Sep 30 2009
(Recycled material – first posted on 9/4/2008)
One of my favorite Einstein quotes goes like this: Science is the refinement of everyday thinking. When we think more scientifically, we typically do one or all of these four things: 1. use more data, 2. use higher quality data, 3. be more precise in our use of language, and 4. be careful to avoid logical errors (for more on this topic, see my page, Elements of Science.)
Some scientists and educated others insist on applying more refined thinking without exception. I proudly consider myself one of them. We refuse to cordon off a topic as sacred and thus off-limits, or as belonging to its own special realm. We do not recognize a non-overlapping magisteria, a la Stephen Jay Gould.
The supposed invisible line that separates science from religion, keeping them safely at arm’s length and helping to maintain the illusion that both are valid means of “knowing,” is a bogus line. Religion makes claims of knowledge (the world was created in 7 days, eating pork is an abomination), as does science. But what truly distinguishes the two is what type of information is considered valid and reliable.
For religion, ancient texts and ”faith” and “spiritual experiences,” (euphemisms for more mundane mental phenomena, no doubt) provide a keyhole to another realm. For informed scientists, these types of information are highly suspect. Change a person’s social environment (their culture) and/or change the activity of their brain via drugs and/or magnetic fields, etc., and . . . presto, different experiences and conclusions.
Those who defend the bogus line separating science and religion have accused the opposition of being blinded by not Mormonism nor Buddhism nor Judaism, but “Scientism.” As if science were equivalently viewed by its practitioners as sacred and inerrant.
Ironically, and as a point-blank blow to the balls of the apologist argument, scientists, and truly critical thinkers alike, spend most of their mental energies analyzing and “attacking” . . . science. Scientists are always attempting to dismantling their own fields and methods to build better versions. That is why you may have heard the expression, “science is self-correcting.” It is a truly democratic/liberal process, supported by an ever-changing mass of minds busily refining the tools and conclusions of their trade.
Can they same be said for religion?