Are religion and science in conflict? The question of religion, in philosophy, is above all the question of truth, and the question of the relationship between belief and reason. Here are some typical questions that we can ask ourselves:
– Does faith oppose reason?
– Where does the strength of religions come from? Why hasn’t scientific progress made religions disappear? Here we can also wonder about contemporary myths and illusions: rumors, superstitions, urban legends, etc.
– Can we not believe in anything? Must we submit everything to reason?
– Is science the enemy of religion?
In this article, we will focus on this last question.
Are Religion and Science in Conflict? – Let Us Check Undeniable Conflicts
So let’s start with this question. A priori, yes, there is a war, sometimes violent, between science and religion. Think for example of the Inquisition, of the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600 by religious powers for having said that the universe was infinite. Or to Galileo, against whom the Church brought a lawsuit for having defended the doctrine of heliocentrism (it is the Earth which revolves around the Sun and not the Earth which is at the center of the world) discovered by Copernicus a few decades more early (in 1543). Galileo had to retract, for fear of suffering the same fate as Bruno. It was finally rehabilitated by the Church … in 1992!
But these conflicts are not limited to the Middle Ages: today intense struggles take place, for example in the United States between creationists (who think that God created the world and man) and evolutionists (who think that man is the result of natural evolution and that he descends from the monkey, according to Darwin’s theory).
From this, many philosophers have been able to criticize religion:
– Karl Marx considers that religion is “the opium of the people”, that is to say as a drug which makes him forget his worries and relieves him, but does not help him to solve his problems (his economic exploitation ), and on the contrary weakens him and pushes him to submit (it justifies work as an expiation for original sin; it justifies the social hierarchy, the monarchy of divine right, and advocates submission in general: which is Caesar’s ”).
– Friedrich Nietzsche sees in religion (Christian in particular) the negation of life: because this religion, in line with Platonic idealism, denies the body and represses all carnal desires and pleasures, which it considers as ” sins ”: gluttony, sexuality, etc.
– Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, considers that religion is a neurosis, a form of paranoia: it consists in distorting the unbearable aspects of the world (human loneliness, certain death, etc.) to make it bearable. Religion would be a way of fulfilling our children’s desires. God would be an imaginary and idealized father to console man for his loneliness. In short, religion would be an illusion, in the strict sense of Freud: that is to say, not an error (the illusion is not necessarily false), but a belief which proceeds from a desire: one does not believe not in God because it seems true, we believe in it because we would like it to exist …
– Finally, Bertrand Russell, English philosopher, and logician of the twentieth century gave a decisive criticism of religion by emphasizing its opposition to science, the harm it does to truth and to men: we obviously no longer count the number of wars fought in the name of religion.
– To add a contemporary philosopher to this list, we could mention Michel Onfray, who continues this philosophical tradition of a radical critique of religion.
These conflicts between science and religion also show that knowledge is a system of power…
In short, insofar as science and religion both claim to reveal the truth about the world to us, they are necessarily in a position of rivalry. The opposition is all the more certain as their methods are not the same: science proceeds by experience and logical demonstration, while religion is satisfied with divine revelation materialized in Scripture…
But this difference in approaches and methods is perhaps the way to reconcile science and religion…
A Possible Conciliation?
But we can try to reconcile science and religion, faith and reason.
Indeed, do these two types of speech have the same goal, the same function?
If we leave aside the claim of religion, to tell the truth about the world, we can argue that no: science never tells us how to live, it does not answer the question “What to do?” “. It is descriptive and not prescriptive, in other words, it is not normative: it does not tell us what to do. She doesn’t say how the world should be, she just says how it is. In short, it is neither ethical nor practical, it is theoretical.
We find in Spinoza this idea of a radical dissociation between faith and reason:
The only function of faith, he explains, is to make us obey. The Bible, for example, has only one goal: to make us follow the moral law, that is, to make us love our neighbor. In other words, the powers should leave scientists alone, because scientific progress does not prevent obeying the moral law. (Spinoza’s aim here is to defend the freedom of thought and expression of the philosopher and the scientist against the persecution of religious authorities.)
But one can criticize this radical dissociation between practice and theory: any conception of the world induces norms, and conversely, any ethics must be based on a certain representation of reality. No ethics without ontology, no ontology without ethics. So science, although it denies it, is in a way indirectly normative: by explaining to us how the world works, it tells us how to be happy.
Another way of saying that religion and science are not opposed would be to show that even at the theoretical level they can be reconciled. This is the great idea of Pascal and Kant: our reason is limited, therefore there is still a place for faith. On all the questions that science cannot answer, that is to say, the metaphysical questions, of which religious dogmas are a part, we can believe what we see fit, what will best help us to live, or what will help us. will raise us up, make us better …
Two Types of Intuition That Helps to Resolve the Question: “Are Religion and Science in Conflict?”
Here is now a somewhat more developed analysis of this last argument, with an important criticism.
We sometimes hear the following argument: “All the greatest philosophers have recognized that scientific reason has limits and that in reality, it depends entirely on intuition.” Therefore the religious view of the world is just as defensible as the materialist view. ”
This is, moreover, Blaise Pascal’s argument: man, caught between the infinitely large and the infinitely small, is always infinitely far from absolute knowledge; moreover, our reason is limited because first principles cannot be demonstrated.
Therefore, it is necessary to appeal to what Pascal calls the “heart”:
“(267). – The last step of the reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things that surpass it; it is only weak if it does not go so far as to recognize that.
(270). – So it is right that she submit when she judges that she must submit.
(272). – There is nothing so conformable to reason as this disavowal of reason.
(274). Our whole reasoning boils down to giving in to feel.
(277). – The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know; we know it in a thousand things. “(Blaise Pascal, Thoughts).
And yet there is serious confusion here. Of course, it is absolutely impossible to demonstrate the principles which are at the basis of any demonstration. For this reason, we can speak of an “intuition” which is at the base of all thought and therefore of all science. Pascal thus said that the first principles are known to us, not by reason, but by the “heart”, the feeling. And this is where there is a pernicious shift: one passes surreptitiously from intellectual intuition (which consists, as Descartes said, in the clear conception of a mind which analyzes its object) to intuition in the sense of female intuition, feeling, sixth sense, or whatever.
Let’s be more specific: intellectual intuition can refer to at least two things:
– Logical intuition: this is our intuitive understanding of logical principles, such as “A = A” or “we cannot say one thing and its opposite”. It is these principles (here the principle of identity and the principle of contradiction) that are at the basis of any demonstration, and are consequently unprovable.
– Empirical intuition: it is quite simply perception or a concept that results from it like that of space or time. Thus the axioms of geometry are known by intuition.
It is very clear that these two concepts have nothing to do with “feminine” or “religious” intuitions. And therefore it is a veritable act of intellectual terrorism to slip from one concept to another. What remains true, and which we can concede to Pascal and to Kant, is that in the fields where reason and science are powerless to discover the truth to us, we may very well decide to believe the hypothesis which we like the most, the one that helps us live or the one that makes us better. But in seeking the Good one runs the risk of not finding the True.
And above all and this is the essential point, the rigorous understanding of the concept of intuition shows us that in real reason is not limited: because it includes both intuition and deduction. There is no radical difference between physical questions and metaphysical questions. At best there is a difference of degree. All the theoretical questions are of the same order. So that ultimately, contrary to stubborn prejudice, science answers the question of the existence of God (as far as that question can be asked!) As well as any other question, that is – that is to say without giving us any certainty, but by offering us a more or less solid hypothesis (that is to say more or less fundamental in the theoretical edifice, in the conception of the world) which fits into a representation coherent phenomenon. In this case, science would readily say, as Laplace said to Napoleon, that God is a hypothesis that we can do without. One thing is therefore certain: this hypothesis does not meet a theoretical need.
Can We Not Believe in Anything?
Here we will give only an outline of reflection.
On the one hand, we have to think about the various forms of beliefs, including the most natural and habitual ones that allow us to live each day. In this sense we are forced to believe in something, the skeptic (the one who doubts everything) does not exist. Suppose he exists: throw a stone in his face; if he dodges it, it is because he believes that this pebble exists and that he risks hurting him, etc.: he is therefore not really a skeptic. And if he does not avoid it, there is no longer a skeptic! (No need to do this experiment, of course: the thought experiment will be enough for us!)
Here the difficulty will be to know if we are dealing with real beliefs or simple habits or behaviors…
On the other hand, we can wonder about the need for religious beliefs that help us to live, give us hope. They may be necessary for some of us (perhaps those who have been accustomed to these beliefs through our upbringing). But for others, self-confidence and optimism are probably enough. It remains to be seen whether these are beliefs or simple feelings or existential attitudes…
Another question to ask is that of urban rumors and legends, as well as the question of superstition: why all these irrational beliefs, even in the age of science? Why do these sects regularly predict the end of the world, or, more generally, the myth of the “bug of the year 2000” for example? There may be in man a taste for mystery, the occult, the supernatural, and ideas that go against prevailing opinions. There are also, of course, ideas that we like, whether it is the idea of paradise or the little stories aimed at criticizing the United States (if we are anti-American, which I do not wish us!). Philosophers, on the other hand, tend to explain superstition by the conjunction of fear and stupidity…
In Summary: “Are Religion and Science in Conflict?”
This text remains very incomplete … To conclude provisionally I would like to underline the fundamental opposition between the religious spirit and the philosophical spirit: they are really opposed to intellectual attitudes. On the one hand absolute and rigorous doubt; on the other hand, the act of faith. Also, even if philosophers and religious men sometimes come together, it is markedly different paths.
The only way to qualify this point of view would be to show that there is also, in philosophy and science, a part of belief, the paradoxical belief in reason, the idea that the world is understandable and explainable. This is the faith of the philosopher: he has faith in reason. We can speak of a regulatory ideal, according to Kant’s formula, to designate these presuppositions which are, as it were, on the horizon of certain types of discourse. So the philosopher must assume that the truth exists (somewhere, on the horizon) and that it is accessible, even if we have not yet reached it, and even if we will never reach it. Without it philosophical reflection and discussion are impossible and meaningless.