Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pluralism: The Advantage of Holding Multiple Worldviews

, former deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | August 29, 2013, 2:53 pm EDT
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Yesterday, I published a blog post about Martin Luther King Jr.’s appreciation for science and scientific inquiry, and how this appreciation related to his strong faith. I received several messages from readers who appreciated the fact that I had unearthed the reverend’s writings and put some thought into my interpretation of them. Then, after UCS posted an image with a quote from Dr. King on its Facebook page, all hell broke loose.

The quote in question?

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”

Indignant replies started flowing almost immediately. “Science and faith are polar opposites,” wrote one person. I won’t quote the rest, but in essence, a number of commenters opined that there was no place in society for religion, that religion simply exists to justify man’s misdeeds, that scientific organizations should not acknowledge the credibility of religion, and that science-minded people think and religious people don’t.

Photo of Martin Luther King with the following quote: “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”

The image that created the controversy.

They may have failed to read the blog post, and reacted emotionally to the quote on the image.

My own view is that completely dismissing the worldviews of others doesn’t do anyone any favors. It also doesn’t allow us to solve our world’s most pressing challenges. We live in a pluralistic society with problems that need pluralistic approaches.

And people of all perspectives should embrace skepticism. Ubi dubium ibi libertas. Where there’s doubt, there’s freedom.

Encouragingly, several UCS Facebook fans picked up on this theme. One participant provided this insightful comment:

 Disagree as much as you like–disagreement is the essence of being an American. I am not religious, but [Dr. King] was religious. It’s natural that he would see religion in this light. The fact that he was religious does not detract from his wisdom. The fact that he sees no dichotomy between his religious views and science is an indication of his wisdom. He has as much right to be religious as you and I have not to be religious. That too is essential to the nature of a real American. As Jefferson said: “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Dr. King was able to hold multiple worldviews and extract the best from each. So should we. To do otherwise is a failure to live up to the pluralistic society for which Dr. King so ably advocated.

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  • Pentheus

    “We have been told that the scientist thinks it his duty to proportion the strength of his belief exactly to the evidence; to believe less as there is less evidence and to withdraw belief altogether when reliable adverse evidence turns up. We have been told that, on the contrary, the Christian regards it as positively praiseworthy to believe without evidence, or in excess of the evidence, or to maintain his belief unmodified in the teeth of steadily increasing evidence against it. Thus a ‘faith that has stood firm,’ which appears to mean a belief immune from all the assaults of reality, is commended.

    If this were a fair statement of the case, then the coexistence within the same species of such scientists and such Christians would be a very staggering phenomenon. The fact that the two classes appear to overlap, as they do, would be quite inexplicable.”