Can science explain religion?

religion debate.JPG Daniel Dennett’s been at it again, this time in a juicy online Prospect debate with Richard Swinburne (pictured right), Emeritus Nolloth professor of the Philosophy of the Christian religion at the University of Oxford. In the debate Swinburne suggests science can’t begin to study religion without first acknowledging that God exists. Dennett argues that religions might well be a nice way of explaining what’s happened so far, but they’re not useful for furthering our understanding of the natural world because they don’t make any meaningful, testable predictions. But according to Swinburne that’s not what science is all about. Hmm…

A few excerpts:

Swinburne: ‚ÄúSo why are the most general laws of the multiverse as they are? Why do all particles behave in exactly the same way as each other, so as together ultimately to produce human life? This enormous coincidence in particle behaviour requires explaining. I’ve got a good theory which explains it [God]; you haven’t‚Äù.

Dennett: ‚ÄúFrom my perspective, your imaginative attempt at an inference to the best explanation is telling for the one thing it lacks: a single striking prediction. That’s why it can’t be taken seriously as a contender against a purely secular and materialist theory of cosmic and biological and cultural evolution‚Äù.

Swinburne: ‚ÄúI don’t think that it is in any way important that science should make predictions‚Äù.

Link to earlier post about science explaining religion.
Link to earlier post about Prospect debate on whether science can explain mental illness.
Link to event at At-Bristol Imax next Weds, where Dennett, Swinburne and others will be debating science and religion.
Make a real day of it and check out their Your Amazing Brain exhibition while you’re there.


  1. JJ Saenz
    Posted March 9, 2006 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    Hmmm… I don’t side with Swinburne in his theistic position, but I agree with him that science is not about making predictions. Science is about explaining facts! This is a point well made by H. Maturana, IMHO. Moreover: “…there are no such things as scientific observations, scientific hypotheses or scientific predictions: there are only scientific explanations and scientific statements.” (from “The Ontology of Observing: the biological fundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence”. Cool title for a paper, BTW…)

  2. Posted March 9, 2006 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    But that’s how you test theories. You make predictions based on the theory – if the predictions are usually wrong it’s a bad theory.

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