Science and Religion

This week we watched two video interviews with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about the relationship between science and religion. In the short video by The Big Think, Tyson says that it is “empirically false” that science is incompatible with religion, because 40% of American scientists say they “pray to a personal God.” Tyson concludes from this that there is no inherent reason that science and religion must conflict. But notice that he goes on to say that religion should be kept out of the science classroom. So he does seem to think there is some sort of conflict between religion and science. This comes out more clearly in the longer video interview by Bill Moyers where Tyson says explicitly that faith and reason are impossible to reconcile and implies that science is gradually replacing religion by explaining all the mysteries in the universe. The only reason a scientist could rationally be religious, Tyson concludes, is for “emotional fulfillment.” Thus he seems to think that religion is okay as long as it merely a matter of private feelings and is kept out of the public domain of facts.

What do you think? Are science and religion necessarily in conflict? In other words, can a scientist rationally believe in supernatural realities and sources of truth like God or the Bible? If not, why not? If so, how? Be as specific as possible. For example, section 1.3 of this week’s Recommended Reading from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy mentions four possibilities for the relationship between science and religion: Conflict, Integration, Independence, and Dialogue. You might think science and religion make contradictory claims about the same things (Conflict) or that they make compatible claims about the same things (Integration), or that make claims about completely different things or perhaps that they make different kinds of claims about the same thing (Independence), or that they have something to teach each other, perhaps by clarifying each other’s questions, methods, limits, or meaning (Dialogue). Note that we’re not looking for reasons that religious beliefs are or are not true. Rather we’re looking for an explanation for how religious beliefs could possibly coexist with scientific beliefs – or why they can’t.

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