The Science of Statements   1 comment

Science v Religion

In the last week, Professor Stephen Hawking has released an extract from his new book The Grand Design, which states the Big Bang is the only possible way that the universe could have begun; there cannot have been a creator; no form of a god is required.  In making this statement, Hawking has undermined his own profession.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not a scientist’s job to provide us with answers: a scientist will present a hypothesis (a statement to be investigated) and then experiment along that particular line of inquiry, so they are then able to present us with the evidence they have found to prove or disprove their original hypothesis.  The scientist can draw conclusions from their work, but they should allow others to be free to take whatever meaning they wish from the evidence presented.  It is this freedom for others to draw their own conclusions from the results of an investigation which has allowed science to advance in the past.

Why Hawking has seemingly decided to go against what the scientific community stands for – and present his personal conclusion as fact rather than just submitting his work and letting the evidence stand on its own merit – is a mystery.  Perhaps the Professor, who has previously spoken of his ability to recognise the possibility for the existence of a god, simply wanted to let his new-found atheism being known.  However, the media appear to have taken the opportunity to re-ignite the science v. religion war.

One line from Hawking’s book reads: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” The Bishop of Swindon, Dr Lee Rayfield, has responded, claiming that science “can never prove the non-existence of God, just as it can never prove the existence of God.” Of course, the Bishop wants to bring the notion of needing a leap of ‘faith’ into the debate, but that isn’t something I’m questioning here.  I want to remind you of what the media doesn’t mention today – that religion and science were very much linked in the past, so much so that some of the world’s greatest scientific minds were men of unyielding faith: Galileo Galilei, René Descartes, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Louis Pasteur, and Charles Babbage.  Many more can be found quite easily through the use of the wonderful resource that is the internet.  My point being that being scientific and religious are not mutually exclusive qualities.  If they were, we would be divided completely along this line and even at school children would be required to choose to study religion or science, but not both.  It would be ridiculous (and highly controversial) to suggest that any person of faith cannot study science and that any scientist cannot study (or have) faith – so why is it so often portrayed as professionals needing to be on the side of ‘religion’ or ‘science’ with no middle ground, when we (who only use them in our personal lives) are perfectly willing and able to allow the co-existence of, and harmonious relationship between, our views concerning the two.

What is it, then, about the professional commitment to either one of these disciplines which makes some people (including some of those within the media circus) think that religion and science are incompatible?  Maybe creating tensions which don’t really exist makes the related news stories more exciting…


Posted 04/09/2010 by thinkmindy in History, Religion, Science

One response to “The Science of Statements

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  1. It is people’s requirement for certainty that drives these debates. People prefer either/or options rather than some of each. Ask a scientist whether an electron is a particle or a wave and the answer is “well it depends”. It is a bit of both, but that doesn’t fit into neat categories so it is regarded differently depending on the circumstances.

    Alan Mabbutt

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