Sunday, November 13, 2011

Compairing faith in science to faith in religion

Some people argue that scientists have faith in science and that this is no different than faith in religion. Individuals, the argument goes, decide apriori what they accept and thus a scientist's claim to the truth is equivalent to the claims of a member of the clergy.

Psychologist Jonathan C. Smith addresses this argument in the January/February 2011 issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Here, I expand on Smith's argument, as follows.

Faith is characterized by the method used to vet beliefs. A scientist's "belief" in science is based on his or her confidence in the scientific method as a way to eliminate false hypotheses using objective evidence. On the other hand, no matter the religion of the observer -- be it a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or Hindu -- a religious person accepts subjective experiences and feelings as legitimate elements in the process for arriving at the truth. If the truth so derived contradicts science, the religious person argues it unfair for the scientist to claim superiority since each method is accepted on the basis of the beholder's "opinion;" and, all opinions are equally valid. However, the argument cannot stop there.

The believer in the scientific method, by virtue of his or her belief, is compelled to accept all that has been learned through the scientific method. Similarly, a person who accepts religion through subjective experience is obligated to accept all that follows from the process of subjective reasoning, and thus to accept all religions, cults, etc. as legitimate. Those who claim other religions to be false are impugning the very method that is claimed to be legitimate.

Science leads to a single truth. Religions, on the other hand, often contradict scientific truths as well as each other. This is perhaps the origin of the notion that there can be many truths. Diverse beliefs can harmoniously coexist only when individuals of contradictory views don't impose their beliefs on each other.

In conclusion, truths derived from science and religion are not equivalent because the scientific method leads to consensus while religion leads to contradictions that lead to disagreement and conflict. In the final analysis, religious individuals who do not accept all other religions with equal respect are hypocrites by virtue of the fact they place their own opinions above all others who have arrived at their truth in the same way. The objectivity of science is immune to hypocrisy because it minimizes subjectivity. When science seems to fail us, it can always be traced to a dose of subjectivity on the part of the researcher.

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