Science and Religion

Musing over the relationship between science and religion is especially pertinent in the present. Although often perceived as existing in a permanent state of antagonism, this is not the case: many practicing scientists are religious, and scientific advances have been made by those with religion as their primary vocation. A harmonious understanding usually prevails because players generally adhere to the traditionally accepted concerns of the two domains: science as the means of investigating the natural world; religion as guide to man’s place in it and the provider of moral codes. Issues arise, however, when the interests of the respective domains overlap, creating tension and arousing controversy, currently exemplified by the utilitarianism vs. embryo-as-individual-human-being-with-full-moral-status quandary associated with human embryonic stem cell research. (Let’s not consider ‘Intelligent Design’ if we’re going to discuss science rather than politically-marketed, faith-based, pseudo-scientific twaddle, okay?). Here, religion sees its role as keeping the morality of science ‘in check’. Yet, there is quantitative evidence arguing strongly that religion should get its own house in order.

I recently came across an interesting study, which suggests that not only can we jettison religion in the quest for a healthier, safer society, but that it may pay us to do so. Because, far from alleviating social problems of morality, religion may actually exacerbate them. Apparently, the USA, the most ‘advanced’ country in the world, is also the most dysfunctional. The majority of US citizens believe in creation over evolution, that their country is uniquely blessed, that the earth is only 10,000 years old, and that religion is the key foundation of a moral and ethical society. Yet, as it lurches further towards fundamentalist (scientifically invalid) Christian attitudes, rates of murder, suicide, violent crime and sexual promiscuity continue to increase and are many-fold higher relative to more secular societies. France, Japan and Scandinavia are the most successful in reducing such figures.

In case your sensibilities lead you to suspect some biased agenda at work, bear in mind that this was the conclusion of a social science study that evaluated data from several large surveys, and was published in the on-line Journal of Religion and Society. It does not, of course, place blame directly at religion’s door. But, such a strong association clearly demonstrates its ineffectuality on our moral condition. Should we, then, consider instead a moral value system free of superstitious reliance on the supposed existence of a historical myth, invented by man for the exercise of power? Religion doesn’t cut it.

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