Review - The Territories of Science & Religion

Image of The Territories of Science and Religion
by Peter Harrison
University Of Chicago Press 2015
Hardcover 320

Science Versus Religion: a New Angle

The battle between Science and Religion has been presented to the wider public as a struggle between reason and superstition. In the present intellectual climate, where the ghosts of logical positivism have been far from exorcised from the corridors of scientific thinking, any countering of the reigning attitude is most welcome. The volume under review is an absorbing historical account of the way the words scientia and religio have been used through time, and how they have changed their meanings since about the middle of the 19th century. The book under review is scholarly yet readable, comprising six chapters, an epilogue, fifty plus pages of notes, and indices.

It may seem that a book-length study on two archaic words would scarcely qualify as a riveting read, still less that it would be of any relevance. But Peter Harrison, who is a distinguished historian of science at the University of Queensland in Australia, has managed to produce a study which does both things. The resultant work is a real contribution to the Science versus Religion debate; a debate that has been impacted to a large degree by its wrong understandings of the terminology.

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Scientism & Naturalism

(A follow up to Scientism Isn’t Science)

Naturalism is defined by Stewart Goetz & Charles Taliaferro in this way:

Naturalism—very roughly—may be defined as the philosophy that everything that exists is a part of nature and that there is no reality beyond or outside of nature. (Naturalism, 6)

Something being “a part of nature” is here meant to exclude the supernatural. Naturalism then is opposed to supernaturalism. It is seeing all things as natural and nothing as being supernatural. It is this view of the world which informs scientism, and it is this same view which informs modern scientific procedure. Although it is important to say that the procedure does not lead every scientist to embrace scientism (the belief that all questions about reality can be scientifically determined), scientism certainly needs the procedure. This procedure is what is called “methodological naturalism” (MN).

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Scientism Isn't Science

These remarks stem from some interchanges I had with some believers about methodological naturalism.

Many a scientist will say they are simply looking for natural explanations of phenomena they come across. If that really were the case, there would be no difficulty at all. But that is not so. Scientism is on a quest. The goal is driven by a rigidly held belief that “Science” is a God-free edifice. Hence, “looking for natural explanations” is actually “permitting only naturalistic explanations.” Once we change the adjective to “naturalistic” we can see better what the project is that is being pursued. It is an anti-supernaturalistic universe that is so urgently desired by these people, and the device used to insure the supernatural realm keeps out of the way is the philosophical procedure called “methodological naturalism” (MN).

Every Christian is familiar with the problem of the strident dogmatism of many scientists and their disciples. They love to poke fun at faith and the Bible, seeing themselves as having outgrown such myths. They trust in Science. Science and the declarations of its knowledge elites is their god. In his book Monopolizing Knowledge, MIT Nuclear Physicist Ian Hutchinson has labeled Scientism, the belief that all knowledge comes from the natural sciences, as “a ghastly intellectual mistake.” Yet it is a persistent and habitual mistake which shows no signs of abating.

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Apologetics & Your Kids: Part 8 - Another Slogan

(Read the series so far.)

In the last installment of this series we were looking at a motto which is often misused by the Christian community, and which could mislead young people if not carefully explained. That motto was “All truth is God’s truth.” This time round I want to take a look at another slogan; a slogan which should not be adopted by Bible believers, even though some prominent and respected authorities use it.

The phrase I have in mind is this: “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.”

On the face of it, this legend might seem non-objectionable. We are all aware of the fact that the Bible is not, nor does it ever claim to be, a textbook on Science. It doesn’t inform us about botany or biology or chemistry or physics. Science does—so what’s the problem?

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