Is Science just another religion?

October 10, 2008 at 10:58 pm 49 comments

When discussing religion with believers, I often encounter the accusation that science is just another religion, complete with dogma, blind faith, etc. This is a misguided idea. Science is set apart from religion in that it is verifiable by everyday experience. It is also fluid in the sense that scientific facts are falsifiable and theories are subject to change according to the most current observations. Religion, on the other hand is static and considered infallible. Believers are expected to have faith not just in the absence of supporting evidence, but also when the evidence blatantly contradicts the religious tenets.

Someone who considers the validity of any scientific principle has the benefit of being able to verify the claim to their satisfaction. Anyone can retrace the logical steps of any successful theory or repeat any successful experiment and see the results for themselves, but this is not always practical. Because scientific theories and experiments have the tendency to be too complicated and labor intensive for the average person to experience for themselves, many people do take scientific principles on faith alone.

But what is the nature of that faith? I have faith that if I jump off of the side of the cliff, I will fall down and probably be killed. This faith is not blind, it is established from prior evidence—my daily experience with gravity, that one time I through a rock off of a cliff and watched it bounce violently down, and stories I have heard of tragedies involving bodies and cliffs. I haven’t personally experienced falling off of a cliff, so I do have to have faith regarding the end result, but it isn’t a great degree of faith. It would take a lot more faith to believe that when I jumped off of the cliff I would be miraculously unharmed, that there would be some sort of divine intervention, like a host of angles sent to protect me.

Similarly a person unfamiliar with physics and math would have to take it on faith that the Theory of General Relativity explains that gravity is the result of a curve in space-time. There is a compromise to be made here. Even though it is counter intuitive and confusing, anyone can open a book or two and learn about the theory along with its proofs. They can learn that many physicists and mathematicians have repeated and confirmed Einstein’s calculations. They can also learn that the effects of General Relativity can be viewed during a solar eclipse when a straight beam of light coming from a distant star appears to curve as space itself curves due to the mass of the sun. They can learn that the theory even has practical implications, for example the fact that we have to account for the principles of General Relativity when coordinating signals to and from satellites in space. Suddenly something that was taken on faith alone, that was considered abstract and beyond comprehension, becomes something understandable and something that makes sense logically.

I personally find this second-hand evidence sufficient proof for General Relativity because it follows a logical progression. I am satisfied with the observations of others because of the structure and nature of the scientific process. In order for a theory to be accepted as the scientific consensus it must pass the rigors of peer-review. This means that I can be assured that something like General Relativity isn’t just accepted by a few scientists, but by the vast majority of the scientific world. Virtually everyone who is able to understand Einstein’s calculations agrees with them. But I don’t have to be satisfied with the observations of others. I could get a PhD in physics and learn how to do the calculations myself.

When someone goes around touting their belief in Relativity, Big Bang Cosmology, or the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection without fully grasping the evidence for these phenomena, they are taking a leap of faith and are indeed no better off then their religious counterparts. The difference between religion and science is that, where science is concerned, nothing has to or should be taken on faith.

- orDover

Co-written by cross-posted at Sequitur.

Entry filed under: orDover. Tags: , , .

Don’t you worry… ‘bout a thing Book Feature: Christian No More by Jeff Mark

49 Comments Add your own

  • 1. scaryreasoner  |  October 10, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    I remember fondly having the mathematical proof and explanation for E equals M C squared being explained to me in a college physics course. It wasn’t so much explained, as we were led by hints to discover it for ourselves by mapping the though experiments to equations and playing around algebraically with the equations. That was a long time ago, so I don’t know that I could do it again without referring to books for at least the hints again, but it was a powerful experience at the time. E = mc^2 just dropped out of the math, and it all comes from a very careful examination of the mechanism by which things are perceived — e.g. photons impacting the retina.

    There’s a graphic floating around the internet more to the point of this post,and though the graphic is probably impactful to those tuned into science it may be less so to those not so tuned in.

    http://www.de-conversion.org/forum/viewthread.php?forum_id=13&thread_id=214

    The subtitle is “Science: it works, bitches!” referring to the cosmic background radiation fitting the black body model, as predicted. The generality of the subtitle is not restricted to the specifics of the graph of course. The theory of relativity made many predictions which would be validated many years later (gravitational lenses, etc.) And nobody suggests that, for example, computers were prayed into existence. The religious sometimes complain that “science is always changing”, while “the word of God is constant,” as if this were a failing of science and a virtue of religion. The opposite is true — the static nature of religion in the face of contrary evidence is a failing, while the change inherent in science due to new discoveries is of course a virtue.

    Not that hte above will convince anyone determine to remain unconvinced — that is to say, one committed to that intellectually bankrupt notiont referred to as “faith.”

  • 2. Phoesune  |  October 10, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    I think they confuse discussions of the Scientific Method with being Methodists.

  • 3. The Apostate  |  October 11, 2008 at 12:54 am

    orDover,
    I have come across this argument as well, but it appears fairly regulated to North American evangelicals with very little understanding of not only science, but also the disciplines of sociology and religious studies (or anything related). There is a very quick refute to such narrow-mindedness: ask them to define religion.
    If science is a religion, what else is a religion? Football? Capitalism? Television? It sounds silly, but every definition of religion this person is likely to give will allow you to fit such things in the category of religion.
    Those of us in religious studies programs, be it in a secular university or a private college, will readily admit that defining religion is almost as problematic as defining “culture”. However, most successful definitions, of which there is somewhat of a consensus on, universally make it necessary for the anthropological interaction, real or imagine, with something/s of a suprahuman nature. Science does not engage with that which is beyond human observations.

  • 4. orDover  |  October 11, 2008 at 12:58 am

    That’s a great point Apostate.

  • 5. Griffin  |  October 11, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Great post. Unfortunately all too often we as secularists/non-believers/whatever play into this misconception by saying we ‘believe’ in evolution. It’s really a pet peeve of mine when people say that, but this post perfectly explains why it’s dangerous to do so. Say you accept it. Say you ‘think it’s a fact.’ Be perfectly accurate and say that you think evolution is the only credible explanation for the state of life on our planet that you’ve ever heard. Just don’t say you believe in evolution.

  • 6. Digital Dame  |  October 11, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    Griffin, that’s a good point. I’m not always as articulate and eloquent as I wish I could be when defending evolution. I just get so frustrated at people who dismiss out of hand all the scientific evidence, and fall back on dreams and wishful thinking. I find it increasingly difficult to try to hold anything resembling an intelligent conversation with them. I guess I don’t have very good debating skills.

  • 7. bigham  |  October 11, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Christianity Disproved!

  • 8. The Nerd  |  October 11, 2008 at 3:33 pm

    I like the issues you explore in this post. Where some people are proud of their faith-based values, I’m subscribe to evidence-based values. :)

  • 9. abusedbypenguins  |  October 11, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I have absolutely no faith in anything. Faith: the ability to believe in something you know can not possibly be true. I accept many things. The speed of light based on verrifiable fact. I f I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, one more step and I’ll go splat at the bottom based on verifiable fact. Based on the fact that the earth has been rotating on its axis in an orbit around the sun, do I believe the sun will come up tomorrow morning? No, the fact that for 4 1/2 billion years that this event has occured the probability that it will continue to happen (barring a catastrophic event) is pretty good based on verifiable fact.

  • 10. becky  |  October 12, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    ordover

    Have you read the book the Language of God by Francis Collins? He is a scientist who worked on the Human Genome. Concerning faith and reason he addresses this issue head on from both perspectives such as in his words “when science trumps faith and when science needs divine help.”

    He was an athiest then an agnostic and eventually became a believer because one of his realizations is science cannot answer fundamental questions about human existence such why am I here, what happens when a person dies, what is the meaning of life, plus science cannot explain the origins of the big bang because it contridicts certain laws of science and nature. There is much more in his book.

    It is a good read. I’ve read better books on faith and reason but this one will do thought I would give food for thought for what it is worth.

    becky

  • 11. orDover  |  October 12, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    First of all, scientists can believe in religion. There isn’t some secret code that says if are scientifically minded you can’t believe in a god. I’m tired of religious people holding the few religious scientists up a pedestal. It’s very rare that you hear a non-religious person framing an argument around “Such-and-such scientist is an atheist.” We might talk about the fact that someone like Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins is a scientist and thus experts in their fields, but I’ve never heard anyone try to sell me on atheism because “famous scientist Carl Sagan” was an atheist or anything like that. It’s a weak way to frame an argument and it’s basically just an appeal to authority (thus a logical fallacy).

    He was an athiest then an agnostic and eventually became a believer because one of his realizations is science cannot answer fundamental questions about human existence such why am I here, what happens when a person dies, what is the meaning of life…

    Religion also cannot answer those questions. It tries to, but as any intelligent person, even intelligent religious person, will tell you, it’s all just a guess. Several religions try to answer these problems, and people pick which one they like best (or more realistically, which one their ancestors liked best). Christianity can tell me what will happen when I die, but it can’t verify that. It all boils down to hearsay. “Christianity says…” “Islam says…” “Hinduism says…” At least science has the humility to admit when it doesn’t have a real answer to something, instead of just playing a guessing game. But then again, why should science answer those questions? That is not its job. I don’t read Scientific American so I can learn about life after death. I read about it so I can learn about life as it really is, life now, here in the physical world. Science is not a substitute for religion. It doesn’t even try to be. So if you are one of those people who needs to have “answers”, despite the fact that they are unverifiable hearsay that must be taken on faith, to “life’s big questions,” then you should probably become religious. (Actually, you probably already are religious.)

    …plus science cannot explain the origins of the big bang because it contridicts certain laws of science and nature. There is much more in his book.

    Argument from Ignorance logical fallacy.
    Just because we don’t know the origins of the Big Bang doesn’t mean it is unknowable, and it certainly doesn’t mean that “Goddidit.” I have no idea what you mean by “contridicts [sic.] certain laws of science and nature” but considering the fact that our laws of physics as we know them came about as a result of the Big Bang, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone to learn that the events preceding the even don’t confirm to the laws that were established because of it. It’s posited that we will need a “new physics” to figure out the conditions before the Big Bang, because our physics only works in our post-Big Bang system. But regardless, your comment is a logical fallacy.

  • 12. The Apostate  |  October 12, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Becky,
    I have read Francis Collins’ book and was actually quite disappointed with the religious (faith) side of his arguments. I found that the book came across quite a bit stronger on presenting arguments for evolution itself rather than anything convincing about theism. The only story he gives about his own conversion is that he read C.S. Lewis and it changed his mind about God. The arguments themselves are philosophically weak (he buys into the Trilemma. I recommend the book to any evangelical who doubts Evolutionary theory, but this book will not affect anyone (and I really mean ANYONE) who has de-converted from Christianity.

  • 13. The Apostate  |  October 12, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    As for the origins of the universe, I highly recommend Simon Singh’s “Big Bang.” Most Christians who make any statement about the origins of the universe haven’t opened up an astronomy book past grade 10 (in America I guess this is probably even lower noting not only the poor science standards but also the lack of public funding in their education system). It is a shame, but I would recommend that if you are going to make a statement about anything worthwhile, educate yourself on both sides of the argument first – or else you just look foolish. Like Francis Collins.

  • 14. becky  |  October 12, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    ordover,

    you may want to try the book Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe or Mere Creation (this one has many authors from many backgrounds). I found Collins’ book not as challenging as others; however, the one thing that does hold true with all the scientists is they cannot account for origins all their hypotheses and theories fall short.

    And Apostate may I ask why such the attack? I have opened books past the 10th grade. I was a biology, chemistry and general science teacher for many years; taught on evolution, natural selection, etc. I have a brother who has a doctorate in physical chemistry and believe me we have some great conversations. Please don’t assume because the very things you accuse Christianity of doing is not very far from what you are saying now.

    becky

  • […] asks: is science just another religion? Of course not. Yes, maybe I am not able to fact check most of science’s claims because […]

  • 16. writerdd  |  October 12, 2008 at 9:10 pm

    He was an athiest then an agnostic and eventually became a believer because one of his realizations is science cannot answer fundamental questions about human existence such why am I here, what happens when a person dies, what is the meaning of life, plus science cannot explain the origins of the big bang because it contridicts certain laws of science and nature. There is much more in his book.

    Religion does not answer these questions either. It just makes guesses. I prefer to make my own guesses. And, I am fairly confident that science can and will answer some of these questions in my lifetime. Many other questions that religion claims to answer are just nonsense.

  • 17. orDover  |  October 12, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    you may want to try the book Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe

    I’m intimately familiar with Behe’s incredibly poor arguments against evolution (which actually is more like one argument over and over again: irreducible complexity). I suggest your check out the PBS documentary on the Dover trial if you want to see why his arguments don’t hold up.

  • 18. The de-Convert  |  October 13, 2008 at 12:00 am

    Here’s a review of the book Darwin’s Black Box:

    http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/books/darwinsblackbox.html

    Paul

  • 19. The Apostate  |  October 13, 2008 at 2:30 am

    Becky,
    The only “attack” presented in my comment was towards Francis Collins and ignorant Christians. I respect Mr. Collins appreciation of science and religion, but whenever someone publishes a book, they are saying “look at me, look at my thoughts,” and must be expect criticism. Mr. Collins only makes a passing reference to the origin of the universe without engaging in any scientific evidence (or lack of it). This is a foolish gesture. Period. The book was never presented, and Mr. Collins says so himself, to convert non-believers to believers. He wanted “The Language of God” to present evolution to evangelicals and to present Christianity, perhaps as a seed, to scientifically-minded non-believers.
    This is where maybe you felt like I attacked you. When recommending a book, you are knowingly telling someone that they should purchase (or loan from the library) and read it – thus possibly spending money and definitely spending time. Whenever I recommend a book I assume that the person does not have an unlimited amount of time nor wants to waste money. This is why I recommend Mr. Collins book on the conditions that I did. This is also why I am honest with you. The book presents nothing that ex-Christians don’t already know, and I gave some examples in my previous comment. Just because I am repudiating your recommendation does NOT mean I am attacking you.

    But perhaps that wasn’t where you felt attacked. Maybe you assumed I was speaking about you in my second comment – actually, I know this is what you think, due to your reference about Grade 10 science. Fair enough. The sentence I wrote, however, can be backed up by numerous studies on the American education system and studies of what Americans know about science (not that Canada and Europe is fairing much better these days). The fact is that general knowledge of science among the American population is bad enough, but it is drastically accentuated among evangelicals. This is a fact, not my opinion. Whether or not you have read a science book past grade 10 or have even taught science doesn’t really matter. For one, I have no way of verifying this (which you know); secondly, if you were actually a teacher, what would it tell me? Only that you are alluding to your credentials so that I can take you seriously (fallacy of appeal to authority), which in themselves don’t tell me much. To teach science at the secondary level, you must have the equivalent of a B.Ed. with, at best, a major in any science from any university. It doesn’t tell me what your grades were, where you went to school, what courses you took, whether you wrote a thesis, what concentration (obviously not astronomy), who you studied under, etc. etc. etc.
    What I am saying is that your appeal to credentials is useless. Not just yours, but anyone who makes such a statement. The only time that I ever appeal to my credentials, whether on this blog or anywhere else, is to inform people of what my interests are (philosophy, religious studies). All that does is tell people that I am willing to engage with someone on these topic at a certain level. Just because I have a degree in these disciplines does not mean I know everything about philosophy or religion, nor make my infallible on anything. Nor does it mean that you should just take my word that I understand a philosophical or religious problem. It simply means I have studied many different topics in those disciplines, so lets talk about them. Instead of engaging with what I said about Mr. Collins book or the origins of the universe, you got defensive and ended the discussion by playing the martyr.

  • 20. LeoPardus  |  October 14, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I am unaware of any accepted definition of the word “religion” which would allow it to be equated with any accepted definition of the word “science”. (Obviously you can create new definitions for either word and make them equate, but that doesn’t really accomplish anything except to render one or both words meaningless.)

  • 21. Mike  |  October 15, 2008 at 12:43 am

    orDover,

    I appreciate this article for the most part. You show a fair understanding of General Relativity (even if you do brush past the difficulty in reconciling Einstein’s calculations with Quantum Mechanics) and how it relates to our comparison between religion and science. My one qualm present throughout your post is the assertion you sum up at the end:

    “The difference between religion and science is that, where science is concerned, nothing has to or should be taken on faith.”

    This is actually not true. You take it on faith that the sun will still shine tomorrow, gravity will still work, etc. The only reason you have for believing that is because it has happened in the past. But what happened yesterday is only proof of what happened yesterday. We can guess based on past experience and empirical evidence, but those things only provide us with assumptions that may then be proven true or false as events unfold.

    Is there some reason that you would claim this is not a faith-based assumption? What evidence in your mind determines tomorrow?

  • 22. orDover  |  October 15, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Is there some reason that you would claim this is not a faith-based assumption?

    Yes. Science is basically the study of probability. What happened yesterday may only be “proof” of what happened yesterday, but when the observations of all of our yesterdays, and yesteryears and even yesterseconds are complied they reveal a pattern of probability that is based on evidence. The probably can never be 100%, but it can be high enough that we can be confidently sure about things, like the sun rising every morning.

    You can say that believing in something based on extremely high probability is still an act of faith, but to do so cheapens the word and definitely removes it from its religious context. As I hinted at in the article, there is a continuum of faith. Some things require more faith than others. Some require completely blind faith. I wrote, “I have faith that if I jump off of the side of the cliff, I will fall down and probably be killed. This faith is not blind, it is established from prior evidence,” thus the degree of faith is minuscule. It is nothing at all like the sort of faith one has in an unobservable supernatural being. In fact, most definitions of faith (that is, religious faith) include “belief in something for which there is no proof.” That is NO proof. So if I make a decision based on probability, that is indeed proof and not the same concept as this religious faith. And now I’m arguing semantics!

  • 23. becky  |  October 15, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Wow apostate,

    who got defensive?

    becky

  • 24. orDover  |  October 15, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    Becky,

    Just theoretically, if Apostate did get defensive, does that render his arguments invalid?

    It seems to me like you are avoiding addressing what he actually wrote by making a judgment regarding his tone. So what? If he used a defensive tone, does that give you the right to completely ignore his arguments?

  • 25. becky  |  October 19, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    No. I am not avoiding the issues that he addressed. He stated very clearly that credentials do not matter so I felt like that was pointless even to disclose my credentials and what I do now. I found it very interesting though however, because many of these scholars that appear to be discredited by this community come from highly scholary backgrounds, such as Collins, Behe, Lewis and others. I mean why is it that some scholars such as Hawking, Dawkins or even Anthony Flew who many of times their arguments are discredited as well by other notable scholars. Third, I felt as though he was generalizing for everybody. Just because the two of you and I know you mentioned others did not like the books does that necessarily mean it is true for everyone? I mean if I were to go by every critic who says not to read this book or watch this movie because they didn’t like it–doesn’t mean the book or movie isn’t going to speak to me or someone else. Nor does everyone have to agree with their critique. And fourth, trying to explain faith when one has made the existential jump is something one simply cannot prove by argument that is why it is called faith. In almost any field or study leaps are taken even in science. And when one makes that leap in faith or in life does that mean it to be untrue? Finally, yes I have every right to either engage in dialogue with people. In my own personal journey in this area, when I find there is a defensive tone, it becomes arguing rather than dialogue. I try to seek other peoples’ perspective and not argue. Arguing hardly gets people anywhere.

    becky

    becky

  • 26. orDover  |  October 19, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    found it very interesting though however, because many of these scholars that appear to be discredited by this community come from highly scholary backgrounds, such as Collins, Behe, Lewis and others. I mean why is it that some scholars such as Hawking, Dawkins or even Anthony Flew who many of times their arguments are discredited as well by other notable scholars.

    Scholars like Behe are discredited because their work is in direct conflict with the scientific consensus. Behe, specifically, makes claims against the accepted theory of evolution. It’s fine to question or bring up issues, but when you do then they are open to criticism. Everything that Behe says has been ripped to shreds by other scientists. He has been disproved. He has been proven wrong. That is why he is discredited. It’s like if you told me the moon is made of cheese, and then scientists go to the moon and bring back rocks, proving that it is not made out of cheese. Your cheese theory is discredited.

    Scholars like Collins and Lewis are a bit different. Their theories can’t really be proven or disproved, but they can still be criticized. The fault that is found with authors like Lewis and Collins is their lack of a rational argument. Lewis, for example, constantly falls into the trap of logical fallacies (mostly false dichotomies and false premises). If you are a scholar and you can’t form an argument that confirms to the criteria for a logically sound defense, then you aren’t going to be taken as seriously as a scholar who can.

    But besides that, just being a scholar or having a “highly scholarly background” does not automatically get you respect. People can be very highly educated and still not meet the expectations of the scholarly community.

    I hate to say it, but scholars like Dawkins are respected because they deserve it. They earned respect with the high quality of their work. They present interesting research, they back up their arguments with sound logic, and they don’t have their work directly disproved (or if they do, then they move on to the next idea, unlike people like Behe who cling to their debunked ideas for dear life).

    Finally, yes I have every right to either engage in dialogue with people. In my own personal journey in this area, when I find there is a defensive tone, it becomes arguing rather than dialogue. I try to seek other peoples’ perspective and not argue. Arguing hardly gets people anywhere.

    That is fine, and you have ever right to dialog with whoever you want. But you should also realize that when you have begun a dialog and then abruptly leave off it with nothing more than a comment amount too “Gee, a bit touchy, aren’t you?” then it’s going to look like you don’t have a real rebuttal. It might be better, for your benefit, to say something like “I prefer not to dialog with people who are on the defensive” so that the real reasons for your quitting the discussion are more clear.

  • 27. Errancy  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:40 am

    “Science is basically the study of probability. What happened yesterday may only be ‘proof’ of what happened yesterday, but when the observations of all of our yesterdays, and yesteryears and even yesterseconds are complied they reveal a pattern of probability that is based on evidence.”

    This assumes that the future will be like the past. If that assumption isn’t true, then all of our yester-observations are irrelevant to what will happen tomorrow. That wouldn’t just mean that we don’t know the future for certain, it would mean that we have no idea about the future at all.

    So what evidence do we have to support that assumption? Well, our experience seems to support it: in the past, the future has been like the past. However, that only demonstrates that the future will be like the past on the (circular) assumption that the future is like the past. If the future isn’t like the past, then our experience isn’t a guide to the future, so we can’t use experience to show that the future will be like the past without begging the question at issue.

    Any prediction of the future therefore involves an assumption that can’t be empirically tested, i.e. which has to be taken on faith. This isn’t the kind of faith that treats something highly probably as if it were certain, it’s the kind of faith that treats something entirely speculative as if it were highly probable.

  • 28. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Errancy, you are taking that position to an absurd extreme.

    Would you assume that gravity will be in effect tomorrow?

    Would you assume that pink unicorns would prance around your front yard tomorrow?

    Would you assign them the same probability? Why or why not?

  • 29. Errancy  |  January 29, 2009 at 10:41 am

    No, I wouldn’t assign them the same probability, but that doesn’t mean that I think I can answer the argument I gave above (known as “the problem of induction” to anyone who’s done an epistemology course). All it means is that I have faith that tomorrow will be like today.

    Seriously, can you offer, without assuming that the future will be like the past, an argument for the conclusion that gravity being in effect tomorrow is more probable than pink unicorns prancing in my front yard? Or can you offer a non-circular argument that the future will be like the past?

    Every belief system has axioms, fundamental principles that are taken on faith. I wish that weren’t the case, but I don’t see how else things could be.

  • 30. orDover  |  January 29, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Seriously, can you offer, without assuming that the future will be like the past, an argument for the conclusion that gravity being in effect tomorrow is more probable than pink unicorns prancing in my front yard? Or can you offer a non-circular argument that the future will be like the past?

    Every belief system has axioms, fundamental principles that are taken on faith. I wish that weren’t the case, but I don’t see how else things could be.

    The point is what degree that so-called “faith” is tuned to. Yes, I must “take it on faith” that tomorrow will be like today in order to apply probabilities. But my amount of faith is minuscule based on the evidence I have of all of my todays and yesterdays. That’s the entire point of probability really, applying what is known to what is unknown (not unknowable though). I don’t know based on fact what tomorrow will be like, but I can apply probability and assume that it will be fundamentally like today. I can’t say gravity will be in effect tomorrow without making a basic assumption, but that assumption is based on probability developed through empirical evidence.

  • 31. Errancy  |  January 29, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    “I can’t say gravity will be in effect tomorrow without making a basic assumption, but that assumption is based on probability developed through empirical evidence.”

    Sorry, I don’t want to force a discussion of philosophical skepticism on you; we can leave it there if you like.

    Otherwise, the next questions are “What evidence?” and “How do you know that that evidence is a good guide to the future?”

  • 32. Ubi Dubium  |  January 29, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Errancy – this sounds like a lot of the discussion I heard from friends who were taking a first-year Philosophy class. While it may be fun to play around with ideas like this, I can’t say they are useful. If we don’t assume that the same rules will apply tomorrow as apply today, then there would be no reason to bother doing anything at all. In which case we would quickly cease to exist as a species.

    I will continue to go with what works, not with ideas philosophy students like to tinker around with.

  • 33. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Well said, Ubi.

    And even if we grant faith is necessary, to me, what;s most important is the DEGREE of faith required.

    The amount of faith I need that gravity comes up tomorrow isn’t even in the same zip code as the amount of faith needed to belive in the Christian god.

  • 34. The Apostate  |  January 29, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Ubi Dubi:

    I will continue to go with what works, not with ideas philosophy students like to tinker around with.

    Please don’t conflate juvenile pseudo-philosophical ponderings of pithy high school students with the academic of Philosophy – its insulting. I know its not your fault since these armchair philosophers are so prevelant, but its comparable to calling Scientific Creationism or Scientology, well , science.

  • 35. Errancy  |  January 29, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    The Apostate:

    If you don’t think that the problem of induction is proper philosophy, then you don’t know philosophy as well as you’re making out.

    BigHouse, OrDover, Ubi:

    The last sentence of the article says, “The difference between religion and science is that, where science is concerned, nothing has to or should be taken on faith.” The implication here is that there is a method of enquiry according to which every proposition is justified and nothing is taken for granted.

    I revived what Mike said in Comment #21 about problems with predicting the future because he was right to suggest that this view is naive. Inductive inferences (observation-based predictions) assume that unobserved cases will be like observed cases. Deductive inferences assume certain axioms of logic. Unsupported assumptions are at the basis of everything we believe, even beliefs based on science.

    So if faith is believing propositions without justification, then science does involve faith at some stage. That may not be of much practical significance, but it is directly related to the article that we’re discussing.

  • 36. BigHouse  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Fair enough, I get your point now, and it has some merit.

  • 37. orDover  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    The last sentence of the article says, “The difference between religion and science is that, where science is concerned, nothing has to or should be taken on faith.” The implication here is that there is a method of enquiry according to which every proposition is justified and nothing is taken for granted.

    That is not the implication. Above I talked about the difference between blind faith (true faith) or the kind of faith required to accept that if you jump out of a building gravity will pull you down. That sort of faith is so small and insignificant that to call it “faith” at all just cheapens the word, to the point of rendering it virtually meaningless. That is the definition of faith I was working off of, what we would consider blind or complete faith.

  • 38. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 29, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Indeed, most of the axioms that we “take on faith” in science are fairly self-evident.

    The kind of things religions ask us to take on faith are anything but that.

    So, yes, if you really want to get into semantics, science requires us to accept certain axioms. There’s just no way around that. But it’s a far cry from what religion requires, which are not axiomatic in any way.

    Science tries to use as few assumptions as possible, while religion keeps trying to add more.

  • 39. Errancy  |  January 29, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    So our conclusion is that we’re okay with faith-based belief to some degree, we just don’t want it to get out of hand?

  • 40. orDover  |  January 29, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Do you really want to argue semantics? Because I don’t, so this is the last thing I’m going to say about this. I was writing about faith its specifically religious connotation, as in a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof ” (Mirriam-Webster). Is there proof that tomorrow will be just like today? Yes. It is called yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Therefore, assuming that tomorrow will be like today requires no “faith” as defined by the sort of faith one must put in God. If you want to consider the “faith” (meaning something more akin to “complete trust”) that I have that tomorrow will be like today actual faith that is equal to the sort of faith required to believe in the Christian God, then fine. So be it. That ends the conversation.

  • 41. orDover  |  January 29, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Interestingly, this conversation parallels the one going on in the “god of small miracles” article, where the commentor Jason is holding up the conversion of man after the death of his baby as a miracle. That strays very far from the actual definition of the word, which according to dictionaries and theologians (Aquinas) alike means an event which cannot be explain by nature, or is outside of nature, definitively supernatural. It is God intervening in or halting nature to do his own work. If the definition of “miracle” is opened up so wide that it includes an event which does not contradict nature, is not at all supernatural, but fits within its schema perfectly, then the word loses all power and meaning. Suddenly a miracle can be anything you say it is, and then it might as well be nothing at all.

    Likewise for faith. If the definition if “faith” is expanded to include something for which one does not have 100% certainty regarding, but which one has an extremely solid ground of empirical evidence supporting, then faith becomes meaningless, and certainly believing in a deity “without seeing,” as the story goes, loses its importance.

  • 42. Ubi Dubium  |  January 29, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    The Apostate –
    Yes, In my college days long ago I knew Philosophy majors and a Philosophy Professor or two. They were generally quite thoughtful and articulate. I never heard from them any of the ridiculous arguments being made here by Errancy. I only ever heard stuff like that from Freshmen just taking their first Philosophy class, and somehow thinking they had suddenly discovered some great secret of logic. (This was usually when they were in the Freshman “I know everything” phase, before they had had enough education to realize how little they really knew.) No insult to real Philosophers was intended, only to those who think that “what if the future is nothing like the past” comprises deep philosophical thought..

    I agree with OrDover – arguments about semantics get really old really fast. I’d rather talk about something else.

  • 43. Errancy  |  January 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Ubi:

    I’m pleased to see that this has been promoted from high school to freshman philosophy. I’m sure that Hume, Russell, Popper and all the other philosophers who have written on this would be happy too.

    OrDover:

    This isn’t just a semantic disagreement. I’m working with the same definition of faith as you are, “belief without evidence”. You just haven’t understood the extent of the problem.

    It isn’t that there’s a remote possibility that the future won’t be like the past, and so the slight uncertainty of observation-based predictions means that they involve a modicum of faith. That would be a relatively trivial point.

    It’s that unless we accept on faith certain principles of reason, observation-based predictions are completely uncertain. If we don’t assume the principle that unobserved cases are (or are likely to be) like observed cases, then we have no reason at all to think that our observations of today are even relevant to tomorrow, let alone that they are “an extremely solid ground of empirical evidence” concerning how it will be. That principle can’t be proven, or even supported by evidence; it has to be taken on faith.

    I don’t like this any more than you do. I share your assumptions, reason in the way that you reason, and put the same trust in the conclusions that I reach as you do. But I recognise that I can’t justify my axioms, that there’s a step of faith at the foundation of my beliefs, even those based on science.

  • 44. The Apostate  |  January 30, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Errancy,
    Induction is not a serious problem for most philosophers of the twentieth and twentieth century because their need to correspond with the science of the day. Inductive reasoning has been limited to categorizations and matrixes which place various sorts of empirical observations.

    Furthermore, anyone can sit around and say there are serious “philosophical problems” that comes up from inductive reasoning, but it is quite another to know what these problems are or to employ valid examples. What you have provided above is akin to pondering whether “God create a rock he cannot lift.”

  • 45. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 30, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    As I said earlier, there’s quite a difference between accepting certain things as self-evident and axiomatic, and accepting things “on faith” as it is commonly defined.

    Attempts to equate “self-evident” with “taken on faith” are absurd, and have no practical use whatsoever.

    If we don’t assume the principle that unobserved cases are (or are likely to be) like observed cases

    To be fair, doesn’t our current understanding of quantum physics say that this assumption is false?

  • 46. orDover  |  January 30, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    And what if we are just brains in a vat, with all of our sensory information being fed to us by robots? What if The Matrix is real?

  • 47. tom  |  June 26, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    If science were a religion then scientists isolated from each other would not constantly come to the exact same conclusions.

  • 48. SciPhile  |  April 20, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I had a similar discussion with a Christian theologian. Calling science a religion is just another attempt to save theism from disproof.

    http://sciencebasedlife.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/good-science-is-not-dogmatic/

  • 49. cgavpoerg  |  December 21, 2011 at 5:47 am

    67 comentarios. Dej谩 tu comentario!
    botas de f煤tbol
    锘?
    camiseta del bar莽a
    Portugal obtuvo su boleto tras eliminar a Bosnia con much铆sima m谩s sencillez de la que pod铆a suponerse en la previa, despach谩ndose con una goleada sorprendente tras haber igualado sin goles en el encuentro de ida, disputado el viernes pasado en la ciudad de Zenica.
    equipaciones de f煤tbol

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

Twitter

Archives

Blog Stats

  • 2,054,835 hits since March 2007

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers