The Sciences

Lawrence Krauss on Science/Religion

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJun 26, 2009 3:25 PM


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My friend and fellow ScienceDebate2008 co-founder Lawrence has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on science and religion that puts him in an interesting place in this debate. Krauss has worked with Ken Miller to defend the teaching of science and to thwart "intelligent design." But he also wants to make a defense of the New Atheists, Dawkins and Harris et al. How does Krauss do it? Well, he admits that you can be a scientist and also religious. But he adds this:

Faced with the remarkable success of science to explain the workings of the physical world, many, indeed probably most, scientists understandably react as Haldane did. Namely, they extrapolate the atheism of science to a more general atheism. While such a leap may not be unimpeachable it is certainly rational, as Mr. McGinn pointed out at the World Science Festival. Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague idea of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world's organized religions....

So while scientific rationality does not require atheism, it is by no means irrational to use it as the basis for arguing against the existence of God, and thus to conclude that claimed miracles like the virgin birth are incompatible with our scientific understanding of nature.

What Krauss is effectively saying is that it is rational to go beyond science's methodological naturalism to also become a philosophical naturalist (for my discussion of MN/PN, see here). I of course wholly agree, in that I am a philosophical naturalist. But it is an omission on Krauss's part not to admit more explicitly that in making this move, one is leaving beyond the realm of science per se and developing a philosophical worldview. I think--though I'm not sure--that in a conversation Krauss would probably admit as much. But by not doing so in the Journal, Krauss is helping along the misconception that science itself is inherently atheistic. It isn't. Let's do the distinction again:

Moving from science to atheism = perfectly fine, but philosophical in nature.

Moving from science to theism = also perfectly fine (so long as one's theism does not entail positions contrary to science), and also philosophical in nature. Moving from science to somewhere = necessary for everybody.

Any questions?

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