It’s an age-old debate, but a recent study may show that psychological preferences for God and science may be diametrically opposed.
This is the topic of a study done by psychology professor Jesse Preston:
Preston and her colleague, Nicholas Epley, of the University of Chicago, wanted to explore how information about science influences a belief in God, and how religious teaching can also cause people to doubt certain scientific theories.
“As far as I know, no one has looked experimentally at an opposition between belief in science and religion,” Preston said.
“It seemed to me that both science and religion as systems were very good at explaining a lot, accounting for a lot of the information that we have in our environment,” she said. “But if they are both ultimate explanations, at some point they have to conflict with each another because they can’t possibly both explain everything.”
The bold emphasis on the last sentence is mine. It reminds me of a talk delivered by Dr. Tim Keller which we featured earlier. In his address at the Veritas forum, Keller explained that while there may be debate about religions and ideologies, it is impossible from a strict truth perspective that all religions and ideologies are correct. Either some got it and are better, or some didn’t and are worse or inferior.
There are moderates in the theist vs. atheist debate who want to argue for some common or middle ground, and maybe perhaps unifying the two. What Professor Preston’s results indicate is that apart from the logical and structural differences between religion and science, there may also be an psychological difference between adopting the two paradigms such that they may not actually be reconcileable.
More from the article:
“What is really intriguing is that the larger effect happens on the opposite belief,” she said. “When God isn’t being used to explain much, people have a positive attitude toward science. But when God is being used to account for many events – especially the things that they list, which are life, the universe, free will, these big questions – then somehow science loses its value.”
“On the other hand, people may have a generally positive view of science until it fails to explain the important questions. Then belief in God may be boosted to fill in the gap,” she said.
Although strictly speaking, I think Preston’s results are only covering the convenience angle: i.e. how people tend to prefer which path (God or science) to explain themselves and the universe. How psychologically convenient or preferable an idea is, is still not an indicator of its truthfulness or its veracity.