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A Wall of Separation between Religion and Science: A French Declaration

Translated by Babu Gogineni
International Humanist News , September 2002, p.21

 In September 2000, the Libre Pensée Francaise organised the prestigious conference "Intrusions Spiritualistes et Impostures Intellectuelles en Sciences" (Spiritualist Intrusions and Intellectual Impostures in Science) attended by Scientists of repute like Jean Bricmont, Belgium, Prof. lan Plimer, Australia and Patrick Tort, Director of the Institute Charles Darwin International, France. Held at the prestigious Musée National de l'Histoire Naturelle, the conference issued a Declaration signed by a number of eminent scientists. Here, some extracts follow: 

"... the method applied to the development of scientific knowledge relies on material explanations, and makes no appeal to the transcendental. The scientist, whatever be his or her personal, metaphysical or religious beliefs, rejects all supernatural and transcendental explanations. Scientific knowledge is the common heritage of humanity - it is verifiable by all as it is founded on rational explanation and on experiments, which can be replicated.

On the contrary, religious belief is an act of faith based on revelation. This is by definition non-verifiable, and it is totally different from scientific knowledge.

The Catholic Inquisition for having proposed the theory of multiple worlds burnt Giordano Bruno alive. Michel Servet was burnt on the order of Calvin for theological reasons - because he looked into the human body and made the first discoveries about human blood circulation. Galileo had to recant in front of the Inquisition, summoned for having turned his telescope towards the unknown cosmos and for having produced partial proofs in support of the Earth orbiting the Sun, making the Earth no longer the centre of the universe. Then there was the condemnation of the immensely important work of Darwin who laid the basis and the framework for understanding the living world on the basis of material causes - natural selection - to explain the evolution of life. These historical facts are a brutal reflection of the implacable antagonism between science and faith.

These historical condemnations of science and of scientists by the Church should throw light on the real significance of the Catholic Church's call for a dialogue with scientists - a dialogue interrupted since the trial of Galileo, the Church claims! Today the Church says it has rehabilitated Galileo. But Galileo never lost his honour, or the esteem of humanity; he did not need to be rehabilitated. The Church has never admitted that it had no business to judge Galileo in the first place.

Herein lies the crux of the problem. Are religions qualified to intervene in the advancement of knowledge? The dialogue between science and religion serves no purpose, nor is it of any real interest on the plane of scientific methodology.

The nature of the Scientific Method, as also the history of the Church allied with State power - be the Church Catholic or Protestant - demonstrate the necessity of a complete separation between science and faith. Should we not be concerned when the Church at its jubilee meeting of scientists declares through the Pope 'No more separation of faith and reason?" Should we not look with alarm when the Pope exhorts Catholic scientists to 'participate in the elaboration of a cultural and scientific project which would always allow for the presence and providential intervention of Got? Does this not indicate that the Church desires the right to pre-approve and pre-judge the subject of scientific investigations? Will this not lead to the condemnation of scientific research on religious criteria? Atheism as well as religious beliefs belong to the private sphere and are guaranteed by the liberty of individual conscience.

The authors of this appeal are one with Galileo's conception, which demanded the total independence of scientific thought, and its clear separation from religion. When this separation fails, scientific knowledge will be put on the same plane as the religious, with consequences like the introduction of creationist dogma in biology classes as in Kansas (USA) under pressure from sects and communities linked to the Protestant Church. At the same time we should not forget the infamous Lysenko affair, which illustrated dramatically the effect of the power of a state in the domain of science.

We reaffirm that scientific research and the transmission of knowledge should be free to develop fully, safely and sheltered from all claims of political or religious ideological authority.

The frontiers of human knowledge are where metaphysical speculations are the easiest to make. The broadcast media is often fond of questioning scientists on matters which lie on the fringe of human knowledge. While one can develop a personal metaphysical stance on these matters, this could be a source of confusion for members of the general public who may not necessarily distinguish between the scientists science and his or her personal positions - metaphysical or religious. Considering the prestige and the impact that statements by scientists can have among members of the general public, considering that scientists are the repositories of knowledge which is our common human heritage, the undersigned appeal to their scientist colleagues to maintain the greatest vigilance as regarding separating science and personal faith, and to particularly refrain from endorsing public events which use science for the promotion of religion.

The undersigned, irrespective of their philosophical or religious views, be they believers, agnostics or atheists, deem it necessary to maintain an absolute separation of science and religion. They reject the claim of religions and sects that they can influence the choice of scientific research programmes and (interfere) in teaching of science'

 

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