Following up on a debate it that started last month, the Chronicle of Higher Education has posted another interesting essay on the conflict between science and religion, this time from “new atheist” Mano Singham. Professor Singham says there is a “new war” brewing:
The new war concerns questions that are more profound than whether or not to teach evolution. Unlike the old science-religion war, this battle is going to be fought not in the courts but in the arena of public opinion. The new war pits those who argue that science and “moderate” forms of religion are compatible worldviews against those who think they are not.
I’m not sure how “new” this war is. It sounds a lot like the old war, an intellectual battle that’s been waged for centuries. As science advances, and we can explain phenomena that previously escaped natural explanation or that challenge certain Biblical interpretations (That’s not demon possession! That’s epilepsy! Carbon dating shows us that the earth is old . . . really old!), the atheist puts a mark in his scorecard. When science is baffled, or the things we thought we knew turn out to be less than certain, the person of faith scores one for his team.
Yet, ultimately, they talk past each other. The atheist says — with extreme conviction — “Shifting understandings don’t undermine our reliance on science. In fact, they bolster our confidence, because they show we have a process that ferrets out the truth.” The religious person responds, with puzzlement, “Wait a minute, weren’t you just sneering at me for questioning a scientific statement that you no longer believe to be true? How certain are you of the new facts?”
There is simply no chance, in my lifetime, that science will get anywhere close to deciphering the mysteries of the universe, but there is a strong likelihood that — again, in my lifetime — there will be discoveries that call into question both religious and scientific convictions. It hasn’t been a good two centuries for young-earth creationists, and I don’t expect that to change. As for scientists, their opportunities to feast on humble pie only grow as they become more and more ambitious in their scope. It hasn’t been a good year, for example, for those who purport to know something as seemingly simple as the temperature of our planet in any given year.
In the meantime, I’ll hold on to my faith without reservation. And we should be thankful for those who do. After all, aren’t the stakes of a scientific debate over, say, racial differences in IQ much lower if we understand the reality that “God created man in his own image” and thus certain moral and ethical obligations to our fellow man flow inexorably from that truth — regardless of their IQ, or any other characteristic? At any rate, suffice to say that the “new atheists” are going to have to do better than the science we have to persuade me to jump ship from Zion Presbyterian Church.