So, I’ve been thinking about the nature of “truth” recently, and that led to me thinking about the scientific method, and how it enables to learn more about what the truth is. And that got me thinking about what science is in a more general sense. This led me to the conclusion that for most people modern science has more in common with religion than the scientific method. Now I’m aware that some would argue the scientific method means that science isn’t a religion, but actually that just makes it a bad religion. Now science as a religion isn’t an original idea, but I’m going to go through my thinking on this anyway.
First of all before we can comment on the religion of science we need to say how science is a religion. So the features of religion that science has for most of us, science is a shared explanation of “the truth”, this explanation is handed out by a select few, the majority do not understand much of this explanation and instead need those select few to tell them what it means. So to compare that to the Roman Catholic Church, our current scientific understanding is like the Church’s Doctrine, scientists are the Clergy, and the rest of us rely on the scientists to tell us what science actually means.
Now following scientific method allows anyone, if done properly, to advance our scientific understanding, and many would argue this is why science is not a religion, because scientists cannot prevent any ordinary person from redefining our scientific “Doctrine”. So what is scientific method? First we need a hypothesis (eg: the world is flat), then we need to make a prediction based on that hypothesis (eg: the distance to the horizon is unaffected by altitude), then we must come up with a test of our prediction (eg: look at the horizon at the base of a mountain, and compare it to the horizon when viewed from the top of the mountain), and then see how our results compare to our prediction (spoiler: the horizon is further away when viewed from the top of a mountain), and finally revise our hypothesis (conclusion: the earth isn’t flat). So why doesn’t this mean science isn’t a religion? Well for a start our example didn’t further the current state of scientific understanding. And that is the crux of the issue. Most of us couldn’t come up with a workable hypothesis that extends our understanding of the world, the extremes of our understanding require years of specialist teaching at university and beyond to even approach it, extending that is beyond the common person (myself included). So the common person must rely on scientists to tell us how the world works.
So if science is a religion, why does the scientific method make it a bad religion? Well for a start by being a bad religion I don’t mean it is a tool of evil, rather I mean it is not very effective at teaching the common person “the truth” and preventing contradictory views from taking over. That is to say science as a religion is prone to people converting to other religions more than the mainstream religions. In it’s favour science gives us things that other religions could never do, through technological advancement that is only made possible through science we have computers, international travel, and near instant global communications, along with numerous other marvels. But “the Doctrine” of this religion is not absolute, the scientists know it, and acknowledge it. So if it is not absolute it is open to question? Well not really, not for most of us, but in a very real sense it is left open to that questioning, valid or otherwise. Under Catholicism Doctrine is absolute, and questioning it is sinful, the questions the common person has about Doctrine is presented as temptation from evil forces by the Clergy. Now that Doctrine does change, and history has many examples of where it has changed, but only ever at the hands of the Clergy, and only the Clergy have the authority to raise questions about it, and only within the Clergy. And this difference is significant, when someone states “the Earth is flat” scientists will explain why it is not, opening up a debate, when someone states “God does not exist” the Clergy will state that person is wrong, and their statement is sinful, shutting down any possible debate. And yet the first statement is absolutely, provably, wrong, the second statement is unknowable (personally I believe it to be true, but that is not the point of this blog post). And because science opens itself up to debate in this way, for those who cannot fathom it, it becomes unsure, an insecure basis for faith, where Christianity holds a firm base for faith (even if it’s “facts” cannot be proven).
Now normally I’d keep this sort of thing to myself, after all it’s not an original thought as such, and it doesn’t really help anyone, but recently someone I respect made a statement I used to agree with about organised religion, and this thought process is a good place to start discussing why I no longer agree with them. But that’s a much longer debate, and this post is already quite long and rambles a fair bit.