Monday, 24 May 2010

Science vs Religion - Move Along, Nothing To See

I've been spending a bit of time reading Jason Boyett's Oh Me Of Little Faith blog today.  There's some interesting stuff there, particularly as it's Christian in tone.  Now I'm a borderline atheist (quantum theory doesn't disallow god-like entities existing), but I still find religion in general fascinating.

Not in a Dan Brown way, you understand.  More as a logical system.  Science is just a logical system, one based on maths and observation, and religion is equally a logical system, based on belief.  In science you begin with the axioms of maths, and start saying "if x, and y, then z".  Monotheistic religions start with the simple statement "we believe there is a god".  (I use a lowercase g for the concept, and uppercase for the Christian God)

Both are highly intricate systems, and parts of both are constantly debated by their respective scholars.  I'm lucky enough to share a flat with two blokes from a Catholic background and who are both quite happy to argue about things in an intelligent way.  There are some remarkably complex bits of thinking in the faith - the infallibility of the Pope for example:  

"Surely", Science argues, "the Pope can sit in his magic chair and say something untrue?".
"Like what?", says Catholicism.
"Well for instance, that Pi is equal to three" says science, banging on about a pet subject again.
"Well that couldn't happen", counters Catholicism, "the conditions for ex cathedra teaching require a judgement on doctrine concerning faith or morals, abstract geometrical thought isn't included so it wouldn't be a legitimate argument involving infallibility.  Here's a very long Wikipedia article discussing the philosophy of papal infallibility, with forty odd footnotes and thirteen references, read them all and get back to me when you've finished."

Science then traditionally mutters something about Galileo and everything kicks off.

[EDIT: I just realised I wrote Catholicism with the voice of British comedian Bill Bailey...take that as you will...)

Religion is consistent, when interpreted carefully.  We science types often get too hung up on the vocal minority who insist on taking everything in Book X literally, when there's fascinating people out there like a Jesuit neurosurgeon I had the pleasure of knowing, or the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 

Both sides need to learn that disagreement with the initial axiom, "we believe there is a god", is OK.  

Honestly, it's fine, once we've done that we can discuss the hypothesis of me going to Hell, which, at metaphorically the end of the day, is really interesting in implication.  I'm not going to take it personally, because I don't believe it will happen, and it brings us neatly around to Pascal's Wager.  There are interesting people on both sides, we need to agree to differ on the god thing, sit down with a mutually acceptable beverage, and have a chat.

And interesting chats are what Jason Boyett does well on his blog.  There you go, a full circle argument involving Pi and a Pope.  Worked quite well I thought.

As a last aside, Jason posts a funny piece concerning Michaelangelo's interpretation of God's choice of nightwear.  Seriously, God's wearing a pink nightie, I'd never really noticed it before.  So here's a science based reply, Michaelangelo might have been doing an anatomical sketch on the side...

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