Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beliefs and Theories: Religion vs. Science

Many years ago, I read Paul Watzlawick's How Real Is Real, which made a great point about the difference between belief and opinion.

Basically, a person's beliefs are immutable. A person will die before they change their beliefs. On the other hand, opinions can change over the course of a lifetime. Even the strongest opinions can be changed. (I am paraphrasing from memory as I could not find my copy of the book if my life depended on it.)

James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal had a quote today that reminded me of Watzlawick's book: people often scoff at those who do not "believe in evolution." The problem with this is not that they are wrong to defend evolution, but that they mistake evolution, a scientific theory, for a belief system. When you demand adherence to a set of beliefs, you are no longer doing science but something that has the form, if not the substance, of religion.
Too often, we tend to give science too much credit. In essence, we give science a blind faith that is undeserved, and frequently not even sought by the scientists involved.

When someone says, "I have a theory...", you will listen and give the person's supposition a fair hearing, usually accepting or rejecting said "theory" on it's own merits or demerits, with some weight lent to the person's credibility. But let a scientist give you a theory, and most people will more likely than not accept it on faith.

Let more than one scientist espouse a theory, and most people will take it as if Moses came down from the mountain holding tablets. It becomes gospel at that point.

I apologize for the religious terminology, but therein lies the problem: Too many people treat science as a religion.

Ironically, both science and religion have their theories. For example, is the Creation story a myth or a fact? Even among different religions, there is no agreement on this subject. If asked about this, most scientists would give you the "Big Bang Theory", or the "Evolution Theory", as explanations of how the world came to be. The problem in this discussion is that neither science nor religion have conclusive proof to back up their respective claims. That said, I personally lend more credence to science in this debate, but that is my OPINION.

When science gives you a theory, it should be remembered it is exactly that: a theory, to be judged on it's own merits or demerits.

If your religion told you that you needed to do something that wasn't logical, would you question why? If they came back with "God said so", that might be good enough, although I personally would want a little more than that. I might need philosophical backup to support my religion's belief. Even then, it might not hit my personal belief system, and remain limited to my opinion system. In other words, I would retain my doubts.

So when science tells you that you need to do something, would you question it? If they tell you "studies show...", would you immediately change your life? For many, the answer is a blind yes.

But what happens when later scientific studies disprove the original studies? You would think "once burned, twice shy" would apply to our views of science, yet how many times have scientific theories, backed up by studies, later get overturned, yet we continue to lend blind faith to science?

Even worse, what happens when scientists fudge the data, then hide the data, while using political machinations to keep opposing scientists from proving them wrong, as recently happened with the Global Warming theory? I am amazed that there are STILL people who believe the flawed theory of Global Warming blindly.

If you don't believe me, just visit Copenhagen this week.


William R. Barker said...

Anonymous said...

Science is a tool. Look at The Scientific Method for the basis for science. Religion is a value system. One would not forbid the use of a hammer because it did not fit your values. Evolution is a conclusion reached using the tool. There is no place in the Bible that explains HOW GOD created anything. The Bible also states that GOD's days are as eternity. As a once practicing scientist, I've heard a lot of non-scientists rejecting evolution because it does not fit their belief system.


EdMcGon said...

Actually, I would say one's value system can supercede one's own reason. You only have to look at the Jonestown Massacre for an example of that.

You are correct in saying that science is a tool. But religion can ALSO be a tool. Both are only as good as the people espousing them (and sometimes not even then). That is why both need to be looked at with a discriminating eye. That is why God gave us reason.