Religion Versus Science

Religion: Science versus faith

There is a simple resolution to the conflict between science and faith (aka religion): science works. Understanding and using the methods and results gained from scientific investigation leads to a modicum of control over how future events play out. Faith as a modus operandi requires closing one’s eyes and letting things happen rather than trying to understand what is going on and using that understanding to arrive at a result that will be more likely to be beneficial than random chance.

In the early times of human civilization the world was a truly mysterious place. The volcano would erupt, some people got killed, and the survivors would wonder why this happened. A shaman or wise man or elder or witch doctor or priest, depending on the locally acceptable terminology, would tell them that the volcano-god was angry because they had not given the proper donation, in the form of sacrifices or prayer or whatever. They would try to follow the shaman’s direction and, sure enough, the volcano would not erupt for many years. When it finally did erupt, the shaman (aka priest, aka huckster) would explain that they had lapsed from the proper rituals and were being punished. The remedy would require more donations, more sacrifices, and more rituals. If a prayer was not answered, it was because it was not phrased correctly or the correct amount of donation was not given or it was not submitted to the proper authority first.   

When Galileo was being investigated by the church on suspicion of heresy, agents were sent to view his workshop first hand. He trained his telescope on the moons of Jupiter (there were four visible through the crude instrument he possessed) and told them, “There they are. Look at them.” They refused. They trusted their faith more than any evidence he could give them. That kind of thinking is disastrous. 

“Faith can move mountains.” No, it cannot. But a big old D-9 Caterpillar surely can. Faith leads to behavior that can be destructive. No matter how strong your belief that there is no such thing as a train, if you stand on a railroad track long enough, you will get smashed. A belief in curing disease through prayer rather than medication can lead to death. A rational examination of statistical evidence leaves no doubt. A much larger percentage of those who use medical science to treat their ailments recover than those who rely on faith.

That is the essence of the difference between faith and science. Science works and faith does not. Using scientific precepts and learning from them means doing what you can to control your environment and your future. Faith means giving up control and letting things happen. Science is not perfect, and the best plan that uses the best evidence will not always have the desired outcome. But it is much more likely than relying on faith, which means basically doing nothing.

As Damon Runyan expressed it, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong—but that’s the way to bet.”

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