Science and Belief

As I’ve stated before, I used to think of myself as quite a pragmatic scientist. If I couldn’t touch, hold or measure something, then I was deeply sceptical about its existence. I now feel slightly embarrassed at this arrogance.

There’s a certain class of scientific thinker who is so blinkered about knowledge that they dismiss out of hand anything which hasn’t solidly been proven using the scientific method. In my experience, these people are also quite likely to identify as militant atheists and be fans of Richard Dawkins (a man for whom I hold the utmost respect, but I also believe he’s wrong about certain things).

“Do you really believe that what we currently know [makes a small circle with his hands] is the same thing as all knowledge [makes a large circle using his hands and arms]?”

Russell Brand (I’m paraphrasing)

In my opinion, it’s not particularly scientific to say, “Yeah it’s bollocks” to all spiritual, supernatural and religious questions.

A better and more truly scientific stance would be agnosticism. In other words, we could say, “There isn’t enough evidence either way to prove X is true or not true, therefore I’m going to simply say I don’t know.”

In other words, it’s surprising to me how closed-minded a lot of people are, even if they profess to be scientific thinkers.

Being 100% certain, or closed-minded, is incompatible with the scientific method.

[Bollinger, R. 2019]

A key tenet of real science is that we have to remain open to possibilities which, at face value, may seem preposterous.

This may mean that we intuit, or predict, things which may be wrong. And it can be hurtful to our egos to have to admit we were wrong.

I mean, I get it: being certain feels comforting. But certainty is often not fully aligned with reality.

Don’t be arrogant in your certainty. True science is humble.

Before physicists discovered the experimental evidence for quantum theory, it seemed utterly unscientific and ridiculous. It’s incompatible with well-established (Newton’s/Einstein’s) physics. Even Einstein couldn’t believe that quantum theory could be true. And yet, AND YET, nowadays it’s very much a mainstream pillar of physics, with a strong evidence base to match.

99% of mad ideas may well be crazy and prove to be untrue. But 1% of them might just be absolute genius. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

[Bollinger, R. 2019]

So, don’t be so quick to mock or pour scorn on ideas for which we don’t (yet) have much evidence. They might seem too ridiculous to be true, but the more honest and truly scientific attitude is to simply say, “We don’t (yet) know.

[UPDATE 28/08/2019: I’m not saying we should automatically accept all religious ideas and conspiracy theories as true until disproven. I’m saying we should say “we don’t know” until science can either prove or disprove a particular set of beliefs.]

7 comments

  1. It may be true that there’s a Ferrari dealership on the dark side of the moon, with free cars for every person on Earth, but, unless and until we get there, I still have to drive my shitty rust bucket. I have to deal with my current reality, not pie…. uh, car in the sky.
    I am 100% sure that I do not believe any, faith in, argument for the existence of, description, or definition, of any God (or god) that has ever been presented to me. Atheists constantly ask religious Apologists to provide proof (or at least, convincing arguments), but it hasn’t happened in millennia. 😯 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I totally understand and respect your position, it’s the same one I took for a long time. I think it was Dawkins (maybe Hitchens) who convinced me to think that way.

      But here’s another possibility…

      What if (one of) religion/spirituality’s functions is to help us make hunches/intuitions/educated guesses as to the nature of reality? Sadly, they don’t have the tools to provide proof or convincing logical arguments. But that’s where science comes in. Science can prove or disprove hypotheses put forward by religion/spirituality. Some hypotheses will be next to impossible to verify… yet. With sufficient time, technology advances, and science is able to provide the proof we seek.

      BTW, I believe much of religion is intended to be interpreted as symbolic. Which is why science can easily disprove so many of religion’s assertions… we’re not meant to take it at face value.

      How does that idea sound?

      Like

      • That idea sounds weak and desperate. So far, EVERY one of religions’ wild-ass guesses/intuitions/hunches has proved wrong. I don’t think that any one of them need make any more. If organized logic and science can’t intuit something new, ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is the new growth industry.
        Besides, Religion is the bully on the block. No Flat Earther has ever threatened me with eternal torment in Hell, or even worse, stretched me on a rack, burned me at the stake, or protested at my funeral, because I had the audacity to serve in the military to defend my country, because I thought the Earth was round.
        No Area 51 fanatic has ever put det-cord around my neck and blown my head off, tossed me off a 10-storey building, or put me in a cage and drowned me, because I didn’t believe that the government performed an autopsy on an alien there in 1947.
        I don’t feel that we should give any validation to most religions. It only validates and encourages the worst among them. They, and their desperate, insecure, ego-driven adherents, can be quite retrogressive and dangerous.
        If you can’t take religion at face value, why take it at all? Playing ‘Pretend’ is for children. 🙄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Have you watched Jordan Peterson’s YouTube video series where he attempts to interpret genuinely useful meaning from certain parts of the Bible (e.g. Genesis)?

    Lots of it didn’t make sense to me, but some parts had a glimmer of truth about them. So I’m trying to be open-minded about the possibility of the Bible containing other useful nuggets of truth.

    I agree with you that there are large components of modern religion which are pathological. I’m looking to see if I can sort the wheat from the chaff with religion – pick out the good bits (if there are any!) and discard the rest.

    And so far, I think I’ve seen a few indications that the Bible might just actually tell us some useful stuff about the nature of our reality, in the same way that great stories like The Lion King can.

    I’m trying to be open-minded yet scientifically rigorous and also humble during this process.

    Like

  3. BTW, intuition can come from some very strange places, and yet still benefit science.
    Are you familiar with the history of how Kekule intuited a more accurate model for the structure of the chemical Benzene? He did it from a dream… about monkeys! So, it would seem to me that science/logic are not the only sources of intuition.

    Like

  4. […] But since my Spiritual Awakening on the 13th August, even though the psychosis seems to have passed, I now believe there is some kind of Higher Power. I know to some people (notably atheists), that will sound a bit pathetic and wishy-washy. But I really do believe it. Maybe He is mechanistic and blind, like Fate. Or maybe mankind truly is made in His image and he cares deeply for each of us. I don’t know, but I’m remaining open-minded, like a good scientist. […]

    Like

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