Separation of science and religion is good for all of us

In ‘No place for Religion at TU Delft?’ (Delta 12), a number of staff members complain that there is little room for religion at Delft University of Technology.

Patrick van der Duin thinks that the existing religious freedoms should not be expanded and that our curriculum should remain free of religious influence.

The staff members argue that, because Western civilization is pluralist, religion should not be absent from our campus and since our university is a public institute, it is therefore good that professors have different opinions including a Christian opinion. They think that as religion is seen as a part of culture, students cannot be separated from their religious identity.

I am surprised about the aggrieved tone of the religious employees quoted in the article. The freedom of religion certainly applies to Delft University of Technology: people can pray before their lunch in the canteen, no one keeps them from wearing religious symbols, there are religious student unions, and religious people can place an ad welcoming new students.

I think, however, that the existing religious freedoms should not be expanded and that our curriculum remains free of religious influence. I fail to see the point of subjects like ‘Christian entrepreneurship’ or ‘Aerospace flight dynamics and simulation above Muslim countries’. In addition, will every student in our ‘global village’ support the Western right of religious freedom? More freedom for religion at our university might lead to a new and, I am afraid, unpleasant discussion about what freedoms we are talking about and who should enjoy those freedoms. Differences of opinion between religious people are often greater than those between believers and non-believers. After all, whose God is the best?

It is sometimes better to separate things rather than to mix them together. Philosopher Michael Walzer argues that different social domains have different principles of justice and that mixing them leads to bad situations. In business, the idea that the highest bidder wins is an accepted principle, but it would not be acceptable in a job application. Walzer’s theory can help to draw a distinction between science and religion.

In science the rules are inspired by science. That is why it is called science and our organization a university. When I play tennis at my tennis club, I use a tennis racket, not a hockey stick, which is what they do on the hockey field next door. If you want to hit the ball with a hockey stick, the solution is not to move to another tennis club, but to join a hockey club. As history has shown us, science and religion are not exactly domains that tend to see eye to eye. The most famous scientific discoveries have disproved the empirical basis of many religions. And like scientists are not invited to broadcast their scientific opinions in churches, mosques or synagogues, there is no need to give religion airtime in the scientific-social domain.

To distinguish our students and employees on the basis of religion and absence of religion, is not a sensible discrimination principle, any more than it would be to distinguish between redhead and non-redheads. I am an Ajax supporter, and I am certain you would think it strange if I were to place an ad welcoming the new students. But this comparison will most likely not be understood by our religious colleagues. It would seem that they feel that all students and employees are created equal, but that religious students and employees are created just a little more equal than others.

Editor Redactie

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