Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

II. Areas of purported conflict between science and religion

C. The epistemological conflict

Let's consider a third claimed conflict between science and religion, that of epistemology.
"There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works." - Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist at Cambridge University
"The great conflict of the 21st century will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma." - Robert Reich, professor of public policy at UC-Berkeley
"Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning." - Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago
What Hawking, Reich, and Coyne are pointing to here is what they see as a difference between religious and scientific epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know truth. The claim here is that religion and science approach knowledge of the truth in two completely different ways and that the scientific approach is better. The position that often underlies these types of objections is known as scientism, the belief that "science is the only way to know truth." But is science the only way to know truth?

No. In fact, the statement that "science is the only way to know truth" is demonstrably false because it is self-refuting. Ask yourself: is the statement "science is the only way to know truth" itself true? If it is, how do you know that is true? Certainly not through science! Which experiment shows you that "science is the only way to know truth"? There isn't one. But if this truth cannot be known through science, then science must not be the only way to know truth. The statement is self-refuting and therefore false.

But what if we make a more modest claim like "Science is the only reliable way to know truth"? Again, do we know that truth reliably? If so, how? Not through science! So this statement is also self-refuting.

I think that the most optimistic claim we make is to say something like "science is the best way to know truths which can be known through science." But that is hardly a claim that demonstrates a clear conflict between science and religion.

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If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- Shenvi.org. I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller. It is phenomenal. Free sermons treating many of the topics covered by this book can be found here.

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