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.

by | Permalink | Comments (10) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (10)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.