Science and religion: water and oil


(Read it here in Spanish)

Some dudes in Vatican City (Pontifical Academy of Sciences) have been trying for decades to square the circle: reconciling science with Catholic religion (just as absurd as to try with any other). The argument of these experts, well financed by Vatican’s coffers (and indirectly by those in Spain who put the x on the box for the Church in their income tax return), is that there is no conflict between science and religion because the former cannot provide all the answers. Those who burnt Giordano Bruno at the stake, who forced Galileo to retract (“Eppur si muove!”) and also reduced Miguel Servet to ashes (this was not to blame on Catholics but on fanatical Calvin in his Protestant Taliban canton of Geneva), must not have been very convinced of this alleged compatibility. They were the very same people that in 19th century made fun of Charles Darwin, when Christianity in Europe began to lose its influence and to become something merely folklorical (the main unresolved matter in the Islamic world).

Science cannot provide all the answers, but religion is not even able to provide a reasonable one: to speculate about what provisionally – or maybe permanently, due to an epistemological limitation- lies beyond the scope of science there can only be a serious and well based metaphysics. Not disdaining, of course, the possible access via ways such as meditation to deep ineffable and elusive to reason realities.

It is true that science cannot answer some questions of the type of “what for”, such as what the personal sense of our life is. Science only registers a tendency of matter to self organize and evolve in complexity, unfolding emergencies such as life and consciousness. There could be a cosmic sense in it (a Universe that becomes more and more aware of itself), but life has no more sense for an individual that whatever he or she decides to self assign: be the worship of Baal, philately, Unión Deportiva Las Palmas football club, scuba diving, science itself, dedication to loved ones or spiritual quest (of course, they do not have to be mutually exclusive).

Science and religion can not be put on the same level. Denying science because you don’t find your God in it can not be equated with denying God (an interventionist and suspiciously anthropocentric one, like that of Judeo-Christian religions) because there is no scientific evidence (or simply out of common sense) to support it. There is no reasonable -nor logical- possible settlement in this respect because an empirically proven truth is not the same as an irrational belief obviously manufactured by our ancestors (an indeed social construct). In addition, unlike religious dogmas, scientific truths are always tentative: when others with better explanatory power come out, they are adopted by the corpus of science.

When Galileo discovered that Jupiter had moons running around, when he proved the hypothesis of Copernicus that the Earth was not the center of the universe, the foundations of the Church began to shake. The Aristotelian theory of the two spheres (the imperfect earthly and the perfect heavenly) was not sustainable any more. But the blow given by Darwin to traditional religious beliefs would be much more brutal: we are cousins with chimps; even rats, insects, and trees are part of our family! Then came Freud to tell us that the subconscious is much more powerful than the conscious self. If it wasn’t enough, we now know that the Sun is only one star out of some hundred billion in the Milky Way, itself one out of more than a trillion galaxies in the observable Universe. The last straw is that our world might be just one out of a vast multiverse that includes all possible universes, and that there could be multitude forms of intelligent life. Will there be many of them with beliefs such as that of dead raising up on the third day to save their congeners (and only them, not dogs, dolphins, or chimps)?


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