Is Science Driving Secularization?


(system) #1
Religion is not going away anytime soon, and science will not destroy it.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/is-science-driving-secularization

#2

I think it is incorrect to equate secularization with atheism due to the fact that theists can and do support secularization. Many Christians in western culture support the idea that government and government institutions be separate from the church, a “wall between church and state” as it is described in the US Constitution. Most Christians I know support the idea of a secular government and constitution.

I will agree with the author on a different point. Science will not necessarily destroy religious faith, although it may challenge the beliefs of some. Since the inception of modern science there have been Christian scientist, and I expect that this trend will continue. From what I have seen, both religious belief and non-belief are much more cultural and tend to follow popularity more than scientific discovery. If you are born in a country dominated by one religion then there is a much higher chance that you will become part of that religion. If non-belief starts growing, then the chances that someone will become an atheist may increase. Humans are a social species, so we tend to be influenced by what others around us believe.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #3

Thanks for your comment, but I don’t see where Harrison equates atheism with secularization. I do see him offering a nuanced account of scholarly analyses of secularization and the role of science (if any) in advancing it.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #4

The words you quoted about a “wall between church and state” are not actually found anywhere in the US Constitution. The relevant text is the First Amendment, regarded by many Americans as the most important of the first ten amendments (which constituted a package at the time). Here’s the full text of that amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson (who had not been the author of the amendment) wrote a letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, in which he expressed the following view of church and state:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the US Supreme Court began using Jefferson’s extra-constitutional language to guide their interpretation of the Constitution. While Jefferson’s view has obviously had very wide influence, it’s clearly not the Constitution itself and many Americans (including me) don’t agree with what Jefferson said on that occasion. I would distinguish sharply between a dis-establishment of religion, according to which the Congress (remember that the amendment applied originally only to the US Congress, not to any other governmental bodies or agencies) must not single out any given “religion” as the official American religion, and the erection of a “wall of separation” that (according to many who advocate secularization) keeps religion per se out of the public square. In other words, I think the Supreme Court got this one wrong, and even if they didn’t one must still distinguish a weaker form of “secular” from a stronger form of “secular.” The former means simply that the government must remain neutral toward various expressions of religion, not favoring any one over the others–a view that most Americans probably agree with (and I certainly do). The latter means that the government should ensure that the public square is absent of religion.

On this very important matter, I especially recommend The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion, by Yale law professor Steven Carter. https://law.yale.edu/stephen-l-carter


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #5

This is an interesting article, which explores historical trends, but I do not think explains these trends.

The secularists believe that eventually science will displace religion. That has not happened, but both science and religion have been changed by the march of history.

If one kind of theory is displaced by another kind, it would seem that there is only one kind of theory needed, because there is only one kind of reality. In other words, if science displaces faith for our understand of physical nature, it is because this type of knowledge is better suited for the understanding of the physical world.

Denis Lamareaux. says that science and Christianity need to be seen as complementary views of Reality, not rivals. I agree because Reality is not just physical, it is also rational and spiritual. Therefore we have different ways to understand the physical, rational, and the spiritual. Science is our way to study the physical, Philosophy is our way to study the rational, and Theology is our way to understand the spiritual.

Thank you @T_aquaticus for bringing up the separation of church and state. That means the church cannot dictate to the state and government to the church. Where there is a conflict, the people must decide, so here too we have a three part separation of powers.

Life is not a zero sum game Life is a nonzero sum game where we are enriched by diversity and sharing.


#6

[quote=“TedDavis, post:4, topic:36712”][quote=“TedDavis, post:4, topic:36712”]
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the US Supreme Court began using Jefferson’s extra-constitutional language to guide their interpretation of the Constitution. While Jefferson’s view has obviously had very wide influence, it’s clearly not the Constitution itself and many Americans (including me) don’t agree with what Jefferson said on that occasion.
[/quote]

Interpretations by the Supreme Court are the Constitution itself, and if SCOTUS says that the First Amendment means a wall of separation between church and state, then that is what it means according to the Constitution. SCOTUS is the final arbiter of what the Constitution says, and that power is granted them in the US Constitution.

The current application of that interpretation is the Lemon test (Lemon v. Kurtzman 1971). What it boils down to is that legislation must have a secular purpose and not embroil the government in religious matters. While the application of this test can be pretty tough in some circumstances, the spirit of the decision seems pretty fair to me. If the only reason you can find for legislation is “Because the Bible says so”, then it isn’t going to pass the Lemon test.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #7

While the application of this test can be pretty tough in some circumstances, the spirit of the decision seems pretty fair to me. If the only reason you can find for legislation is “Because the Bible says so”, then it isn’t going to pass the Lemon test.

@TedDavis
I agree with T. The role of the Church is to inspire and guide. The role of government is to make rules that provide for the welfare and safety of all people. The government 's role is not to tell people what to think and how to think.

if the Church wants to change the law to improve the welfare and safety of people, it needs to convince the people to act on “secular” terms. This is how the civil rights movement worked.


(Dr. Ted Davis) #8

You are entirely correct: in a strictly legal sense, the Constitution means what SCOTUS says it means–even if SCOTUS changes its mind and contradicts earlier decisions, as it sometimes does on very important points of law. From my perspective as an historian, however, the First Amendment was probably not intended to imply the Jeffersonian-style “wall of separation,” but rather a simple ban on the Congress (and later the states, after the admendments were extended to them) from establishing any given “religion” as officially sanctioned. And, even today, a strict “wall of separation” goes beyond actual practice in several instances.

The Lemon test is highly problematic in practice, since “excessive entanglement” and “secular purpose” are in the eye of the beholder. To give a relevant example, after the Supreme Court ruling against creationism in the 1980s, it was still perfectly acceptable for a science teacher to discuss various challenges to evolution–provided that there was a clear secular educational purpose. That was clearly stated in the decision itself. In my opinion, shared by the leading expert on the legal history of creationism (Edward J Larson), a public school science teacher could discuss certain aspects of ID in class. It all depends on whether that teacher has a legitimate secular educational purpose for doing so. What might that look like? In my state (PA), the state standards call for some attention to the “nature of science” (NOS is the standard acronym for this), in other words, philosophy of science. It’s not much more specific than what I just stated. IMO (again), since some aspects of ID have been discussed (even advocated) in secular, refereed academic literature on the philosophy of science, a science teacher could legally choose to say something (non-negatively) about those aspects of ID, in the context of a unit on the NOS, if the teacher believed that it would enrich the students’ understanding of the NOS. (I made that very point to one of the attorneys involved in the Dover case prior to trial, but no one picked up on it.) That would not qualify (IMO) as “teaching ID as an alternative to evolution,” the activity that Judge Jones’ ruling would be unconstitutional, but I doubt teachers/school districts will line up to find out.

What I just said obviously goes well beyond Harrison’s post, and for my part I won’t prolong our exchange further, but of course it’s fine if you wish to.


#9

In the Kitzmiller v. Dover case, it was pretty clear that the purpose was religious, not secular. Even ID proponents like Dr. Behe had to admit that ID is as scientific as astrology.[quote=“TedDavis, post:8, topic:36712”]
It’s not much more specific than what I just stated. IMO (again), since some aspects of ID have been discussed (even advocated) in secular, refereed academic literature on the philosophy of science, a science teacher could legally choose to say something (non-negatively) about those aspects of ID, in the context of a unit on the NOS, if the teacher believed that it would enrich the students’ understanding of the NOS. (I made that very point to one of the attorneys involved in the Dover case prior to trial, but no one picked up on it.) That would not qualify (IMO) as “teaching ID as an alternative to evolution,” the activity that Judge Jones’ ruling would be unconstitutional, but I doubt teachers/school districts will line up to find out.
[/quote]

The problem is that ID isn’t science. ID is mainly an argument from ignorance and/or a false dichotomy. It makes the argument that if we don’t know how something evolved, then an intelligent designer must have done it. That isn’t how science is done.

Students don’t need to know anything about ID in order to have a career in the biological sciences. No scientists are submitting grants based on ID, and no scientists are using ID as part of their funded research. The only reason that ID is put forward is due to the conflict between evolution and some peoples’ religious beliefs. The leading ID advocacy group says as much:

" Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."–The Discovery Institute, “The Wedge Document”

It is also worth mentioning that 9th graders are not the proper audience for hashing out these debates. Before a scientific theory is taught in high school it needs to go through the proper channels which is the scientific community. ID proponents refuse to engage the scientific community, instead focusing on leaflets and propaganda.

If ID proponents want to get serious about getting ID into science classes then they need to do the science. As of yet, they haven’t done it.


(Thanh Chung) #10

I think Christians who lament secularization are only focusing on the post-industrial North American and Western European countries, but they are overlooking South America, Africa, South Asia, and East Asia.

Many African countries are experiencing increasing growth in population and Christianity. I think these two trends ensure that Christianity will remain strong in the next century, so I am confident in Christianity’s future.