By Victor Stenger, from Huff Post
Many historians and sociologists have denied the there ever was a war between science and religion. Some have even claimed that Christianity was responsible for science! But they have ignored the most important historical facts. Greece and Rome were well on the way to modern science when Christianity interrupted its development for a thousand years. It was no accident that the scientific revolution of the eighteenth century happened only after the revolts against Church authority in the Renaissance and Reformation opened up new avenues of thought.
I don’t deny that many scientists are also religious, but they have compartmentalized their brains into two sections that don’t talk to each other.
Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies — the assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside his or her body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations we make about the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments and the application the knowledge obtained to human activity.
All major religions teach that humans possess an additional “internal” sense that enables us to gain access to a realm that lies beyond the world we see around us — a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. Religion is a set of practices intended to communicate with the supernatural and apply the insights gained thereby to human needs.
The working hypothesis of science is that empirical data is our only reliable source of knowledge about the world. No doubt science has its limits. But it doesn’t follow that religion or any other alternative system of thought automatically provides any insight into what lies beyond those limits.
The scientific community in general believes that science has nothing to say about the supernatural. However, if we truly possess this inner sense and it is telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality. So far we see no evidence for and have no reason to rely on this inner sense of the supernatural. If such evidence or reason should show up, however, then scientists will have to consider it.