We Have an Admirer!

Well, not really an admirer—more like an antagonist.  But I say that in a good way.

Matt Slick runs the CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry) web site.  He interviewed me on his radio show about a dozen times in 2007.  We reconnected recently, and he responded to my Science Answers the Big Questions post.

His reply is here.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to respond to.  Matt seems mostly concerned about sloppy thinking, making sure we put materialistic thinking into the “science” bin and philosophical thinking into the “philosophy” bin, making sure words are used correctly, and so on.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I didn’t find anything interesting enough to respond to.

But let me sharpen one point.  I said that science answers the Big Questions of Life.  It would probably be better to say that what science tells us about reality means that we don’t need religion’s answers.  Science’s natural answers show that looking for a transcendental purpose or an ultimate mind are unnecessary.

Science Answers the Big Questions

In a recent post, I argued that Christianity’s smug claim to be able to answer the Big Questions of Life® is empty.  Sure, it can answer these questions, but so can anyone.  It’s whether the answers are credible that matters.

For discovering reality, religion comes up short.  And I would argue that Science does provide answers to these questions.

For example: Why are we here?  We’re here for no more cosmically-significant reason than why deer, jellyfish, and oak trees are here.

For example: Where did we come from?  Science has some decent answers (Big Bang, evolution) and still has a lot of work to do in other areas (string theory, abiogenesis).  Science never answers anything with certainty, but the scientific consensus, where there is one, is the best explanation that we have at the moment.  The retort “Well, if Science can’t answer it, my religion can!” is hardly an argument.

For example: What is my purpose?  There is no evidence of a transcendental or supernatural purpose to your life.  One great thing about rejecting dogma is that you get to select your own purpose!  And who better than you to decide what that is?

And so on.  Science has answers; it’s just that religion doesn’t like them.

Science has only one reality to align itself with.  By contrast, each religion makes up its own, which is why they can’t agree.  Science provides answers and doesn’t demand faith to accept them.

Think about a church steeple with a lightning rod on top.  The steeple proclaims that God exists, and the lightning rod says that it can reduce lightning damage.  Which claim has the evidence to argue that it’s true?  Religion makes truth claims and so does science, but science takes it one step further: it actually delivers on its claims.

Religion … well, not so much.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Map of World Religions

Everyone’s seen maps of world religions like this one.

Have you ever wondered why you never see a Map of World Science?

Let’s imagine such a map.  Over here is where scientists believe in a geocentric solar system, and over there, a heliocentric one.  This area is where they think that astrology can predict the future, and that area is where they reject the idea.  The Intelligent Design guys reign in the crosshatched area, and evolution in the dark gray area.

Naturally, each of these different groups think of their opponents as heretics, and they have fought wars over their opposing beliefs.  (To keep it manageable, I’ve shown on the map only the conflicts with more than 1000 deaths.)

Of course, the idea is nonsensical.  A new scientific theory isn’t culturally specific, and, if it passes muster, it peacefully sweeps the world.  Astronomy replaced astrology, chemistry replaced alchemy, and the germ theory replaced evil spirits as a cause of disease.  One scientist should get the same results from an experiment as another, regardless of their respective religions.  Evolution or germ theory or relativity or the Big Bang are part of the consensus view among scientists, whether they are Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Other.

Sure, there can be some not-invented-here thinking—scientists have egos, too—but this only slows the inevitable.  Contrast this with the idea that Shintoism will sweep across America over the next couple of decades and replace Christianity, simply because it’s a better idea.

Let’s go back to our map of world religions.  Religions claim to give answers to the big questions—answers that science can’t give.  Questions like: What is our purpose?  Or, Where did we come from?  Or, Is there anything else out there?  Or, What is science grounded on?

But the map shows that the religious answer to that question depends on where you are!  If you live in Tibet or Thailand, Buddhism teaches that we are here to learn to cease suffering and reach nirvana.  If you live in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, Islam teaches that we are here to submit to Allah.  We ask the most profound questions of all, and the answers are location specific?

What kind of truth depends on location?

For discovering reality, religion comes up short.  Next time someone nods his head sagely and says, “Ah, but Christianity can answer the Big Questions®,” remember how shallow that claim is.