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God and Science Don't Mix

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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124597314928257169.html

My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.

-- J.B.S. Haldane

"Fact and Faith" (1934)

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in several exciting panel discussions at the World Science Festival in New York City. But the most dramatic encounter took place at the panel strangely titled "Science, Faith and Religion." I had been conscripted to join the panel after telling one of the organizers that I saw no reason to have it. After all, there was no panel on science and astrology, or science and witchcraft. So why one on science and religion?

I ended up being one of two panelists labeled "atheists." The other was philosopher Colin McGinn. On the other side of the debate were two devoutly Catholic scientists, biologist Kenneth Miller and Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno. Mr. McGinn began by commenting that it was eminently rational to suppose that Santa Claus doesn't exist even if one cannot definitively prove that he doesn't. Likewise, he argued, we can apply the same logic to the supposed existence of God. The moderator of the session, Bill Brinkman, a reporter with some religious inclination, surprised me by bursting out in response, "Then I guess you are a rational atheist."

Our host was presumably responding to all those so-called fundamentalist atheists who have recently borne the brunt of intense attacks following the success of books like Sam Harris's "The End of Faith," and Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion."

These scientists have been castigated by believers for claiming that science is incompatible with a belief in God. On the one hand, this is a claim that appears manifestly false -- witness the two Catholic scientists on my panel. And on the other hand, the argument that science suggests God is a delusion only bolsters the view of the of the fundamentalist religious right that science is an atheist enemy that must either be vanquished or assimilated into religion.
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TAGGED: COMMENTARY, RELIGION, SCIENCE


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