|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Atheism|
3. Relating science and religion
Certain atheists, in their search for a reliable source to edify their knowledge, have resorted to science as an objective system of knowledge, as well as a supposedly thoroughly documented one. However, in doing this, they have gradually come to fantasize science as a substitute for religion. And they strive to support their atheism on the basis of science – something that naturally cannot be done; because science can only provide proof for tangible reality, whereas atheism is a fictitious obsession, which is no different to any other religion.
The arguments presented below have been taken from an actual discussion in a forum, between an atheist and a Christian, and they give us a first idea on the topic being opened....
The atheist begins the discussion with the following (in black):
Before deciding on what Science is and what it isn’t, it would be a good idea to know the significance of the word we are referring to. The (Greek) word for “science” (episteme) is derived from the verb epistamai (ĺđßóôáěáé), which means “ I have a good understanding of a particular subject”. In this context, a physicist is a scientist because he has a good knowledge of the laws of physics; a biologist is a scientist because he is well acquainted with the function of living things; an economist is a scientist because he knows how markets, how consumers function, etc. Now, it is quite possible that you might ask if a taxi driver is also a scientist because he knows his way around all the roads of a big city. The answer I believe is yes, the taxi driver is a mini-scientist himself, because he is likewise well-acquainted with his object. The fact that physicists and biologists are more commonly acknowledged as scientists - and not taxi drivers or bakers - is attributed to the fact that the former are of greater importance to mankind than the latter.
So, taxi drivers and bakers are also scientists. Now let’s go to our main topic: Are religiologists scientists? Of course they are, because they are well acquainted with the characteristics of Hinduism, Christianity and all the other religions of the world. All the above scientists have something in common: they are all well acquainted with a certain object and this object is acknowledged as an acceptable field of study by all rationally-thinking humans in the world, as something real and existing.
The reason I don’t regard the astrologer and the theologian (who is far different to a religiologist) as scientists, I believe is obvious. Both of them study something that was never proven to be valid, with the illusion that they are studying something real. If the biologist studies the behaviour of living organisms (that nobody doubts the existence of), the physicist studies the natural laws (that nobody doubts the existence of), the religiologist studies the faith of certain people (that nobody doubts the existence of) and the baker studies the making of bread (that nobody doubts the existence of), then what exactly do the astrologer and theologian study? I assure you that they study topics that many, very many people doubt the existence of. For example, we may all one day agree that Jesus Christ was a historical reality, but it will be difficult to agree that he performed miracles or that he was resurrected. Also many people may believe that the Holy Fire in Jerusalem ignites by itself, but there will always be somebody who thinks that it is ignited by a lighter. Therefore, I think it is obvious what should have a place among scientists and what shouldn’t: anything that has to do with the search for the truth, and everything that interests those who are in search of the truth, has a place among them; there is no place for anything that goes contrary to the search for truth, based on our experiences and our senses.
Christian’s answer (in blue):
Allow me to comment on what you wrote about the relationship between science and religion. Firstly I would like to say that I agree with everything you wrote about this relationship, but only to the extent that you yourself have understood the term “religion”. Your entire analysis is based on your personal understanding, which however is not necessarily always correct. Let me explain myself, while commenting on your message:
I will agree with you completely on the definition of the word “science”, both etymologically as well as the way it is now used as a technical term. The other comments are also acceptable, except for: “The fact that physicists and biologists are commonly acknowledged as scientists - and not taxi drivers or bakers - is attributed to the fact that the former are of greater importance to mankind than the latter.” I need to correct you slightly at this point, because bakers for example are obviously of more importance to mankind than astrophysicists. This is because mankind can survive without astrophysicists, but without bread, mankind has never managed to survive, for thousands of years now... Therefore the underlying issue is not usefulness. The distinction is attributed to the fact that the word “science” has become a TECHNICAL TERM, which merely impolies the specific areas in which it is used.
Also when you write: “this object is acknowledged as an acceptable field of study by all rationally-thinking humans in the world, as something real and existing.” Don’t you think that who is considered “rationally-thinking” is entirely subjective? Not only because there are many personal views about who thinks correctly, but also because NONE OF US can think correctly in ALL aspects of life. There are numerous kinds of intelligence, which render human thought too complicated a thing for one to define what “rationally-thinking” means. Your definition is also lacking, inasmuch as NOT ALL SCIENCES ARE ACCEPTED BY EVERYBODY; something that I will however discuss further along.
You write: “The
reason I don’t regard the astrologer and the theologian (who is
far different to a religiologist) as scientists, I believe is
obvious. Both of them study something that was never proven to
be valid, with the illusion that they are studying something
But you are not entirely wrong. It all depends on HOW YOU DEFINE the theologian. To begin with, if you define “theologian” to mean someone who studies religions or teaches a particular religion, again your distinction is problematic, because one who teaches a religion is one who is well familiarized with it, and, given that all those “who think correctly” will be in agreement as to what a religion believes, that teacher must be regarded as a scientist – unless we consider that not even the religiologist is a scientist.
Therefore, you need to focus on what the distinction is, and not on what someone is well acquainted with, or if those views are accepted by the world. But we will tackle this later on.
The term “theologian”is
perceived differently by different people. For example in the
Orthodox Church the term “theologian” is –INAPPROPRIATELY- used
to denote “religious instructors”. The term “theologian” is
however (officially) assigned by the Orthodox Church, to only
three people – and even then, it is not on the basis of what
they know, but on the basis of their personal EXPERIENCE. In
other words, the title of Theologian can only apply to someone
who has an EXPERIENCE OF GOD; that is, if he has “seen” God and
is in a position to speak of him. Otherwise, he is NOT a
To assert that “there is no actual object” that would give theologians an objective opinion on God is also your own subjective view, which is something that science cannot prove, therefore it is considered unscientific for one to persist in this kind of viewpoint, without being able to prove it. In other words, just as DEISM (=to believe in God) is a religion (in the usual sense of the term), likewise, ATHEISM is also a religion, given that it too is an improvable faith. And this is the starting point of a multitude of other data that relies on AXIOMS and not proofs.
What is it really that determines “reality”? Is it the doubting or not of public opinion, as you say? In other words, is “reality” something that is dependent on its being generally accepted or not? Isn’t “reality” something entirely independent of what public opinion believes? (Not to mention that even that is still a dubious thing). Did the fact that public opinion used to believe that the earth was flat render this a “reality”? And does the fact that 30% of the American population considers the theory of evolution as wrong mean that because of this doubt, the theory per se is an unscientific one? Thus, public opinion is not a criterion. At least, it is not an OBJECTIVE criterion. If the things that we were to label as “science” were judged on what you assert, then they would be based on SUBJECTIVE criteria, simply because certain areas have come to be thus labeled, without this being an absolute.
Furthermore, even a theologian (according to your perception of the term, as a professor of theology) likewise studies the faith of a specific religion, which no-one doubts that it exists as the faith of a specific religion. Again, this places it within the framework of “science”, according to your definition.
But let us examine something different: Is psychology a science? Yes or no? Isn’t it considered and called a “science”? So is Psychiatry. And yet, as you probably know, both these sciences are STRONGLY DOUBTED; and in fact, the scientists of both these sciences have diametrically opposing theories and methods between them!
So, why should these
areas be regarded as “sciences”?
In addition, ALMOST ALL LINGUISTS insist on the Phoenician Alphabet. However, a large portion of Greek public opinion does not agree with them, because it wants the Greek language to be the more ancient one. And I ask you: Isn’t Linguistics a science? Does the fact that the majority of Greek public opinion disagrees with it mean that we should cease to regard linguists as scientists?
The notion regarding sciences is therefore ENTIRELY SUBJECTIVE. Quite simply, the term “science” is an arbitrary one and is merely used habitually, as a technical term, and only for specific areas.
Despite the above, I
will agree with you that in the matter of religion, there is a
rather intense problem. It is the following one, and it has to
do with terminology:
The meaning of “religion” is perceived as an arbitrary “dogmatic package” that one chooses among many, and is lacking in proof. In this context, I too will certainly agree with you, that it is not scientific. However…
It depends on what someone means, when he refers to “religion”, and WHAT RELIGION HE IS REFERRING TO. For example, the Orthodox faith IS NOT A RELIGION in the usual sense of the term. It is a METHOD OF PSYCHOTHERAPY, and as such, it does not belong to the category of religions, but to the SCIENCES. Just like any other science, it has specific psychotherapeutic methods and SPECIFIC AND PROVEN RESULTS. The fact that many people don’t know about these methods, or have not met any people who have been CURED by these methods in order to verify the effectiveness of the methods (because they haven’t bothered to research), doesn’t mean that those methods are wrong or that no cured people exist!
For someone to want to see God with his own eyes in order to believe is a contradictory tactic, when that same person readily believes the claims of Physics researchers for example, WITHOUT PERSONALLY BEING PRESENT DURING PARTICLE ACCELERATION EXPERIMENTS, in order to have first-hand knowledge. In other words, if one’s physical presence is considered a necessary factor of faith regarding the existence of God, then that person should be consistent with himself and not accept any science, unless he himself analyses its every claim, so that he might have first-hand knowledge. And if he trusts the claims of those scientists, he is equally inconsistent when he does not trust the claims of all those who have first-hand experience in matters of theology.
I happen to have personal experience of such people, who have been healed through Orthodox psychotherapy, as have millions of other people throughout the history of mankind, and on the basis of the historical-judicial scientific method of proof, the testimonies of millions of eyewitnesses is considered adequate proof. It would be entirely unscientific to regard so many testimonies as inadequate, as it would comprise a RELIGION of denial of facts. I will not go to further depths on this matter. Those who are interested in learning about Orthodox psychotherapy can read a related book, at the following address: http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.02.en.the_cure_of_the_neurobiological_sickness_of_rel.01.htm
You say about theologians: “I assure you that they study topics that very very many people doubt the existence of”. I would comment here however that there are very many people who doubt the efficacy of psychiatry, of psychotherapy and of psychology – including the scientists of these fields. So, is the percentage of doubters in public opinion really a criterion of “reality”? On what scientific basis is this proven?
As for your assertions about the Holy Light: I wonder, have you personally gone to see for yourself what happens in Jerusalem with the Holy Light? Because if you had personally witnessed your own candle being set alight automatically and you not being burnt when placing your hand in that candle flame, you would most assuredly had voiced a different opinion! You see, the opinion of THOSE WHO HAVE NOT HAD THIS EXPERIENCE does not count; it is the opinion of THOSE WHO HAVE HAD THIS EXPERIENCE that counts! In other words, we are talking here about a genuine, scientifically provable method: the historical-judicial method. You need to firstly collect all the testimonies of those who have gone there, and only then will you see how many of them doubt the phenomenon of the Holy Light. To doubt something without having personal experience is meaningless, and is also not a scientific approach! A doubting of this kind is strictly a religious expression!
Apart form the above, there will always be those who will doubt any science whatsoever. I am in a position to point out a specific, awarded physicist, who doubts ALL the currently accepted Physics theories. So, what does that mean? That Physics is NOT a science, but a religion?
Furthermore, with what criteria have you omitted the religiously inclined from among the “seekers of truth”? Do you perhaps have proofs of atheistic views? I don’t think so. Therefore, there can be no “objective criterion” when searching for the truth; rather, one is welcome to research it from whichever aspect one desires and believes to be more rational – or at least more correct.
If the search for truth is tackled on the basis of “our
experiences and our senses” as you say,
then we must needs regard ALL CONTEMPORARY
THEORIES of Physics on extra dimensions in the Universe (for
example) as “RELIGIONS”, because these dimensions – according to
the common convictions of the scientists – are FOREIGN TO OUR
SENSES and it is only through the harmony of mathematical
formulas that they can appear POSSIBLE (but without being
actually proven). Therefore, should
we regard that
Physics has now
become a religion, and that all those who are involved in these
new theories are not scientists, but are members of a
kind of religion?
Translation by Dimitris L.
Article published in English on: 10-6-2008.
Last update: 10-6-2008.