Granted, the competition is tough and the candidates are legion. But I think that Victor Stenger—"Physicist, PhD, bestselling author"!—has thrown down the Gray Gauntlet of Lumpish Twaddle, and has done so in the span of just six paragraphs! Best be sitting down and not eating or drinking before taking this in:
Many historians and sociologists have denied the there ever was a war between science and religion. Some have even claimed that Christianity was responsible for science! But they have ignored the most important historical facts. Greece and Rome were well on the way to modern science when Christianity interrupted its development for a thousand years.
Nevermind that the Romans didn't even figure out how to engineer a drafting chimney. Oh well; I'm sure they were only a few years from splitting the atom when the barbarians overwhelmed them. Which is not to make light of Roman and Greek achievements. By the way, didn't the Romans and Greeks believe in multiple gods? So how is that Romans and Greeks were scientifically brilliant while being religious but Christians were/are decidedly anti-scientific because they are religious? Huh?
But there are few historians who deny the evidence that medieval Christian philosophy and culture laid the foundation for modern science. As Rodney Stark summarizes in The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (Random House, 2005):
For the past two or three centuries, every educated person has known that from the fall of Rome until about the fifteenth century Europe was submerged in the "Dark Ages"--centuries of ignorance, superstition, and misery--from which it was suddenly, almost miraculously rescued, first by the Renaissance and then by the Enlightenment. But it didn't happen that way. Instead, during the so-called Dark Ages, European technology and science overtook and surpassed the rest of the world! (p. 38)
See more in my essay, "Dark Ages and Secularist Rages: A Response to Professor A.C. Grayling" (Jan. 30, 2007). And now back to Stenger:
I don't deny that many scientists are also religious, but they have compartmentalized their brains into two sections that don't talk to each other.
Ah, so Dr. Stenger is not only a physicist, but a mind reader! Of course, that's easier done than actually dealing with the historical evidence. It's like Jack Chick, Tim LaHaye, or Jimmy Swaggert claiming the Catholic Church killed 60/80/100 million people during the "Dark Ages": they don't need to prove such claims, as Dr. LaHaye told me, "because everyone knows it's true". That, in essence, is also Stenger's line of "argument". Meanwhile:
Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies -- the assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside his or her body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations we make about the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments and the application the knowledge obtained to human activity.
Would Stenger also argue that science and, say, philosophy are also "unequivocally opposed epistemologies"? After all, one cannot scientifically prove the existence, nature, and meaning of "justice" or "love" or "democracy" or "virtue" or "first cause", even though everyone (with a brain) agree that such things exist, in some way or another, in the world. Also, can Stenger scientifically prove that his reason and logic are reasonable and logical? It's a moot point, actually, because he writes this:
The working hypothesis of science is that empirical data is our only reliable source of knowledge about the world. No doubt science has its limits. But it doesn't follow that religion or any other alternative system of thought automatically provides any insight into what lies beyond those limits.
No, that is not the "working hypothesis" of science; it is an ideological declaration of scientism. After all, saying that science "is our only reliable source of knowledge about the world" does not follow in the least from the recognition that science is the study of natural events and material data. Another physicist, Stephen Barr, in this September 2006 Ignatius Insight interview, put it this way in relation to the origins of creation:
One has to distinguish the question of the universe's beginning moments from the question of why there is a universe at all. In my view, science will never provide an answer to the latter question. As Stephen Hawking famously noted, all theoretical physics can do is give one a set of rules and equations that correctly describe the universe, but it cannot tell you why there is any universe for those equations to describe. He asked, "What breathes fire into the equations so that there is a universe for them describe?"
As far as the beginning moments of the universe go, science may eventually be able to describe what happened then. That is, when we know the fundamental laws of physics in their entirety -- as I hope someday we will -- it may well turn out that the opening events of the universe happened in accordance with those laws. In that sense, "the beginning" could have been "natural". However, that would not explain the "origin" of the universe in the deeper sense meant by "Creation".
Let me use an analogy. The first words of a play -- say Hamlet -- may obey the laws of English grammar. They may also fit into the rest of the plot in a natural way. In that sense, one might be able to give an "internal explanation" of those beginning words. However, that would not explain why there is a play. There is a play because there is a playwright. When we ask about the "origin" of the play, we are not asking about its first words, we are asking who wrote it and why. The origin of the universe is God Almighty.
There is a bit more to Stenger's silliness, including his very laughable understanding of the nature of religion, but I've wasted enough time on it. If nothing else, I do hope that those sensitive readers who have fainting spells because I called The Huffington Post the "Huff-and-Puff Post" will see Stenger's, um, essay as evidence—scientific!—that I have fairly and correctly re-named it.
• Dark Ages and Secularist Rages: A Response to Professor A.C. Grayling | Carl E. Olson
• Excerpts from Chance or Purpose: Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith | Christoph Cardinal Schšnborn
• The Mythological Conflict Between Christianity and Science | An interview with physicist Dr. Stephen Barr | Mark Brumley
• The Universe is Meaning-full | An interview with Dr. Benjamin Wiker, co-author of A Meaningful World | Carl E. Olson
• The Mystery of Human Origins | Mark Brumley
• Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Thomas Dubay, S.M.