Science has nothing to learn from theology

by Alan Sokal

Letter to Nature in response to the article by Kathryn Pritchard, "Religion and science can have a true dialogue", Nature 537, 451 (22 September 2016) --- which the editors of Nature decided not to publish.

Kathryn Pritchard's irenic call for a "true dialogue" between religion and science (Nature 537, 451; 2016) artfully evades the central issues that have divided the Church(es) from the scientific community for more than four centuries.

If all Pritchard seeks is "to give a higher profile to science" within her own Church of England, more power to her; no scientist will object. And if she wants to prod her fellow Christians to grapple with possible challenges to their belief posed by the discoveries of modern science, that is purely an internal church matter.

But her assertion that "science and theology ... can illuminate one another to the benefit of all" is unsupported by any argumentation, and constitutes in fact a serious danger to the practice of science. Pace Pritchard, there is a unbridgeable methodological and epistemological gulf between science and religion: namely, science is founded on the rational evaluation of publicly available evidence and the search for purely naturalistic explanations, while religion goes beyond this to invoke the authority of purportedly sacred texts (even if those texts must sometimes be interpreted figuratively) and divine revelation.

My apologies for being a party-pooper, but science has nothing to learn from theology.

Alan Sokal

Professor of Physics, New York University
Professor of Mathematics, University College London