Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sheril Kirshembaum on Fundamentalism, Faith, Athiests and Science part I: Faith

Sorry, but in my ADHD world, this post, which should have gone up a long time ago, has waited until now. Indeed, I have a lot of other posts in the works, but as I seem to be getting quite a few hits from searches for Sheril, I thought I thought it would be a good idea to get this one up. Especially, as I am having a time of it, writing about my life with ADHD. So here is something a little different.

This post is going to be very link heavy, I will link to several pieces that Sheril has written about the interface of faith, atheism and science. They are all well worth the reading in their entirety, as I think Sheril does an excellent job of addressing this issue and the issue of fundamentalism.

In the first article, The 'F' Word, she starts by explaining why she has not jumped into the discussion of religion, very appropriately;

Simply put, what I believe is that faith has no place in science. Will someone please stand up and explain the circular argument, the rhetoric, the tomfoolery and fiddlesticks that is the age old debate on how these two worlds converge?

I think it is very important that people understand this very simple notion. Science is about observing the natural world, creating hypothesis about the natural world and testing those hypothesis rigorously. We should not simply accept religious explanations for certain aspects of the natural world, unless those claims can and have been rigorously tested and evidence to support them is found. This is not to say that religion is wrong or that faith is meaningless. All that it means is that God did it, is not enough and ignoring the evidence to perpetuate ideas that are demonstrably false, simply because they contradict a religious view of the natural world is wrong. Rob Knopp, writes;

Several hundred years ago, it was considered essential to the Christian faith that the Earth was at the center of the Universe, and that everything revolved around Earth. Galileo was placed under house arrest and was considered a threat to Christianity because he made observations of Jupiter's moons, conclusively showing that something was orbiting around a body other than the Earth. Today, anybody even mildly educated knows that all of the planets, including the Earth, revolve around the Sun, and nobody considers that a threat to their Christianity.

So acceptance of scientific explanations of the natural world, far from dooming faith, in my opinion, make it that much richer. But back to Sheril;

What is fascinating to consider in the discussion is how religion currently shapes life on this planet with arguably every bit as much force as the biological processes driving evolution, adaptation, and extinction.

Spot on. While faith and science do not and should not mix, it is important to try to understand religion on a very fundamental level. This is why, though I firmly believe that religious explanations of the natural world, should never be accepted on their face and dismissed when they are shown to be demonstrably false, it behooves us not to separate religion from the natural world. I am a theist. I do not however, accept the notion of the supernatural. If the spiritual is real, then it is just as natural as anything else and at least carries the potential for being observed and understood, no differently than gravity. That we lack the ability to do so now, does not mean that it is impossible. The only way that it could be impossible to observe it and quantify it, is if it does not in fact exist.

The end of Sheril's first post on Faith, is the most important. I think that it also is a great tool for identifying fundamentalists, whether they be atheist or religious, because only fundamentalists would disagree;

Scientist need not equate with Godlessness. Period.


The other, related posts by Sheril, that I will be addressing, though probably only in one or two more posts;

The "F" Word Offends Again
Faith, Framing and PZ
Another Dangerous "F" Word, Fundamentalism
Is Science About Converting People

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