Faith, Reason, and Science

Sunday, August 2, 2009
First Aired: 
Sunday, October 14, 2007

What Is It

Does faith obscure reason? Does reason obscure faith? Or perhaps their subject matters are different. Faith might address one area of our lives and reason and science another. Faith may allow us to see meaning, values, and God, while reason sees everything else, whatever that may be. Or perhaps faith and reason are fundamentally intertwined. Is faith void of reason? Is it irrational to be faithful? Are science and rationality void of faith? John and Ken welcome Nancey Murphy, author of Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will, to explore the meaning of faith and the place of faith and reason in religion, scientific practice, and our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us.

Listening Notes

Science and religion—often conflicting—but can there be reconciliation between the two concepts? Ken and John kick off the show by highlighting the tension between scientific reason and religious faith. The debate has been currently raging with such works as Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, in which he argues that a religious upbringing is akin to child abuse. On the other hand, certain sects of Christianity deny the veracity of evolutionary theory.

John points out that although they appear to be at odds, science and religion are in fact more closely linked than they first appear. Many scientists owe their faith in an intelligible universe to religion, because scientific inquiry can be thought of as uncovering God’s blueprint of the universe. Another strategy for reconciliation involves separating science and religion into opposite spheres—science tells us how the world works and religion gives the world meaning.
Guest Nancey Murphy argues that the two do in fact sometimes conflict—but this conflict does not necessarily work to the detriment of either. For example, modern science has cast doubt upon the traditional Christian dualist notion that the body and soul are two distinct entities. In this case, Murphy contends that what has been interpreted as a religious and scientific conflict is actually due to a conflict of world views as later Christians backed away from dualist readings of the New Testament as better translations became available.  

The show then brings up the larger conflict between believers and non-believers, highlighting the intellectual impasse that hinders dialogue between these two groups. Non-believers frequently characterize religious faith as irrational at best and self-deceptive at worst. Is there a “rational” way to believe? When pressed by Ken, Nancey points out that her religious faith comes from personal experience, which he argues is of little evidential value. Nancey concedes what Ken dubs a “recipe for misunderstanding” between these two groups, as they often do not share a framework for discussion. The show concludes with a call for dialogue between believers and non-believers, as well as an urge from Ken that the humanities too should take up the drive for filling out the rationally-discovered facts with meaning and purpose.

  • Roving Philosophical Report: (6:20) Polly Stryker interviews Charles Townes, age 92, inventor of the laser, and physics professor at UC Berkeley. Despite his scientific background, Townes believes in God. People think there are conflicts between science and religion—but not him. Towns separates the two concepts-- science explains how universe works and religion gives the universe a purpose. Despite their different missions, the two can, and often do, complement one another.