On the 21/3/2018 we had the first of our lecture series on Epistemic Insight. The Reverend Dr Jeremy Law the Chaplain for Canterbury Christ Church University delivered a talk entitled “Who are We? Human Evolution, Science and Faith”.
We were fortunate enough to be joined by Sixth Form students from Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls. The report below was produced by one of the students attending:
‘The Reverend Dr Jeremy Law began his lecture (entitled ‘Who are we? Human Evolution, Science and Faith’) by introducing and outlining the scientific method. Since the 17th century, this method has been used in order to test hypotheses from an initial observation. An interesting point Dr Law made clear was that this method only allows one to confirm a hypothesis is not false. It does not necessarily prove it is true. This is the nature of empirical evidence, as there are always potential alternative solutions.
Dr Law went on to examine the difference between scientific and religious theories in how they are received and accepted. Perhaps surprisingly, he suggested that scientific theories are often harder to integrate into what is accepted to be true; in religion, beliefs and tradition come with an expectation that they will survive. This is easily illustrated by the most orthodox religious groups still adhering to original and traditional scripture, despite advances and developments in science. These arguably offer theories with more support from empirical evidence. The Revd Dr referred to creationism as one example, where many Christians still hold to the idea that God created the world in 6 days, despite the remarkable amount of evidence for Darwin’s theory of evolution. Conversely, scientific theories, such as evolution, face a lot of criticism and scepticism, and gain merit if, and only if, they survive the attempts to disprove them. Time is the judge of scientific theories, while religious beliefs are expected to remain timeless.
An issue with the scientific method, however, which the Dr Law pointed out, was that it only allows certain questions to be tested and answered. Science provides no way to examine purpose and meaning, or ethics, aesthetics or the intelligibility of the world. These sort of questions, being impossible to empirically verify, may be regarded as meaningless by such groups as the logical positivists who rely strongly on empirical verification to test meaning. Yet, for others these questions can only be answered by religious faith. Unfortunately, this view could be considered to postulate Swinburne’s ‘God of the gaps’, as religion is only proposed as a solution to fill in the gaps where scientific enquiry fails. Should science someday find a means to test these questions, perhaps religion’s standing in society will dwindle further.
Dr Law then went on to briefly describe some of the evolutionary history of our human species. Interestingly, one of our ancestral species, Homo Neanderthals, participated in burial rituals, suggesting that religion is engrained into our evolutionary footsteps. Humans, as a species, are markedly unique in our cognitive fluidity. Evidence of this can also be found by our history; cave paintings, scribing, statues and weapons are all other examples, besides burials, that suggest not only intelligence, but also an innate religious tendency or spirituality unique to our species. This is perhaps another innate aspect of the human mind that science cannot explain.
Some of the reasoning behind why religion seems to go hand in hand with the human species has been based on the idea that our intelligence and cognitive fluidity demand it. The paleoanthropologist view of religion is that it is a product of ‘theory of mind’ and of remembering dreams and experiencing trance-like states. This view also terms religion as pathogenic. It is suggested that the reason religion persists is due to its deep roots in our cultural history, or because it discourages harmful behaviour, and has thus been useful to societal developments. These are regarded as reductionist theories, produced by the scientific method.
Dr Law raised a variety of very interesting questions from his lecture. Personally, I would be interested to know more about the origins of religion, and how dreams or trances are thought to have led to the rituals and worshipping which so much evidence has been found for. I would also be interested to know the personal thoughts of the Revd Dr, who’s title demonstrates his rather unique outlook on the relationship between religion and science. Particularly, on the role religion does and should play in the modern day, considering the advancements of science, and the threat of postulating ‘a god of the gaps’.
So it seems that the students left with more questions then answers.