What is science without religion?

From The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

A reader has sent us the following remarkably intriguing enquiry about science and religion, which we have answered at the length it deserves. This posting is a good read, and is worth following all the way through –

“I am very grateful to SPPI for bringing forward objective and undistorted science on so many different subjects. I really enjoy watching your videos and reading your papers, not just because they are so incredibly well written or spoken and reveal an unprecedented amount of knowledge but also because your way of debating and making your point is just a joy to spectate.

“In particular I find Lord Monckton’s interviewing my fellow citizen, the Norwegian Greenpeace activist at Copenhagen on YouTube, to be the best lesson in the art of debating I have ever seen.

“So, in light of SPPI’s extraordinarily rational approach to science(and everything else for that matter) it comes as a surprise to me that Lord Monckton seems to have a Christian faith. Being very interested and reasonably knowledgeable in both science and religion, it would be very interesting to learn how you describe your faith.

“All the best from Oslo (only 10 C below today).”

Our reply –

Dear Enquirer – Here in the UK it is also below freezing, and snowing on the streets of London. Thank you very much for raising such an interesting question. Many of us at SPPI are Christians. In particular, I am a Christian. So were many eminent scientists in former times, including Lord Kelvin, after whom the internationally-recognized unit of absolute temperature is named.

Is it rational to be both a respecter of the scientific method, which proceeds only be evidence and measurement, and an adherent of religion, which proceeds almost entirely without evidence?

I say Yes, and I say so for a scientific reason. Science has definitively established that there was a moment at which the universe we know and love began. It was 13.7 billion years ago, on a Thursday (as Professor Ian Plimer likes to put it in his geology lectures). It is permissible even for a strict rationalist to allow the possibility that the moment when the universe came into being was also the moment at which it was created: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”

The reason why this belief – and it is no more than a belief – is permissible is that the laws of physics are now proven to have come into existence a minuscule fraction of a picosecond after the Big Bang. Therefore, all of our systems of measurement, which depend upon the laws of physics, are of no avail when we study the Big Bang: for they did not apply at the instant when it occurred.

Accordingly, science can never prove wrong the proposition that it was Almighty God who, directly or indirectly, caused the Big Bang to occur and thus brought our universe into existence. Nor can it dismiss the notion that an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator might have designed the Big Bang to occur in just such a manner, and according to just such laws, as would allow the universe to unfold in accordance with His will.

There is not the slightest point in any religionist trying to prove that Almighty God created the world at the instant of the Big Bang: for the proof is as inaccessible to him as the disproof is to the scientist. Likewise, it is not possible to prove that God intended the universe to unfold precisely as it does, by intelligent design. He may or may not have designed the universe in this way, but we cannot prove it and science cannot disprove it.

Yet science and religion are both directed to the same end: namely, the discernment of and meditation upon the truth, and the meaning of the truth. As the father of the scientific method, Ibn Al-Haytham, put it in 11th-century Iraq, scientists are “seekers after truth”.

The scientist, like the theologian, sees the world sub specie aeternitatis – in the long shadow cast by the kindly light of eternity. Much of climate science depends upon the analysis of geological events that took place millions and even billions of years ago.

The theologian takes the revealed truth handed down to him by those who came before him marked with the sign of his faith, and meditates upon it. He does not question it: for there is no rational basis for questioning it, any more than there is for proving or disproving it. Instead, the theologian makes the step, or leap, of faith and meditates upon what he learns from the holy books. As our Blessed lady, the first theologian, he “ponders these things in his heart”, to gain – and then to convey to his fellow-believers – a deeper understanding of what has been revealed, with the objective of understanding the truth ever more clearly.

The scientist accepts no truth as given, unless it be a theorem – a proposition formally proven by mathematics in a logical sequence ultimately derived from fewer than a couple of dozen mathematical axioms that are agreed by all to be true even though they, too, are not susceptible of truth. One of the most important of these axioms is the identity axiom, which states that a specified quantity is equal to itself. This cannot be proven, but is accepted to be true. Without it, no equation and no science would be possible. But it is accepted by all scientists as a matter of belief, not of proof. In this admittedly limited sense, therefore, it is legitimate to say that science, like religion, is founded upon beliefs – for that is what the axioms of mathematics, the language of science, actually are.

According to al-Haytham, the scientist – the seeker after truth – does not place his trust in any consensus, however broad or however venerable. Instead, he subjects what he has learned of it to his own hard-won scientific knowledge, and he tests it, and tests it, and tests it again. As al-Haytham put it, “The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road that we must follow.”

Religion and science are, therefore, agreed – or should be agreed – that “truth alone is worthy of our entire devotion”, as Father Vincent McNabb used to put it. The scientist, if he is honest, steps aside from declaring that all religions are false, for he cannot test that theory by any measurement, and any theory that is incapable of testing does not qualify as a hypothesis and is thus not, strictly speaking, of interest to science.

The scientist may legitimately demonstrate that all religions except one, to the extent that they teach matters that are contradictory to one another, must be false. And he may legitimately believe – though it is only a belief, for it is not testable – that all religions without any exception are false. But because he cannot prove that all religions are false, he has no scientific basis for saying anything more than that none of them can be proven to be true. And that proposition, of course, is inherent in the definition of religion as that which is believed to be true even though it cannot be determined to be true or false by method recognized by scientists.

The theologian may legitimately demonstrate that the teachings of his religion cannot be disproved, though he must use science, and not religion, to provide an intellectually-rigorous, logically self-consistent justification for debarring scientists from declaring his belief logically impermissible.

Can religion function without science? It functioned largely without science for many millennia, and many of the earliest and greatest scientists have been drawn from its ranks. One thinks of the Druids who are thought to have built Stonehenge (if one assumes that it was not the world’s earliest out-of-town shopping mall); or the Abbe Georges leMaitre, the Catholic priest – also a formidable cosmological physicist – who first discovered and understood the equations that demonstrate the reality of the Big Bang (or, as we should see it, the moment of creation). Einstein originally thought le Maitre’s physics imaginative but fanciful, but visited the great man two years later to apologize and admit that he was correct.

For in that enlightened age – an age that has now passed away – a scientist who had committed an error did not gang together with other scientists to try to persist in that error. Instead, he admitted and corrected his mistake, so that knowledge of the truth among his fellow-scientists was not delayed or confounded by his persistence in the error.

Yet by the 1950s an energetic but misguided group of scientists led by Sir Fred Hoyle at Cambridge University were bent on trying to disprove the Abbe’s demonstration that there had been a single moment when the universe of today first winked thunderously into being. They objected to this notion not because they had any scientific reason to believe it was false, but because they objected to the idea that a single moment of creation had actually occurred.

Can science function without religion? Science would like to think so. And yet … and yet. The contributions of science in the 20th century are undeniable, but some of them are of highly questionable utility. The belief that breeding humans like racehorses was a good idea to strengthen the human stock was widely shared internationally in the 1920s. The logical result of that misguided and hateful consensus as to the desirability of eugenics was the declaration that an unpopular race – at that time the Jews in Germany – were an inferior sub-species and were, therefore, less than human. From this absurdity it logically followed that they should not be allowed to breed, and particularly that they should not be allowed to breed with the Master Race; that they should not be allowed to hold property, for they were thus depriving the Master Race of its birthright; and that they should not be allowed to live, for they were an aberration and a pollutant.

One has only to state these propositions to see how repellent they were. Yet they were widely believed in Germany, not least because the State had adopted the eugenic viewpoint and had declared it to be consensual and normative, and had declared that anyone who disagreed with it would be punished – an efficient but morally unacceptable method of ensuring that only a single viewpoint, however erroneous and repugnant, prevails.

Or consider Lysenko, a peasant in the postwar Soviet Union who had a barmy notion that taking seed-corn and soaking it in water over the winter would improve its germination in the spring. He proudly reported his theory to the local Communist party apparatchik, who was persuaded that Lysenko represented all that was best in the Soviet Union, which so glorified the workers and peasants that even the humblest, whether educated or not, could be so inspired by the Party and its glories that he would produce science that even the wisest and best-qualified in the Western nations could not produce.

In very short order, this pseudo-scientific lunacy passed right up through the multitudinous layers of pointless bureaucracy to the Kremlin itself. The National Academy of Sciences in Russia was ordered to throw its weight behind Lysenko – and millions died as a direct result of the decades of famine that ineluctably followed. And it was a consensus, agreed to by the governing class of the day, that led directly to that famine.

Or meditate upon the response of the world to the emergence of HIV. As every epidemiologist and policy-maker in the field of public health knows full well, the standard policy response to news of a new, fatal, incurable infection is to test everyone repeatedly, and to isolate all carriers of the infection immediately, compulsorily and permanently – but, of course, humanely, and in a manner duly proportionate to the risk of transmission of the infection.

With HIV this was not done, because a particular pressure-group with a direct vested interest lobbied heavily to prevent the usual public-health measures from being put into place. So skilful and so powerful was this interest group that, in no time, the governing class – worldwide this time – ganged up against anyone who, like me, dared to suggest that perhaps applying the standard, if not exactly libertarian, public-health protocol would save tens of millions of lives. Once again, the constat inter omnes of the chattering classes was a consensus that killed. Tens of millions have indeed died, just as those few of us who had had the courage to speak out had said they would. And tens of millions more are infected and are going to die, all because consensus – which is really little better than a superstitious belief – had replaced scientific method and rigor.

Or consider DDT. This chemical, harmful only to the mosquitoes that cause malaria and yellow fever, had cured more people of fatal disease than any other medication, including penicillin. It was saving the lives of tens of millions. Its German inventor was rightly awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine because he had saved more lives than anyone else in human history. Once again, a narrow faction with its own poisonous agenda supervened and a campaign was successfully mounted to have DDT banned worldwide, on entirely specious, pseudo-scientific grounds. The result of this ban was heartbreaking. Malaria chiefly kills children.

The death-rate while DDT was widely available and widely used was just 50,000 people a year. After the malaria ban came into force, 1 million a year. And here’s the thing. That elevated death-rate persisted for 40 years before the World Health Organization found the courage to lift the ban. Dr. Arata Kochi said, “In this field, politics usually comes first and science second. We will now take a stand on the science and the data.”

Yet even now, supporters of the poisonous faction that had lobbied and campaigned for the ban on DDT still refuse to allow its use, and persist in saying we must wait until alternatives are found. So millions continue to die. But they are only children, and they are mostly black, and they are all in faraway countries of which we know little, as Chamberlain dismissively said of Czechoslovakia when Hitler invaded it and the appeasers decided the smart money was on looking the other way.

Such thinking is repellent to any man of religion. To us, every human life, regardless of the color of its skin or its age or its sex or its nationality or its opinions, is of immense value, and is to be protected and respected.

Now consider “global warming”. Once again, the science is nonsense. The central claim of the UN’s climate panel, to the effect that with 90% certainty more than half of the warming of the late 20th century was of human origin is without scientific foundation or credibility – and obviously, patently, visibly, evidently so.

Yet once again the State bureaucracies and politicians worldwide, hectored and pestered by vested-interest pressure groups of selfish disposition and limited vision, have declared a pseudo-scientific nonsense to be a “consensus”. And, just like Lysenko’s party officials, they have lined up a battery of scientific-sounding documents in purported justification of their case. Just as with Lysenko, no doubt a small proportion of the “scientists” who put their names to these documents actually believe the rubbish that stands in their name.

Many more (too many), however, are what Lenin used to describe as “useful idiots”. They go along with the absurdity, however cruel, because they find it socially congenial, politically expedient, and financially profitable to do so – and they would like to keep their tenure rather than having it taken away by terrified university bureaucrats who fear that, if they allow anyone prominently to speak out against the “consensus”, the taxpayer funding upon which they depend for the majority of their income will be taken away.

And people are dying in their millions again, this time because the world’s poorest people are simply unable to afford the doubling of world food prices that the biofuel scam has caused. Herr Ziegler, the UN’s right-to-food rapporteur, has not minced his words. He has said, “When millions are dying of starvation, the diversion of food to biofuels is a crime against humanity.”

In each of these accounts of the dismal contribution of State-sponsored science to the numerous mass slaughters that have occurred in the Age of Science and in the name of science, the cravenness of the scientists who could see the truth and yet were silent is startling, and disfiguring.

Why did so few true scientists speak out against the eugenic slaugher perpetrated by Hitler, or the famines caused by the Lysenko nonsense, or the millions of deaths from AIDS and malaria and yellow fever that could so easily have been prevented, but were not? And why do so few true scientists today have the courage to stand up and be counted against the cruel absurdity that is “global warming” theory, a theory that is now killing millions in the Third World because, while we can afford to pay $2 rather $1 for a burger, they are below the breadline already and simply cannot afford the doubling of food prices which, according to the World Bank, has resulted directly from the belief that “global warming” is a “global crisis” – a belief gladly fostered not only by the State but also by academe, by the media, and by the commercial world, for all imagine that they can profit greatly by it at our expense.

These dreadful and continuing episodes of careless, callous mass slaughter of innocent people by the governing class have one factor glaringly in common: they occurred because scientists lacked the moral fiber to stand out publicly and persistently against the bastardization of natural philosophy itself. They did not thunder: they cowered. Too many are cowering now, when they should be courageous enough, and true enough to their disciplines, to speak, speak out, and speak on until the truth is heard.

And why? Why this widespread, serial cowardice on the part of the scientific community? Yes, that community is now heavily, indeed almost exclusively, dependent upon the taxpayer for its funding. Science is a monopsony, with the State more or less the only paying customer. Yes, that community may legitimately say that most of its members do not specialize in the increasingly narrow fields in which the scientific debate about “global warming” is taking place. Yet there is another and more terrible reason why our scientists have so often and so catastrophically let down the millions whose deaths their cringing passivity has allowed.

Precisely because the worst sort of scientists are prone to say, intolerantly, that religion is not a legitimate pastime for any scientist, many scientists have come to the view that they no longer need to adhere to any moral precept at all. Morality, they say, is the province of religion and not of science. We, they say, can do what we like as long as we can get away with it, and there is no such distinction any more as true or false, right or wrong, just or unjust.

Perhaps, therefore, no one should be allowed to practice in any of the sciences, particularly in those sciences that have become the mere political footballs of the leading pressure-groups, unless he can certify that he adheres to one of those major religions – Christianity outstanding among them – that preach the necessity of morality, and the reality of the distinction between that which is so and that which is not. For science without the morality that perhaps religion alone can give is nothing.

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