Science and Religion, flying?

Thoughts From Steven: Giving Attributes to Religion and Science

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The other day, I saw a gentleman wearing a shirt that read, “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” The point of the shirt was obvious: science is constructive and can accomplish great feats while religion is backward and dangerous. However, there are several logical fallacies with this statement.

The first fallacy has to do with the characterization of religion. “Religion flies you into buildings” is obviously a reference to September 11, 2001, when a group of Christians fly planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

No? It wasn’t Christians? Oh, then maybe it was Buddhists who fly the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Not Buddhists? Hindus, then? Where they Jewish?

I think my point is obvious: the terrorists who attacked on 9/11 were Muslims. They were not motivated by “religion,” they were motivated by Islam.

Now, many people would probably correct me (and accuse me xenophobia, islamophobia, or some other such thing) and point out that it was radical Muslims who attacked, not true followers of Islam. However, if someone wants to make that distinction, it only furthers my point: if someone distinguish “normal” Muslims from radical Muslims, then he is claiming that one group (the radicals) is not representative of the other group (the “normals”). If that is the case, how much more inaccurate would it be to use radical Muslims to characterize Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews? That is exactly what the statement, “Religion flies you into buildings” does.

In truth, religions are different from one another. They are very different. Some are monotheistic. Some are polytheistic. Some are pantheistic. Some are non-theistic (and I am not referring strictly to atheists: Buddhism has no god and is technically non-theistic). Religions have different objectives. Some seek enlightenment. Some seek salvation through good works. Some advocate rote obedience. Some seek personal balance. Some seek to worship a God who gave them a gift of salvation. You can not characterize all of these ideas as “religion” and act like it is a monolithic concept.

The other big error with “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings,” is its characterization of science. I don’t think science flew people to the moon. I believe that was engineers.

What’s the difference, you may ask? Simple. Scientists study the world, engineers manipulate the world. Scientists may have learned about the orbits of the earth and moon, the laws of thermodynamics, and the laws of motion, but engineers took the knowledge of orbits and the laws of motion to calculate the path of a rocket to the moon and they took the laws of thermodynamics and built rocket engines. Now, there were many more people than just engineers who contributed to these things, but my point is that science is a method of discovery. How that information is used (in this case, flying to the moon) is determined by people, not science.

The error of attributing concrete actions to a concept is the fallacy of reification. That is the error of “Science flies you to the moon.” Science is a concept. It is a tool used by humans. Science does nothing. Science tells us nothing. Scientists tell us things after they interpret the results of their investigations.

In fact, “Religion flies you into buildings” commits the fallacy of reification as well. Religion can not do anything, but followers of a religion can. Religion may contain rules but it people act on those rules, regardless of whether that action is in accordance with the rules or a misinterpretation of those rules. If someone wants to blame the rules of the religion, then he must accuse the source of those rules, be it a human founder or God Himself.

The latter observation is especially relevant here. What does someone who claims that “Religion flies you into buildings” think of religion? What is the source of the problem of religion? Likely, such a person does not believe in God so religion must be the result of primitive superstitions of humans, superstitions that should have been dispensed with the advent of science. After all, that is why such a person also says that “Science flies you to the moon.” They are still human after all, they have an innate knowledge of God, whether they acknowledge it or not. When God is removed from their thinking, they have to fill that knowledge with something, so “science” because a concrete entity. For these people, it is better to have a fallacious concept of science than to acknowledge that God makes rules that they are obliged to follow.

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