Somebody uploaded a video on YouTube to send a message that scientists ought not believe in God. The speaker is Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He is an astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.

Some of the lecture was cut out, so I will not hold Tyson responsible for the error I’m about to describe. If I did, I would be guilty of the same error that I’m about to describe (drawing a conclusion on incomplete evidence). I will instead direct my comments toward the person who uploaded the video, who apparently intended us to conclude from it that religion hinders science. By extension, what I have to say here applies also to everyone else who has made the same mistake in any comparable way. And that includes a lot of people.

What I want to say is that this message about religion hindering science is completely unscientific; and the more it gets propagated, the more science is hindered.

Here’s why I say that. The error of which I speak is very painfully clear in this video, and it is quite specifically a scientific error. What the video does is to propose, on the basis of one snippet of history, that belief in God is harmful to the progress of science.

This is a statement that belongs in the field of social psychology and/or sociology. The claim goes like this: If a person (society) believes in God, the result in that person (society) will be deleterious to the progress of science.

I want to know where that has been scientifically measured and assessed.

The test could be run. The study could be done, though it would be difficult. It would require a good-sized representative sampling, measurement of their religiosity, and a correlative measurement of their attitudes toward, knowledge of, and contribution to science.

I want to know where that study has been conducted.



It would be a difficult study, because religiosity is a varied phenomenon, and it’s likely that a global measure of religiosity would obscure important detailed variables that would affect the outcome. Or in other words, it’s naive to assume that variances in Buddhist religiosity would have the same effect on scientific attitudes as variances in Muslim religiosity; and the same for all other religions. So the study would have to operationalize the relevant dimensions of religiosity and determine which of them correlate with attitudes toward science.

I want to know where that operationalizing work has been done.

“Science” is also a multi-dimensional term, and to claim that there is some correlation between religiosity and attitudes toward science calls for the question, which science? Is this a matter of attitudes toward science globally? Does it differ for different branches of science? Does it have something to do with scientific method, scientific assumptions, etc? These things need operational definitions for the sake of good correlational research.

I want to know where that operationalizing work has been done.

Every scientist knows that correlation does not prove causation; yet in the social sciences, where correlational findings support robust theory, it’s possible to draw at least tentative conclusions. Absent such theory, correlation absolutely cannot show causation. In the case of religiosity and science, a truly robust theory would have to depend on the above-mentioned operationalizing work in both religion and science.

I want to know where to find that robust theory in any scientifically responsible stage of development.

Every scientist knows that small and unrepresentative samples lead to erroneous conclusions. Most of the claims I’ve seen of science hindering religion are based on anecdotes or minor snippets from deep history; or from a single class of religious objection to one minority branch of the sciences (theories relating to evolution and the age of the universe).

I want to know where a truly representative study has been conducted.

The video presented above makes every one of these scientific mistakes. The conclusion it presents, while claiming to support science, is profoundly unscientific. It draws a conclusion that belief in God is bad for science, without operationalizing that belief, without parsing out the relevant sub-variables in belief, and on the basis of one single snippet of history, a tiny and unrepresentative sample, to which no scientifically responsible theory has been applied.

Every scientist worth his or her salt (I am no longer claiming “every scientist”) knows that making unscientific claims, while speaking in the role of a scientist, undermines science. It misrepresents the way in which scientific knowledge is generated. Because the information for such claims comes from unscientific carelessness, there is a very large chance the claims are completely wrong; and science is not in the business of generating and propagating falsehoods.

The video above undermines science in exactly that way.

And until the proper studies have been run, every single person who claims, “religion hinders science,” is hindering science by making scientifically unsubstantiated, theory-free and evidence-free claims.

In conclusion: the mantra of today’s scientistic atheism is that all knowledge properly comes from properly conducted science. They also claim that religious belief interferes with science. Let’s all get in the habit of asking them, Where is the science to support that claim?

Also at Thinking Christian

blog comments powered by Disqus