Re: Fact versus faith (and religion vs. science)
As discussions are more interesting when there is disagreement, I shall respond to some of Steve’s statements.
Necessary caveat: Although it is obviously true that two different people are in fact different, I just wanted to acknowledge that we have both had a multitude of dissimilar experiences which have likely lead to our current stances. Consequently, I am open to reading the key sources that support your viewpoint and which may alter mine. But, such an alteration has yet to occur, so I shall present my current thoughts. What else can one do?
First, let me say I agree that “religion is not as subjective and science is not as objective as many blithely assume or claim.” Your email provided much food for thought to those that get carried away with(in) their systems of thought. As well, I concur that it is not true that “science is all fact and religion all faith.” But, I do disagree with the following statement: “to insinuate or baldly claim that religion is about believing in something that is based on no evidence at all is not only unfair and inaccurate, but a straw man argument.”
Of course, I technically cannot disagree because of the phrase ‘no evidence at all,’ but more realistically, I think that religion is based on such a small amount of evidence that it is practically negligible. The historical accuracy of the Bible is minimal. Some people existed, but it doesn’t make them sons of God. As well, there is very little that exists in the present that the religious can use to verify their views. Science, alternatively, could be done and the major findings scientists believe would likely be replicated. If no replications occur, everything would be re-evaluated. This leads us to the issue of ‘faith’ and what it means. In my experience ‘faith’ means belief in the absence of evidence, and sadly, sometimes illogical belief in the face of evidence. It is true that many scientists believe things not based upon evidence, but as a whole, scientists seek verifiable evidence and are willing to alter their views when confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This is not always true, but such alterations happen far more often than they do with religious people. Science succeeds because the pencil is mightier than the pen.
You wrote that “Science and religion are two ways of knowing about reality,” and I agree with this, but I think their differences overwhelm their similarities. To be honest, I think you may do both Science and Religion a disservice by putting them so conceptually close. They have two different goals: Science provides information; Religion is a prescription for how to act in the world. As for how each one succeeds at its goal… well, that depends on what kind of information one seeks and what kind of world one wants. I for one am happy with the type of information science provides, and as for the world I want, religion could be doing a much better job. (Or perhaps it couldn’t and that is the problem.)
To share my core beliefs, I am for questioning why certain values, policies and ideas exist, using some sort of utilitarianism as my guide. As much as possible, I try to submit my personal preferences to the grand arbiters of rational argument and verifiable evidence. When I observe bad ideas - those without rational argument or evidence - I am unhappy and look for the source. It is usually a lack of critical thinking… but this lack is usually a result of religion. As an enterprise, religion discourages critical thought. For if it did not churches would crumble like dry Eucharist. I’m not just referring to the Inquisition, but to current events that cannot be debated rationally because deference to a book or a person, and not the worth of an idea per se, is seen as a valid point of view.
I wish this was just an academic debate, but people are suffering and dying needlessly.
Why demonstrate genocidal stupidity and deny the use of condoms in Aids-infested
Why be opposed to two consenting adults marrying? (Oh, they just happen to have similar sex chromosomes)
Why not allow research on stem cells – cells that haven’t even differentiated into a specific type – that, in turn, could possibly decrease the pain of others?
Why not allow a human that is still ‘sane’ and in extreme pain to end that pain by ending their own life?
Similarly, the issue of abortion is not a debate about when a fetus might be conscious or feel pain or when it becomes a person, it’s about destroying a soul. (A recent study suggest about 7 months)
(To say nothing of religious beliefs that lead to killing yourself and others for fabulous gifts and prizes in the afterlife.)
I would prefer these issues could be discussions about information (gained scientifically) and ethical arguments based on reason, logic and the evidence, but one just need look around to see that religious beliefs often preclude such a preference.
I am unsure of the validity of your statement that religion is also “self-correcting.” While it is true that very few Christians happily keep Christian slaves anymore, I personally find it a bit too slow to adapt to the human rights I seek. As for the human right of religious people to be religious, that is fine with me as long as it doesn’t trump what I consider to be more important rights. (right to equality, to marry… etc)
Lastly, it appears to be true that religion is not sufficient for morality (compare societal health of the
With all this in mind, why not just have good, rational reasons for doing moral acts? That way, we still have all the ‘goodness’ but it rests upon a foundation of reason and truly tenable arguments using the best evidence available by the best means available.
Sounds good to me,
ps: By no means did I intend to imply that religious people do not care about suffering. It is just that some of their beliefs (and subsequent actions) exacerbate some forms of suffering instead of decreasing them.
pps: In all seriousness, how could one actually study the non-material? Please share if you have an answer. I can only think one could study the material effects… but that isn’t the desire. And if it can’t be studied in any systematic way, then there is almost nothing there.