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Science Is A Kind Of Religion

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Posted by Richard Ruquist on September 2, 2003 12:02:35 UTC

Your questions require some thought; and this is the best I can come up with.

It seems obvious to me- but not to many others apparently- that science requires the same kinds of belief and faith that religion, especially old time religion did.

Modern science has produced such wonders that you may ask why belief is necessary. However, old religion also was very useful to the average person, telling him when to plant crops and so on. Before modern science, the science used by religion was very important, especially astronomy, which is appropriate to this site. So old time religion also had reinforcement to one's belief.

Nowadays the average person needs belief and faith to trust that the scientist knows what he is talking about. It is only when you dig deep do you find out that science does not understand its own fundamental principles. In fact, most scientists have faith that such things as electrons and quarks really exist. And also they must believe that scientists in other fields are as honest as they in reporting their results.

Science also has all the trappings of religion: principles, morals, high priests, practitioners, laymen, sacred symbols and artifices, and to some extent living gods. We even name our units and concepts in accordance with living gods who have passed away, at least a kind of ancester worship.

And science has its dogma as well. Fortunately western science is still sufficiently open that it is self-correcting. But it could easily become dogmatic like Islamic science and stagnate. There is some thought that science is reaching diminuishing returns. Hogan wrote a whole book on the End of Science.

Science is still expanding because it is free. But the costs in dollars to reach beyond the present frontiers is going up rapidly. And politicians are pulling back. Creationist type politicians are one threat to the freedom of science. But beyond that science costs big bucks and for example, the USA gave up trying to do high energy experimental physics when it canceled the Texas collider. Eventually science will reach beyond our pocketbooks and new experimental science will stop. It will happen first in the hard sciences, but eventually in all science.

We are then left with a kind of metaphysics which, I predict, will begin to look more and more like ordinary dogmatic religion. Rather than experiments we will have computer solutions telling us what exists and what does not exist. Personal hand computers will be like holy water, used to bless everything we do in ordinary life. Eventually the computer net will become like a god, knowing everything we do and telling us what to do. Somehow I prefer old time religion to that prospect.

So I think we need a religion, or all religions, to begin to resist the eventual abuse that politicians will use science for. The creationists are in some sense ahead of the curve on that one. But their message is so unrealistic that it does not have a chance to stop big science. We need all religions to become compatible with science and at the same time counter the abuses of science. The environmental movement is a good example of what religion should turn into in the name of preserving nature (which is the ultimate expression of god) with good scientific understanding; whereas warfare and its technology, the ultimate controlling big science as we are beginning to realize, is more the work of the devil, in metaphorical terms.

I have personal experience in big military science and some appreciation of its threat to society.

So science has given us a comfortable life, at least for some in this country- the USA- but it also threatens to take away our liberty and eventually the freedom of science itself. We need religion to keep control of science. Right now conflict between different religions dominates the world. But one side or the other will win the conflict. I suggest that the side with the better science will win, as it almost always has. Then we will face a more insiduous threat from science itself controlling our lives. We may need religions, such as Emerson's and Thoreau's, to offset that threat. And like the green parties of europe, religion will have to take part in politics. The forces of anti-big-science must be mobilized, or as in some old time religions, the politicians will use the high priests of science to control our lives.


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