the person sees him or herself as a human being. If we act like the aforementioned professors and avoid even the mention of the topic, what have we missed? I would argue that we arbitrarily limit our understanding of that individual and that our ability to interpret anyone's behavior or thinking suffers, perhaps catastrophically, as a result.

A personal and current example. If one could pick a population where religious issues would almost sure to be avoided, it would likely be with chronic mentally ill individuals, especially persons suffering from schizophrenia or other delusional disorders. Why stir the pot when it's already boiling, one might say. My experiences to date during my internship directly contradict such an assumption. A group focusing on religious and spiritual issues is possibly the best attended groups in a very active outpatient day treatment program here. It is co-led by a psychologist, a psychology intern, and a chaplain. What I have seen is that the willingness of the group leaders to directly address a topic that is normally avoided with CMI patients has enormous potential in allowing us greater understanding into how they view the world and, hopefully, in helping them live more productive and satisfying lives. They are able to voice their own sense of who they are spiritually in a controlled and safe environment, listen to others' similar or contrasting experiences, and hopefully gain insight into their own sense of self. As an intern and co-leader, I have to admit I am still amazed that some of the most deep and meaningful feedback in the group comes not from us, but rather from the group members themselves. I have certainly learned something about my own spiritual self in the process.

If such an approach is possible with CMI individuals, then why not with those whose functioning falls in the "normal" range? I personally believe that attitudes such as those expressed in my statistics classes warn us away from opening such a potential can of worms and imprint upon us at an early developmental age that such soft subjects are to be put away quietly in our professional closet, never to be seen again. We can talk openly and voluminously about the most minute and personal details of sexuality, depression and other ruinous afflictions, but when someone brings up the idea that they are worried about their spiritual well-being as a result of this or that, we wring our hands lest we set foot on ground that we have always been told is distinctly soggy.

Which brings us back (finally) to the point of whether religion and science can be brought into peaceful coexistence with one another. The dialogue constantly runs into the issue of faith versus fact; the willingness of our discipline to accept the concept that something does not have to be measurable and quantifiable to be real. I can't help but remembering something I was told by an old Bulgarian friend of mine some decades ago. He had escaped from Bulgaria following World War II and avoided the Communist takeover and subsequent purges of academicians and other educated individuals. He went from being a highly successful lawyer to running the boiler in the basement of the Rome post office at night, where he provided shelter to many of his Bulgarian friends in similar circumstances who had nowhere to sleep. Later he came to America, where he worked in assortment of menial jobs before taking a position as a language teacher in Monterey, California. When I asked him how he had been able to survive and make a new life for himself, after having watched so many of his friends die or be placed in prison, he just shrugged and said "Only those who had faith in themselves were victims...Those who had faith in God survived...even if they died."

Although it probably has even more meaning in its untranslated form, he was saying that faith in something beyond himself was absolute and its payoff, even if it didn't have entirely positive results, provided the foundations for a meaningful life. To this day I can think of no empirical way to prove this out or disprove it, for that matter. When we, as psychologists, focus down to the micro-level of inspection with the firm and entrenched belief that we may only understand the whole through an intensive study of the parts, I fear that we are like the victims my friend described. We ignore the subtle for the obvious because the obvious is so much more simple to describe. We then devise even more complicated and rigorous methods to describe the obvious in even greater detail. Unlike my Bulgarian friend, however, I fear that the subtle is where the real meaning lies and that we, in our infinitely limited way, will miss it entirely.

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I enjoy your page. My dissertation in progress is in the religion-psychology area. Your work has saved me a lot of time in identifying potential sources. Keep it up.

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Michael Ashley <1flyboy_delete_this_@concentric.net>, who earned a B.A. in psychology from William Paterson University, offered his thoughts and a quote from Freud:

I would just like to state that I believe that there is better and more convincing evidence for the existence of UFOs then for the existence of god. Not to mention that it is more likely. However, in our society of believers, it is much more acceptable, (hell, we are brainwashed from birth) to believe in god. Athiests, for example, seem to be stigmatised as unholy, sinners, hedons, etc. Athiests, simply because they deviate from the majority, are made to feel as if they are wrong when in fact, they have the more reliable position. ( as far as evidence is concerned.) I guess my point is that, we are all the product of the history of ideas about god, passed down from generation to generation, and resulting from our inability to explain certain things about life. I tend to agree with Freud who said, "Science is no illusion, but an illusion it would be to think that what we can not get from science, we can get elsewhere." [] [] []

Dr. Neilson, I do not know if you remember my article or not, but I am Nathan Hunter at Pacific University. I just thought I would drop you a line and a few thoughts again on Religion and Science. There are clearly two lens one can look through to see if they are compatible. One may try and be objective like a third person but it is not possible here. To be compatible, the natures and essences of belief system one and belief system two must be the same or equally coded so the language and experience can be put in terms of the other. Read up on I think Royce on language systems I think.

In this case, science and religion are of such different natures. Things that are compatible are of the same quality or on the same level that they can move back and forth from one another. My Mac is not compatible with a PC. A PC is not compatible with a MAC but to make them compatible one must turn take the other and "look at it" or "convert" it to the other and look at it through a Mac's eyes or a PC's eyes. Only with additionaly programming is this possible. In my arguement science does not the have the programming to reduce relgion. You cannot do that with Science and Relgion. Relgion is unique in that subjective experience is the, if not most powerful aspect of religion. One can take the physical aspects of the subective experience and some claim such as Paul Churchland, "The Engine of Reason" that subjective expereince really is not so subjecitive at all as if it can be put in terms of science but I reason differently. I reason the truth is that no words can describe and no data can record or express what is subjectively experienced with the mind or the soul or spirit etc.. The person who experienced "event A" will always tell you more then just what can be recorded and Psychology is based up on how human expereince is subjective and that is why it is a "soft" science despite its efforts to be totally objective. In general, Science is only able to be understood only as a concrete way of experiencing the objective material world and particular aspects of the subjective expereince of the world such as the bio-chemical goings on in the brain. Our mental states (emotional, spiritual states) are physical states that release certain physial chemicals and etc. Goldman's book on emotion Intelligence and much of that research on emotions reveal how closely tied to emotions our bodies really are. One may argue from this point that we then can reduce emotional states to physcal ones. This would be true only if could account for all the other mysteries of the mind such as mental illness, the placebo effect, and miracles of faith which human beings by their own will power beat the odds with 100% accuracy and no exceptions. In Psychology there are always exceptions to the rule and not human behavior is able to be accounted for with that 100%. Take the Byrd story of how he had a .000001 chance of ever walking again. Schizophrenia is far from being understood in either area. I did not mean to get off track, but what I am saying is that despite the research that we discover about the human mind and body through science we will not be able to reduce the subjective expereince of events to science. It is this subjective expereince of God in the Universe or intelligence creating it and making it tick that keeps religion from being reduced.

Now, religion claims it can account for all the things in science. Now sure there is a more simpler answer then to say, "YEP, GOD did", that is the most simplest answer, but that is not how religion accounts for the objective discoveries. (If it does answer it that way then it is missing the point of science.) Every thing is analyzed and understood in how it fits into a greater plan. We do not know the details but this spurs more research and this is also what science does too but thier is a huge difference.

What we do know is that man has a histories of flaws and theories to how the Universe works, in science and religion. What must be true is that the universe which we study is material made of energy, and that despite what our subjective experience of material objects in it are, and our thoughts of material objects are, the objects in the universe remain the same. One Unique aspect of the Catholic Faith, is that in its own teachings Christ himself tells he will continue to reveal himself. "I will send you my Spirit and he will lead you to all truth." Through the lens of religion, science then becomes a way in which God reveals his creation, and all things discovered are critically analyzed and thought through. Our flaws in theory are only God revealing his universe more and more to us, so says the Catholic Church Science is reducible to religion only in this way.

If science attempts to look at religion through its lens it is like looking at a mirror and seeing itself. Through a Scientific lens, in its attempts to reduce religion to be compatible with itself, everything will be illogical and distorted and nothing will seem to make any sense. Proving the existence of an immaterial being is the classic arguement. If there is a soul what is it made of? and prove? right? Hard science does not count subjective experience as evidence. Science can be reduced to religion but religion not to science. If we are talking compatible, then things must work some how together. Compatibilty exists between these two only in this way from one working under the other and religion cannot go underscience yet and if it ever does then religion can be tossed out the window and we can use science to understand everything. I don't believe this will happen. If you are a scientist first, you cannot believe religion because of SE. If religion is the way in which to know the Universe then science falls under whatever beliefs you have and you must adjust discoveries according to your beliefs. If this means having to reinterpret teachings then so be it and if that is all there was too it then science would be a relgion too and vice versa because they just readjust thier theories to new disoveries adn there would be just a matter of semantics and different interpretations of the same things but there is not account for subjective experience and that is why they are not compatible except with science under religion.

That is what the Catholic Church as done for years now. With the new social issues of Euthanasia, science cloning humans, finding signs of life on Mars, getting information for Saturn, and all those other areas the only way to see any sort of way for these to areas of study is to put one under the other. Religion accepts subjective experience and the objective world. Until Science can fully, with 100% accuracy account for this SE, and reduce it then it will never be able to make sense of religion through its own lens. Through the research on Consciousness and the different books on the Mind the whole issue of exactly what has experiences is discussed. You might find it interesting. God bless Dr. Neilson. I hope I do not babble on and on. I hope I make some sense. Happy New Year :)

P.S. All things are seen in respect to a greater order, if not then the nothing is really in order. Either God exists and science is only understood under God, or God does not exist. They cannot exist at all on the same level, and if one knows religion science can only be seen in this way from a spiritual point of view. It is like those who believe they will live forever with Christ. EIther I a am really crazy, and I live it out everyday day, and see all things through his eyes, or it is that I claim to believe but not live and am a hypocrite. I do not see how I anyone who who believes in God can see science in any other way.

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To add your views to this discussion, go to my main webpage and click on the Message Board. I hope to extend this conversation with people, and I invite you to be part of the ongoing discussion! You might also want to try your hand at email discussion groups. I have developed a list of discussion groups related to psychology and religion to get you started.

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