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Religion and Science: Are they Compatible?

This post considers the arguments and evidence for the view that religious beliefs are compatible with scientific belief systems.

One argument within the secularisation debate is that the Enlightenment started a process of rationalization within society, which led to technological developments and social progress. This in turn meant that the old, traditional, irrational religious belief systems were increasingly challenged, and so there was a corresponding decline in religion.

The above view holds that religious beliefs and scientific beliefs are incompatible, and that more rational scientific knowledge has effectively replaced religious knowledge in society, because scientific knowledge is some how superior.

However, there are others who argue that the relationship between science and religion is more complex and nuanced. This is especially understandable given the trend towards religious pluralism and the increasing diversity, or sub-divisions within science.

It is highly likely that ecumenical movements, or those with new age beliefs are more likely to find common ground with science than those from highly conservative religious movements or those with fundamentalist beliefs.

Religion Science.png

Religion and Science are compatible 

There are several different lines of argument for the view that religious belief systems and scientific belief systems are compatible.

Stephen Jay Gould argued that science and religion were concerned with different aspects of human life which deal with different human needs.

Gould argued that one human need was to understand the workings of nature, which science dealt with. The job of science was to uncover objective knowledge about the ‘laws of nature’, which could be discovered using the scientific method.

Another human need was to find a meaning for their own life and to figure out a moral code which they should live by. Such meaning and morality are subjective and so cannot be discovered through the scientific method. People need religion to help them discover meaning and to lead a moral life.

According to Gould, these two spheres of human need do not overlap, and so religious knowledge systems and scientific knowledge systems can exist side by side.

Monotheistic religions which have a belief in one, universal God are compatible with science. It is possible to believe that there is ‘one God’ who created the universe and the laws by which it is governed, and then to use science to uncover exactly what those rules are.

Some recent concepts developed in the field of physics seem to support the worldview of traditional Asian belief systems, such as Taoism. A good example of this is Fritjof Capra’s ‘The Tao of Physics‘.

Some religions are actually based on science – The most obvious example here is scientology, which has developed devices such as the E-meter to track people’s progress towards the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’.

Sources/ find out more….

Religion in the Contemporary World

 

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What is the difference between science and religion?

What are the differences between science and religion? This post focuses on four areas of difference between the two:

  • The empirical versus the supernatural
  • Open versus closed belief systems
  • Evolving versus absolute knowledge
  • Objectivity versus subjectivity

These are the differences between religion and science highlighted by Dixon (2008) in ‘Science and Religion, A Very Short Introduction‘.

Before reading this post, you might like to refresh your knowledge of what they key features of science are by reading this post: Is sociology a science?

Science limits itself to the empirical, religion concerns itself with the supernatural 

Science tends to concern itself with the natural or physical world – that which can be observed and measured. If it cannot be observed or measured empirically, then it is not scientific.

Scientific knowledge is gained primarily through the experimental method: a hypothesis is formulated and then experiments designed to test the hypothesis. Experiments use standardized procedures of data collection, so that other scientists can repeat the exact same experiment in the same way and verify the data and test the findings for themselves.

In contrast religion tends to concern itself with the spiritual world, many aspects of which cannot necessarily be observed and measured in a scientific extent. For example, knowledge in many religions comes ultimately from God, and belief in the existence of God cannot be verified empirically. Belief in God is a matter of faith.

Any knowledge claims made by religions which are not verifiable by empirical observations cannot be regarded as ‘scientific’.

‘Open’ verses ‘closed belief systems 

Science is an ‘open belief system’ – the data collected by scientists are open to testing by others. Research findings can thus be criticized.

According to Popper, the process of scientists critically scrutinizing  findings of other scientists is  fundamental to the scientific method. He argued that scientists should attempt to ‘falsify’ already existing hypotheses by designing experiments deliberately to disprove them. It is this process which ensures that scientific knowledge is valid: its ability to withstand the critical scrutiny of peers.

In contrast, religions tend to have ‘closed belief systems’ – religious knowledge is generally regarded as sacred, and should be accepted as is, rather than challenged.

Evolving versus absolute knowledge systems 

Scientific knowledge is cumulative…. it evolves through a process of scientists learning about, criticizing, and improving upon the experimental work of previous scientists.

Religious belief systems, at least those based firmly on religious texts or an idea of an absolute truth are not open to change or growth. Those who challenge such religious belief systems may well be subject to sanctions.

Objectivity and value-freedom versus subjectivity

Subjective, personal feelings should be kept out the scientific process. Scientific knowledge should not be influenced by the personal opinions or biases of the researchers who conduct the experiments which provide the data to generate scientific knowledge.

In contrast, knowledge in many religious traditions is a matter of personal faith and intimate spiritual experience. Many religious experiences, prayer, for example, are highly personal, and not meant to be replicated by others.

Evaluations 

This post effectively deals with the argument that science and religion are different, and thus possible incompatible. Please see this post for some arguments and evidence for the alternative view: that scientific belief systems are compatible with religious belief systems.

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A Level Sociology: 10 mark questions

There are two types of 10 mark question across the 3 A-level sociology exam papers: ‘outline and explain questions’ (no item) and ‘applying material from the item’ questions.

Below is a nice wall-chart explaining the difference between them, adapted from the AQA’s ‘notes and guidance document. (source)

Sociology A-level 10 mark questions.png

*the action word here might be different. Instead of ‘reasons’ it may be ‘criticisms’, ‘consequences’, ‘ways’ or something else!

**Obviously there will be an item! Not included here because it wouldn’t fit. YOU MUST REFER TO THE ITEM!

For specific examples of the two different types of 10 mark question, please click here: A-level sociology: exams and revision advice. For even more practice questions, see below!

Revision Resources for Sale…. 

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A-level sociology revision bundles  – each of which contains the following:

  1. Revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. model essay questions.

NB – it’s only the bundles which contain all four of the above resources, some of the resources available are sold separately.

I’ve taught sociology for nearly 20 years, and been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about. If you purchase, you’d also be helping me escape the man and regain my humanity.

 

 

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Learning as a Product Versus Learning as Process

Many of the theories of learning that were developed during the first decades of the twentieth century tended to conceptualize learning as an end product or outcome – most often as a distinct change in behavior.

Students and educators who subscribe to this notion of learning-as-product tend to see learning as consisting of the following:

  • A quantitative increase in knowledge
  • Memorizing or storing information that can later be retrieved.
  • Acquiring facts, skills and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.

However, it is also possible to see learning as an ongoing process, and people who subscribe this notion of learning tend to describe learning as:

  • Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning, learning that involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.
  • Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way, learning that involves comprehending the world by reinterpreting knowledge.

These later two descriptions of learning as an ongoing process see the learner as building upon his or her previous experiences and, in some instances, changing his or her behavior as a result.

Learning as a process is the view of learning that many contemporary educationalists and psychologists would concur with. As Bruner (1996) puts it ‘learning is not simply a technical business of well managed information processing’. Instead, learning might also be seen to involve individuals having to make sense of who they are and develop an understanding of the world in which they live. From this perspective, learning can be seen as a continuing process of ‘participation’ rather than a discrete instance of acquisition.

IMO working within a marketised education system encourages us to see learning as a product – that is the ‘bottom line’ of education is the results, and there is much store placed on exam-training in order to game the system and get better results (the final outcome), and students, teachers and parents increasingly judge the quality of a school or it teachers on their ability ‘to deliver results’.

This is, in fact, an extremely narrow and shallow way to judge the quality of education.

If, on the other hand, we consider ‘learning as a process’ this forces us to focus on the quality of the learning experience and the context in which learning takes place – reflecting on the marketised system we realize what a poor educational experience many of us get (teachers and students alike) because of the pressure to achieve results. In such a system, there is little time to ‘understand the world and who we are’.

Another benefit of seeing learning as a process is that we come to realize that ‘learning’ takes place in many contexts outside of the formal education system – at home, at work, and through the many informal channels through which we ‘develop ourselves’.

Maybe more of us need to forget formal education with its obsession with learning as a product, and instead just focus more on life-long learning and self-development outside of formal education?

Sources

Selwyn (2017) Education and Technology – Key Issues and Debates

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Asking Questions about Theories and Concepts in Sociology

My weekly ‘Monday teaching and learning’ post: I’ve been thinking about questioning in A-level Sociology recently,* in particular I’ve been asking myself ‘what are the best quick-fire questions to ask students about theories and concepts’ and ‘what’s the best way to present these questions’?

By ‘best’ I mean what kinds of questioning style will most effectively develop knowledge recall, understanding and the skills of application, analysis and evaluation? And how can this be done quickly!

I’m only really interested here in questioning as a review activity (not the kinds of question you ask during a regular lesson), so this is meant for recapping previous lessons work, as part of a plenary, or as part of a revision lesson.

As I see it, the most effective way to ask questions is to do so in a hierarchical order, starting with basic recall, and moving up through application, analysis, and evaluation, and you could even tag on a conclusion type question at the end.

I tend to ask eight questions to recap any theory or concept… In the example below,  I used these questions on a PPT with the headings as titles and the prompts in the main body of each slide. This was a simple, verbal pair-work recap task (with the usual further development questions tagged on). There’s also nothing from stopping you dumping these questions onto Socrative.

Why poor countries poor

I also use prompts to speed things up, and you could of course make these prompts as cards and for each slide get students to do ranking/ sorting exercises.

Eight Questions About Dependency Theory

(which could be asked about any other theory or concept)

  1. (AO1) Explain why poor countries are poor according to Dependency Theory

HINT: Use the following concepts…

  • Marxism
  • Colonialism
  • Neocolonialism
  • Exploitation
  • Core-Satellite
  • Communism
  1. (A01) Give some examples which best illustrates Dependency Theory
  • Try to think of one ‘developed’ and one ‘less developed’ nation
  1. (AO2) Apply Dependency Theory to something else…
  • Use Dependency Theory to evaluate Modernisation Theory
  • What do you think the function of education in poor countries might be according to Dependency Theory?
  1. (A03) Analyse Dependency Theory: How does the theory/ concept relate to the following concepts below:
  • Marxist theory more generally
  • Inequality
  • Power
  • Capitalism
  1. (A03) Analyse Dependency Theory
  • Who developed it (where did it come from)?
  • If you could convince everyone it’s true, then whose interests does it serve?
  1. (AO3) Evaluate Dependency Theory using evidence
  • Identify as many pieces of supporting evidence as you can
  • Identify as many pieces of counter-evidence as you can…
  1. (A03) Evaluate using other theories
  • HINT: What would Modernization Theory say about this theory?
  1. (AO2) Interim Conclusion – How useful is Dependency Theory?
  • HINT: Where ’10’ is explains everything and 0 is explains nothing, what score would you give Dependency Theory out of 10 in explaining why rich countries and rich and poor countries poor?

Asking these eight questions in relation to other theories and concepts…

Other topics I’ve used this template with recently include (with different prompts) The Functionalist View of Education, The Correspondence Principle (focusing in more deeply on just one Marxist concept of education), The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development and the concept of Gross National Income as an indicator of development (the kind of concepts this 8 question hierarchy works well for might actually surprise you).

Of course this won’t work for everything and will need tweeking, but to my mind, this is a nice general questioning structure that ticks my 20-80 rule – spend 20 mins prepping to get 80 mins of students doing – NOT the inverse!

 

*I’m fairly sure this is a big contributor to mental illness among teachers, it’s exhausting.