Why is science viewed as a new religion


Silke Gülker

To person

Dr. phil, born 1971; Member of the research group on science policy and project manager on the subject of science and religion at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), Reichpietschufer 50, 10785 Berlin. [email protected]

News from God's Particle "was the headline of the" Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung "in June 2014 after the research center CERN had again published new data from elementary particle physics. [1] Scientists often reject the term“ God's Particle ”for popular scientific presentations However, it seems appropriate, this image of a science that seeks and finds God.This image does not actually correspond to the dominant discourse and thus at the same time makes clear the complexity and ambiguity that are connected with the relationship between science and religion.

In general, in Germany and elsewhere, there is great agreement that science and religion are based on two substantially different worldviews: religion is based on belief, irrationality and insecurity, science on knowledge, rationality and reliable evidence. In an interview, a stem cell researcher summed up the relationship between science and religion in a nutshell: "As a scientist, you can't believe in everything the church tells you." [2] Agreement on these separate worlds is in Germany is so big that it is rarely discussed in public - in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon countries, for example. There the dispute between so-called evolutionists (defenders of the biological theory of evolution to explain the origin of the world) and so-called creationists (defenders of the Christian doctrine of creation to explain the origin of the world) has many facets and is being carried out with broad public attention.

Be it in agreement or in open conflict: science and religion seem to be based on two incompatible or at least mutually conflicting worldviews. Where does this clear assessment come from and what is to be made of it? I dedicate myself to this question first historically, then conceptually and finally with a view to current empirical examples.

Conflict narratives

One of the most prominent narrators on the conflict between science and religion was certainly the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857), who was often referred to as the founding father of sociology. According to his "law of three stages", individuals and humanity as a whole go through a progressive development from the theological through the metaphysical to the positive stage. Instead of assuming metaphysical causes for the (initially) inexplicable, for the positive scientific method "its scientific effectiveness (...) always emerges exclusively from its direct or indirect correspondence with the observed phenomena". [3] It is only in the positive stage that "a completely normal state of mind is brought about". [4]

Comte's philosophy is at the same time a political program. His "Speech on the Spirit of Positivism" contains the racism customary at the time, for example when he explains which of the "three great races" persisted in which stage. [5] His programmatic goal is to bring the world into the positive stage: conventional religion is to be replaced by positive science. In the later phase of his work he then describes positivism itself as the "religion of humanity"; So-called temples of humanity are being built in several countries, and Comte presents himself as the founder of a secular religion. [6]

The path to this secular religion was not followed by all supporters of positivism. In terms of content, however, the mission was extremely successful: Anyone who wanted to be taken seriously in science from now on had to orientate themselves towards positivist premises - and clearly distinguish themselves from religious beliefs. The conflict between science and religion has become a continuum in the history of science. In 1873 the philosopher and natural scientist John William Draper published his highly regarded work "History of the Conflict between Religion and Science" with the core thesis that science and religion must necessarily be in conflict with one another, because "(...) faith is in its nature unchangeable, stationary; Science is in its nature progressive ". [7] So whoever is for progress cannot be for religion. This conviction, for example, even during the founding phase of American sociology at the beginning of the 20th century, led to religiously motivated sociologists being actively excluded from the professional community in order not to jeopardize the establishment as a serious discipline. [8]

Historically, the conflict narratives have been called into question in many ways. In particular, the interpretations of the so-called scientific revolution have changed - the time from around 1500 to 1700, the authors like the quoted Draper as the epitome of the triumph of modern science over religion. More recent historical research highlights how complex the interactions between science and religion were, both institutionally and for the individual scientist. A look inside the institutions shows, for example, that Galileo Galilei also had advocates and admirers within the Catholic Church, not least Cardinal Maffeo Barberini and later Pope Urban VIII himself. [9] Great scientists of the time such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton carried out their scientific work explicitly out of the religious motivation to prove the existence of God by researching causes and interdependencies. [10]

The circumstances were therefore more complex than many historians would have initially assumed, even in the euphoria of the rising positivism. But where are we today? Obviously, Comte was wrong with his thesis that science should replace religion. Everyday observations as well as numerous studies show that the importance of religion continues to be great in modern societies. However, this also applies to science - it is often described as the decisive engine of growth in modern "knowledge societies". So neither one nor the other was replaced. But what does that mean? What exactly is there actually in relation to religion on the one hand and science on the other?