Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Teaching scientists the difference between science and religion

More on Michael Reiss and creationism. Some of the comments at Crooked Timber are interesting in their unargued assumption that the point of science lessons is to get students to believe certain things. I know it’s annoying when people use the “aah, the scientists are the real religionists” line, but it’s tempting in this case. But obviously one ought to figure out what is similar and what is different between science and religion. Reiss took some heat for calling creationism a “world-view,” but it is, in that it’s connected with a general method of making sense of the world, as science is, and it’s not at all obvious how these different methods could connect with one another. However, while modern science and certain religious positions might both be world-views, there’s still a difference of kind between the two.

This, incidentally, is why William Lane Craig is a fucking idiot. A modern advocate of the cosmological argument, he doesn’t seem to be aware that the word “cause” in “first cause,” translation of the ancient Greek αἴτιον, doesn’t mean what the modern English “cause” means, but instead is bound up with Aristotelian metaphysics. But I digress (in more “fucking idiot” news, see A. C. Grayling vs. Steve Fuller, like some kind of chain-reaction of stupidness).

Anyway. Religion and science are both ways of using reason to make sense of the world; but it occoured to me the other day that, because I usually take theologians as the best representatives of religion (after all, they’re the ones who know most about it), I’d sort of missed a distinction. You can have a system of using reason to make sense of the world without expecting everyone involved to make use of reason themselves, where the weight of reasoning is taken on by particular people. This is clearly the case with Catholicism, and I think it’s somewhat true of Islam, too. On the other hand, modern science is supposed to be accessible to everyone’s reason (something it shares, I imagine not coincidentally, with Protestantism).

But the “supposed to” is kind of important here; obviously not everyone actually has equal access to scientific knowledge, and this emphasis on formal, rather than substantive, universality, makes science’s self-understanding a little like bourgeois rights. What would science look like if it were organized around making its methods and knowledge actually universally available? It seems to me this is what a Marxist science should be about, rather than proving Marx’s metaphysics. Well, that’s kind of obvious; Marxist science wouldn’t be about having the right ideas, but about changing the material conditions in which these ideas are produced.