2009. december 29., kedd

Science vs. Religion, Knowledge vs. Conviction

Frequently (perhaps more often than not), debates on this MB seem to take the form of Religion vs. Science. I say "seem to" because that's not really what's going on. What is really happening is that the debates are about Religious Conviction vs. Scientific Knowledge. There is an important difference, and that difference matters most to the Science side.

Science is not the same as Knowledge. Science is a process; Knowledge is the result. This is a distinction that seems to get lost in the argument, and I think this is due to attitudes on both sides. The Religionists don't understand the difference; the Skeptics understand it all too well, to the point where they fail to realize that others do not understand it.

The distinction also exists on the other side. Religion is the counterpart to Science, and Conviction is the counterpart to Knowledge. Once again, there is often confusion between the process and the result. And again, I think that for the most part, the Religionists fail to understand this. The symmetry doesn't quite hold here, though, because in this case the Skeptics will also often fail to understand it.

For a moment, forget about the body of knowledge which has resulted through science, and the convictions of faith brought about by religion, and consider only the processes. I think it can be broken down most succinctly as follows:

SCIENCE is the process whereby we acquire knowledge through examination of evidence.

RELIGION is the process whereby we acquire conviction through belief in revelation.

The Scientist (Skeptic) believes that truth is revealed by observing the world around us, both through controlled experiments and direct "field" observations. Where the Skeptic sees a contradiction between a hypothesis and an observation, his/her position is that there is a flaw somewhere in the hypothesis - or possibly a flaw in the method of observation. Ultimately, an idea which is repeatedly contradicted by observed evidence is modified or dismissed entirely, and new ideas must be invented and similarly tested.

The Religionist believes that the truth is revealed by some being (God), which provides that truth directly. Where a Religionist sees a contradiction between that revealed truth and an observation, his/her position is that there is a flaw in the observation itself, or possibly in the interpretation of the Revealed Truth. Ultimately, even an idea which is repeatedly contradicted by observed evidence is still held as true; it is the evidence which is dismissed. New ideas come only from the same source as the orginal ideas: revelation from God.

When it's put this way, it is easy to see that the Skeptic and the Religionist will never, ever come to terms. The Skeptic spouts the facts while the Religionist thumps the Bible. One is looking for proof, the other is looking for faith. They are approaching not only from opposing viewpoints, but with opposing methods. There is no amount of proof that will satisfy the religionist; there is no amount of faith that will satisfy the skeptic.

A good example of a frequent clash between Skeptics and Religionists is the debate over Creation vs. Evolution (sometimes the Religionists will use the term "Intelligent Design", but it's just Creationism in a different hat.) More often than not, the debate will end up bickering over details of how one species can turn into another, arguing over things like "Macro" and "Micro" evolution, re-visiting time and time again the question of how life came into being in the first place, and so on. The Religionist will seem to meet the Skeptics on Scientific terms, demanding evidence for this and that, which is usually easily provided - but it's never enough. It never CAN be enough, because the Religionist is not interested in evidence. Having heard it all, they will generally finish with something like, "Your faith in evolution is no different than my faith in religion."

I don't think they're lying when they say it; they actually mean it. They really don't understand the huge difference between the process of Science and the resulting Knowledge. The reason why it is important for the Skeptic to understand that difference is that it's the ultimate trump card in any argument against a Religionist.

Yes, we Skeptics do have a strong belief in Science, as a process. And I would defy any Religionist to explain why we should not. I find no fault in the reasoning that the scientific process of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, analysis, conclusion, and repetition is a perfectly valid way to gain real knowledge. The knowledge itself is always up for revision; that's what the "repetition" part is all about. Belief in the process demands a certain degree of faith - but not much, all things considered. The Scientific Method has withstood the test of time and produced undeniable results. I've seen claims that the Bible contains about six hundred prophecies - most of which are utterly vague, demonstrably false, or likely to have been adjusted after the fact. Science, on the other hand, has produced literally MILLIONS of far more definitive prophecies which have come to pass. I can think of no field of human endeavor where Science has not utterly trounced Religion when it comes to producing real, tangible results - and if a Religionist cares to deny this, I would invite them to pray over a lit stick of dynamite and see if they can stop it from exploding through faith alone.

The Religionist fails to to understand the nature of Science as a process. They really do think that Skeptics believe in Evolution because we have faith in it, not because we have evidence to support it. Most importantly, they don't realize that the process of Science demands that if more evidence is found that flatly contradicts the theory of Evolution, we would cheerfully throw it out! Furthermore, if they could produce evidence which supported their relgious beliefs, we would be compelled to consider the possible truth of those beliefs.

But Religionists don't understand what Evidence is. When asked for Evidence, they instead produce their Revelation - usually the Bible or another religious book. They honestly do not understand that these books do NOT constitute evidence!

Again, taking Evolution as an example: Darwin's "Origin of Species" is a book which describes evidence in support of Evolution. The book itself, though is NOT the evidence. The book only describes the evidence, how to find it and what it means.

Religionists would like to think that this also applies to the Bible, but there is an important difference: Scientific theories can be put to the test. Indeed, they MUST be put to the test. No skeptic would ever say "Evolution is true because Darwin's Origin of Species tells us so." A Skeptic will say, "Evolution is true because the theory is in agreement with the observable facts." Notice that Darwin doesn't even enter into it!

On the other hand, the Religionist will say, "Creationism is true, because the Bible tells us so." Or, more often, "Creationism is true, because Evolution is contradicted by the Bible." The second version is particularly peculiar because it has nothing to say in support of Creationism; it's just assumed to be true when the Scientific answer fails. The Religionist doesn't NEED to say anthing in support of Creationism. He doesn't NEED evidence; only faith. Furthermore, he doesn't WANT evidence. A Skeptic's effort are essentially wasted if all he can do is show evidence, because the Religionist won't care. The only way in which we Skeptics can convince a Religionist is to offer revelation which supports our position, which of course we cannot do, any more than they can offer evidence to support their position. In both cases, it just doesn't exist.

And in the end, we will win. The Skeptics will win because we can come to agreement amongst ourselves, while the Religionists cannot. We can be convinced, through demonstration of evidence, to change our minds - and this is our strength, because Evolution favors those who can adapt and change. The Religionists will resist changing their minds, even to the point where their ideas are demonstrably ludicrous. They cannot even agree among themselves. Faith vs. Evidence is an endless debate only so long as the Skeptics intend to keep it going; eventually, we realize that they have no evidence to offer, and we move on. The debate of Faith vs. Faith, however, is truly endless.

The Religionists say that the Meek shall inherit the Earth - astoundingly, they're usually referring to themselves as "the Meek". Even more astoundingly, they're probably right. They probably WILL inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the Stars.

- Xenolan -

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