Consider the musings of this blogger at Yawning Bread.
“This then raises a question: do we, like them, believe what we believe merely out of familiarity? Do we put faith in scientific rationalism simply because it is something we’ve grown up with, not because it is in any way more objectively correct?
Consider this: how many of us are able to explain exactly how Tamiflu works, or what are the theories of vulcanology relevant to the Merapi situation? We merely trust. We trust because we’ve been schooled in scientific rationalism. We’ve gone through chemistry classes in which we had to titrate some chemical solutions, and at some calculable point, the liquid changes colour. We’ve learnt to determine how much load a given mechanical set-up can bear, and how the mathematics of probability can anticipate queue behaviour at supermarket check-out counters.
With this initiation into scientific rationalism, we learn to trust of rest of it. More importantly, all through life, we see repeated demonstrations of it. Airbuses take flight despite weighing tons, mobile phones bring distant voices to our ears and antibiotics make us feel much, much better. We trust scientific rationalism because we’ve been schooled in it and they are familiar to us in our world.
How different is this from people who have grown up in other cultures? Isn’t how they believe similar to how we believe — which is, to trust the familiar? Should we adopt a perspective of cultural relativism instead of the arrogant belief that our way of thought is objectively correct?”
Although this is thought provoking, it’s not congruent with my point of view. The suggestion that, in order to eliminate “faith”, each person must fully understand every scientific discovery and process in existence simply isn’t plausible. The fact that scientists each have their area of expertise advances, not retards, scientific progress. To be good at everything is to not be great at anything.
I don’t have to understand how Tamiflu works to know that my values are more in line with science than religion. It’s the method I identify with, not just the discoveries.
The method of religion is to start with the answer (God did it) and then rationalize why that is true. The method of science is to start out assuming nothing and wanting to know as much as possible.
The method of religion is to be defensive when your current beliefs are challenged. The method of science is to investigate all challenges and claims, rewarding those who shed light on the folly of our long held beliefs (because that is progressÂ – we’ve gotten closer to the truthÂ – that’s good, not bad!).
The method of religion is to discourage critical thinking (ex. “Don’t be a Doubting Thomas“, “Have faith“, and “Trust in the lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not“). The method of science is to question everything, because any hypothesis that is worthwhile will stand up to challenge.
The method of religion is to revere the Word of someone (ex. God) as inerrant, so that when discoveries are made that threaten that Word, their whole belief system is threatened. The method of science is that NO ONE’s theory is sacred because we are engaged in an honest search for truth. Criticism and debate can only bring us closer to truth.
Moreover, science by its very definition is diametrically opposed to faith. By all means, humans are flawed, and surely there are scientists who attach ego to their own ideas and keep trying to prove the false. But that’s where science corrects itself because, in order for a theory to be respected within the scientific community, it must survive rigorous peer review from other scientists that have no ego investment in the idea. This eliminates the possibility of believing in something despite the absence of evidence, the definition of faith.
So no, I may not understand every scientific discovery and process in existence, but what I do understand is that the method and intellectual honesty of science is designed to promote a sincere search for truth. So, as a truth seeker, I choose science.