First, a quick life update. I’m currently in California catching some baseball games and also in my free time taking some classes at Talbot School of Theology beginning my long slog through the DMin process. It’s been fun and challenging so far. I’ve learned so much about how truly dumb I am. It’s been great! I know that I’m supposed to be learning things, but right now my brain feels like I’ve transitioned from the lunch to the dinner buffet at Golden Corral without catching a breath in between. My brain is aching to put on some fat pants and lay comatose on the couch for a couple of days.
Today I received this email from my friend Jeff, and I thought it might be worth answering it here —————-
I hope your summer is going well. I heard a quote from Ricky Gervais the other day and it’s got me thinking. He said, “If we threw away all religious texts and science books, in a thousand years we’d have the same science texts back, but not the same religious texts.” His point was, I think, that science is “provable” while God is less concrete.
I’ll answer this just by making a few observations:
- I know that comedians are normally trained in philosophy of science, so I’m surprised that Gervais is committing such an elementary error here. He is putting forward the modern myth of conflict between science and religion. This is a myth that I just flatly reject. There is no necessary reason for us to presuppose a relationship of conflict between science and religion. Gervais is a fundamentalist adherent of the faith of scientism – a faith that allows for no heretical beliefs in God or immaterialism. Unless you are an acolyte of the cult of scientism like Gervais, there is no need to posit a conflict between faith (or, should I say “other faiths”) and science. I would argue that far from being in conflict, science and faith are actually complementary disciplines. Faith benefits from science and science, from faith as they both converge on the truth.
- In Gervais’ thought experiment, he is imagining a future where religion and science have both been forgotten. Fine. But what if we looked backward into the past instead of forward into the future? For most of human history, science didn’t exist but religion did. Universally. I wonder why that is. If you are asking what is more universally human, the answer sure seems to be “religious” and not “scientific.” If we are looking at history to guide us in this questions, science actually came about after religion, and the first scientists (along with a great many current scientists!) were religious believers. I happen to believe in the old idea of sensus divinitatis made popular by Calvin but not original to him. It says that we are born with a sense of the divine, of the transcendent, of the “spiritual.” We intuitively know more about God than we do about the physical world. That’s why, separated from “religious texts,” people are still religious. We pursue spirituality despite all of the best efforts of the modern world to provide alternatives. Based on our human history, I have no doubt that people would rediscover religion before they rediscover science.
- Gervais seems to assume that he knows not just that science will exist in this imaginary future but also what kind of science will exist. Are we guaranteed that these scientists of the future will be guided by the methodological naturalism that guides the assumptions of so many scientists today? Let’s do another thought experiment. What if Gervais’ scientists of the future, freed from the metaphysical guidance of Darwin, discovered that the natural realm containing far too much design and information to be accidental manifested the signs of intelligent design? Oh, how embarrassing. Perhaps the comedians of the future will slap the microscopes out of their hands scolding them “that isn’t bloody science!” To which they will have to respond, “Who are you, and how do you know what science is?”