Can Science and Religion be Reconciled?

Illustration for article titled Can Science and Religion be Reconciled?

Physicist Sean Carroll and @YourTitleSucks agree. The answer is "No."

Slate has republished a thought-provoking essay by author, blogger and physicist Sean Carroll about why he won't take money from the John Templeton Foundation, "a philanthropic organization that supports research into the 'Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality,' encourages 'dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians,' and seeks to use science to acquire 'new spiritual information.'" In other words: the JTF seeks to unify science and religion.


Carroll's essay is ultimately about two brands of centrism: the first ontological, the second professional. The former, he asserts, is impossible. He refuses to work directly with or accept funding from the JTF, because he believes their mission undermines the role of scientists to be as "clear and direct and loud" about the nature of reality as possible, and that "collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message."

The latter, however, is doable – at least in Carroll's eyes. While he will not accept funding from JTP directly, he readily acknowledges that he will work with people who do take money from JTF, "money that is appropriately laundered, if you will," if he believes them to be worth "collaborating with in their own right." This places him in a bit of a situation:

This means that approximately nobody agrees with me; the Templeton-friendly folks think I’m too uptight and priggish, while the anti-Templeton faction finds me sadly lacking in conviction. So be it. These are issues without easy answers, and I don’t mind taking a judicious middle ground.


I worry that Carroll's piece will strike some people as hypocritical, for at least two reasons that I can think of.

1. There's the obvious one: Carroll's "twice-removed" policy of handling JTF money and his "lack of conviction" to the naturalist/atheist cause. He mentions this himself in his piece, and it's something he has effectively asked us to :: sunglasses:: Deal With, as is his right.

2. Carroll's assertion that professional quandaries such as where do I get my funding? are "issues without easy answers," whereas conundrums like is there a higher power? aren't really conundrums at all.

Now, it's clear to me why the second criticism would make sense had Carroll's piece been written in a vacuum – but it wasn't. In fact, it's part of a long, ongoing, and really quite big debate on Accommodationism (which is just another name for the debate over whether science and religion can be reconciled). This debate obviously goes back many, many years, but it was recently reignited in a major way by evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne; his book, Why Evolution is True; and his eponymous blog. If you really want to dig into this stuff, I highly recommend checking out Coyne's collection of blog posts cataloguing the opposing viewpoints on the subject of Accommodationism – including this one, by Carroll, wherein he explains in much more formal, well-delineated terms why he finds science and religion so incompatible.


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Yes, they can.

But only if each chooses to focus on its own sphere. Science is about building upon our existing library of knowledge via observation, testing, and proof. Religion is examining the deeper questions that extend beyond matter into the spiritual.

Each has drawn inspiration and inferences from the other before, but one cannot definitively use science to prove religion, unless God happens to show up in a lab one day.