Monday, 21 September 2015

Science and Religion

One of the things I like about science is that you can show adults and children alike that it works, how it works and even tell them to go and try it out, and they can see for themselves that it works. A simple experiment to get fresh water from salt water is triflingly easy to set up and execute. There's no requirement to tell a child that they need 'faith' to understand it, they can see it happen right before their eyes. 

Of course not every scientific experiment is that easy to execute or to understand. People can't walk off the street into a research lab and get up to speed with the goings on in a matter of minutes. The great thing, though, is that the principle is the same. Show someone your conclusion and your methodology for reaching that conclusion and (given the access to the right equipment and expertise) they can replicate what you did and, if the experiment is sound, they should reach the same conclusion. 

This is true whether the experiment is being done for the first time, or the ten millionth time. If someone wants to know the chemical make-up of water it's not dependent upon where they are in the earth's geography or when they are in the earth's timeline. Anyone anywhere can discover that water is H20. (providing there is water available, of course). God doesn't share this consistency. 

Conversely if we lost all the world's knowledge, all our written words, and language, and had to start from scratch, the story of the talking snake, as Sam Harris points out, is gone for good. There's also no more great flood, no more man rising from the dead. No more Torah, Qu'ran or New Testament. We'd again work out how to build buildings so tall that they appear to almost scrape the sky, but the myth about Muhammad splitting the moon in two will never be heard again. In fact nothing about Muhammad, Moses, Cain, Able, Jesus, Thor, Zeus, or God would ever be heard again. As with Stephen King's Dark Tower, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, or Jo Rowling's Harry Potter, the stories about god cannot survive a colossal wiping out of human knowledge. 

Science, though, is different. Visible light would still be made up of a spectrum of colour and you can be assured that someone will split this spectrum. You can be assured that someone will even rediscover that there's 'light' beyond the red that we can see. People will again work out how to harness, produce, and utilise electricity. Someone will test the idea that the world is flat, and discover it isn't. However, no one will again eat a wafer thinking it's the actual flesh of someone who died millennia previously. 

Sure, before we get to all these amazing discoveries we'd again go through a phase of gods, and goddesses. We'd be primitive again. No one invents gods and religions like primitive people. Pretty much no one else invents them at all. Even the relatively recent attempt by Joseph Smith to create a new religion commandeered a god already in use. 

We'd likely again think a volcano was an angry god, but lets hope no one suggests that throwing a virgin in will appease it. We may well think that lightning was a god striking at us from above, though you can be confident this 'god' wouldn't be called Thor. 

We may see crazy potions along the lines of Eye of newt, and toe of frog, being mixed up and fed to people to cure any kind of ailment. This could lead to witches being burnt at the stake because they can do 'magic'. 

These accusations and claims will continue until some day, someone asks the important question - how do you know? 

Then you test the eye of newt recipe and find that it, in fact, doesn't work. However, you test aspirin, and find that it does. Someone might again see an apple fall from a tree, or perhaps it's a coconut this time, or perhaps they simply trip and fall down and they'll question it and wonder why they didn't just float away. It'll be a world where someone can still see an equal an opposite reaction, write about it, and have someone else check it. The radio waves, microwaves, and x-rays will still be here, waiting to be rediscovered by enquiring minds. With no Abraham, there will be no Abrahamic religions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would all be forgotten forever, replaced, probably by other religions, praying to other gods that people make up. Because that's why there are so many different religion - people make them up. The Hindus in India may still well honour a god with an Elephant's head, but it won't be Ganesh. 

Given the choice between living in a world that has religion but not science, and world that has science, but no religion, I know which I'd choose. 

You see, when it comes to truth, religion is a substitute. It's the making up of answers for things you don't know. It's saying 'this is how it is' without checking that you're right. You can look all you want, but religion won't validate truth.

Science though, science is different. The practice of science is the pursuit of truth. You don't have to make it up, you just have to go looking. 


  1. Hi. Love this post. Just curious, though. what makes you think building skyscrapers is an inevitability?
    I'm not sure that would happen if some necessity dictated it — overpopulation being the obvious necessity, and the need for a government to show power by a display of grandeur and skill being another arguable "necessity."

    1. Firstly, thank you :) In the scenario above, the sky scrapers around now would still be in existence, as it's only our knowledge that has been wiped out, not everything we've ever built. So I would imagine that they'd be looked at and eventually (when it's worked out that they're not gods or deities themselves) we'd try to build more.

      But even if that wasn't the case and all evidence of humanity is removed and we're back to a primitive state with nothing to show for what we'd achieved in the past, I think skyscrapers are a natural progression from natural shelter, to huts/tents, to cottages, homes, mansions, cathedrals, and so on. It's happened with planes, cars, boats, TVs. We invent something and then try to make it bigger and bigger. I think reverting to a primitive state, we'd once again make shelter, and it would go from there :)

      Thanks for the comment :)

  2. So by the sounds of this you also believe in the natural evolution of religion. That it's just the work of a primitive mind's earnest attempt at understanding the universe it's found itself in - not the calculated work of world leaders to control their masses.

    And by precisely the same token that you say none of these religions would exist in an alternate evolutionary scenario - neither necessarily would humanity.
    How can you proselytize science and attempt to debunk religion when clearly you understand neither?

    1. On your first paragraph: I never said in the blog what religion is 'not'. I spoke about how ancient religions were formed, not how they may or may not have been manipulated subsequently - that's for another blog.

      On your second paragraph. Clearly, in the scenario above, humanity DOES, in fact, exist. The blog talks about the wiping out of knowledge, not the wiping out of humanity. I don't see how you've failed to notice this piece of information, given that it is the crux of the blog post.

      I do understand both religion and science. I also understand people thinking they're being clever when they criticise something they've either not read properly or have failed to comprehend (for example, by missing the most important point)

      Also, you start with 'by the sounds of it' and you end with 'clearly you understand neither'. You are confused. Perhaps try sorting your thoughts out so it's clear before you comment? It may help prevent your comments from coming across as idiotic.