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Science and Religion are Compatible
Letter from Barry Williams

Editor of 'the Skeptic', the official magazine of
Australian Skeptics Inc.

"Creationists often claim that holding a religious belief and accepting the correctness of the theory of evolution are incompatible. This is clearly untrue."
--Barry Williams

Neither a belief, nor a lack of belief, in a deity is a precondition for being a scientist. There are plenty of scientists whose belief in a god is strengthened by their understanding of the workings of the universe.  They see a god who is capable of setting in motion all of the remarkable and complex interactions that make the universe possible; a god that doesn't need to abrogate those laws by performing miracles. 

There are scientists who are adherents of all of the world's religions, whose science is not compromised by their personal religious beliefs.  There are also plenty of scientists who see no need for such a deity and who can still marvel at the intricacies of nature. The differences between them are philosophical, not scientific, and are, in any case, very personal, as are all religious beliefs.

Then there are people, some of whom have scientific qualifications, who hold that the only way to know about god is to read, in strictly literal terms, books that are quite clearly (to any objective reader) the attempts of a tribal society to come to grips with forming into a nation and with 'their' relationship with 'their' god.

In expecting these books to reflect, indeed to prescribe, everything that has been learned about the natural world since they were written is to denigrate the concept of deity contained in the books.  In fact, the books perfectly reflect the understanding of the universe that one would expect from a tribal society of about 2-3000 years ago.

Of course the Bible makes no reference to evolution, because the concept would have had no meaning to those who wrote the books.  The Bible also makes no reference to quantum mechanics, relativity, the germ theory of disease, the table of the elements, plate techtonics, the electromagnetic spectrum, or anything else that is fundamental to the understanding of nature and science. In cultural and religious terms, these are very significant books; as scientific text books they are worthless.

To consider these books as scientific texts is a sign of wilful ignorance, not only ignorance of science, but ignorance of the nature of God.  The god who inspires those who understand the realities of nature must be both immensely powerful and incredibly subtle, one who can formulate the extremely subtle and complex rules that cause the natural world to operate.

One does not need to believe in such a deity to appreciate the concept.

On the other hand, the god who inspires Young Earth Creationists is nothing more than a cosmic prestidigitator, a deity who can produce rabbits (and universes) out of a hat, but is not bright enough to conceive of anything as complex as evolution. A very second-rate deity indeed. One can only wonder why, having "created man in his image", this kindergarten deity bothered inserting a brain into his creation. Much better to have created the Sony Corporation and instructed it to build a microchip programmed to do nothing but worship and obey. A brain seems superfluous to what the Young Earth Creationists see as being the reason for humanity's existence, and one can only assume it was put into Adam to stop his head ringing like a gong when he bumped it.

In any case, none of this tells us very much about the nature of any god, but it does tell us a great deal about the nature of human beings.  Some human beings want to find out about the world around them and seek knowledge, exhibit the habit of inquiry, value scholarship, etc.  Others are so frightened of the world around them that they draw their infantile beliefs around them like a cloak, frantically avoid knowledge, inquiry or scholarship, and flaunt their ignorance like a badge of honour.  This latter category encompasses religious fundamentalists and the proponents of new age fatuities alike.

They are entitled to their views, but they have no concomitant right to have their views taken seriously.

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