Sunday, January 21, 2007
The difference between science, faith and religion
I am sure everyone who have been reading this blog occasionally will know by now that I am a science freak. I think that science is the way to gain knowledge. Many people say that science is narrow minded, that believing in science will confine the scope of our knowledge, but I disagree. Science, for me, is an open minded and modest approach when it comes to discover new things. Science is based on evidence. However, evidence is not necessarily gathered in a laboratory by people in white lab coats, evidence can be all sorts of things. As defined by oxford concise dictionary, evidence is "the available facts, circumstances, etc. supporting or otherwise a belief, proposition, etc., or indicating whether or not a thing is true or valid".
So what does not count as evidence you might wonder. My own answer to this, which I have not thought so much about, is things that can just as well be explained by chance. Often, when I discuss homeopathic medicine or other alternative approaches to medicine, I hear statements such as "well look, person x got well after taking this medicine, you see, it works". Perhaps this could be seen as evidence, but if so, it is one of weakest forms of evidence. Why? Because person x could have gotten well for any number of reasons, after all our immune system will deal with almost everything in a relatively short amount of time. I would take any type of medicine seriously, including homeopathy, if they could show in a double blind experiment that it worked.
Science is not the same as faith which is defined in my dictionary as "complete trust or confidence", or "firm belief, esp. without logical proof". As I have just shown it is almost the opposite. My ideal is to be sceptical to ideas with weak evidence, but not so sceptical that I cannot be convinced when proper evidence does exist.
Science is also different from religion which in my dictionary is defined as "the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship". Science is a method (or rather a gizillion methods) to achieve knowledge. Religion, on the other hand, is a belief in a superhuman nature, they are completely different concepts. A minority of scientists are religious (Einstein, by the way, is not one of them), the majority is not. The two are in other words more or less independent of each other. This is not entirely true of course since by scientific standards, religion is a weak theory with a minimal amount of supporting evidence. For this reason I am an atheist, but again, if proper evidence is shown to me I would change my mind.
I want to end with a great quote by Carl Sagan that I just read and which captures most of what I have written here; "Be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out."