Science and religion: philosophy

August 15, 2006 at 2:48 am 7 comments

Gould, S. 2001. “Two Separate Domains” in ed. Michael Peterson. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. p. 499 Oxford University Press, New York.


Dawkins, R. 2001. “Science Discredits Religion” in ed. Michael Peterson. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. p. 509. Oxford University Press, New York.


Murphy, N. 2001. “Theology and Scientific Methodology” in ed. Michael Peterson. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. p. 513. Oxford University Press, New York.



The above three articles represent three different, even opposing viewpoints on the philosophical relationship between science and religion.  Stephen Gould and Richard Dawkins present opposing opinions.  For Gould religion and science should not in fact conflict as the two operate over separate domains: moral meaning in contrast to empirical theory: “what is the universe made of.” (1)  However, Gould recognises that, “many of our deepest questions call upon aspects of both magistri for different parts of a full answer.” (2)  Dawkins’ article is written in direct disagreement with Gould’s.  For Dawkins, science in fact directly discredits those religious claims that he believes do make claims that are concerned with, “what the universe is made of,” or, are reliant upon the way in which the universe is.  Nancy Murphy presents a complete alternate viewpoint that argues for the understanding of religion and science through a different epistemical viewpoint.  For Murphy, religion and science can be viewed to have the same processes at the basis of their knowledge.  Murphy considers that the phenomena of religious experience can be studied scientifically.  It is her argument that an apologist needs to demonstrate that, “non-theistic programmes…cannot do as good a job in accounting for religious experience as do theological programmes.” (3)


These three viewpoints can be clearly seen in the efforts of the current cosmic design argument.  Indeed, the current endeavour can be seen to be largely driven by Murphy’s challenge to demonstrate that a theistic universe explains the existence of the universe far better than that of a non-theistic universe.  Further, this debate has produced many arguments that attempt to demonstrate Gould’s stand that the two domains should not infiltrate into the other. (4)  This debate has also drawn much attention from those who follows Dawkins opinion and perceive the debate to demonstrate the non-existence  of a theistic belief, or as N. Manson  has noted, consider it to demonstrate that such a deity would not hold the traditional theistic attributes. (5)  Indeed, it is clear that all three viewpoints are represented.  However, each argument bounds off the other for its weaknesses and its strengths. 



  1. Gould, S. 2001. “Two Separate Domains” in ed. Michael Peterson. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. p. 499 Oxford University Press, New York. p. 502
  2. Gould. “Two Separate” p. 503


3.  Murphy, N. 2001. “Theology and Scientific Methodology” in ed. Michael Peterson. Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. p. 513. Oxford University Press, New York. p. 522


  1. See Fulmer, G. 2001. “A Fatal Flaw in the Anthropic Principle Design Argument” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion. vol. 49. pp. 101-110.


5. See Manson, N. 2000. “Anthropocentricism and the Design Argument” Religious Studies. vol. 36. pp. 163-176.


Entry filed under: religion, science, Uncategorized.

Fundamentalism Critique of two articles on The Holocaust

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. inaeth  |  August 27, 2006 at 7:53 am

    Thank you so much for this article! However, are you purposely omitting your own viewpoints? Which argument do you lean towards?

    I had orignally read these essays quite some time ago, and felt torn between the two viewpoints. The problem, as I see it, with Gould’s interpretating of the relationship between empirical knowledge and the concepts of both human morality as well as that of a “moral universe” lies in the fact that Gould attributes moral, or ethical, behavior in extant human societies to belief. I’ve always felt that this was patently false, but have never been challenged to exemplify my belief through rigorous logical analysis. I can point to anecdotal literature by the score, but have never researched it. Dawkins view, in my mind, is quite nearer the truth, or at least the truth as current data and reasoning allows.

    Be that as it may, I will now read Macy’s article.

  • 2. Natalie Rae  |  August 27, 2006 at 9:33 am

    My own opinion consists a little of each, and stands outside them! Gould’s notion that religion does not in fact preside over the makeup of the world is only half-false. I think the matter is that religious or a world view tells the adherent how the world is ordered – what goes where and how. I don’t think that for many, science is a threat to their beliefs, as they are interested in social order, not scientific order. I guess that morals/ethics and beliefs, for me, is a bit of the chicken or the egg arguement. Dawkins assertion that science disproves religion is based on a literal and very basic understanding of religion. Dawkins’ theory only works if one interprets religion this way. And, the thing is that allegorical and symbolic/metaphorical interpretations of religious texts/beliefs/ etc that talk about physical things have been around long before science discredits the physical reality of such things.

    In conclusion, I am a chaos magician, thus in some weird way – it doesn’t really matter – all that matters in the long run is belief…

  • 3. Cal  |  August 27, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Thanks for your comment on Reasonality on my dwarf president piece.

    About science and religion–This is a little tangent to the seriousness of the articles you reference, but an observation I made while in graduate school a few years back. I noticed that a scientific view suited me very well, but others seemed to prefer a religious view. At the time, I became aware of philospher Paul Thagard’s thinking on explanatory coherence. Essentially, his idea is that people pick views that best cohere to each other, despite whatever inconsistencies they might have. In short, people minimize incoherence.

    What I realized was that people want a coherent worldview to live by. For me, that was scientific. For many, it was religion. I don’t think the rightness or wrongness (ie, correctness or incorrectness) of the viewpoint matters to most people–they must need a framework for understanding the world, and both science and religion provide that.

    More to the issues you raise above, each viewpoint does use different logic, different starting points, and different things they exclude from consideration. By choosing one or the other of these worldviews (and some choose both) one is simply reflecting what aspects of life are more important.

    Best wishes

  • 4. Natalie Rae  |  August 28, 2006 at 12:51 am

    Lol – that was exactly what I was trying to say last night – however, you have expressed it far more eloquently.

  • 5. inaeth  |  August 29, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    I do believe that while a viewpoint may be coherent internally, if it is not coherent with perceived reality, then such a viewpoint must be abandoned.

  • 6. Natalie Rae  |  August 29, 2006 at 11:50 pm

    I’m confused about what you exactly mean here inaeth. I see, philosophically, nothing wrong with believing things that are not validated by science.

    For example: the virgin mary was immaculate
    –> the virgin mary maintained immaclacy
    –> because god made her that way
    –> because god is real and can do so.

    the last would be a premise of belief – the untouchable part – and indeed, it appears currently that the philosophic world and science world agree that there is no evidence for the non-existance of god.

    “percieved reality” is a biggy as well – especially if you buy into postmodern subjectisim

  • 7. inaeth  |  August 30, 2006 at 9:12 am

    Ah, you are confusing the issues. I was only dealing with those viewpoints that have nothing ~but~ internal consistency. As we can see from the pragmatic viewpoint, just because an ideal has coherence does not make it ideal to live by. There are all types of coherence that one can develop that congeals nicely with itself, but if some parts of it are not based in reality, ie the premise, and if the outcomes that the viewpoint predicts are not validated by experience, then it matters not how nicely the internal logic works.

    For example, lets take the Rule of Identity: A cannot be both A and non-A in the same instance and in the same regard. Any cursory review of Quantum Mechanics shows that this is not true within sub-molecular structures and waveforms. In fact, most of the Eiger equations in regard to sub-atomic particles work in the fashion of a statistical table for the eventual outcome of the waveform. Even the whole concept of “waveform” is suspect under the rules of normal logic, as it posits as it’s pre-eminent question the fact of a phenomenon being either a wave or a particle.

    Also, whole arguments can be constructed wherein the whole of the identity of the argument can be very self-sufficient, with no contradictions at all, but still be completely specious in regards to actually living your life. (The famous “Spaghetti Monster” hypothesis would be one such construct.)


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