Garnaat & Hartsough: On religion as integral part of academic, scientific discovery

In the Nov. 19 issue of The Lamron, the editorial “Religious beliefs should not have place in intellectual discourse” about a recent MacVittie Lecture speaker suggested that there was no basis to the popularly held assumption that faith is conducive to war or atrocity. On the contrary, lecturer William T. Cavanaugh held that it is nigh impossible to separate religious motivations from secular ones. How can we say that wars fought because of ideologies like communism or democracy—ideologies entirely divorced from religion—are less common or harmful than those fought for God?

Responding to the argument that it is unfeasible to separate secular and religious motivations behind violence, the editorial claims that one should classify religion as anything lacking in “scientific and rational scrutiny” and that anything outside the safe boundaries of a purely materialistic perspective is “an intellectual failure.” The editorial states that the time has come for us to stop the “insidious effects” of allowing people to talk about religion and to “shame the use of faith” when we find it and drive it “out of public discourse.”

One would imagine that the history, political science and philosophy departments will be relieved to hear that their services are no longer required on a liberal arts campus.

The historical record does not at all support the idea of religion and science being at odds. Rather, the two were one and the same until only the most recent century.

The founder of systematic logical reasoning Aristotle wrote at length on metaphysics, while figures like St. Aquinas and St. Augustine pioneered the rational study of the world and religious principles. The only reason we have achieved such powerful advances in geometry, mathematics, logic and science is due to the knowledge discovered and preserved by Catholic scholastics and Muslim theorists like Averroes and Omar Khayyam—all of whom were deeply religious.

Furthermore, the first advocates of the scientific method—Sir Isaac Newton, Blaise Pascal and Sir Francis Bacon—were all devout believers as well and used science to support those beliefs. The supposed incompatibility of intelligence with faith is invalid.

If religious thought were chased out of public discourse, this would leave an incredible problem—we would be laden with scientific facts and figures about how things are, but absolutely nothing about how things should be. Philosopher David Hume calls this the “is-ought problem”—that science produces facts about the world but provides no basis for morality.

There are no particles of justice, no atoms of freedom, no electrons of right or wrong. Thus, there is no way that someone can make statements about how things ought to be without accepting some kind of assumption or willingness to believe or have faith.

When the editorial claims that we should disallow religious belief in academic discourse, we must ask on what grounds would we do so or to what invisible standard we are appealing. If you cannot prove that the world should be this way through fact, then question what your argument is based on, if not based in faith.

The editorial claims that society regards religion as off-limits to examination and that no other attendees in the lecture “dared challenge” Cavanaugh. Perhaps if the editorial was hindered from being written, this would be true. But if we are asked to “shame the use” of ideas we disagree with out of any discussion, we must ask whose beliefs are actually at risk of being suppressed. We must question if we are abandoning intellectual freedom in favor of ideological conformity.