On Science, Religion, and Dualism


Tired of the usual science vs religion rubbish? Hear Cosima Herter out:

Although she’s an atheist, Herter is especially critical of the science-religion duality that’s emerged in Western culture. “That they are somehow two different magisterial domains that can’t cross each other is just so fundamentally untrue.” Many early scientific practices emerged from religion, and even now “many, many scientists also have deep-seated beliefs, right? Some things they are driven to look for and to contemplate and investigate come out of these kinds of questions, like ‘what does it mean to be you?” She understands the issues, “especially as somebody who is not religious, who is very much an atheist. At the end of the day I will put my faith in science more than I will put my faith in god, but I will also recognize that it doesn’t have all the answers.”

Religion has, as its critics say, wrought intolerance and violence, but “we are equally and often as oppressed and exploited and done violence to by science. We forget that anything that we give explicit and uncontrollable authority to has a power to be oppressive and violent and is often used for these purposes. Science is not neutral and we endow it with authority by calling something that is science neutral because then you give it a power to be whatever anybody wants it to be. You’ve invested it with its own supernatural status.”

I agreed. “The thing that fascinates me as a complete layperson about science,” I said, “is that the moment a scientific concept turns out to be untrue, it is no longer science. So science has a built-in way of sidestepping accountability for mistakes made in its name.”

At the same time as she’s disturbed by the cult of science, though, she’s also exasperated and troubled by cartoonish depictions of scientists. “As either heroic geniuses or conspirators in an evil plan?” I asked. “Or clinically almost Asperger’s-objective, have no personality, removed from everything. Yeah,” she said. “It’s not just about depictions of scientists— it’s about tropes, the lowest common denominator tropes. If you just think about your own self, you’re pretty multifaceted and you’re pretty complicated and it’s not always easy to determine what your own motivations are for things. It’s like saying all priests are pedophiles, right? That’s just an outrageous thing to say, completely irrational. And it’s offensive to people who are scientists.” She mentioned James Watson. “He was all of these things [people say], racist, misogynistic, classist, selfish, but [the] four or five million dollars that he just made from his Nobel sale, his Nobel award, he wants to set up scholarships for this, he wants to endow this institute with that. Do you know what I mean? People are complicated.”