How Anti-Religious “Defenders” of Science Undermine Science

by Tom Gilson

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 (drawing a conclusion based 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.

(Click here if you cannot see the video.)

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.

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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 study could be done, though it would be difficult. It would require a sampling good-sized representative portion of the population, measuring the subjects’ religiosity, and a making 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 so as to 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 the effect 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…


How Anti-Religious “Defenders” of Science Undermine Science – Thinking Christian