Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society from the University of Notre Dame, addressed BYU students on philosophical issues from the view of a sociologist on Tuesday, Feb 23, 2016. His main topic was the specific concern of balancing science and religion.
Smith explained two conflicting types of scientists. The first kind are the scientists who do their research and conclude that they, personally, cannot believe in religious claims. The second kind are the scientists who publicly claim that they can disprove religious claims through science.
“It is the second position by contrast that I take issue with. Scientist’s public intellectuals have no legitimate intellectual grounds for making many of the dismissive, metaphysical and theological claims that they make,” Smith said.
Smith followed up this theory by giving several examples of scientists who have claimed their scientific evidence can prove religious beliefs to be false.
One example Smith gave was a book called “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Harari. In his writing, Harari said, “There are no Gods in the universe…outside of common imagination of human beings.”
Smith shared his thoughts on Harari’s comments.
“I found these claims to be really jarring as a reader. I had just been reading about the human cognitive revolution and the next thing I know, and without warning, I am reading theological metaphysics,” Smith said.
One main observation that Smith made is that some science authors feel some sort of entitlement that they can step on the turf of religious grounds.
“I have no doubt that Harari would, on principle, defy religion setting two toes on science’s turf. But, he obviously feels entitled to wonder onto religion’s turf to pour a tank of gasoline on it and set it on fire,” Smith said.
Smith explained there is an obvious power struggle for turf and science is dominating. He also showed the double standard for the two separate turfs.
He said on one hand there are religious seekers who believe that religion should be private and personal, not mixed in with science or education. On the other hand, scientists believe religion should be a public matter that can dismiss religious claims.
Smith said there are two types of entitled scientists, some who are ignorant and others who are arrogant. Many of these scientists believe in the ideology of imperialistic scientism which claims, “If science cannot observe or discover something, then it cannot be real or true.”
He then explained the irony of it all is that the authority given to science to prove the pointlessness of the universe is not an actual scientific conclusion and could never actually be validated through “imperial science.”
“The very claim itself shows that the claim actually cannot be correct,” Smith said.
Smith reminded students that, of course, some religious claims can be invalidated through science. He gave the example that if a video was found of the apostles stealing Jesus’ body out from the tomb, the belief of His resurrection would be disproven.
“Usually the passage of time and the lack of evidence and time machines makes such scientific invalidations of religious claims impossible,” Smith said.
He explained that although both science and religion seek understanding, the difference is that science seeks to understand the natural works of life while religion seeks to understand creation. He implied that it’s about respecting each other’s turf.
Smith used some of his speech to address those scientists who walk a fine line onto the religious turf.
“Please stick to what you are good at. At the very least learn enough to be able to distinguish in the first place between properly scientific, philosophical and theological claims. Then if you really want to make public claims about metaphysics and theology, first learn enough of the philosophy and religion you are engaging to speak accurately and intelligently about it so as not to embarrass yourself,” Smith said.
Smith ended the forum with advice to have well informed arguments on science and religion.