“Science versus Religion”

Richard Dawkins


1.       Natural selection as a “blind watchmaker”

          a.       “A unconscious automatic process that explains the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, but it has no purpose, plan, or mind.”

          b.       Natural selection does not explain the existence of the physical constants necessary for life to exist (i.e., Collin’s “fine tuning”)

2.       After Darwin, atheism became much more plausible


3.       Dawkins on faith

          a.       Faith = belief that is not based on evidence

                    i.        Are there other better definitions of faith?

          b.       Faith the principle vice of any religion


4.       Faith (religion) cause of great evil

          a.       Faith is one of the world’s greatest evils, comparable to the smallpox virus, but harder to eradicate.

          b.       Many wars importantly motivated by religious disagreements (e.g., Northern Ireland, Middle East, Al Qaeda)

          c.       Suicide bombers are told that martyrdom is quickest way to heaven and a special part of heaven where they will receive their special reward of 72 virgin brides

          d.       We need “spiritual arms control”

5.       Science is the cause of great good

          a.       Dangers of faith versus considerable accomplishments of reason and observation in science

6.       Is this a fair assessment of relative all-things-considered-value of religion and science?

          a.       Any cases were religion is the cause of great good and science of great evil?

          b.       What is Gould’s view about the consequences of religion? Does he agree with Dawkins?



8.       “Science is just a religion, because fundamentally it just comes down to faith.”

          a.       Dawkins denies both and claims that

                    i.        Science not a religion, and

                    ii.       Sciences doesn’t depend on faith

          b.       At the end of his article, Dawkins admits that in some advocates of science one finds zealotry and bigotry as great as is found in (some) religious people

                    i.        But scientific zealots only argue with those who disagree with them, they don’t try to kill them...



10.     Science is based on verifiable evidence; religion sees this as a vice

          a.       Religious faith lacks evidence and is proud of its independence from evidence and takes it as a virtue when people’s faith is strong enough and doesn’t require evidence

11.     Science makes testable predictions, religion does not

          a.       Example

                    i.        Science predicts that Halley’s Comet will return with out fail in the year 2062

                    ii.       Religious prophets do not commit themselves to factual prophesies, but disguise their lack of knowledge in a “smokescreen of vagueness”

12.     Basis of science conviction is publically available, basis of religious belief is not

                    i.        So there is a basis of (evidence for?) religious belief

          b.       Dawkins believes in fact of evolution (and with a passionate conviction which may superficially look like faith)

          c.       But he believes in evolution based on evidence that is

                    i.        Overwhelmingly strong

                    ii.       Publically available

                              (1)     Freely available to anyone who takes the trouble to read up on it and will convince anyone who understands it

                              (2)     Anyone can get the same evidence Dawkins has (and presumably reach the same conclusion)

          d.       Religious belief based on faith involves reasons that are not publically available

                    i.        One can’t examine a person’s reasons for that belief

                    ii.       “A private wall of faith that other’s can’t examine”

13.     Huge difference between bases of science and religious belief

          a.       Strong (even passionate) scientists’ beliefs based on thought, examining the evidence and use of logic

          b.       Strong religious beliefs based on internal revelation, tradition, and authority



15.     Religion provides its followers with benefits:

          a.       (1) Explanation, (2) consolation, and (3) uplift

          b.       Science can offer some of this too

16.     Explanation

          a.       Religion (in an attempt to explain) offers false science

          b.       Religion includes a cosmology and biology (theory of origins, of life, and reasons for existence)

          c.       Science offers better explanation, Dawkins thinks

          d.       Religions have historically attempted to answer questions that properly belong to science

                    i.        Don’t let religion retreat from ground on which it traditionally has fought

          e.       Dawkins rejects (Gould’s) idea that religion and science are concerned with separate dimensions and different questions

17.     Consolation: Religion offers better consolation than does science

          a.       Science can’t offer a reunion with loved one in hereafter or punishment for evil does who escaped

18.     Uplift is something science can really give and perhaps better than religion

                    i.        Dawkins seems to go against Gould’s language about the universe not caring, etc.

          b.       Religions offer awe and wonder at beauty of creation

          c.       But science has the same awe and wonder and perhaps even greater uplift

                    i.        That the amazing beauty and mind boggling complexity of our world did not have a purposeful creator increases it’s awesome nature

                    ii.       Science investigates this awesome (miraculous) nature

                              (1)     Does it take the awe away by explaining it?

          d.       “Science can offer a vision of life and universe which is far more inspiring than the faiths and disappointing traditions of the world’s religions”

                    i.        Directly contradicts Gould’s NOMA

          e.       Examples of awe, uplift, inspiration

                    i.        Age and size of the universe that science can explain is mind boggling

                              (1)     News of Christ’s death traveling at speed of light out from earth would still have only reached one-fiftieth of the way across our galaxy, not 1/1000 way to the nearest neighboring galaxy, in the 100 million strong galaxy universe.

                              (2)     The universe at large “couldn’t possibly be anything other than indifferent to Christ’s life, teachings, and death.”

                                         (a)     How is this uplifting?



20.     State obliged, legally enforced religious instruction for all children in the U.K.

          a.       Unconstitutional in the U.S.

21.     Religious education as mental child abuse

22.     Young children are indoctrinated into religious beliefs about the cosmos, life and existence

          a.       “Religion is the one field in our culture about which it is accepted w/o questioning (or noticing how bizarre it is) that parents have total and absolute say in what their children are going to be, how raised, and what children’s opinions are about cosmos, life, existence”

                    i.        Well in the UK, the state enforces religious education, so parents don’t have whole say

                    ii.       We let children make up their minds about being a democrat or republican, their views about economics and politics, but not religion?

23.     If science is a religion, then need to set aside time for science in religious education classes

          a.       He would teach Darwin’s theory of natural selection along with the creationist alternatives

          b.       He thinks by and large children are not taught evolution at all (at home and in church), but instead creationism.

24.     Also in religious education should teach more than one theory of creation

          a.       Not just Adam and Eve (Judeo-Christian Myth), but others as well (Hindus who believe that world created in a cosmic butter churn)

          b.       All creation stories should be given equal time...

          c.       But they are not all equally plausible or equally important in terms of numbers of folks who subscribe to them.


25.     Morals and religious education

          a.       Science not much to say on this, though evolutionary theory might say something of great interest

                    i.        E.g., the survival advantage of groups that treat each other ethically.....(Not clear how ethics would be of survival value to the individual?)

          b.       Instead of science (or religion?), use “rational moral philosophy”

          c.       Are there absolute standards of right and wrong?

                    i.        If so where do they come from?

                              (1)     Does this mean what justifies them?

          d.       How did the human brain develop these feelings of right and wrong? (A scientific question)

          e.       Are humans (of any sort, including fetuses) superior to all other life forms.

                    i.        Given our evolutionary descent from common ancestor with chimps, how did we get this idea that humans are special?


26.     Eschatology (last things)

          a.       2nd law of thermodynamics leads us to know that all complexity, all life, all laughter/sorrow is going to level itself out into a cold nothingness in the end

                    i.        We are just temporary, local bucking of the great universal slide into the abyss of uniformity.

          b.       Sun will engulf the earth in about 60 million centuries from now

          c.       This dimension of science does not seem uplifting.


27.     Seems pretty clear that for some questions, science is no where near answering

          a.       Time itself began at a certain moment, and may end or may not

          b.       Time might end in miniature crunches called black holes

          c.       Might laws of universe change in crunches

          d.       Time could begin again with new laws of physics, new physical constants

          e.       Perhaps many universes each isolated from rest so well that others don’t exist for it.

          f.       Many of these seem like philosophical questions at least as much as scientific ones.....