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Technology

Are Scientists the Next Religious Zealots?

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskyAugust 4, 2008 10:04 PM

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Is science in danger of becoming its own religion? That's what Karl Giberson is worried about. In a recent essay in Salon, he questions whether hardcore atheists such as P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and author of the popular pro-atheism (or rather, anti-religion) blog Pharyngula, are replacing religious fundamentalism with a new kind of absolutism: The belief that science (as opposed to God) holds the answer to every question in the universe, and religion is nothing more than a scam. Questioning Myers' ongoing statements such as "we find truth only in science," Giberson writes:

As a fellow scientist (I have a Ph.D. in physics), I share Myers' enthusiasm for fresh eyes, questioning minds and the power of science. And I worry about dogmatism and the kind of zealotry that motivates the faithful to blow themselves up, shoot abortion doctors and persecute homosexuals. But I also worry about narrow exclusiveness that champions the scientific way of knowing to the exclusion of all else. I don't like to see science turned into a club to bash religious believers.

Granted, there's a back story to his argument: Giberson, the founding editor of the erstwhile Science & Theology News and the author of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, became the object of Myers' criticism after a previous Salon Q&A regarding Giberson's new book. In a somewhat self-righteous move, Giberson responded with the current essay suggesting that Myers had wrongfully targeted him, and that his dismissals of the theologian's arguments were themselves a form of dogma. No surprise, Myers then fired back on his blog, charging Giberson with taking details out of context and countering Giberson's charge of zealotry with a stock defense: that Myers' absolute belief in science can't possibly be replacing God because there is no God to replace. Ultimately, their circuitous arguments are akin to two men speaking different languages: Myers simply can't/won't speak Religion, while Giberson has appointed himself translator of a fundamentally irrational concept—that intangibles like God and faith do and should exist—to a hardcore rationalist audience. Neither is objectively right, and both are interpreting facts and creating "reality" to fit their own agendas. While Giberson has a point—rebutting religious absolutism with scientific absolutism is a recipe for hypocrisy—his arguments include a bag of rhetorical tricks, including using a few flimsy criteria to categorize science as a "religion," and crafting himself as the white knight of theology in the face of a modernist/secular regime that seeks to stamp out man's faith in God. As the current administration's policies, not to mention the political climate, demonstrates, it's hardly the atheists who hold the upper hand. Meanwhile, Myers won't acknowledge that belief in God can exist within an "intelligent" person—an attitude that doesn't resonate with the majority of the planet's six billion people. Which isn't to say it's wrong, but the refusal to acknowledge that others both think/feel differently, and may be justified in doing so, draws obvious comparisons to religious zealotry.

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