From UT Southwestern, a Prof Reconciles Science With Religion

Grinnell_Fred.jpgOxford University Press has just published Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic, written by UT Southwestern Medical Center professor of cell biology Frederick Grinnell, pictured here. In the tome, Grinnell writes on his Web site, "I will suggest that science and religion represent distinct human attitudes towards experience based on different types of faith."

In conjunction with its publication, Grinnell has written a 1,755-word essay about that very subject for the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, which, alas, is subscription-only. Provocative title, though: "Intelligent Design or Intelligible Design?" And worthy of an excerpt, which you'll find after the jump. --Robert Wilonsky

Update: As a Friend of Unfair Park points out in the comments, the full essay can be found here.

A conventional way to contrast scientific and religious thinking attributes reason to the former and faith to the latter. That approach obscures what seems to me to be a central element in trying to understand the relationship. Science, too, requires faith. The British empiricist philosophers emphasized that point in their critique of the possibility of knowledge. We have no assurance of our own existence or of matters of fact beyond immediate sense experience and memories. The idea of cause and effect, a central tenet of scientific thinking, depends on one's belief that the course of nature will continue uniformly tomorrow the same as today, a belief that cannot be proved.

Such ideas presented a potential challenge to the development of modern science -- a challenge that science ignored completely. Instead, commented Alfred North Whitehead, we have an instinctive faith in the "order of nature." Einstein described that as faith in the rationality of the world, which he attributed to the sphere of religion. How ironic! I call it faith in intelligible design -- faith that nature's patterns and structures can be understood.

Those of us who practice science share a faith in intelligible design. But when we do our work, how do we go beyond the me/here/now of personal experience, along with its potential for misinterpretation, error, and self-deception? The answer is that by sharing our experiences with one another, we aim to transform personal subjectivity into communal intersubjectivity. Through that transformation, the discovery claims of individual researchers become the credible discoveries of the scientific community -- knowledge good for anyone/anywhere/anytime. Of course, the credible knowledge of science always remains truth with a small "t," open to the possibility of challenge and modification in the future. Nevertheless, given the extent to which humankind has succeeded in populating and controlling the world, science's faith in intelligible design appears to be well justified.


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