How do we resolve the contradictions between science and religion?

The following exchange took place on my Zion email discussion list. I think it is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the controversy between science and religion.

Jon Spencer wrote:

Science and religion are after the same thing – the truth. In the end, they will arrive at the same place.
—Jim Cobabe wrote:
I agree — the pursuits of man will eventually arrive at the same end. Those that neglect to recognize and acknowledge Heavenly Father will ultimately pass away.

We encounter problems in these disciplines because neither of religion or science is ever pursued with absolutely pure motives.

While we say that science is the pursuit of truth, in fact one of the first axioms on which science insists is that nothing supernatural exists. Thus science is always striving to describe nature with one arm tied back.

All things testify of God. To so confine and reduce the study of God’s creations to an exclusively naturalistic scope is to fail right from the start with a fatal flaw. When science learns how to discern the works of God it will have grown up.

The reality of contemporary science is that the “pure” discipline fulfils Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding those who are “ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 3:7).

Put these ideas in perspective. Science is a wonderful exploratory tool of discovery that returns all kinds of delightful gratuities. But science is also continuously in hot pursuit of countless false leads and unprofitable theories. What we now regard as “science” is as incomplete as a puzzle with only a few pieces properly placed. This too shall pass.

How do we resolve the apparent contradictions between science and religion? I don’t know, but I agree with Jim Cobabe that ultimately the truth of science and the truth of religion will be known. And in that day, there will be no seeming contradiction.

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6 Responses to How do we resolve the contradictions between science and religion?

  1. jcobabe says:

    Apparently my view of the historic process of supposedly “scientific” inquiry and discovery is dramatically different from those who seem to be the apologists and defenders in this matter. For example I look back at the scientific discipline of phrenology, and wonder how such an absurd thing could possibly evolve in the wonderful world of science.

    A revealing quote from one of the defenders of this science — “It would be an absurdity to reject Phrenology as such, without first assessing the value of the science, as is unfortunately too often done today. Extensive experimental verification of the Phrenological localizations have proven their practical value. The Phrenological analysis of personality remains of incomparable value to assess the character.? Of course we know this is just some old foolishness, science has grown so much smarter today. But the quote is from a work of science published in 1998.

    Then we might go on and ask other things about science, like just exactly how many planets orbit in our solar system, or perhaps something more practical and close to home, like where the AIDS virus came from.

    If science had answers to everything my feelings would be somewhat different. But in fact science does very little to provide answers for more practical questions, especially the very troubles personal issues that only my religious faith and inquiry seem to address in any significant way.

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is pretty much what church leaders have taught all along. Over 125 years ago, Elder Orson Pratt stated: “Science and true religion never can possibly contradict each other. There never was any truth in science that would contradict any principle of revelation that God ever revealed to man.”

  3. Clark Goble says:

    Regarding all things testifying of God, I agree they do. However this avoids the question of how they testify. i.e. what is the process by which they testify. Clearly they don’t only testify of God. Clearly they don’t unambiguously testify of God.

  4. Clark Goble says:

    As I mentioned on my blog, it isn’t clear that “belief in the supernatural” resolves anything in the science/religious battles, unless by supernatural we simply mean God intentionally made the world so it appeared to be something else. Sort of like the new earthers who take a literal view of Genesis 1, but then say God made the rock layers the way they are and planted fossils, and so forth. i.e. God made the world intelligible with one naturally arriving at scientific conclusions, but this is really just a “Matrix-like” false reality that one will always misinterpret.

    Obviously such a “Matrix-like” solution offers all sorts of problems, not the least of which being the “why” question and the problem of deception.

    Once you reject those sorts of possibilities, where does a notion of the supernatural help anything? I can’t see how it does.

  5. Jared says:

    I can’t claim this idea as my own, but re-read the email and substitute “meteorology,” “meteorologists,” and “weather” for any references to science, scientists, or nature. This makes the email sound different. The reason why may be worth considering.

  6. “Ultimately the truth of science and the truth of religion will be known. And in that day, there will be no seeming contradiction.”

    That maybe true, but the question is which one will have to readjust more in order to weed out of discrepencies? If past experience is any indicator at all, then I would have to guess religion.

    That said, there are a few statements made by Jim which I feel should be qualified.

    “Those that neglect to recognize and acknowledge Heavenly Father will ultimately pass away.”

    I think he is over stating his position here by more than a little bit. Perhaps those ideas which are in conflict with or contradict the existence of God will go away, but I don’t think that God will be a part of all scientific theories in the end. For instance, there is no God in F=ma. Surely we aren’t going to reject it for not mentioning God.

    “Neither of religion or science is ever pursued with absolutely pure motives.”

    Is he talking about religion and science in general or the people involved in those enterprises? Obviously people are motiviated by many factors other than a search for truth, but this is not to say that all are necessarily biased either. Then again, maybe it would be better if he defined what he means exactly by “pure” motives. Does this mean a desire for truth? A desire to prove God’s existence? What?

    “While we say that science is the pursuit of truth, in fact one of the first axioms on which science insists is that nothing supernatural exists. Thus science is always striving to describe nature with one arm tied back.”

    The absense of supernaturalism is hardly an axiom of science. This is definitely a caricature at best. A supernatural reality is superfluous in most theories and is therefore not invoked. There is also no falsifiable or repeatable evidence for it either. It is for these reasons that science CONCLUDES (not assumes) that this supernatural reality to lie outside of science as we now know it if it exists at all. Without any evidence either way, science can’t really speak either way about it. Again, I think he is confusing (maybe intentionally so) the difference between science and scientists.

    “All things testify of God.”

    In my opinion this is a rhetorical device that should never be used in a serious debate. How can anybody maintain that all the vast amounts of evil in the world testify that there is a God? If they do testify of Him, then what, exactly, are they testifying of Him? That He is weak? That He is evil Himself? What? (See Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion for Details)

    “The reality of contemporary science is that the “pure” discipline fulfils Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding those who are “ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”.”

    This simply sounds like somebody who is more than a little bitter that science by and large has not confirmed their preconcieved beliefs. If science has not come to any truth, maybe it would be best if we abandoned all of the wonderful things which we take advantage of every day which are based on sciences truthfulness. Let’s get rid of plumbing, medicine, electricity, engines and live like the Amish. Until somebody is willing to do that, I’m simply not willing to take their application of Paul’s verse seriously. Science has accumulated more truth than religion has hands down. Now one can argue that the truth of science isn’t as important, but that isn’t what I said, nor is this what Jim was claiming.

    My tool for dealing with the religion/science debate is a healthy amount of skepticism applied to both sides. I know this doesn’t work so well for a self-proclaimed “Iron Rod”, but it works alright for myself, a “Liahona.” The prophets aren’t perfect in their beliefs regarding religion any more than scientist are in their beliefs regarding science. Religion bases their knowledge in authoritative claims. Science does its best to root out all claims based on authority, instead taking experience and reason as their guides.

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