Religious Schools and Science

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this deluge of Al nominees to bring you . . . something about education! Namely this post at OCPA about why religious private schools can teach science so well. The main reason is that religious people’s beliefs about science are not very different from everyone else’s:

This is partly because the extent to which less-religious people “believe in science” is overrated. Consult your daily horoscope for guidance on whether secular reason and revealed religion are the only belief systems in modern America. Don’t worry, if you can still find a newspaper, you’ll have no trouble finding a horoscope—nearly every U.S. paper has printed them for generations, in spite of unanimous opposition to astrology from the world religions. If you’re a Libra, you can weigh the evidence and find that secular Americans are imperfectly rational. If you’re an Aquarius, you can pour cold water on the illusions of secular rationality. If you’re a Gemini, you can pour it twice.

The more important factor, however, is that ignorant people have vastly understated the extent to which religious people and institutions in the modern world “believe in science.” None of the foundational commitments of science—that nature works regularly, that the human mind is capable of discovering and describing that regularity—are in conflict with religion. That is why all the world religions have embraced modern science; indeed, the Christian assumption that nature and the human mind were made by a rational God was, historically, an essential precondition for the emergence of modern science.

Belief that miracles have sometimes occurred is no hindrance to science. On the contrary, you can’t believe in miracles as exceptions to the ordinary course of nature until you believe that the ordinary course of nature is rational and regular. And you can’t believe miracles serve to demonstrate visibly to their observers that nature is being disrupted—which is what miracles are for in the first place—unless you believe that the human mind is capable of knowing the regularity of nature (and hence knowing when it has been disrupted). Belief in miracles, far from contradicting the view that nature is regular and that we can know its regularity, presuppose this view.

The underlying problem for the way we think about this, unsurprisingly, is that people are more concerned with advancing their view of religion than with getting their facts straight:

These observations force us to recognize that we have to do better at distinguishing two questions. One is whether people ought to “believe in science” given their worldview, and the other is whether those people do in fact “believe in science.” Whatever you think about what people ought to believe, as a point of empirical fact the relationship between people’s beliefs about religion and their beliefs about science simply does not justify the confident assertions made about these beliefs.

Let me know what you think!

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