Friday, October 29, 2010

Trying to compare and relate science and religion

Science is great. It's simply observation, prediction, investigation and explanation. Then you do it over and over until you are satisfied. It's one of the few sets of beliefs I know that openly thrives on the fact that it can be wrong. It embraces this as part of its general belief.

For fun lets compare science with religion. It's not a tough comparison as they are a lot alike.

A scientist studies publications of other scientists to learn about how they practiced their beliefs. A religious leader studies similar publications such as scripture or testimony of other religious leaders. They both become well versed in their area of study and great experts. Both science and religion attempt to take what is known by the leaders of the communities and explain the world around them. This is great!

Here is where they differ. The basic belief of science is that you can observe the natural world and attempt to explain why what you observe happens. Then you test your observations to see if your predictions stand up to your tests. If they don't, that's cool. You don't have to question your entire belief system, you simply accept that you were wrong, learn from your mistake and try again.

Now religion on the other hand approaches the world from a completely different perspective. Religion will make a claim based on the testimony of a respected religious leader or what is written in a book. This claim is then fact without being subject to any test, questioning or interpretation by others. This of course assuming we are talking about one religion, I know there are about a million religions who have interpreted the bible (or other religious texts) differently, but let's simply choose one for now - pick your favorite.

Let's say the scientific community sets a belief. Let's use continental drift for instance. If another scientist comes along 40 years later and says "hey, this old belief we had about continents plowing across the ocean doesn't seem to make sense since continents are weaker than the bottom of the ocean." the community will go "hmm.. yes.. maybe you are right, what could they be doing instead? Oh, maybe the continents are shattered into pieces that slide around a ductile layer underneath them and the continents are less dense causing isostasy and this is why they are higher in elevation" Then people are allowed to agree or disagree based on their observations and interpretations of them.

Religion says, "Noah stated that around 5,000 years ago there was a great flood which covered the whole Earth, all animals went extinct except for those Noah saved, so this is true." and then over time people start observing things that don't seem to fit with this such as lack of an index flood deposit covering the Earth and the fact that land animals which Noah would have had absolutely no way of accessing, from the middle-east, still exist such as Kangaroos or Alpacas. Religion then reconsiders their beliefs and states, "Noah stated that around 5,000 years ago there was a great flood which covered the whole Earth, all animals went extinct except for those Noah saved, so this is true and your observations are invalid."

Yet hundreds of millions of people still believe that Noah and his ark contained the sole survivors of a catastrophic flood that wiped the planet clean. Why? Because they have faith in what the top religious figures say.

What is faith? One of my favorite scriptures was written by an ancient North American prophet named Alma. He says that faith isn't knowledge, faith is simply hope. I like that. It's a great and wise statement. He almost seems like he's smarter than most of these religious folk. He's not saying "have faith for it is true" he's saying "have faith because you want it to be true." Well yeah, I want to die and meet God and have him say "Wow Brandon, you really did some good stuff with your life. You became well versed in the knowledge of the world I gave you to study, you treated your fellow man with compassion and you even tried to please me in situations where it was very hard for you." Though I have absolutely no empirical reason to believe this whatsoever. All I have is faith... or hope.

Unfortunately I also faith that Utah State will win the WAC in basketball. I have no empirical reason to think they will, but I sure hope they do. Is my hope of the Aggies winning the WAC the same as my hope that a creator who understands me is waiting for me after my bodies biological functions become unable to sustain what I know as life? Yes, actually it is. Neither faiths are backed by empirical evidence. Both are based on hope and testimony. One has people who make religion their life telling me God created me and is waiting for me in an after-life while the other has people who make sports their life telling me that the Aggies will win the WAC.

One could say that I can observe the past and predict that it is likely Utah State will win their division, but that doesn't mean at all that they will. They COULD finish dead last. Likewise one can come up with all sorts of arguments for me to believe in the LDS church (my personal specific faith) and it's quite possible that it is true, but it's also possible that it is not. A good Mormon is not allowed to believe that it is possible that it is not true. A scientist is completely allowed to reject a well accepted theory if they have reason and data to back it up with.

Is it so hard to see why so many people have become atheist or agnostic over the last few decades? The way we view religion is becoming obsolete.

Why can't religion be more accepting of the observed natural world? Why can't a religion be strong enough to say, "Hey we understand that a catastrophic world-wide flood has absolutely no observable evidence other than a written story, so maybe it was just a parable." or "Yeah, using many different dating techniques we can observe that the earth has been around for far longer than is written in the bible, likely even billions of years."? Religion can't do this because for so long religion has based their legitimacy on the fact that God is omniscient and therefore men of God are omniscient.


God may be omniscient but men of God are nothing but flawed mortals trying to relay his messages in the best way they know how. Guess what, the Pope can be wrong. Your Pasteur or Bishop or Prophet can be wrong. They are imperfect humans, it is in their nature to be wrong. If a religion were to admit that religious texts and interpretations of religious text are subject to fallacy, they would become far more honest and correct, but they would lose followers. Religion doesn't want to lose followers. They want to save (or collect money from - depending on the religion) as many people as they can. Accepting fault is unacceptable in religion. That is too bad. I wish religion was able to simply observe their set beliefs could be wrong and modify them like science can.

God is right, God is always right. It's his job to always be right. Religion is humans trying to imitate and please God. Humans aren't very good at being perfect and we never will be, hell we're not even that good at being right. Science is a set of beliefs that embraces our incompetence as humans and teaches us to learn from it and modify our beliefs to try and get as close to right as we can while knowing that we can never be fully right. This is why I love science. I also love God who I know exists because of the aforementioned faith I have in him. To quote a man far more brilliant than I will ever be,

"Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?... Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?"

Well Professor Hawking, the answer to this question is simple. God :)

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