Sunday, 10 August 2014

Can we really claim that there are religious explanations to things that are not attainable to science?

I’m a physics researcher at the University of XX and have been following the science religion discussion for fifteen years. So great thanks to John for his work on the subject! Your site also seems armed with quite a good understanding the Q&A section covers a lot in a concise and thoughtful manner.

I have a question that has been on the back of my mind for some time now: Can we really claim that there are religious explanations to things that are not attainable to science? I mean, science in itself basically tries to explain everything. I have read several works on the subject, but have not found any reasons why science in principle could not touch on meaning and purpose etc. As science is not too well defined (what is science and what is not, problem of demarcation) and religion as well is not too well defined either, its hard to see any principled reasons as to why they could not overlap, even completely.

So, at some point, if and when science will try to touch on something Christianity also clearly explains (like meaning, purpose and morals), I think we should not surrender that area to science but in fact claim that we have a better explanation than the scientific one.
To put it more clearly, at which point do we make a stand against attempted materialist explanations as they will try to progress and cover all of life and experience? If we make a stand, and because current science accepts only materialist explanations, should we change science to accept non-materialist explanations, or should we claim that this, admittedly religious explanation, is a better explanation than the scientific one, and the scientific explanation should be abandoned?

Science doesn’t try to explain everything. It focuses on questions that are tractable using the scientific method, with experiment and mathematical formulation.

Of course Science can “touch on” almost everything because almost any question of interest has some adjacent questions which could legitimately be considered scientific. So you could do a scientific study of the prevalence and diffusion of beliefs about values (say) or about genetic or neurological factors that were associated with such beliefs, or the mechanisms by which such beliefs were held. But these could not tell you whether the beliefs were morally or philosophically valid unless you had some additional premises which were by definition extra-scientific.

In particular science by definition cannot explain why the scientific method should work so well in our universe. Almost everyone agrees that the (region of the) universe in which we live is exquisitely fine-tuned for life. This leads to fascinating scientific questions (such as my MaxHELP hypothesis) but whether this is God’s creation or some cosmic fluke is not a scientific question.

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