Sommerville, C. John. The Decline of the Secular University. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Chapter 6, “Science Gets Strange” pp. 75-84.
Sommerville, discussing the history of science, finds that scientists recently fall into religious language to express the wonders they have identified and their curiosity about what is yet to be found. He then makes a useful distinction. “”In English usage, ‘science’ is our term for those aspects of reality which we can bring under our explanatory models, while ‘religion’ is our term for that which transcends the ordinary and for its demands on us” (Sommerville 2006, 75). Though both science and religion can claim to be real, they cannot be investigated by the same means. Yet they must be investigated. Sommerville goes on to cite numerous scientists who have openly said the urge to explore science comes from religious motivations (Sommerville 2006, 76). Additionally, he observes that many “treatments of physics or cosmology” for popular audiences conclude with philosophical or religious discourses of one kind or another (Sommerville 2006, 78).
The reason for this philosophical or religious discussion may well be tied to the fact that scientific inquiry often leads in directions which seem strange. Systems we picture as reliable and simple often turn out to be very intricate and not very predictable. Sommerville also notes among these scientific oddities that the universe itself does not appear all that complex compared to a human being, and that it seems to have no sort of conscious self-awareness, but is explained by humans instead (Sommerville 2006, 79). One of the compelling issues in finding religious undertones in science is what we call “anthropic coincidences.” These are special conditions by which human life and intelligence could be found, but which would often seem to be merely a matter of random chance. Sommerville mentions for example the size of the universe being just right for the establishment of orbital systems and carbon based life. Many anthropic coincidences have been discovered by scientists, leading to discussions of underlying philosophical and religious ideas (Sommerville 2006, 80).
Because science is so often accepted or rejected as a matter of faith, Sommerville finds a sort of science fiction being adopted on campuses. Rather than psychic phenomena, he identifies these fictions based on physics (Sommerville 2006, 81). That which is invisible is taken to be entirely real and therefore as a realm demanding exploration.
The whole matter of anthropic coincidence suggests strong religious undercurrents, which Sommerville ties to a defensive attitude among secular scientists. It runs counter to the assumptions of naturalism (Sommerville 2006, 82) Human existence and thought is special. It points to invisible and non-concrete elements which do not allow for scientific exploration. Proof fits the realm of science, but not the realm of religion (Sommerville 2006, 83). Sommerville sees in this a call for the philosophical and religious questions to play a greater role in the discourse in academia. Without those questions, the presuppositions of naturalistic secularism will continue to draw the academy away from society as a whole (Sommerville 2006, 84).