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Conflicts & agreements between science and religion

This section looks at the conflicts between the truth claims of science and religion
Kelly Clark and Justin L. Barrett (2011) argue that the cognitivescience of religion offers the prospect of an empirically-informedReidian defense of religious belief. Thomas Reid (1764) proposed thatwe are justified in holding beliefs that arise from cognitivefaculties universally present in humans which give rise tospontaneous, non-inferential beliefs. If cognitive scientists areright in proposing that belief in God arises naturally from theworkings of our minds, we are prima facie justified in believing inGod (Clark and Barrett 2011). Ryan Nichols and Robert Callergård(2011), however, argue that this defense only works for perceptualfaculties, memory, and reliance on testimony, not for the mix ofculture and evolved biases that constitute religions, as that does notform a Reidian faculty. Others (e.g., Visala 2011) claim that thecognitive science of religion has neither positive nor negativeepistemological implications.

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By contrast, some authors see stochasticity as a genuine designfeature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is toexplain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness.(Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started theuniverse off and did not interfere with how it went, but that optionis not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of scienceand religion are theists, rather than deists.) Elizabeth Johnson(1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divineprovidence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creaturestrue causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if theylacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes;chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety,and freedom.

 

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Barbour's arguments have been developed in significant and diverse ways by a variety of scholars. In his 1979 Bampton Lectures and in his 1983 Mendenhall Lectures, Arthur Peacocke (born 1924) endorsed critical realism in both science and religion (cf. Peacocke, 1979, 1984). In science, where challenges to realism from sociologists of knowledge were mounting, Peacocke draw on arguments for realism by Ernan McMullin, Hilary Putnam and Ian Hacking. In his 1993 Gifford Lectures, Peacocke acknowledged the diversity of positions held by scientific realists but argued for a "common core" of claims: that scientific change is progressive and that the aim of science is to depict reality (cf. Peacocke, 1993). Peacocke made a similar case for critical realism in theology, where the social conditioning of beliefs is generally assumed. As in science, theological concepts and models are partial, inadequate, and revisable, and, unlike those in science, they include a strong, affective function. Still Peacocke views them as "[the] necessary and, indeed, the only ways of referring to 'God' and to God's relation with humanity," though he stresses that referring to (e.g., the via positiva) does not mean describing God (the via negativa). Its grounding in a continuous community and interpretative tradition make it "reasonable" to accept theology's explication of religious experience, though metaphorical and revisable, as an inference to the best explanation (cf. Peacocke, 1993, pp. 11-19).


Yet even while Barbour was developing this position, scientific realism was being challenged in a number of ways. Though Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) had focused primarily on factors internal to the scientific community, sociologists from the 1970s on explored the social construction of science. These externalist accounts of science emphasized the social history of science and the variety of political and economic influences on science. According to one school (the "strong program"), the theory-ladenness of data and the underdetermination of theories by evidence heavily influence the formation and content of scientific theories and the ways they are assessed (cf. Bloor, 1976; Rudwick, 1981; Hesse, 1988). At the same time, Marxists argued that science is a source of power over nature and thus over people, power rationalized by appeals to the myth of objectivity. Meanwhile the diversity of philosophical views on in science was growing, along with an increasing number of anti-realist positions (among realists: Putnam, 1976; Hacking, 1983; Leplin, 1984; among anti-realists: van Fraassen, 1980; Laudan, 1977; for a recent anthology see McMullin, 1988). Realists frequently argued that social and personal influences are gradually filtered out by the methods of testing used in the sciences. Moreover, the increasing success in predictive power and technological application implies that scientific knowledge is referential. Barbour's recent assessment is that these externalist accounts provide a "valuable corrective" to the internalist view, particularly regarding the context of discovery. However, the appeal to interests is hard to document and it underestimates the constraints on theories by data and the fact that the testing of theories reduces distortions due to ideologies and interests. Finally, the charge of cultural relativism should apply to the externalist claim as well.


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Barbour's argument culminates in his use of paradigm analysis to place science and religion on a continuous spectrum in which both display "subjective" as well as "objective" features, though the former are more prominent in religion and the latter in science. The subjective features include «the influence of theory on data, the resistance of comprehensive theories to falsification, and the absence of rules for choice among paradigms». Objective features include «the presence of common data on which disputants can agree, the cumulative effect of evidence for or against a theory, and the existence of criteria which are not paradigm-dependent» (cf. Barbour, 1974, ch. 7; Barbour 1990, p. 65). It is the dynamic tension between similarities and differences, and between subjective and objective features in both science and religion, that together make Barbour's analysis so original and fruitful.

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Exclude God from the definition of science and, in one felldefinitional swoop, you exclude the greatest natural philosophers ofthe so-called scientific revolution—Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo,Boyle, and Newton (to name just a few). (2014: 42)

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Turning to philosophy of religion, Barbour constructed a similar defense of critical realism. Here his sources in religious epistemology, methodology and language include the writings of John Wisdom, John Hick, Ian Ramsey and Frederick Ferré (cf. Barbour, 1990, chs. 2-3; 1966, chs. 8-9; 1974, chs. 4-9). With these arguments in place, Barbour was prepared to make his crucial, "bridging" methodological claim: «the basic structure of religion is similar to that of science in some respects, though it differs at several crucial points» (Barbour, 1990, p.36). Similarities: Both science and religion make cognitive claims about the world using a hypothetico-deductive method and a contextualist and historicist framework. Both communities organize observation and experience through models seen as analogical, extensible, coherent and symbolic, and these models are expressed through metaphors. Differences. But there are important differences in the "data" of religion compared to that of science (cf. Barbour, 1990, ch. 2). Religious models serve non-cognitive functions which are missing in science, such as eliciting attitudes, personal involvement and transformation. Moreover, compared to science, where theories tend to dominate models, in religion models are more influential than theories (cf. Barbour, 1990, pp. 46-47, 65). Religion lacks lower-level laws such as those found in science, and the emergence of consensus seems "an unrealizable goal." Religion also includes elements not found in science such as story, ritual, and revelation through historical events.