In chapter 5 of God or Godless I take the lead with the following debate resolution: “Science is no substitute for religion.”
Of course, it’s also true that religion is no substitute for science. Each area of enquiry has its respective domain. Just as physics, geology or meteorology will not answer the question “How shall we then live?” or “What are we here for?” so theology will not answer the question “How many elements exist?” or “How do we reconcile the four fundamental forces?”
My particular focus in this chapter is with the persistent tendency among many contemporary atheists and secularists to treat science as a quasi-religious or mystical enquiry. I give three recent examples: E.O. Wilson, Chet Raymo, and Carl Sagan. As I note, each of our three examples offers a different appropriately secular focus to substitute for traditional worship and devotion: the scientific method, the universe itself, and the possibility of supremely advanced extra terrestrial intelligence. I conclude: “When you attempt to shut down the impulse to worship the Creator, you end up looking for another suitably praiseworthy entity.” (48)
Loftus begins his opening statement with a crude misunderstanding of the nature of science. He writes: “Science involves doubt, not faith, based on sufficient evidence and the principle of methodological naturalism….” (48) This claim that science is structured by doubt to the exclusion of faith is deeply mistaken, for faith is crucial to science. (Faith can be defined as ““.) For example, there is faith in the scientific method itself, the scientific instruments we use to mediate our knowledge of the world, our own cognitive faculties, the regularity of laws of nature, the trustworthiness of our colleagues and institutions, various intuitions regarding matters like order and aesthetics, and so on.
Throughout the rest of his opening statement, Loftus contrasts science with religion. For example, he notes that science enjoys greater agreement than religion (49). Loftus writes as if he is simply defending science. But this is a mere delusion: he is in fact defending a philosophy. Unfortunately, he seems to be unable to distinguish science from this philosophy. Having collapsed them together, he is left thinking he is simply defending science.
Loftus also writes that “Science answers questions and solves problems. Religion has never answered one single question or solved one single problem.” (50) Of course, science has answered all sorts of problems, as I noted above. But, as I also noted, science doesn’t answer questions like “How shall we then live?” and “What are we here for?” And it takes a crude philosophy of scientism such as Loftus seems to hold to think otherwise.
As for the claim that religion has never answered a single question or solved a single problem, that’s nothing more than a misbegotten, question-begging declaration that atheism is true. You see, if Christianity is true then it has answered many questions and solved many problems, not least of which are those two grand questions concerning human meaning and purpose. If Loftus wants to claim Christianity hasn’t answered these questions, he must show that it is false. Instead, he simply assumes that it is false.