Thursday, August 25, 2005

One of these things is not like the others...

[Mike and I crafted the following in reponse to Robert Paul's (Dalhouise Philosophy Dept.) statement that "Actually, I think it is easy to justify the notion that Science is as much a religion as those other belief systems that we generally classify as such."]

Darren and Mike here with a shared response to Robert's suggestion that Science is indistinguishable from religion at a metaphysical level. We concede that both science and religion share a common first tenet that truth (i.e. some reality) exists. (Actually, to be properly scientific, it might be better labelled a first working hypothesis). Indeed, this is a universal axiom; those that lead an existence in opposition to this hypothesis have a tendency of dying quickly (from malnutrition, hypoxia, etc). However, we feel that the literally vital distinction between science and religion lies in the next step: the means by which knowledge regarding the nature truth is sought.

Science holds evidence as the ultimate arbiter, whereas faith by definition is belief without evidence. (Of course, the definition of "evidence" is going to be a hazy one. Indeed, it is likely that evidence is best expressed as some continuum of degrees: making things up; guessing; single person's anecdotal experience; multiple people's common experience; ... ; measurement via double-blind experimentation; etc.) It might be argued that the religious are indeed basing their belief on some sort of evidence (visceral feelings, anecdotal experiences, etc), but the point is that science seeks validation of beliefs/hypotheses by the most rigorous evidence possible while religion satisfies itself with much weaker evidence.

While science does not hold a monopoly on knowledge acquisition, the knowledge it provides is by definition the most reliable and useful for navigating the world in which we live. Nothing else provides both power and specificity; nothing else gets you to the moon and can tell you how it did it. This of course ties in with Andrew's comments regarding the type of answers science provides, which in turn espouses the Lakatosian philosophy of science that both explanation AND prediction are critical to the validity of theory.

This is all definitely getting off topic for this list, so we'll cut things off here. Note that we do recognize that there are further complexities to this argument, for example the value and emotional communicativity of non-scientific pursuits such as the arts, and the question of how to derive a morality from a scientific perspective. Indeed we haven't achieved full agreement amongst ourselves on these points, but in the interests of preserving the focus of this list we'll leave further discussion to another forum.

Mike Lawrence & Darren McKee


Blogger anonymous said...

i see... heavy shit you got going on.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your faith lies in the belief that science is able to see, understand, and provide evidence for all that is reality.

Why would you look for evidence in this world if you belief is that the divine is other-worldly or can and does defy the laws of physics? Or better yet, that your faith is in something that defines these laws for us, and is therefore able to re-write them as it sees fit.

Darren, I agree with you that religion is illogical, but logic only works in this version of reality. What if we're not in the true reality? What if true reality has a set of physical laws that are completely in opposition to what we know to be "true"?

2:15 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

Dear Anonymous,

In response to your first paragraph, I think you misunderstand something. I previously wrote "While science does not hold a monopoly on knowledge acquisition, the knowledge it provides is by definition the most reliable and useful for navigating the world in which we live" which indicates that it is the best way, but that does not necessarily mean that it will fully succeed. All we can do is approximate.

In response to the second paragraph, one would look for evidence because that is how our whole legal, civil and social structure exists. Legal matters only make sense with evidence. Everyone looks for evidence of a scientific sort whether they say they do or not. Like it was already said, if you don't have enough of a correspondence between your perceptions and reality, then you will die (because you don't eat or think you can fly). You could say that all those dead people are correct, 'for them,' but that is not convincing.

In response to the third paragraph, I don't understand your statement, it doesn't make sense to me. It is implausible that we live in a world where there is nothing like gravity. Even if there was this 'antigravity' it is obvious that on some level there is the manifestation of something like gravity. More importantly, say this isn't the right reality (a nice nonfalsiable statement), what do you do differently?

Lastly, why does one have religious belief. As I've yet to encounter a logical reason, it must be based on feelings. These feelings are the evidence that is used to justify the belief. Of course, deference to feelings can also allow for the consecration of all deep-seated prejudices (to paraphrase Mill).

2:39 PM  

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