Posted by: topher274 | March 12, 2009

Science and Religion part 1


By the way, I did end up coming back to the US from South Korea, but I don’t want to talk about it here. I want to keep this blog fairly introspection-free. It just not that kind of blog.

But this post, I’d like to talk about science and religion, those strange bedfellows. I love science and I love religion. Both are exciting, both are controversial and both exibit the sort of innovation that makes any discipline exciting to be a part of. However science and religion can’t seem to get it together. I’d like to talk about that.

The hard thing about science and religion, as far as I can see, is that they are two different systems which have two different systems of rules, different capabilities and different standards for judging the soundness of claims. On their own, science and religion both make wonderful systems that work fairly well, but they keep trying to get into each other’s buisness. It is my contention that science and religion need to stick to their own disciplines and they need to stop making claims outside of their own purview.

Let’s start with definitions. Now these are my own definitions and I would be more than happy to negotiate them with anyone who would like to continue the dialogue:

In this post, I’ll use the term “the world” to mean the physical universe. Common to science and religion and our everyday experience, are little pieces of information called ‘facts’. A fact is an observed state about something in the world, usually the state of a physical body. Facts by themselves are usually quite unimpressive. They can be enigmatic at times, but much more important are how we understand the facts we observe.

Science seeks to understand the world, particularly its physical properties and natural ‘laws’. Science asks questions like, ‘if a ball is dropped from an airplane, how fast will it going when it hits the ground?’ or ‘what cells made out of?’ or, more daring, questions, ‘Why is the universe made of matter instead of anti-matter?’.  Though experimentation is very important to science, it’s not the real crux of the discipline. The real magic of science is the ‘theory’. A Scientific theory is the explanation, or framework into which we try to make the facts fit. For the same body of facts, there may be more than one theory, so science needs a way of discerning the merits of theories to tell if one is better than the other. More on this discernment later.

Religion also seeks to understand the world, but is less concerned with the ‘laws’ concerning physical bodies, but has a larger emphasis on spiritual phenomena and on certain questions of metaphysics. A topic within the broad category of philosophy, the word ‘religion’ has the connotation of its social nature. The theories of religion are called doctrines, and they have about the same weight as a theory does in science, with a few important differences. My perspective on religion being largely a Christian one, for this particular religion seems to be most at odds with science, so it seems.

Science and religion both work reasonably well. Of course, we have seen each go horribly wrong, but most of the time each of them get along pretty well by themselves. At least, as well as might be expected, considering that there are actual people practicing science and religion.

Well I think I’ve gone on long enough. This is clearly going to be a multi-post topic, so I won’t drag you on and on in one post. I’ll probably even start writing the post immediately. There you have it!


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