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  • Writer's picturePatrick Prill

Expel God from Campus?

Updated: Oct 29, 2023



“We submit that a religious education, particularly at an early age, is an obstacle to the development of a scientific mentality. For this and other reasons, religious education should be kept away from public schools and universities.”[1]


- Martin Mahner and Mario Bunge



Even before the emergence of cancel-culture, Mario Bunge, a professor of philosophy in Montreal, wanted to see the teaching of religion banished from campus. His desire was that it be banned at all levels – from public elementary school through university. He saw it as an obstacle to his preferred way of thinking – with a “scientific mentality.”


It's surprising that a university philosophy professor would want to ban the teaching of differing worldviews. The history of philosophy is rich with competing ideas, worldviews, and explanations. The idea that others should only be allowed to teach that which “agrees with me” seems narrow and authoritarian. Fortunately, McGill University did not agree with Bunge.


May religion be dissected but not taught?


To be fair, Mario Bunge thought it would be okay to examine religion from a sociological, historical, and philosophical perspective.[2] In other words, it would be okay to dissect it on campus but not actually teach it. Perhaps imbibing the contents of religious teachings would be far too harmful to adult college students.


Expelling other worldviews?


In proposing the expulsion of a worldview which he saw as an impediment, Bunge was taking an approach reminiscent of Karl Marx who also saw religion as an obstacle. Marx, who was extreme in advocating despotic measures to advance his agenda,[3] famously said:


“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is a demand for their true happiness.”[4]


Did Bunge also call for the expulsion of other worldviews and opinions? Did he call for the expulsion of Friedrich Nietzsche who saw oppression and enslavement as good because he claimed it made humans stronger?[5] Did he call for the expulsion of Charles Darwin who saw non-Caucasian people as belonging to less civilized “lower races?”[6] Or, was it only religion that Bunge found objectionable?


Expelling other “mentalities”


There are many “mentalities” to be found on college campuses. Is a religious one the only one Bunge would expel?


What about the aesthetic mentality possessed by artists, musicians, and authors? Should we expel art, music, and literature from campus? What about the economic and legal perspectives of business and law students? And, surely the time spend preparing for and attending competitive sporting events – hockey, soccer, and lacrosse – could be better spent reading science books.


Why did Bunge single out religion for expulsion?


Bunge’s bias


Mario Bunge’s bias looms large. He seemed to view all “religious attitudes and value systems” as the same, though they are not.[7] He believed a religious perspective to be based on “faith without evidence,” suppression of critical thought, belief in “myth” and the acceptance of a “moral system based on authoritarianism.”[8] However, this is not what the New Testament teaches.


To make broad indictments and apply them to all religions as a “religious perspective” is like saying all art is bad. Yet that’s not true.


The importance of religion on campus


Many people don’t agree with Mario Bunge. Even those who possess an extraordinary “scientific mentality” see the importance of religion. It provides a perspective of reality and fills a huge need that science cannot. This is what a few of them had to say.


1. Religion is Western Civilization’s foundation


Albert Einstein certainly had a scientific mind. Yet he saw Judeo-Christian morality as the foundation of western civilization. He made this statement in 1939, as war raged in Europe.


“…it is because we are the people of the Book that we [the Jews] are persecuted. The aim is to exterminate not only ourselves but to destroy, together with us, that spirit expressed in the Bible and in Christianity which made possible the rise of civilization in Central and Northern Europe. If this aim is achieved Europe will become a barren waste.”[9]


Einstein then elaborated that the Jewish people had survived for thousands of years because of their “adherence to the Biblical doctrines on the relationships among men.”[10]


2. Science is silent about morality, meaning and values


Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics who was also an atheist, stated that science could provide no answers to “why?” He then went on to say:


“Worse, the worldview of science is rather chilling. Not only do we not find any point to life laid out for us in nature, no objective basis for our moral principles, no correspondence between what we think is the moral law and the laws of nature, of the sort imagined by philosophers from Anaximander and Plato to Emerson.”[11]


Richard Feynman, also a Nobel laureate in physics, agreed that science has nothing to say about morality.[12]


Einstein said science was incapable of providing answers for meaning, purpose, value or ethics. Yet he saw these as important and real.[13] He saw them as the realm of religion and the Judeo-Christian tradition to be their best source. [14]And, he lamented that it was scientists who had (amorally) invented the means of mass annihilation. [15]


So, if we are to exclusively embrace a scientific mentality, we are left with no morals at all. The result could be frightening.


Is religion really an impediment?


If religion truly gets in the way of developing a “scientific mentality” as Bunge suggested, then surely most great scientists were not religious. Or were they?


In the past century, 90% of Nobel prize winners believed in God. About 65% were Christians, 20% were Jewish and 5% were Muslims. And, most Nobel laureates in the sciences were Christians – 72.5% in Chemistry, 65.3% in Physics and 62% in Medicine.[16]


Bunge acknowledged that many scientists do have religious beliefs. However, he claimed belief was an obstacle to be overcome, suppressed, or forgotten.[17] Yet the sheer magnitude of Nobel laureates in science who believed in God suggests this is not the case.


Even Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics (and an ardent atheist), perhaps reluctantly admitted, “there are good scientists who are seriously religious.”[18]


Are religion and science incompatible?


Bunge also believed that science and religion were incompatible – for a variety of reasons. We can discuss them another day.[19]However, many great scientists don’t agree. They see them as complimentary.


Max Planck, a Nobel laureate in physics, was one of them. He authored the Philosophy of Physics[20] and saw no problem in thinking scientifically, philosophically, and religiously. He said:


“There can never be any real opposition between religion and science; for the one is the complement of the other.”[21]


Richard Feynman also saw no problem with scientists believing in God, though he did not. He said, “I agree that science cannot disprove God. I absolutely agree. I also agree that a belief in science and religion is consistent.”[22]


Conclusion


At best, Bunge’s call to expel God and religion from campus is based on his own worldview preference. He then wanted the rest of the world to conform to it.


Judeo-Christian morality is the foundation of western civilization. It has done what science cannot – provide ultimate reasons, value, meaning, and moral principles. And, it is not an impediment to scientific thinking. Great scientists can and do embrace both science and religion as providing complimentary views of reality. Surely these are ideas worthy of consideration and study in college.


It’s a good thing someone at McGill University realized this and did not heed Mario Bunge’s call.





About Mario Bunge


Mario Bunge (1919-2020) was a philosophy professor at McGill University in Montreal. He was a trained physicist with a PhD in Physico-mathematical sceineces from the Universidad de La Plata in Argentina.


Notes:

[1] Martin Mahner and Mario Bunge, Is Religious Education Compatible With Science Education? (Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, Science & Education 5: 101-123, 1996) [2] Martin Mahner and Mario Bunge, Is Religious Education Compatible With Science Education?, 120. [3] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Communist Manifesto (Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1888), 41. [4] Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 131. [5] Friedrich Nietzsche, The AntiChrist, (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1920), 42, 166. and Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, (New York, NY: MacMillan Company, 1907), 226-227. [6] Charles Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol.1 (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1898), 286. [7] Bunge, 118. [8] Bunge, 118. [9] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1977), 254. [10] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, 255. [11] Steven Weinberg, Lake Views – This World and the Universe (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 241. (This is an incomplete sentence, but is a direct quote from Weinberg’s book.) [12] Richard Feynman, The Meaning Of It All (New York, NY: Perseus Books, 1998), 44. [13] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, 22-23. [14] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, 23. [15] Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years, 153. [16] John Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (The Good Book Company, 2019)16-17 [17] Bunge, 119. [18] Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World – The Discovery of Modern Science (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2015), 44. [19] Bunge, 102. [20] Max Planck, The Philosophy of Physics, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1936) [21] Max Planck, Where is Science Going?, (London, England: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1913), 168. [22] Richard Feynman, The Meaning Of It All (New York, NY: Perseus Books, 1998), 36.

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