Science doesn’t know anything!
I got into an argument last week, which I’m going to split into two posts. This is the first and will cover the intellectual aspects of the argument. The second post will cover the emotional side.
“Science doesn’t know anything!”, not my words, these are the words of a Christian. Obviously he doesn’t know anything about what science is and how it works.
First off, let us try to put ourselves in the shoes of this Christian. Why would he think that science knows nothing? Let’s compare the scientific method to finding truth and the religious method of finding truth.
The scientific method: A guy comes up with an idea to explain how something works. He can support his idea with evidence/observation. Other people have been able to replicate his experiments with the same outcomes. If someone else comes up with another idea, which explains how that same thing works, but explains it better, then the old theory is replaced by this new theory. Science always keeps the door open for new, better theories than the ones currently being used. No matter how supported a theory is, there is always the possibility that a better theory will be found in the future. The current theory is held as truth, with the understanding that some new evidence or observation may change our opinions. Just because our minds are open to change doesn’t mean we disregard everything we know for ignorance.
The religious method: If it’s written in their holy book or decreed by their holy men, it is “fact”. That’s what the religious want, facts. They want to be told that this is true beyond any doubt. It has always been true, and it will continue to always be true, forever and ever, amen.
The religious start with a presupposition, that their holy book is true, and the decrees of their holy men are fact, because they are inspired by the holy spirit or some other supernatural thing. After that, they are prepared to twist themselves into all sorts of shapes to make it fit.
When science and religion collide: Most people would claim that there is no conflict between their religious beliefs and science. The term for this is NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria). This is what I was told last week. I was arguing with two Christians. One told me that her beliefs didn’t clash with science at all. Of course, with her very next breath she was telling me that evolution isn’t science (I’ll get into evolution in another post).
NOMA is a myth. The religious books and holy men have made lots of claims, from claiming that the earth is the centre of all things, to prayers being answered. Of course, these are claims that involve the material world and science can apply its methods to them. According to science, both of these claims are false. With time, and a lot of kicking and screaming, the religious finally gave in and accepted the scientific observations with regard to the first claim. The second claim I mentioned, prayers being answered, is still being debated. Just imagine how the religious would respond if the study proved positive, that prayer did work. They are quick to embrace any scientific study that supports their beliefs, and quick to criticise any study that doesn’t support their beliefs.
Religion is not open to new possibilities. It is stuck in the past when mankind knew less about everything. The religious hold that the strength of their belief is of value, even when it’s in opposition to observations in this world. This is their greatest weakness. Their minds are closed. They can’t admit that they might be wrong.
Science is open to new ideas and change. Religious people point to this as if it’s a fault, but it is sciences greatest strength. Science is open-minded. It’s even open-minded towards your god, it just turns out that he is most likely not there.
Templeton Prayer Study: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html
Update: Second post is up.