Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Is Science the New Religion?

My local newspaper (and I use that term generously), the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, has reprinted this George Johnson article from the New York Times. The original headline, as given in the NYT, was "A Free-For-All on Science and Religion". But the Record chose to give it a different headline: "Could science be the new religion?"

Here's my response:

Dear Editor:

With regard to "Could science be the new religion?", Record, December
27, 2006:

I'll believe science is the new religion when

- we exchange gifts on Darwin's birthday
- we get a national holiday to commemorate the discovery of DNA
- scientists get the same access to the White House as Billy Graham does
- St. Mary's Hospital hangs pictures of Pasteur in all its rooms
- and the Record devotes as much space to science coverage as it
does to religion.

Until then, let's keep them separate.


Adrian said...

I'll believe science is the new religion when

- we don't turn to observation to settle issues in evolution, we turn to the writings of Darwin

- discrepancies between what Newton said about gravity and observations are settled by philosophers who try to interpret Newton's writings

- physicists scour the collected writings of Newton and Einstein to learn about gravity, and the only new books on the subject just rehash these old ideas.

No offense, but I don't see what your examples have to do with science as a religion. Pictures of Einstein adorn many dorm rooms, scientists are consulted by the white house, and some papers do cover science. These are because of respect, not religious worship. I see nothing wrong with respect.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


What I meant with my examples was "when science gets treated with the same reverence our society currently gives to religion".

Your examples are good, too -- they just address a different interpretation of what it means to be the "new religion".

Unknown said...

I think we can consider science a religion. Note that I don't agree with the statement that it's a new religion. Since in both religion and science sometimes we put faith into that which we are taught or told rather than things we've experienced for ourselves.

That said there are many flaws with science. One being the lack of a static universal language. Whose to say that a new discovery hasn't been document in another language or under a different name/circumstance.

For example, according to science and evidence of bones discovered by paleontologists we believe that dinosaurs existed. We put faith in the facts that are told to us even though most of us have not experienced them ourselves. But whats to say that our interpretation couldn't be wrong. What if dinosaurs were actually our new name for dragons? Perhaps, the T-rex had wings rather that short stubby seemingly useless hands.

With science it is important to realized that we may not be able prove things based on limited evidence but we are able to disprove theories.

The fact that we tend to try to provide evidence to prove our hypothesis can be a fatal flaw in science. It could impact later theories that were developed on false premises that became accepted as true.

Note that I myself described evidence to support my claim that science is flawed. Knowing only this evidence we are more likely to agree with my statement that science may be flawed. And the way I stated it makes it seem like a certain fact. When in actuality I cannot prove that science is flawed. Since I am lacking all potential evidence on the subject.

I find that it is easier to disprove statements rather than to prove them.

How can my statement be false?? Through our language and the meaning of words used in science. Example, suppose that in a few years the word "science" evolves and thus invalidates my statement.

Perhaps, that was why Latin was developed as a universal language by are seemingly more intelligent ancestors that we often fail to acknowledge.

Its easy to come up with ideas hard to prove them. Now I find myself in a sort Paradox writing stuff, using science techniques, that I cannot prove and only providing evidence that support my ideas. So, rather than drive myself into insanity I think it best to end it here.

Some might find this as a waste internet space and some might appreciate it. For me that is the beauty of internet neutrality which I hope remains through the next presidency...

Unknown said...

I think "A" as a very valid point but it is by discussing the words and terms as they are now that they and the world evolve so I'll do it with the means I have now.

According to Thesaurus dictionary the broader definition os religion is:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

The first part till "universe" is totally discribing science: it puts theories/beliefs together to know how the universe operates, if it continues or ends in a reversed Big Bang, etc.

The part after that is a detail of most predominant religions in our planet but it does not include all religions. Budism does not believe in superhuman presence. Things like abortion or euthanasia - when declaring that the embryo is not even an individual or does not feel pain or that a person is going to stay in coma likely forever - are still moral affairs - we're talking about kiling live beings either conscient or not.

I think the most extraordinary thing about scince that most other religions do not have is that it evolves much quicker and is very dynamic. It is not bound by so much dogmas but it still has quite a few. The perfect example is maths: every theory comes out of axioms, things considered truth from the begining. Unless there are perfectly flawless axioms at the base of the theory chain it is "safe" to that the theory is correct. The problem is as our knowledge grows we come to get new tools and some show that an "axiom" has flaws. And as the answer the question brings ten more questions I'll leave you with this one: Will there be a day when we'll have sure the "axioms" are flawless?

P.S.: I hope not. I'm curious and I like to learn and to know things but I think it is the not knowing that keeps us alive, even if it is as simple as "will it rain tomorrow?" or as complicated as "will the universe crash on November 17th of 42398421 BC ?".

Unknown said...

I have written an article to this effect:

I do not agree that science is a religion but I give many reason why they are very similar and might be mistaken for a religion.

Feel free to read and comment!