Murals (2008) by PHANTAST - Graffiti - Cultural Music & Art Association inc. - 98 Milne St. Benleigh


'When I was growing up, the dominant narrative held that science and religion were incompatible. The Creation versus Evolution debate, which by then had been raging for the best part of a century, was held up as proof of this ontological irreconcilability.
Given that I had little exposure to the world of religion, I accepted that this way of viewing the interaction of the two was true. This was confirmed by the fact that many of the Christians I met during my teen years had been influenced in their approach to science by the Creation Bus. The interactions I had with such people served to confirm that the division was real and that one had to choose a side.
Sadly, I didn't know any scientists either. I was, however, awe-struck by the advances of science and the insights it gave into the way the world operated and came into being. My staple TV diet consisted of Thunderbirds, Dr Who, Lost in Space and ABC documentaries. These painted a picture of the world in which scientific endeavour was king and religion did not exist and was not missed.

William Draper in 1860 first articulated The Conflict Thesis - the idea that religion and science are so incompatible that the tension they set up leads to public hostility. Draper was a member of a new breed - those who gathered under the then recently invented professional title of  'scientist'. These scientists were beginning to articulate more clearly the scientific method. It was coming to be seen as a way of exploring the workings of the world that, for the first time in the West, laid aside metaphysical considerations.
Previously science had been condusted from within the religious milieu. Isaac Newton, for example, wrote more about angels than he did about gravity. He saw no conflict between scientific exploration  and the pursuit of a life of faith. In fact for Newton and his contemporaries the idea that the universe was a product of God bringing order out of chaos provided the framework necessary for scientific endeavour to develop. The essential scientific idea that  experiments produce repeatable results was built on the presupposition that the universe is ordered rather than under the whimsical control of a capricious deity who can bend the rules and create alternate realities.
By my mid-twenties I was coming to see that those who embraced the Conflict Thesis had been indulging in a battle for our minds that left our hearts and souls impoverished. I discovered that over half of the senior academics in my biological school were people of faith. These I found inspiring because, with only one exception, they had an integrated approach to science and faith and had not compartmentalised their lives. These intelligent and compassionate people had rejected the Conflict Thesis. They knew that science anf religion could work together.

It is the compartmentalising of life at both a personl and social level that, in my view, is the most troubling and damaging effect of embracing the Conflict Thesis. For if the  thesis is true, then the only way to keep both is to apply them to different aspects of life. And because according to the thesis religion has nothing to say about the physical world religion is increasingly relegated to offering commentary on the realm of personal morality. This leaves the public realm open to the impoverishing effects of the naked application of the scientific paradigm. Our economic discourse often demonstrate how inadequate this can be. People are often reduced to consumers and a means of production. And efficiency is the value that is most appreciated.
The strength of the scientific paradigm is that it is analytical and seeks to describe the world accurately. It works toward ensuring that we do not become victim to superstition and protects us from harmful practices. It also gives us the capacity to question cultural norms and social mores to which religion may have hiven the 'God-gloss'.
Science's strength, however, is also the source of its limitation and weakness. Its analytical capacity can lead us towards being reductionist. The idea of the 'selfish gene', for example, while explaining so much about evolutionary development, can also reduce virtues such as altruism and love to utilitarism mechanisms - an understanding that does not ring true to the deep meaning such virtues have for us. When viewed through the prism of the scientific paradigm alone, life can become somewhat meaningless: my life is the product of a whole bunch of random, purposeless interactions that have taken place over billions of years.

Science tends to limit the universe and life to that which we can measure; if it can't be measured it doesn't exist. Further, science doesn't help us appreciate the difference between intelligence and wisdom and the need we have for both.
At its best religion, with its capacity to explore meaning and purpose, to chart the deepest yearnings of the human heart and to connect us with the source of all being, can work in partnership with science to make us more fully human. For me personally the interaction of the two has been life-giving and rewarding. Thankfully there is increasing interest in moving beyond the Conflict Thesis, to discover how the two ways of seeking for truth might work more ably together to  overcome the problems that face the human family as the  21st century begins to unfold'. (The Eagle -April 2017)
Very Red'd Dr Peter Catt was a practising scientist in his early professional life.

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