A non overlapping magesteria

1 05 2010

The whole point of belief is that it exists beyond evidence. If there was real evidence for the existence of God then we would not need a belief system that supports a diety.

So science and belief operate in completely separate spheres with no possible overlap. We can proove something to be true and if there is no proof then we can still believe something to be true. As Stephen J. Gould puts it, science and belief are “none overlapping magesteria”

If a belief is dispelled it doesn’t move into an intermediate zone or move into the realm of science, it simply disappears. It is dispelled

The grey area exists where people believe in things that science can show to be untrue. Such a revelation should dispel that belief but believers stubbornly hold on to ideas that are demonstrably untrue.

Should science continue to make direct arguaments against religious beliefs and if so are full frontal attacks like those from Richard dawkins likely to work or just annoy the faithful into a position where they are prepared to defend what they know to be indefensible.

Religion has a long history. Evidence of belief in a practical realm exist across archeological time and across all human societies. Pascal Boyer in his excellent book ‘religion explained’ discusses in detail the evolutionary psychology of belief and it’s place in our psyche.

Religious belief is rooted in our need to make sense of the world around us. Ancient peoples were not unreasonable on supposing that the sun died and was reborn each day. Scientific exploration of the solar system has shown this not to be the case and now there are no belief systems based on this supposition.

Christians all now accept the position of the earth in relation to the sun and stars when not so very long ago the church insisted on placing the earth at the centre of the universe and persecuted all those that expressed a view to the contrary.

So religious belifes can and do change in the face of scientific evidence. Even great faiths like Christianity can change their belief systems. It used to amuse me as a child to wonder what happpened to the people in heaven when the pope changed his mind about the rules for entry. Where the Borgia popes booted out when celibacy became a new condition for acceptance on high? Will they be allowed back on when the Catholic church is forced to acknowledge that some normal human interaction by it’s priests in relationships and family life may be the best way to prevent them abusing the most vulnerable in their societies?

But I digress.

Why is it so important to dispel belief in a diety (or dieties)? Should we continue to try to dissuade believers from their beliefs? Surely as long as believers don’t believe in something as patently ludicrous as creationism we should leave them this belief in God?

I don’t think so.

Over and above the philosophical desire for the truth to be known and understood, anyone who prays is asking God to intervene in the material world.  This challenges the idea that science and belief should occupy separate spheres. In addition it removes the imperative to solve the problems ourselves.  We are shifting responsibility beyond ourselves for problems that we created and that ours to solve.

It is by putting church law above the state that generations of priests were allowed to abuse and go on abusing without admonition. Suicide bombers do so in the name of God.

So the belief in God is not always a benign affectation, a personal comfort blanket. More often believers congregate around that belief, creating organised religion, which is all too often used to corrupt and control.

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