Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Scientific Apologetics

The other day I was handed an interesting booklet titled A Brief Illustrated Guide to Islam, which I found somewhat amusing because only a part of it is dedicated to explaining Islam. Instead much of it discusses the “Scientific Proof of the Qur’an”, basically pointing out things in the Qur’an that agree with current research, or the views of one or two scientists, and from this concluding that this is proof that the Qur’an is divine. I refer to such arguments as ‘scientific apologetics’, using science to try to support a faith-based position.

I don’t really have a problem with religion and religious beliefs. Most of humanity needs belief in a greater power to make their lives meaningful. Yes some people are atheists but I’m pretty sure that being an atheist isn’t for everyone. For many the comfort of religious belief is truly helpful. But when said religious beliefs try to cross the faith/science boundary that we run into problems.

Generally when someone uses scientific apologetics they open themselves up to a few problems:

1) Science cannot prove/disprove the divine. Science deals with empirical observations and evidence and is unable to answer questions relating to God/Allah/gods. Many scientists themselves are religious – since science does not investigate matters of faith or the divine generally there is no contradiction in someone having religious beliefs yet practicing science. Having a passage from scripture resemble some empirical observation or scientific hypothesis does not prove divinity any more than if some passage does not conform to a hypothesis disproves divinity. Scientific apologetics does not appear to realize this concept, which brings us to . . .

If one proposes that scripture agreeing with science = proof of divinity, does that mean if an item is found in the scripture that disagrees with science that it is now proven that the scripture is not divine? No believer in a particular religion would accept the latter of course. But you can’t have your cake and eat it to: agrees = divine, not agrees = also divine? Heads I win, tails you lose!

2) What if other scriptures from other religions also have passages that agree with science, does that mean they all must be divine? People using scientific apologetics tend to focus on their own religion and not apply the same methods to other religious books. As we’ll see over the next few posts, many religions (Christian, Islam, Hindu) have all sorts of things in their works that ‘agree’ with science. So if a Christian uses science to ‘prove’ that the Bible is true, they should also agree that the Hindu scriptures are true for the same reason. (They wouldn’t of course but it creates a logical inconsistency: why should one believe in Book X because it ‘agrees’ with science but not Book Y?)

3) Just because some passage or part of a scripture can be interpreted to agree with science does not de facto mean that everything in the scripture must therefore be correct and true. That is a logical fallacy, I think it’s analogous to a doctor looking at your ear and finding that since it is free of disease concluding that your whole body must be free of disease! It also runs into problems with #1 above. Some diehard believers try to get around this by accepting research that supports their scriptural interpretations while excluding anything that opposes it (and if it’s someone like a young-earth creationist, or a geocentrist, there’s a heck of a lot of research and evidence to ignore).

So that’s just some things to bear in mind as I spend the next few weeks going over the claims made in this Islamic booklet, as well as some claims made in other scriptures. It’ll be neat, I swear.

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