Has Science Refuted Religion? Sean Carroll and Michael Shermer vs. Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Hutchinson

Just yes­ter­day, I sat across from a fel­low wear­ing a t‑shirt embla­zoned with the image of a gun-wield­ing Jesus blow­ing away Charles Dar­win above the words “EVOLVE THIS!” At first I assumed he wore it to emphat­i­cal­ly sig­nal his belief that reli­gion, specif­i­cal­ly Chris­tian­i­ty, refutes sci­ence, specif­i­cal­ly bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion. Then, remem­ber­ing that Jesus prob­a­bly would­n’t have used a hand­gun even had they been avail­able in his day, I took the shirt as a mock­ery of the blunter vari­eties of cre­ation­ist rhetoric. Look­ing it up lat­er, I found out that the shirt comes from the movie Paul, so the wear­er prob­a­bly meant noth­ing more than to express his appre­ci­a­tion for what I under­stand to be one of 2011’s most under­rat­ed come­dies. Yet the ques­tion lingers: has sci­ence refut­ed reli­gion, or is it the oth­er way around? The inter­net age pro­vides us access to a vir­tu­al­ly unlim­it­ed num­ber of these debates, although you’ll often search in vain for match­es of cogent, well-artic­u­lat­ed argu­ments. Just take a look at the sci­ence-reli­gion squab­bles cur­rent­ly roil­ing in YouTube com­ment sec­tions. Keep out of the com­ments, then, and stick to the videos, such as the debate above. In two hours com­pris­ing short seg­ments of argu­ment, rebut­tal, cross-exam­i­na­tion, and audi­ence ques­tions, the pro­gram pits Skep­tic mag­a­zine pub­lish­er Michael Sher­mer and Cal­tech cos­mol­o­gist Sean Car­roll against MIT physi­cist Ian Hutchin­son and King’s Col­lege pres­i­dent Dinesh D’Souza. In an unusu­al­ly order­ly, well-dis­ci­plined debate of this type, all four weigh in on one cen­tral propo­si­tion: “Has sci­ence refut­ed reli­gion?” Car­roll says that sci­ence, a “real­i­ty check” on human bias­es, offers the only expla­na­tions that work. Hutchin­son blames not sci­ence but some­thing he calls “sci­en­tism,” a belief in the absolute suprema­cy of sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge, for a vari­ety of social and intel­lec­tu­al ills. Sher­mer describes reli­gious belief as an evo­lu­tion­ar­i­ly deter­mined char­ac­ter­is­tic of human beings, and an increas­ing­ly use­less one at that. D’Souza upbraids sci­ence for fail­ing not only to find answers to ques­tions about human pur­pose and life’s mean­ing, but for throw­ing up its hands when pre­sent­ed them. All this offers a good bit of human dra­ma as well, but in good fun; when I inter­viewed Sher­mer, a habitué of such debates, he men­tioned often enjoy­ing tak­ing his osten­si­bly sworn intel­lec­tu­al ene­mies to beers and piz­za after­ward. Relat­ed Con­tent: Richard Dawkins & John Lennox Debate Sci­ence & Athe­ism Does God Exist? Christo­pher Hitchens Debates Chris­t­ian Philoso­pher William Lane Craig Ani­mat­ed: Stephen Fry & Ann Wid­de­combe Debate the Catholic Church Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (10)
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  • Sinjin Smythe says:

    Reli­gion refutes itself reg­u­lar­ly and has no require­ment of sci­ence for that.

  • Greg L says:

    “King’s Col­lege pres­i­dent Dinesh D’Souza” — Say no more! Ah, Homo sapi­ens: a species whose invo­lut­ed & self-con­ceived “altru­ism” dri­ves it to hold up some of its intel­lec­tu­al­ly-/eth­i­cal­ly-/phys­i­cal­ly-weak spec­i­mens (e.g. Dinesh D’Souza) — its whores & quis­lings & mon­ey-grub­bers — as lead­ers!

    And I’m made to won­der: Have D’Souza­’s wingnut wel­fare grants/stipends cov­ered an edu­ca­tion in sci­ence we’re unaware of? Because I can’t imag­ine how he pre­sumes to par­tic­i­pate in this dis­cus­sion…

  • Danilo A. says:

    Although I thor­ough­ly enjoyed the debate, I must point out that the ques­tion of the debate is ter­ri­bly ill-con­ceived, and by 1h40m they real­ize that.

  • Although a lit­tle long, the debate is worth watch­ing. Par­tic­u­lar­ly if you think it’s going to be a slam-dunk for the athe­ists.

  • sgtoox says:

    As some­one doing grad­u­ate work in biol­o­gy and still adheres to the title of a Chris­t­ian, I can­not under­stand peo­ple’s fas­ci­na­tion with pit­ting sci­ence and reli­gion against each oth­er. One sim­ply does not inform on the oth­er, at all. To think they are some­how incom­pat­i­ble or that one some­how affects the oth­er mere­ly demon­strates a clear lack of under­stand­ing as to the rudi­men­ta­ry endeav­ors of sci­ence or reli­gion.

    But go on cheer­ing for respec­tive sides in this non­sen­si­cal top­ic of debate. It is much eas­i­er and fun to make base­less asser­tions for top­ics of argu­ment.

  • Don Gilmore says:

    I’m not sure if any­thing new was ever said, but all the talk­ing points tend­ed to be select­ed for qual­i­ty and then expressed well. Hav­ing these excel­lent par­tic­i­pants tends to prove yet again that “reli­gion ver­sus sci­ence” is not real­ly debat­able. One’s a method­ol­o­gy with strict rules of evi­dence; the oth­er’s a per­son­al choice to believe in pur­pose, despite the evi­dence, because it feels bet­ter. As long as sci­ence does not negate the sub­jec­tive feel­ings, and as long as reli­gion does not ele­vate the feel­ings into objec­tive empiri­cism, there is noth­ing left to dis­cuss, oth­er than the dis­agree­ment on pri­or­i­ties, on what to focus your atten­tion on.

  • VB says:

    Sean Car­roll says the debate is over, that nat­u­ral­ism won, because nat­u­ral­ism has an over­whelm­ing supe­ri­or­i­ty over reli­gion in explain­ing how the uni­verse works. He talks about the laws of physics and that atoms in our heads most sure­ly do not behave dif­fer­ent­ly than atoms out­side them. But he for­got to men­tion that it is actu­al­ly impos­si­ble to prove that atoms real­ly exist, or in fact that any­thing exists, even our heads, beside our per­cep­tion of it. Is is actu­al­ly impos­si­ble to prove that there is any­thing in the uni­verse beside our very souls. God does­n’t need atoms. He may have thought them up, along with the “laws of physiscs” just so that the uni­verse feels real enough.

  • Ques­tion for sgtoox who still adheres to the title of a Chris­t­ian. By a Chris­t­ian do you mean you believe a vir­gin was impreg­nat­ed by a holy spir­it, that Jesus walked on water, and that in mod­ern times God hears and answers our prayers? If so, then those Chris­t­ian views are in fact at odds with Sci­ence, for obvi­ous rea­sons, which means there is in fact a seri­ous albeit tire­some debate. If, on the oth­er hand, you mean by Chris­t­ian some­one who believes that god is an abstract being, not of this world, then, yeah, sci­ence has noth­ing to say. But then the prob­lem for Chris­tians is that the sto­ries in the bible are just sto­ries. Like Alice in Won­der­land, and tales of Hob­bits.

  • F Morris says:

    So the Bible is a ‘fairy sto­ry’ and sci­ence is ’empir­i­cal’?

    Let’s take the Big Bang The­o­ry and Evo­lu­tion- that an absence of mat­ter explod­ed into some unknown mat­ter and pro­ced­ed to evolve into a high­t­ly com­plex uni­verse.…? That would be my def­i­n­i­tion of a ‘fairy sto­ry’ or some­thing requir­ing a huge leap of faith.
    Where is the evi­dence for any of that? Name any pub­lished fos­sil ‘evi­dence’ that shows any­thing oth­er than dis­tinct species — noth­ing evolv­ing or tran­si­tion­ing species?

    Ask a physi­cist and you will like­ly get a much more hon­est opin­ion about the ori­gins of life — mame­ly that sci­en­tist do not know any­thing, that it is all con­jec­ture, ‘hypoth­e­sis­es’ or the­o­ry to give it a ‘sci­en­tif­ic’ name. But, hey, if we wait mil­lions of years any­thing could hap­pen! So stick a feath­er in the ground and maybe mil­len­nia lat­er, it might grow into some­thing.… if Evo­lu­tion­ary The­o­ry is true!

  • Rohan H Rao says:

    Sci­ence reg­u­lar­ly admits that it does not know the answers,however that is not an excuse to believe in afore­men­tioned ‘fairy sto­ries’, the intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est thing to do is to admit that we do not know and not posit an supernatural,omnipotent, omni­scient per­son­al deity as an expla­na­tion, as when we assume the exis­tence of such a being, there is noth­ing that can­not be explained by invok­ing said being and is basi­cal­ly an ‘i don’t know’ with extra steps.

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