Science asks how religion asks why

6 Jul

I think this was a quote from the Angles and Demons movie. The idea behind it is that science and religion are not these two opposing forces that offer different explanations for the same phenomenon, instead they’re addressing two different questions.

Well this would be great if it were true. It sure sounds like a nice quote, but that of course has no bearing on its validity. The key problem with this quote is that it confuses religion with philosophy. While religion contains some elements of philosophy, that is only a fraction of the picture. Religion is much more active where philosophy is passive, especially when it comes to telling people who to live their lives.

Religion and philosophy both divide people into groups, yet philosophy works more in the realm of the abstract and doesn’t have the same political implications that religion does. For instance, you would never see a group of empiricists burning down the house of a constructionalist like you would see members of religious group A destroying the house of a member of religious group B. The difference might best be summed up by “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned”

(EDIT after point made by reader: Political philosophy completely slipped my mind and would negate the above paragraph. While these kind of philosophies would result in actual friction between two groups, here I am mainly focusing on academic philosophies like Logic, Epistemology, and Metaphysics)

Yes science focuses on how we got here instead of why, but religion originally started out as a way to explain the same phenomenon that science now does. Ancient tribes had spiritual leaders to explain what caused thunder, or where the sun went at night, all natural events that science now explains.

Still to this day religion retains these ancient roots. The “intelligent design” battle in the United States is a perfect example. Here religion is fighting against science (in a debate the rest of the world realized religion lost 100 years ago) over “how”.

I think it’s interesting that in the same movie Ewan McGregor’s character protest “If science is allowed to claim the power of creation, what’s left for god?!?!” Here he is acknowledging that religion still does try to dabble in “how” instead of “why”. For the “science asks how religion asks why” quote to be true, religion would have to stop trying to explain the same things science does, but then it wouldn’t be religion, it’d be philosophy.

5 Responses to “Science asks how religion asks why”

  1. poppies July 6, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    You make fine enough points, but I do feel the need to express my shock at your claim that philosophy doesn’t have political implications which are as impactful as those of religion. I’m thinking of Marxism, in particular; certainly houses have been burned down in the name of the proletariat.

  2. godlesspaladin July 6, 2009 at 12:55 am #


    Touché! Very good point! That completely slipped my mind.

  3. CogitoErgoCogitoSum July 6, 2009 at 3:29 am #

    So you dont think empiricism and logic are schools of philosophical inquiry in themselves? Prove that science is valid?! Prove that logic is valid?! Can you? The fundamental basis of logic and science are unprovable, and yet we rely on them. We put FAITH in them only because we observe the effects. Science is also political. Science is also blind. Religion IS philosophy. Science IS philosophy. All things are philosophy. Religions are not evil, religious groups dont burn down houses of other religious groups. Fanatics do. Fanatics have also caused coups and overthrew governments. Fanatics are violent, even if for non-religious causes. Politicians are judges are men, and they are corruptible… hardly different than the corruption of an ancient church ran by men of cloth. How do citing the failings of men speak to the validity of religion?

  4. spacefoetus July 6, 2009 at 10:49 am #

    I think you’re confusing religion with philosophy when you characterise the Intelligent Design controversy as religion vs. science.

    I do not affirm Intelligent Design as far as it is applied to the discipline of biology (my views on the fine tuning of the universe would probably been seen as an example of Intelligent Design, but this is in the realm of physics), however it is NOT a religious manner, except perhaps in a trivial way i.e. religious people will be motivated to accept intelligent design based on various religious reasons.

    Several advocates (or influencial figueres) of the intelligent design movement 5are actually agnostic for example Michael Denton. This is because Intelligent Design never actually specifies the properties of the designer. Theists who already have a belief in God would claim God as the intelligent designer since on their paradigm He is the most obvious explanation.

    But the questions of intelligent design are philsophical and scientific, not religious, in nature.

    Philosophical questions include the nature of science and whether methodological naturalism is a necessary condition for science, as well as how we infer design from physical structures

    Scientific questions include the question of whether or not irredculibly complex biological structures exist.

    If person X is not religious in the slightest, yet he comes via philosophical reasons to affirm a William Dembski esq “Design Inference” and he comes via scientific reasons to affirm the existence of irreducibly complex biological structures, then he will affirm Intelligent Design. No religion necessary.

    I also dispute your affirmation of what is known by historians of science and religion as “The Conflict Myth” i.e. the idea that science has been “battling” religion and that religion has somehow “lost” this conflict.

  5. BLACKSHOT PREMIUM HACK October 3, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    He’s not from here, and he’s kind of been busy in the past few months, so I could find it in me to cut him some slack.
    One minute he’s stage left and the next he’s stage right.
    Enjoy Chef Caitlin Mateo’s $35 3-Course Prix-fixe Menu:

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