This week we watched two video interviews with astrophysicist Neil
deGrasse Tyson talking about the relationship between science and
religion. In the short video by The Big Think, Tyson says that it is
“empirically false” that science is incompatible with religion, because
40% of American scientists say they “pray to a personal God.” Tyson
concludes from this that there is no inherent reason that science and
religion must conflict. But notice that he goes on to say that religion
should be kept out of the science classroom. So he does seem to think
there is some sort of conflict between religion and science. This comes
out more clearly in the longer video interview by Bill Moyers where
Tyson says explicitly that faith and reason are impossible to reconcile
and implies that science is gradually replacing religion by explaining
all the mysteries in the universe. The only reason a scientist could
rationally be religious, Tyson concludes, is for “emotional
fulfillment.” Thus he seems to think that religion is okay as long as it
merely a matter of private feelings and is kept out of the public
domain of facts.
What do you think? Are science and religion necessarily in conflict?
In other words, can a scientist rationally believe in supernatural
realities and sources of truth like God or the Bible? If not, why not?
If so, how? Be as specific as possible. For example, section 1.3 of this
week’s Recommended Reading from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
mentions four possibilities for the relationship between science and
religion: Conflict, Integration, Independence, and Dialogue. You might
think science and religion make contradictory claims about the same
things (Conflict) or that they make compatible claims about the same
things (Integration), or that make claims about completely different
things or perhaps that they make different kinds of claims about the
same thing (Independence), or that they have something to teach each
other, perhaps by clarifying each other’s questions, methods, limits, or
meaning (Dialogue). Note that we’re not looking for reasons that religious beliefs are or are not true. Rather we’re looking for an explanation for how religious beliefs could possibly coexist with scientific beliefs – or why they can’t.