One of the more common accusations that religious apologists tend to make about scientists is that they are not qualified to criticize religion, and bare judgement on philosophical or spiritual matters. This comes up in almost every debate where the non religious side is taken up by a scientist (Dawkins, Harris, Shermer, Tyson, Krauss, Nye, Carroll, and others). In many cases, scientists are told to stick to their field of expertise, rather than encroach upon subjects they are unqualified to speak about. Indeed, even Einstein was once told to stay out of religious affairs, since “God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope”.
There are two main problems with this assertion:
First, science is a method that has been very carefully designed to reach objective conclusions. This is done by formulating testable theories, screening out subjectivity and bias, and making sure that proven theories are supported with demonstrable reason and evidence. In cases where there is conflicting evidence, or an insufficient amount of evidence, judgement is suspended, and no strong claims are made. There’s no reason to think that this must absolutely be the only way of ever proving something objectively, but no better and more consistent method has yet been discovered.
The point here is that scientists are trained and experienced professionals at figuring out what is or isn’t objectively true, and are therefore very well positioned to figure out if there is a strong enough basis to justify an objective truth claim. It’s true that most scientists have a very specific field of expertise, but all scientists (even the religious ones) should be able to at least ask the right kind of questions in order to determine if an objective claim is generally sound. And though this doesn’t necessarily mean that all scientists can disprove religious claims, anyone with any scientific understanding, let alone an expert in the field, should be able to show that in the absence of objectively verifiable, testable or demonstrable evidence, religious claims are subjective at best.
The second problem with this statement is that many – if not all – religious claims overtly trespass into scientific territory. In what way can you make claims about the origin and nature of the universe without entering into the purview of astrophysics? In what way can you talk about god communicating with humans, or human faith affecting objective outcomes, without this having anything to do with psychology, neuroscience and biology? Any claim that has anything to do with humans, nature or the universe, is a claim that touches on issues that can (at least in principle) be understood scientifically. Philosophizing these issues, or trying to fashion them into metaphysical claims will not change this, and the fact that many religious apologists don’t realize this is a demonstration of their own scientific ignorance, rather than anything else.