Monday, January 30, 2012

The Incompatibility of Science and Religion

There are many, including respected scientists, who believe that science and religion are compatible; that they are not in conflict. Some consider science and religion as being two ways of knowing. The late Stephen Jay Gould called it non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA).1

Trying to accept both science and religion as ways of knowing, however, would have to result in cognitive dissonance, for they are surely conflicting positions. Science relies on the ability to test observations and doesn’t accept anything without evidence. Religion, on the other hand, doesn’t require evidence; it only requires faith.

There are some who think that in spite of this, science and religion can be accommodating; that there is a place for both. Surely that would result in a lot of confusion. I couldn’t function like Marcus Ross, who received his PhD from the University of Rhode Island in 2006. Dr. Ross's dissertation was about marine reptiles that vanished during the dinosaur extinction event 65 million years ago. Dr. Ross is also a young Earth creationist who thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.2 He apparently has no trouble believing the scientific age of the Earth (4.5 b.y.)  during the week and then believing it is less than 10,000 years old on Sunday. The laws of science do not change depending on the day of the week.

Religion accepts the possibility of miracles; something that science could not accept. If it were possible to incorporate religion into science, science would need to allow for miracles. That would mean that all the laws of science would need to include a miracle factor. E=mc2 would need to be changed to something like E= mc2 + f(m) where f(m) is the miracle factor.

On the Earth, Newton’s law of gravitation is F=mg, where F is the gravitational force with which a falling object will strike the Earth having a gravitational acceleration, g. On Earth, g = 9.81 m/s2 or 32.2 ft/s2. To accommodate religion, Newton’s equation would need to be modified to F=mg +f(m).

My brother-in-law unwittingly performed an experiment to test this equation by accidently walking into a window well at a new home construction site. Although he got rather banged up in the fall and was sore for a few days, he wasn’t seriously hurt. However, he probably would not be willing to perform additional tests of this "modified" version of Newton’s law of gravitation. Although he didn’t directly measure it, he knows that in his first test f(m) was equal to zero, or, at least, very close to zero. I’m sure the Force he felt in hitting the bottom of the window well was equal to the ‘mg’ portion of the equation, and probably felt like it was even more than that. I wonder how many of those who believe science and religion are compatible would be willing to undertake additional tests of Newton’s "modified" law of gravitation and how many tests it would take for them to accept that f(m) will always be zero.

 In the 325 years since Newton derived his equation and since it has been universally used in science, there has never been a need for the miracle factor; f(m) has always been equal to zero. That would seem to be pretty good evidence that there are no miracles (at least in science; in football?... Maybe.)

1  Gould, Stephen Jay, 1999, Rocks of Ages; Ballantine Books
2  Dean Cornelia, 2007, Believing Scripture but Playing by Science’s Rules; New York Times (

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My favorite reads of 2011:

David Eagleman – Incognito; Lives of the Brain (2011)
Richard Wiseman – 59 Seconds (2010)

Honorable mention
V. Ramachandran - The Tell-Tale Brain; A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human (2011)
J. Thomson - Why We Believe in God (2011)
Lisa Randall - Knocking on Heaven's Door (2011)
Brian Greene - The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (2011)
Lynne Kelly - The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal (2005)

Michael Prescott -  Last Breath (2001)
H.W. Bernard – Eyewall (2011)

Honorable mention
Lisa Gardner – Alone (2005)
Michael Prescott - Blind Pursuit (2011)
Lee Child – Persuader (2009)
Michael Connelly - Black Ice (2003)
James Rollins - The Judas Strain (2011)