I continue to be amazed by efforts to merge religion and science. Of course, one expects religionists to attempt to bring science into the fold of religion — being religionists, they don’t know any better — but over the past couple of years, scientists have attempted to encompass religion within their own realm. Scientific American recently published an article about one of the latest of these efforts:

Sacred Science: Using Faith to Explain Anomalies in Physics

In Stuart Kauffman’s emergent universe, reductionism is not wrong so much as incomplete. It has done much of the heavy lifting in the history of science, but reductionism cannot explain a host of as yet unsolved mysteries, such as the origin of life, the biosphere, consciousness, evolution, ethics and economics.

It has become fashionable over the past few years to whine and complain about “reductionism,” or science’s tendency to break things down to minimal bites so as to analyze them specifically. While reductionism has its faults, and does not in fact explain many of the things cited in this quotation, it remains largely a virtue, because until reductionism became common, we did not really understand the universe very well. Physics advanced during the Enlightenment when Kepler and Newton (among others) examined the motions of celestial objects specifically and in isolation. Without their reductionism there would have been no Principia Mathematica, probably no calculus, and very little technological advance. Complaints that “reductionism” goes too far, also fails to account for the fact that scientists engaging in reductionist analyses generally know and acknowledge that they are looking specifically at isolated components of systems; they are not confusing the part with the whole and are up-front about their analytical approach. Critics’ claims that they do confuse the part with the whole, are dishonest and misrepresent scientists.

A good working definition of “science” is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (courtesy of Compact Oxford English Dictionary). Nothing about this definition has the slightest thing to do with religion or with any metaphysical notions at all. It deals solely with “the physical and natural world” and not with “emergent entities” or whatever euphemism someone might come up with for “God.” Science began working when it branched away from religion and stopped meddling in the metaphysical. To twist it back around to embracing metaphysics, will serve no one and only make science non-functional.

The desire to “explain” things at all costs, must be resisted. Refashioning science so as to embrace metaphysics, is not the way to explain these things. It may well be that (reductionist) science will explain those things one day … but just not now, this moment, immediately. Impatience it not a virtue.

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