I’ve been noticing an alarming trend lately. Namely, the idea propagating that science is a religion. A religion built on assumptions about reality, then logically extended from there until there is a large amount of dogma around this religion called science. There’s only one problem… anyone making this claim is wrong!
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I believe in the paranormal, after all, I recently wrote a guide about how to cast a spell. But, even though I believe that paranormal things exist, and science may not have an explanation for everything, I understand what science is supposed to do. It’s supposed to help us objectively study our world, so we can learn more about it in a way that can be verified by many people so we know it’s as accurate as we can possibly make it.
Here are a couple definitions, from dictionary.com, just to help:
Religion: 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.
Science: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
Now, I want you to pay attention. There are two points of the definition of science that need closer observation. First, the knowledge gained through science is systematic. There’s a system in place, called the scientific method, to make sure we treat all data gained in the same manner in order to accurately prove a hypothesis correct or incorrect. The next point is that we gain this knowledge through observation and experimentation. We don’t take it on faith, we observe and experiment, and don’t call something a fact until we can get repeatable results showing this fact remains consistent. It may still turn out to be wrong later, or need to be modified, but science is open to allowing that to happen when new evidence is found and presented.
Religion, on the other hand, is taken on faith. I know of no religion that experiments to test the truth of the claims it makes. As you can see, religion is a set of beliefs about how we came to be and what our purpose is, usually involving a supernatural creator, moral codes, and a lot of devotion and ritual. However, there are no tests done to verify the claims of a religion, and often times there can be no test, because most religion is based on something intangible and unmeasurable.
If you can’t test it, it’s not science. If you can test it, you can use the scientific method to see if it should be included in the body of knowledge called science. However, it has to be repeatable by anyone who can follow the instructions laid out in the experiment. If the same results can’t be gained by someone doing the same thing, then it’s not certain enough to be true to allow it to become part of the body of scientific knowledge.
Now, a caveat, because I know this is coming. What about evolution? Well, it’s true we can’t test that in the sense that we’re here now, and we aren’t going to reproduce the process that brought us about. However, we can test the principles behind evolution, and the principles hold up under scientific scrutiny. This makes evolution a very likely explanation for how we came about, and the most likely explanation as no alternative theory that holds up to scrutiny has been proposed and tested as such. Since we can’t directly observe it, and can only test the principles behind it, we call it a theory. However, a scientific theory is very strong, and has a lot of testing go into it.
This isn’t like saying “I have a theory on how this machine works, let’s open it up and find out.” Theory as used in this quote is actually much closer to a scientific hypothesis, which will then be tested. A scientific theory is thoroughly tested before being termed a theory, and is very likely to be true, though certainly it’s possible, like anything in science, that we may find a better explanation later. If we do, it will be through observation and experimentation, and not through faith and belief.
Now, this isn’t to say I think religion is bad. It isn’t. In fact, religion has a lot of good points, and while I’m a strong proponent of science, I’m also a religious and spiritual person as well. However, I think it’s important to understand the difference between science and religion, because the difference is there and it’s important.
Science has provided us with a lot of useful things. Modern medicine, the technology that allows me to write this piece and put it up for everyone to read who wishes to do so, convenient and speedy travel to take us nearly anywhere we wish to go on Earth, and many other useful, tangible things. When we decide something should be included in the body of scientific knowledge, it’s because we know it works through repeated testing. It’s reliable knowledge.
Religion has also provided us with some useful things, but they are intangible, and generally rooted in philosophical ideas. It provided a basis for our first moral codes, it can provide strength to pull through difficult times, hope for a better future, motivation to make it happen, a sense of community, and many other things. However, religion can’t be verified, and to my knowledge has never provided us with anything that can be used to create anything tangible. This doesn’t mean it’s not useful, but it’s usefulness is in another area of our society than the usefulness of science is.
In short, science is not religion. It has charactaristics, specifically experimentation and observation, that distinguish it from religion. While science does attempt to describe how reality works, it does so in a way far different than religions do. It uses observation and experimentation. It does not use faith and belief.