Press Languages and Religious Freedom
I’ll say more later about just what disturbs the scientific community about the possibility that Francis Collins might someday permit his Christianity to interfere with his science and politics.
Before that I’ll introduce my second example, from a review essay titled “Is God in the Lab?” by the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson, in the May 28, 1998 issue of the New York Review of Books.
Dyson was reviewing published lectures about religion and science by two other physicists, Richard Feynman and John Polkinghorne.
The agnostic Feynman had described how students coming from religious homes often find that there is a profound “conflict between the old-fashioned family religion that commands them to believe without question, and the ethic of science that commands them to question everything.” Feynman’s practice was to recommend to those students that they retain their religion as a way of life while abandoning all dogma or theology. “Just as science can live without certainty, religion can live without dogma, and the two can five together without conflict.”
I’ll pause here to comment upon another stereotype that is common both in academic writing and in journalism. This stereotype says that religious people believe what they believe on the basis of blind faith, whereas scientists question everything and come to conclusions only on the basis of evidence. That way of putting things exemplifies a dogmatism of its own, which says that scientifically-informed people ought to be metaphysical naturalists or materialists.
In fact, leading contemporary scientists typically accept on blind faith important propositions which are in no way supported by evidence, such as the claim that non-living chemicals can spontaneously combine to form living organisms. From my own experience as a professor for over thirty years at one of the world’s leading scientific universities, I would say that prominent scientists, far from questioning everything, are typically unwilling even to consider the possibility of doubting a proposition which is taken for granted within the research community. They seem open-minded to themselves, but to persons outside the scientific community of belief many of them seem absolutely blind to other ways of thinking. They are our world’s most successful dogmatists.
There are two reasons for this. First, if scientists actually did question everything they would never have time to do science. Experimental scientists need to concentrate their energy and intelligence on filling out the details of some grand theoretical scheme whose essentially reliability they have to assume. They have little time or patience for people who try to tell them that the essential premise of their work is doubtful.