Monday, December 7, 2015

The Fallacy of Science-Tology - How Science and Religion Share the Same Problem

Sounds like a real zinger for the science-tologists
doesn't it?  Here's why it's not so much.

A friend posted this little zinger on Facebook that is supposed to show us how stupid and narrow-minded religious persons are.  I would challenge this statement. I think religious people may, in fact, be more broad-minded that folk I like to call "science-tologists" - people for whom science is their religion.

First, I recommend to my friend that he should read a ground-breaking book by Thomas Kuhn called "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." Kuhn's work demonstrates the clearly the fallacy of the belief that science is the linear accumulation of data and steady progress of discovery. This caused him a lot of grief from scientists who have a vested interest in presenting themselves as coldly objective observers of the universe, who are not influenced by emotions or preconceived beliefs.

Kuhn, however, shows that scientific progress is impacted by the preconceived notions of scientists; that scientific paradigms can be as rigid as religions some time.  Scientific knowledge proceeds, not smoothly upward toward truth as the public relations for "science" would have you believe, but rather grows in a herky-jerky stairstep fashion. 

This happens because people (scientists are, after all, people) have the tendency to establish a set of beliefs they live by and to resist changing those beliefs; often with considerable energy. Scientific paradigms are usually developed by individual scientists, while they are earning their PhD's. Once one of these guys establishes a paradigm or set of beliefs about their field of study, they tend to stick to that belief set and to defend it throughout their careers. Change happens because scientists test their theories and accumulate data. Finally, one day, in what seems an almost overnight shift in the standard belief paradigm, scientists change their belief systems - often quite dramatically.

After years and years of data which conflicts with the old paradigm accumulates and is rejected by the scientific establishment, suddenly some lucky person, usually a younger person, puts together all the conflicting evidence and demonstrates that the old theory is inadequate, if not totally wrong. When everyone can clearly see that, for instance, disease does not happen because a person has too much bad blood and we need to let it out to give the patient relief.  Once the evidence is overwhelming, then and only then does the "accepted" paradigm shift to a new accepted paradigm. Usually that only happens after a brief and bloody battle between the old school and the young bucks in the field.

This happened in physics during Newton's time when the old Aristotlean theories about physics fell to Newton's Laws of Motion. It happened in planetary science after the Earth-centric model of the universe fell to the helio-centric model after Copernicus, Galileo and other astronomers collective observations of planetary movements through telescopes and mathematical calculation demonstrated clearly that the sun did not circle the earth after all. This remained the model for some time without change until further observations revealed that even the sun wasn't the center of the universe, but circled around a galactic core. 

And so it proceeded with each generation clinging to its models of science. Biologists' disease theories were shaken by Van Leewenhoek and his microscope, causing a huge kerfuffle which resulted in germ theory and an enormous paradigm shift in biology and medicine.

Einstein finally capped off the evidence that Newtonian physics did not account for everything physicists had observed. They young patent clerk put it all together and presented his ground-breaking work which resulted in a seismic shift in physics from a Newtonian universe to a relativistic one. Since then we've gone on to quantum theory, then jumped to chaos theory and now there's an uncomfortable debate being caused by new evidence that may indicate that there is some sort of intelligent design going on.

The point is that each batch of scientists thinks they know it all and clings to and defends their knowledge base until the whole thing falls in a heap before an accumulation of new evidence to the contrary. Some scientists are never able to make the transition and retire when it gets to upsetting to go on.

Christianity is also a progressive science with each new generation adding to our knowledge base about God. What started out as an informal simple shepherd's religion, became Judaism, a highly structured religion that was a radical departure from animastic and polytheistic worship systems. Judaism finally gave rise to Christianity which morphed into Catholicism, Protestantism and bred hundreds of new Christian denominations - all claiming to be searching for a more clear knowledge and understanding of God.

Like scientists, Christians (especially Christian theologians) seek to deepen their understanding of God. The do this through study of Scripture to be sure, but also through the study of the ancient languages in which the Scriptures were written and the history of the church. In addition, theologians and practicing Christians study science, world history, mathematics, medicine, biology, and pretty much every other field of study you can imagine, looking to achieve a greater understanding of God.

No Christian who is at all honest with him or herself will claim to know it all and never do we claim we already know it all. Scripture tells us much, but also leaves much to discover for ourselves by our own experiments. We learn as much about God and our place in His creation as is possible in our short lifetimes. It is a never-ending study. Most of us spend a half hour to an hour studying every morning to learn more and we attend weekly meetings which last for hours in which we study and discuss what we believe.

It's safe to say that most people who believe in "science" instead of religion probably don't do that. The fact is that the major difference between those whose religion is science and those who believe in God is that Christians do not rule out the existence of God simply because scientists haven't found evidence of Him to their satisfaction. Most science-based religionists (the science-tologists) absolutely do rule out the existence of God before they ever get started on any theory. This seems to me to violate one of the tenets of science, which is not to rule out anything simply because you can't see it, hear it, smell it, feel it or taste it yet.

Does it seem at all logical to you that the greatest intellect in the universe, a pan-dimensional being who exists outside the confines of time and space, would present himself to any random science guy in order to prove His existence to their satisfaction?  It would be like biologists ruling out the existence of germs simply because the germs did not consent to make them big enough to see with the instruments available to scientists at the time and place in which they lived. Scientists, you know those guys that are purely objective once did reject the idea of living creatures too small to see as the source of disease. Heck, doctors didn't even watch their hands before performing surgery until relatively recently, despite evidence that some invisible something was being passed around among their patients that they couldn't see. 

Astronomers ruled out the idea that the Earth moves in space simple because Aristotle said it didn't and he was the guy that wrote the books they all studied to get their doctorates.  Even the pagan astronomers who didn't believe in the Christian God couldn't imagine such a thing as the Earth going round the sun. They came up with all kinds of elaborate models to explain why the planets appeared to move as they did.

So the premise that science is superior to mere religion because it is more honest and objective, doesn't really hold up. While some Christians are quite rigid and dismissive in their belief systems, they aren't alone in being so. Scientists can be just as obtuse when it comes to things outside their belief systems. There are honest scientists and honest Christians who are willing to consider the evidence and advance in their fields of knowledge in a more incremental fashion. Unfortunately, there are just as many, if not more, who, as my grandmother described it, "They're old and set in their beliefs."

As science has become more willing to consider the evidence, science and technology have grown exponentially. As religion has learned more about the object of its worship, society has made huge strides toward improving the lot of man. We've gone from a society that martyrs heretics and burns witches to one that mobilizes vast resources to relieve suffering, feed the hungry, heal the sick and provide for those in need. Who says religious people can't learn anything. A hundred and fifty years ago, some ignorant Christians convinced themselves that committing genocide against Native Americans was somehow God's will.  And I had ancestors on both sides of that deal.

Thankfully, knowledge is progressive and we've all learned something over the centuries in spite of ourselves. We've gone from "Might is Right" to "Might for Right", for the most part, because of the influence of Christianity. It took us a thousand years, but that only proves how stubbornly we all cling to our beliefs, even the ones that are inconsistent with what we say we believe. That includes scientists, politicians and soldiers too; not just churchgoers.

Suppose we stop sniping at each other and see what we can learn from each other. Believe it or not we can, if we just give ourselves permission to do so.

© 2015 by Tom King

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