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Science is not an alternative religion

By Edited Jun 8, 2016 0 0

You don’t need to have faith in science you simply need to use the tools that science provides to gather and understand the evidence and make up your own mind.

The debates on climate change and evolution seem to have caused some defenders of science to start talking about it as if it was another religion that is under threat from followers of some more primitive forms of worship.  Does this not risk starting a war that no one can actually win?

Science is about searching for truth and the scientific method is a set of procedures intended largely to reduce errors caused by our own human tendency to delude ourselves.  It is no more (or less) than this and is far from perfect. It has however proven to be a useful tool in extending our knowledge of the universe and in creating some remarkable technologies that should greatly improve our chances of survival as a species.

Is the truth that is found always the “real truth?”

No absolutely not but that is ok because science is the tool we use to question accepted truths and to overthrow them, if the evidence can be found. 

Is a scientific consensus the be all and end all?

No it is perfectly possible for the majority to be wrong and the minority to be correct. It is just that, in most circumstances, the odds are in favour of the consensus being correct. This is based on the assumption that the majority of those holding the consensus came to their position by following the scientific method and have therefore based their opinion on a logical, unbiased appraisal of the available evidence.  The consensus then serves to iron out any individual mistakes or oversights that might have been made.

Is it possible that the consensus is in fact the symptom of a shared delusion amongst the scientific community or worse the result of some conspiracy to hide the truth?  Yes it is possible but, attempting to apply the scientific method introspectively, there doesn’t seem to be very much evidence to support either conclusion.

There is a lot of talk of science having to sell itself to the public in order to counter the adverse publicity it now regularly receives but surely it is not the job of scientists to sell anything merely to share their findings. 

Yes some evidence is difficult to interpret without the requisite scientific background and we can often here the phrase “trust me I am a scientist” somehow hinted in the tone of an attempt at explanation.  Surely the right thing to do is educate as many people as possible so that they are in a position to understand the evidence for themselves rather than dumb everything down to the assumed level of the general populous.  Arrogance is another human frailty shared by many scientists.

The other question is what is it that is being sold when we talk about selling science to the public.  Science is not a doctrine, it is not a product or arguably even a philosophy and it is certainly not the final unquestionable truth. 

Even the scientific method itself should be constantly under scrutiny, there may be a better methods out there and science should (and hopefully does) keep looking for ways to improve it.

So what should be sold? Science is in essence the act of asking questions and finding ways to answer those questions that are independent of the limitations of the human psyche. Science should be helping people to ask questions and to understand the answers they receive or, better still, work out for themselves.

There are those that require certainty in some areas of their lives so that they can concentrate their energies on other things that are important to them and there is no fault in that. Many such people have done great good in the world. The truly enlightened will respect the needs of the intolerably inquisitive and we should try to respect their needs. 

To those that see science as a threat to their beliefs I would say that if you truly have faith then you do not need to corrupt the scientific method to provide proof of your position. Your faith alone is enough.  After all science has plenty to contend with trying to overcome the human tendencies of egotism, ambition, illogical thinking, greed, self delusion and capitulation to peer pressure. (The list goes on of course.)

Science and religion have managed to co exist relatively harmoniously during the recent past and it would be a great shame if that harmony were now to be shattered by a few fundamentalists from one side or the other.  Science is not a religion it is not even the opposite of religion. It is something completely different. 

The only real threat to science comes if we are prevented from asking the questions. The right to question is a right we should all be willing to fight for. Science should never put itself in the position of being trusted or, worse still, of asking people to have faith in it.  Science progresses because everything is open to question and nothing is taken on faith.

To those that do have faith if your concern is that others cannot see the truth then worry not for if the truth is as you belief they will get there in the end, albeit via a more torturous path than you.  

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