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Religion vs. Science

Earle Fox

October 11, 2004

The Washington Post
OpEd@WashPost.com  (Not published)

To the Editor:

        The Charles County School Board's cogitations on religion vs. science in the curriculum illustrates the ignorance abroad on these issues (Joshua Partlow, Sunday, Oct. 10).

        The contest is not between religion versus science, but between differing religions.

        The word 'religion' comes from the Latin 'religio', which means to "bind back" or "bind together" (as in "ligament" which binds the body together). The religion of a culture was its worldview, that which bound the culture together -- its common beliefs, values, traditions.

        Religion was thus not a "personal" matter, forbidden from the public arena. The religion of the culture was the most public of all things, that which people celebrated together. Religion got privatized only in the 1800's because Christians (mainly) found themselves incapable of defending their faith in public, and so hid it away in their hearts and behind church walls -- with the gleeful assistance of secular folks. A fatal and silly mistake.

        Science is a set of rules for finding the truth about a matter. Theology was once called the queen of sciences. If you have rules of evidence which can be used publicly, which apply neutrally to all persons in the discussion, and which lead to the truth of a given area of study, you have a science. So persons of any religion can "do science".

        Historically, science, as a culturally sustained search for empirical truth, began in the late Middle Ages, after a thousand years of being steeped in the Biblical worldview. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, Romans, and, no doubt, others, had the technology to begin science, but they did not have the right worldview (religion). It all came together in only one place, western Europe at the end of the Middle Ages.

        The primary reason is that the Biblical worldview alone describes the cosmos as a rational, i.e., intelligently designed, place. No pagan worldview, including the Hellenic, believed that. So they did not expect to find law-abiding substances or regularity in nature. Life "in this world" was expected to be chaotic, not regular. The only order to be found was that imposed by our own power and might - as by Rome.

        The shift came in the 15- and 1600's, primarily with Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo, who began developing the "empirical attitude", shifting the emphasis from the Aristotelian focus on reasoning from "first principles". The empiricists said: Look at the object. Study nature to find out about nature rather than trying to figure out nature from philosophical principles not derived from nature. If you want to see whether there are moons around Jupiter, look at Jupiter, do not read ancient philosophers who had no telescopes and thus no way to examine Jupiter.

        Secular folks will say, "No, it was the Renaissance revival of Greek philosophy which led to the rise of science." They are only partly right. The Greek contribution was the development of critical, rational thinking -- as per Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Logical analysis is essential to science, but not sufficient. So the Hellenic worldview, the way they imagined the cosmos, was inadequate to sustain pursuit of empirical truth. They located the rational in a level above and beyond the world of time and space, not as part of the nature of the world itself. For Plato, the body was the prison house, not the home, of the soul.

        Science has to be based on something dependable. But the Hellenic culture did not see the world as dependable. For Plato, the dependable world was that of the "Ideas", the forms in the heavenlies, of which the world of time and space was only a very degraded reflection. So he was limited to reasoning everything from the dependable Ideas rather than from undependable observation, and thus empirical science could not develop. A worldview had to come along which believed the empirical, space/time world itself to be rational. That was the Biblical gift to the world.

        But, sadly, Christians got cold feet about this science thing and gave it away to secularists, who gladly used it to beat up on Christianity. Secularists came to think of themselves as though they had invented science, and that, indeed, secularism and science were the same thing.

        Secularism, by the above definition, is just another "religion", another way of seeing the way things are. It might or might not be the right one. One is not scientific because he is secular, one is scientific by following the rules of evidence in a given field. That can be done by any honest and competent person.

        What, then, to do about education, secularism, and religion? If both Christianity and secularism are religions, then one must conclude that our public school system has become the Church of Secular Humanism. Secularism is a religion (read the first Humanist Manifesto which insists on that point), and is thus in violation of the separation of Church and State.

        The problem is neither religion nor secularism. It is coercion. Civil government is all about coercion. Laws are made to be coerced. Comprehensive education will always be based on somebody's worldview, somebody's religion. An honest contest of religions will not put the coercive force of government behind one of them. So, if government should not be in control of our various religions, then it should not be in control of education. And for the same reason: both religion and education form the hearts and minds of the citizens.

        So, neither religion nor education should be promoted (as it were) at gun point. If Christianity should not be the enforced religion, then neither should secular humanism. Only when government gets out of the education business, stops enforcing belief at all, and gives it back to parents, students, and government-independent societies can there be a free market of ideas and religions honestly competing for the hearts and minds of the public. When America educated that way (pre-1840's), we had the best educated population in the world. Now look at us.

        When we do it that way again, education, science, and religion will, once again, all flourish.

Yours truly,
Earle Fox

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