Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All

Sep 5, 2014

By Chris Mooney

Are science and religion doomed to eternal “warfare,” or can they just get along? Philosophers, theologians, scientists, and atheists debate this subject endlessly (and often, angrily). We hear a lot less from economists on the matter, however. But in a recent paper, Princeton economist Roland Bénabou and two colleagues unveiled a surprising finding that would at least appear to bolster the “conflict” camp: Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

“Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

That’s the most salient finding from the paper by Bénabou and his colleagues, which uses an economic model to explore how scientific innovation, religiosity, and the power of the state interact to form different “regimes.” The three kinds of regimes that they identify: a secular, European-style regime in which religion has very little policy influence and science garners great support; a repressive, theocratic regime in which the state and religion merge to suppress science; and a more intermediate, American-style regime in which religion and science both thrive, with the state supporting science and religions (mostly) trying to accommodate themselves to its findings.

It is in the process of this inquiry on the relationship between science, religion, and the state that the researchers dive into an analysis of patents, both in the United States and across the globe. And the results are pretty striking.

36 comments on “Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All

  • “Places with higher levels of religiosity have lower rates of scientific and technical innovation, as measured by patents per capita,” comments Bénabou. He adds that the pattern persists “when controlling for differences in income per capita, population, and rates of higher education.”

    No surprises there!
    Flawed thinking and anti-science attitudes, are hardly going to lead to innovative scientific discoveries or developments!



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  • Uhhhh…when you consider some of the silly things for which patents are given, I would be skeptical that the measure of “patents per capita” says anything about the relationship between science and religion. Nor does the measure distinguish between kinds of patents. For example, patents relating to biofuels seem a bit more significant to me than oodles of patents covering cuticle cleaning. Nor, does the measure distinguish between the inventors themselves in terms of their religiosity. In all honesty, I don’t understand how this “research” made it through peer review.



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  • 3
    aquilacane says:

    Religion eventually accepts science, even if it takes 400 years or more. Science will never accept religion, not without evidence. We know who’s claims have merit. Science and religion are from complete opposite sides of two different coins. Science observes how everything around us works, religion contrives how everything around us doesn’t work.

    Any Jackass with a smidgen of imagination can be a world class theologian; just make the shit up. You actually need to know stuff to be a scientist. They are enemies and should be kept as such… hell, I say strengthen the hatred between the two. Anything I can do to drive a wedge between science and religion, I will be happy to help.



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  • Hi david.graf.589,

    … when you consider some of the silly things for which patents are given, I would be skeptical that the measure of “patents per capita” says anything about the relationship between science and religion.

    Why?

    I’m sure I speak for most people when I say that a patent accepted by a Patent Office equates to an original thought – irrespective of any other factor.

    In addition, as the full story points out at Mother Jones, the Study is controlled for just about every variable that the authors could imagine.

    Nor does the measure distinguish between kinds of patents. For example, patents relating to biofuels seem a bit more significant to me than oodles of patents covering cuticle cleaning.

    Why are kinds of patent important?

    On what do you base the decision of significance?

    How do we judge that patent A (cuticle cleaning) is more beneficial to humanity than patent B (bio-fuel)? If the Inventor of Patent A uses their patent A as the basis for a global franchise operation that makes $10B a year and the inventor of patent B sells it to an existing manufacturer for $100,000 that would be a crude, but objective, measure. The $10B would be a measure of the value that humanity at large puts on cuticle cleaning – they might think it’s realy really important. What evidence are you using to make your decision about patent values?

    Nor, does the measure distinguish between the inventors themselves in terms of their religiosity.

    Why are individual cases important?

    I may have missed something here, but I read that this was a economic study … ? That indicates that they are trying to reach an objective truth that transcends individual subjective opinions.

    In all honesty, I don’t understand how this “research” made it through peer review.

    You’re welcome to your opinion. I would be most grateful for more of an insight into how you came to that decision.

    Peace.



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  • It’s been a fact for many, many years that the US Patent Office grants patents that it should not, and that big companies use these illegitimate patents to sue other big companies. They even win when the patents have no merit (see Apple vs. Samsung). It took a USSC opinion to get rid of gene patenting, which should never have been allowed in the first place. There are patents for crustless peanut butter sandwiches and the method of moving side to side on a playground swing by pulling on each attachment chain in alteration.

    It’s quite correct to be suspect of any study that equates patents with scientific advancement.



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  • Thanny does a good job of refuting the idea that a patent in itself represents any kind of accomplishment and so I won’t go through that territory again.

    If you equate significance with money then Donald Trump’s apartment must be close to the top when it comes to interior design. 🙂 Significance, in my use of the term, refers to the impact of a patent upon a culture as a whole. For example, the patent for the telephone or the electric light bulb far outweighs in significance any patent for cuticle cleaning no matter how much money is involved. Individual cases are important because the authors of this study are trying to say something about the connection between religion and innovation. That is one factor of probably several that were not addressed in this paper.

    It is an unfortunate but common view that economics is a science in the sense that physics is. When you are dealing with statistics and probability, you are not dealing with objective truth like the statement that water boils at 100 degrees celsius at sea level. Depending upon how you select your sample and what measure you use, you can get differing results. I am surprised that this article made it through a peer review because using the number of patents per capita is not in itself a measure of innovation or scientific accomplishment. It may be an objective measure but still objectively absurd.



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  • The ultra-fundamentalists of the world’s religions are grateful for your assistance. They, like you, get a lot of mileage out of maintaining a war between science and religion. In contrast, I see a real need to encourage the acceptance of science across the population including religious people.



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  • Many ( and particularly dogmatic fundamentalist) religions ARE the enemies of science and enemies of rational scientific methodology.

    As these rantings of the “infallible” Pope Pius IX show!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Pius_IX

    Pope Pius IX, who defined dogmatically papal infallibility during the First Vatican Council in 1869–70. The council has a section on “Faith and Reason” that includes the following on science and faith:

    “9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)
    “10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)

    The RCC them rambles on about the anathema of materialism!

    If anyone denies the one true God, creator and lord of things visible and invisible: let him be anathema.
    If anyone is so bold as to assert that there exists nothing besides matter: let him be anathema.

    They have since moved on in modern times, claiming to accept science.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Benedict_XVI

    The Church has deferred to scientists on matters such as the age of the earth and the authenticity of the fossil record. Papal pronouncements, along with commentaries by cardinals, have accepted the findings of scientists on the gradual appearance of life. In fact, the International Theological Commission in a July 2004 statement endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger, then president of the Commission and head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later Pope Benedict XVI, includes this paragraph: [SEE LINK ABOVE].

    ..But while they SAY they accept evolution and the Big-Bang, they then twist the meanings of the words to claim evolution is by way of “god-did-it-by-magical interventions”, rather than simply by Natural Selection! (Not to mention miracles and exorcisms)

    The Church’s stance is that any such gradual appearance [of life] must have been guided in some way by God, but the Church has thus far declined to define in what way that may be. Commentators tend to interpret the Church’s position in the way most favorable to their own arguments.



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  • david.graf.589 Sep 5, 2014 at 1:42 pm
    >

    In contrast, I see a real need to encourage the acceptance of science across the population including religious people.

    Unfortunately, dishonest pseudo-acceptance has no useful applications in science, and pseudo-acceptance, is the position of major churches (although not necessarily that of their scientifically educated followers).

    A comment and link on the RCC position (similar to the CofE position) is below!



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  • “I’m sure I speak for most people when I say that a patent accepted by a Patent Office equates to an original thought – irrespective of any other factor.”

    This I cannot agree with, not after the ridiculous patents granted in the U.S. over the past few years. Certainly those about which I’ve read might be exceptions to the rule, but there have been enough of them that are clearly not “original thought(s)” to make me doubt the entire process.

    Still, the results of the study itself aren’t contradicted. One worldview says there’s no deity watching out for us; we have the power to make our lives better. The other says there’s no need to develop new technology; gods are taking care of us and have a plan for us. (Heavily generalizing, of course.)



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  • 11
    Bob Springsteen says:

    My fellow atheist Aquilacane believes any jackass can be a world class theologian. I’d bet there are very few even on this site who would agree that the theology of Martin Luther King was the creation of a jackass.



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  • Science is based on facts and empirical knowledge. Religion is based on fantasy. There really is no contest, whether it be about patents, Nobel Prizes, or just additions to knowledge about the real world.

    Ask a theologian about how to calculate the speed of light, and he will ask you which light bulb you want changed !



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  • There are situations when we need to choose among religions according to their distance to reason and science. For instance: two candidates, both protestants, dispute to be the president of a country. This may happen soon in the presidential elections in Brazil. Which one should I choose, since I see a chance of both of them mixing religion and politics if they are elected? It would be very useful if someone could list the major protestant religions (they are so many!) according to their relation to reason, science and LAICITY in politics.
    Thanks



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  • 15
    Bob Springsteen says:

    The theologian Alister McGrath, author of The Dawkins Delusion, has a D Phil in Molecular Biophysics. Where is that light bulb?



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  • 17
    A3Kr0n says:

    I think they got it all wrong. Religious people are far more innovative. Just look how clever they think they are justifying their belief system in the face of every increasing evidence to the contrary?



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  • Dear Thanny, david.graf.589 and Will,

    I am very sorry, and I apologise unreservedly. You are all, of course, correct.

    I am extremely embarrassed because I actively campaigned against the adoption of software patents – still legal in the U.S., as far as I know, and still not legal … err… pretty much everywhere else. It was a while ago and, of course, we only won a short reprieve in Europe, but that doesn’t excuse my error.

    Also the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues with it’s anti-democratic agenda.

    Sorry.

    One question down. Two still looking for answers …

    Peace.



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  • Hi david.graf.589,

    It is an unfortunate but common view that economics is a science in the sense that physics is. When you are dealing with statistics and probability …

    Sorry you lost me there. Physics doesn’t deal with stats and probability?

    … you are not dealing with objective truth [in economics] like the statement that water boils at 100 degrees celsius at sea level.

    That water boils at 100°C in 1 atmosphere is not a statement in science, it’s an observation, a fact, a datum. This matters because statements can be made without evidence, and may not be repeatable, while observations satisfy both scientific requirements.

    Economics is a social science. It attempts to find information from data. Data are facts, like water boils at 100°C in 1 atmosphere. because the boiling point of water is a repeatable observation it is unarguable. Like all the sciences Economics is based on data. This is the reason that Economics is often called “the most successful social science”. As I understand it this is some kind of in-joke – Economics is the only social science with findings that have lasted longer than one government (or political leader depending on country).

    Depending upon how you select your sample and what measure you use, you can get differing results.

    I can only urge you to re-read the original text at Mother Jones as it seems to me that the full story covers your concerns. If it fails to do so, please return here and ask a more detailed question.

    I am surprised that this article made it through a peer review because using the number of patents per capita is not in itself a measure of innovation or scientific accomplishment.

    Pure science (that which is discoverable by simply searching) is not patentable because a patent is only valid if it describes something non-obvious.

    It may be an objective measure but still objectively absurd.

    Okay, so patents are an objective measure of innovative thinking. Now I’m just even more confused.

    My previous argument stands un-addressed. Let me make my question simpler: How would you measure innovation using “objective” patents differently?

    If you equate significance with money then Donald Trump’s apartment must be close to the top when it comes to interior design.

    I’m sorry but I don’t understand the connection? I’m sure it’s just me, your … (analogy?) … went right over my head. I would be most grateful for an explanation.

    Significance, in my use of the term, refers to the impact of a patent upon a culture as a whole.

    It seems to me I directly addressed that point. I remain available to be educated …

    For example, the patent for the telephone or the electric light bulb far outweighs in significance any patent for cuticle cleaning no matter how much money is involved.

    Your using historical models (for which we know the value) against hypothetical examples (for which we only have your word). How does that help? I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but what are you trying to say?

    Individual cases are important because the authors of this study are trying to say something about the connection between religion and innovation.

    But, and it’s a big but! they are not making any claims about individuals. How, then, is your appeal to individuals in any way relevant?

    That is one factor of probably several that were not addressed in this paper.

    Please, david.graf.589, don’t hold back. Give us all of the “several” factors that were not addressed.

    Peace.



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  • 21
    Albert says:

    There are strange disputes here about patents and whether they are representative of innovation. It’s true, it’s not perfect, but it is one measure and contains reliable data that’s easy to access. It would be good to see other measures in later studies. I do know China is particularly sinful as the government rewards researchers for patents to such a degree it distorts data.

    I find the correlation quick weak as the grouping is quite spread. It appears to have some influence in some places, is all I would say.

    The problem with the good arguments have against religion, the average voter doesn’t have a clue about them and therefore lose purely on the basis of ignorance, awareness and politeness.



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  • 22
    aquilacane says:

    King actually realized that liberal theology, after stripping the shit out, had nothing to it. There was nothing left. But he pushed it anyway. So close but yet so far. He came to no startling conclusions.



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  • Hi david.graf.589

    They, like you, get a lot of mileage out of maintaining a war between science and religion. In contrast, I see a real need to encourage the acceptance of science across the population including religious people.

    I’d like to be with you on this I really would, I just don’t see how this can work out.

    The reality IMO is the degree to which the religious can except science seem to me to be controlled by two factors, how religious they actually are. And how prepared they are to accept modification to their beliefs.

    So for the moderately religious as they believe in a kind of god with very flexible beliefs you can get somewhere. In my experience though these are rare. Many of the nice Christians I know who seem to make up the majority they are uncomfortable with having their beliefs challenged because religion gives them a fantasy (false optimism-optimism grounded on nothing but belief) which is damaged if they start unravelling their beliefs. These are the people who collectively stop stem cell research, euthanasia and so on. To get through to these people is to dis-empower their belief structure. They cannot except a 13.8 billion year old Earth and maintain the authority of their holy books and they’ll tell you as much when you ask them. So like it or not you either confront them with a cognitive dissonance and front them with the contradictions and weaken their religion (which they will find threatening to their beliefs – because it is) or you allow them to hold sufficient power to block progress in important areas of life.

    That is not to say they are horrible people, they are not and I’d rather not hurt their feelings but they are causing real harm to real people who are having their rights trampled on by a group of people who as nice are they are deluded. It is time for them to either hold their beliefs in private, and never seek to have their beliefs implemented into public policy. But they won’t, my evangelical minister father in law is a lovely guy, as kind and nice as you can meet yet due to his beliefs he will never vote for an atheist, he will not support gay marriage or stem cell research or euthanasia and any number of other things related to his doma.

    Now being married to his daughter I am wise enough not to push the issue too far (have offended him greatly when I corrected him on his assertion that NAZI Germany and Communism under Stalin where not secular – as this was in front of other family and it was clear I had scored a point) he did not cope well with that. The only way he for example would shift his position would be to erode his faith, he claims to like science but only to the extent it doesn’t conflict with his faith. This is the numb of the problem. Sorry, but that sort of thinking is common and unless you wish science to not go anywhere that conflicts with the numerous faiths on offer in secular countries. That would be to limit science so there will never be a truce until they chose not to publicly act on their beliefs (not going to happen) or they simply become less religious.



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  • That Jackass can be a theologian, does not mean all are. Of course Martin Luther King had to directly contradict – ignore many passages in his bible to take the position he did this was an act of humanism in-spite of what his foundational scriptures clearly stated. And that in a nutshell is the whole problem with Theology. He was a decent fellow in-spite of not because of his religious convictions.



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  • Maybe so, but the same patent examiners are reviewing applications from all 50 US states, and not all states produce the same number of patents per capita. Even if the quality of patent examination isn’t ideal, patents are nonetheless indicators of scientific and technical activity, which is more likely to happen where religiosity is low.



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  • Hi Bob,

    I’ve read the Dawkins Delusion. He may well have a D PHD in Molecular Biophysics, however none of this makes any of the arguments in his book any more rational. Which were not from memory.

    I for one am happy to take say Karen Armstrongs theological training into account as a biblical scholar in relation to the history of the bible and take into account what she has to say about belief systems of the early Jews and how this influenced a transition from polytheism to monotheism. However that does not oblige me to take seriously any claims she might make about the existence of god. On that her training is like all similar claims, without foundation.



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  • This study on its own is a hugely underpowered bit of epidemiological-type research and the article’s headline is an unworthy stretch. I suspect that half a dozen or so measures of evidenced based thinking and innovative type thinking taken together may make the thesis have weight. (I personally believe it has merit once religion is properly defined.)

    Wil has nailed the most likely mechanism underlying the survey results (God’s perfect work removes the need for innovative thinking and actions). Clearly fundamentalist views have this at its heart whilst the Quaker imperative to be active moral agents spawned a lot of innovation.

    The key religious aspect dictating conflict with science is the stark opposition of God Revealed and God-works-in-mysterious-ways. The former is required for proper thought and action policing by the political parasites, the latter could be the ultimate get out of thought jail free.

    No religion can work without some dogma or its identity will be lost very rapidly. But a religion formed of the dogmatic imperative, “Make Better. You’ll know what to do” might spawn the right stuff as effectively as anything.



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  • I just hope McGrath’s science is better than his theology !

    Pathetic woolly stuff of the “I used to be an atheist” sort. Not the brightest bulb in the lamp, IMO.



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  • Religion and science are both true . They both are part of a bigger reality . from where they both originate . both have their role to play for the better of mankind . There is a link between both which science and religion will both accept . The journey towards this is very very complex .



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  • dinesh sinha Sep 6, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Religion and science are both true .

    Nope! There is no such thing as “a true religion”.
    There are thousands of conflicting religions. To bunch them and all their contradictions together, makes no sense!

    They both are part of a bigger reality . from where they both originate . both have their role to play for the better of mankind .

    There are numerous religions which are accurately historically recorded as making conditions much worse for mankind and the humans they afflicted!

    There is a link between both which science and religion will both accept .

    No there isn’t!
    Science works on objective observation and repeated testing of evidence in material reality.
    Religion works on unevidenced faith-thinking, and self-delusion!
    These are diametrically opposing thinking processes which cannot be resolved.

    The journey towards this is very very complex .

    The attempts to pretend there is common ground have to be very complex, in order to hide the reality from those who hide their self-deceptions in tangled verbosity and fallacies.

    The issues of science and religion, will eventually be resolved, when the neuroscientists, finish mapping out an analysing the sources of god-delusions and religiosity demonstrating its mechanisms!



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  • The answer to the question posed is emphatically yes.

    Evidenced by the fact that those of a religious mentality, still, stubborny, labouring under the delution that to inquire, discover, learn and develop is wrong. Whereas to carry out those four activities is the very essence of science.

    “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind,…” In other words, they think they know it all.

    Pathetically incorrigible!

    Great film though; I’ve got it on DVD; sad that they haven’t changed.



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  • We are diametrically opposed to religion, or any other humbug that just makes stuff up without evidence. Those promoting the humbug can’t help but see us as enemies and we cannot help but see those promoting superstition as our adversaries. There is no way we can just “get along”.

    This is not like gays and straights getting along. We are trying to convert the Christians and stop them from spreading their beliefs.



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  • @OP – Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All

    Science is the objective search for mapping the underlying material truths of the universe.

    When religions stop making up “alternative- pseudo-truth”, supernatural claims, and disputing the evidenced science of reality, science will no longer need to debunk their delusional false claims.

    Likewise, if religions are prepared to discard their refuted claims, they can peacefully accept the testable science. and the evidenced basis of history.

    Those in aggressive denial, will of course remain at war with science, history, and other religions which have differing views.



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  • From the article:

    Both across countries and also across US states, higher levels of
    religiosity are related to lower levels of scientific innovation.

    From your post:

    Religion and science are both true . They both are part of a bigger
    reality .

    No, these 2 statements do not correlate to any degree. Scientific innovation has effectively given us the world we live in and continues to affect the world we will live in years from now. Its information is verified, peer reviewed and updated when methods are improved or when things turn out to be wrong about our understanding.

    Religion does not help us understand reality at all. It at best makes ignorant guesses based on even older ignorant guesses from a time when no one knew any better. The time ‘from when they both originate’ hardly qualifies both of them as accurate methods of seeking and finding the truth. Science helps us better understand reality. It’s why we’ve continued to use it and reliably move forward.

    Let’s take a more practical example. For 300 years, Baghdad was a center for learning and exploration. different cultures got together and using methods that were remarkably scientific created vast advances in engineering, biology, medicine and mathematics. Algebra, the creation of the number 0, Navigation and a multitude of the things we take for granted today were created and established in the 300 year period (between around 800-1100) in that part of the world.

    What happened you might ask? Religion, Islam, in particular. Around the time when an Imam began to preach the notion that Mathematics was the work of the devil. Imam Hamid al-Ghazali started this and it very swiftly starting the decline of the scientific advances we got from there, and Baghdad (nor any other part of the middle east) has recovered.

    So, please PLEASE do not make the assertion that religion and science are both true or that they somehow both deserve equal consideration. One opens minds to what exists and influences us to push the boundaries of knowledge. The other locks us in a myopic mindset the closes the very doors of knowledge from which any truth could possibly be found.



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  • correct. as far as i can tell two things need to happen for religion to accept science. 1, a scientific theory is accepted by such a large portion of the population that it would be dangerous to the authority of any religion to cling to a particular dogma and 2, the theory can be allegorised into one of the mirriad meaningless chineese-whispered religious texts.

    Both of these things can and will always happen eventually. scientific progress improves lives so it can’t be ignored and the great stregnth of religious texts is they’re so self-contradictory it’s virtually impossible not to find one entry that supports the scientific truth.

    I also agree, we need to drive the wedge deeper. Of course there will always be the mealy-mouthed faux-liberal repsonse you get from certain types. The scienticif method and the religious method are in conflict. always. you can’t try and find a “middle ground” in this. science is self-correcting. any evidence that challenges current thinking is of huge scientific impotance, any evidence that challenges dogma is ignored or repressed.

    The best compromise is see moderate religion as a less heavy ball and chain attached to the ankle of progress, than fundamentalist religion.

    Nice to see the evidence but just confirms what was clear to anyone. I’ve yet to see an accomodationist argument that has any more merit than an argument for the existance of a particualr deity. Sure it’d be nice not to have to fight, but insisting we can all get along because it’d be nicer is in itself, at odds with science



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