Gould's Writings
On Religion And Science
Ed Infidel

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Ed Infidel"
Subject: Re: Science and Religion
Date: September 11, 2001 2:25 AM PDT

I have not read the book.

Too many times, religion has made claims about the testable, about the realm of science. Creationism is one of those claims.

If religion does make claims that are testable, then we do well to test them. Since we can already rest assured that faith is not a very good way to determine scientific fact, we can predict that a large percentage of the claims pertaining to the testable which are rooted in faith will prove false.

Some will get lucky, to be sure, and you can bet that the religionists will constantly remind the public of these lucky guesses (such as the discovery of the benzene ring during a dream or the ancient Hebrew law mandating that fecal matter be buried -- never mind that the reason given was that God didn't want to step in it! [Deut. 23]).

A new group of creationists are trying to redefine science as itself a myth, being the "history" of White European males. The difference is that if science is a myth, it sure works better for what it claims to do than any of the other methods do -- even for what those methods claim to do! Thus, I will use the moral principles contained within scientific method to direct as many aspects of my life as I can!

In this sense, science is, first and foremost, a moral system. Science says that I will present any claim of fact to my peers for the express purpose of challenging them to scrutinize my work. I am deliberately wanting them to prove me wrong. And, I will submit to the results of that scrutiny. If my peers show me that I am in error, I will toss it away like the old oil from an oil change and think nothing of it -- even if this is the pet theory that I've spent most of my life perfecting! If a young graduate student comes up with something that completely and definitively unravels my life's work, I have much cause for celebration: now we all know where not to go in the future!

I know of no religious system that even comes close to this standard of morality. No religion says,

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Herein are the tenets of Religion R:

1. Religion R is the truth as we currently know it;

2. You are to test the current tenets of Religion R under the most strenuous conditions imaginable;

3. If Religion R fails to hold up under this testing, you are to abandon Religion R and adhere instead to what you have discovered (if, indeed, you discovered anything other than that Religion R is falsehood), until such time as that system is overthrown by new evidence."

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No religion says this at all (except a few based in Buddhism which are, actually, science disguised as religion rather than religion disguised as science). All (other) religious systems claim a thing called faith, which supercedes all other methods for determining truth. Religion is a method for some to gain power and influence over others.

Science, on the other hand, is open to all and favors none. Nobody has the final word and anybody can challenge any claim made by anybody. Know any religions that have survived by doing this? Science even says, if you find a superior method for determining truth, abandon science and adhere to that method.

I would never let somebody tell me about meaning or purpose who claimed to get her or his information through exclusive means that are not available to me and verifiable by anybody who goes to the trouble of applying those means in the discovery of truth. I would never let someone tell me about morality who got their information the same way.

In all cases that you mentioned, I want to be able to test somebody's claim. If I cannot test their claim, then who is to say that those people were just thinking up stuff from the tops of their heads? And why would what I think up from the top of my head be any inferior to what they said? -- except for one thing: I am responsible for my own actions. This is why I don't want somebody else telling me anything about morality unless they also tell me how I may independently verify what they just said.

This is science. This is why I run as many aspects of my life -- moral aspects -- to as close to scientific method as I can. I don't think that any of the religions that Gould discussed have anything on science in any matter.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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