Today my friend Peter and I had a debate, over a couple of beers. Peter reckoned that Science was a religion, the new religion that everyone trusts in. I might add that Peter wouldn’t easily admit to being religious, nor was he particularly happy about Science being a religion. As a Christian and a trained scientist I argued that Science was far from being a religion, it was just a method of looking at the universe and it can only determine the truth about a subset of reality.
Peter’s argument was that everyone believed in Science and they appeared to trust and believe scientists. Scientists appear to be very confident that they know the whole truth and tend to be quite assertive and arrogant, often recommending strategies that are against the interests of society. Drawing from an area of common interest, he cited examples where scientists support cures and sometimes quite unhealthy practices in order to promote and support the claims of big business. He also quoted an example where a new energy saving device has been ignored and not marketed, because scientific knowledge is being suppressed by entrenched competitors who are actively hindering the promotion of the system.
In my contrary view, this particular system is being promoted by an enthusiastic inventor who is not prepared to allow his system to be properly tested scientifically. Further, if there were any merit in the system no one would be able to stop its development.
I further argued that if a new scientific discovery really works (or even might work) there would be no problem in getting the scientific community to support the discovery. The only time scientists suppress the truth of a discovery is when they feel the release is premature or the idea might be stolen. Under these circumstances they struggle to keep their secret and generally cannot withhold the information for longer than a few months. If an invention is not exploited for commercial reasons, this has nothing to do with science. The greatest prizes in science go to those who reveal the greatest discoveries; to suppose that scientists suppress the truth for a financial or political agenda is to misunderstand the nature of science. If this happened then the rest of the scientific community would shun those responsible.
Now let us return to the religious aspects. Science describes verifiable objects. Thus science is said to be objective. The methods of science cannot describe in a verifiable way, matters of faith or feeling, these matters are subjective. Scientists may do surveys about what people claim to feel, or believe, and report their results statistically. Following such surveys the researcher can then look about for objective, or subjective, items that may correspond (correlate) to their survey. They can then conclude that this goes with that etc. but they cannot conclude that this must cause that. This same argument could be applied to objective matters; however, experience tells us that we can confidently trust these conclusions. In the case of many subjective questions we cannot confidently trust the apparently scientific decisions. To use an example from the field of health, we can suppose that an antidepressant drug will help a depressed person. Unfortunately we have no scientific definition of depression and no proof that a particular antidepressant will work; we are simply relying on the fact that this drug appears to have helped people in similar circumstances in the past. The doctor prescribing the drug cannot scientifically guarantee that the prescription will work. Most patients consult a doctor, trusting desperately that the doctor will be able to help them by using scientifically proven cures that offer good outcomes. Few, if any, medical doctors would claim to be wholly or absolutely scientific in this manner. Health depends on how well individuals look after themselves and even then, good health care does not guarantee good physical health. This is true no matter how you define ‘good health care’ or ‘good physical health’. It is the public, who want to believe in science as a magic panacea and believe that it will always help them and solve their problems. This can be very embarrassing to scientists and I have frequently found this to be so.
In particular, in my days attending churches, I found that religious persons want to give a scientific certainty to their religious beliefs. In my view this is a grotesque attitude. Deep religious truths are simply beyond the reach of scientific method; they cannot be proved or disproved. I value my religious faith too much to suppose that it can somehow be enhanced by a few observations of objective reality. My faith is the wellspring of my existence; it determines the way I look at the world. By contrast, scientific method is a practical and useful tool but no practical observations are likely to challenge my faith. It could be that I might encounter an experience, or perhaps make an observation, that challenges or changes my faith; but this experience or observation will be emotional not scientific.Return to the religious issues index here.