Wednesday, February 6, 2013

On the Religion of Science

Recently, my Genesis friend (see earlier post) tried to use the angle on me that science is essentially the same as religion. Science books are our Holy Texts, and anything written within them, we accept without question as the True and Complete Word, completely on faith. We don’t go out and do the experiments ourselves, we just accept that it’s true. He also pointed out that in many areas of bleeding-edge research (what grad students do), the experiments performed will probably never be repeated by anyone, and at that point the accepting on faith of what they say really does depend on the researcher’s character and whatnot, and the Truth of the experiment is questionable.
At first, I can certainly see where he’s coming from. At the level of doing research for graduate school, many of the experiments being done out there are singular, and not likely to be repeated explicitely. But I assert that there is a big difference between the religion of Science, and the religions of God.

While some science experiments may not be repeated again, many of them in fact are repeated. Any result that is a foundation of sorts to our modern technological advancements has been repeated, and usually quite often. Photoelectric effect? Been done thousands and thousands of times. Not only have the experiments fundamental to current science been often repeated, they usually have very strong agreement with the original experiment and with subsequent experiments. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity? There have been experiments both old and new that verify General Relativity to a very close degree. And the journals and the papers still exist; even if I don’t do the Millikan Oil Drop experiment myself, I can still look up results from others, and see the agreement.

Also worth mentioning is that in the higher sciences (physics, chemistry), the foundation results usually have mathematical derivations. You can literally work out the math yourself, and see what it comes back as. In a sense, you could think of all those homework problems as being ‘experimental’ verification.

And how does the religion of God work in these matters? Not so well, I’m afraid. Take a rather simple experiment: pray to God to see which religion out there is the True Religion. This experiment has certainly been done countless times over the years. And what results come back from these experiments? Does everyone who ever sincerely tries this end up a mormon? Certainly not, as I can personally attest to. Usually, the Catholics receive verification that Catholicism is true, Muslims get a verification that Islam is true, and Jews get back the verification that Judaism is the One True Religion. Or in my case, nothing at all. See all the contradictions in the experiment? This is in stark contrast to science, where the results tend to agree quite strongly over and over. Just because we haven’t gotten around to re-testing every single experiment ever does not mean that the things we have re-tested are somehow not in agreement. That agreement, incomplete though it might be, is something that makes science better than religion.

Another distinction that I would personally point out is the necessity to investigate further in Moral matters.  For many people, science falls into the category of  ”Information That Doesn’t Affect My Daily Life” (it indirectly affects them far more than they think, but let’s ignore that for now). The point is that for many people it’s just information, and has no effect on their morals; they aren’t out there killing people because of the level of scientific knowledge that people do or do not possess. Ah, but you say, what about those crazies that do go around harrassing others because of such things? For those people, it has transcended the level of information, and has become something that affects their morality.

For simple information that has no effect on your daily life, a lack of rigor (verifying results, doing the experiments yourself, etc) can be understandable. But if it’s something that affects your morals, something that changes who in your eyes is Good and who is Evil, who deserves praise and who deserves scorn, then you have an obligation to apply more rigor to your stance. Any flaw in your line of thought will have larger consequences due to its affect upon your morality, so you need to make sure to find any flaws that may be there. If science doesn’t affect your morals, then it is far more forgivable to take it on faith compared to something that has a definite effect on your morals.

The moral implications of religion is precisely what makes religious faith less acceptable than scientific faith. Religion has repeatedly shown to have a very large impact on how people view their morals, and as such it needs to be held to a higher standard. If people are going to kill for it, then it needs to be on even more solid footing than anything else; prove to me that there really are WMDs before marching in.

So in my mind religion, due to its impact on morality, needs even more compelling evidence than science, and is even less deserving of faith than science. So how come all of the ‘evidence’ that one finds on religious matters are precisely the types of objective, personal accounts that are considered to be so unreliable in science as to be practically worthless?  When I say that my beef with religion is the lack of evidence, this is precisely what I mean. Any issue that decides your morals needs to be held to a higher standard, and religion simply doesn’t stand that high. To paraphrase the saying, the reason I don’t believe in religion is because I’ve never found one that’s up to my high standards. For something that important, compelling and reliable evidence is a necessity. To take something that important on faith is frankly a ghastly, Immoral act.

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