Thursday, June 14, 2007

On religion within science

Note: The following is a continuation of the discussion that has been going on for the last two days on Waldo’s blog. Since it’s long and I expect his post will soon be buried under new material, I've decided to post my thoughts here.

As I understand it, we are debating strict creationism on this board and not general creationism. General creationism is simply the belief that a god or gods created the universe. It doesn’t really go into the how part, just that at the end of the process there is a supreme being. In this case evolution really doesn’t infringe. It can simply be a part of the how in, as Citizen Tom has put it, “how He did it.”

Strict creationism, on the other hand, is the belief that the book of Genesis is to be taken as a literal and complete account of how the universe was created. Some variation may exist from interest group to interest group, but overall it is not common for you to encounter people demanding that Hindu or Buddhist creation theories be taught in American science classes (even though some aspects do correlate with areas of physics equally if not better than Genesis). Instead, we have two departments where these are covered extensively: Religious Studies and Philosophy (with the later sometimes embodying the former where an anthropology department does not intervene). These are largely college-level classes, but as a result are taken largely by young adults at ages where they are predominantly deemed capable of thinking for themselves.

@ Citizen Tom

It is true that we are never absolutely sure of anything in the physical world? Yes. Of all the sciences, this is best conveyed in statistics. When trying to determine the probability of anything, we can never achieve 100% certainty. Any time someone does say that something, like the non-existence of Santa Claus, is 100% true, what they’ve actually done is round a number like 99.999999999…% to 100%. In truth, there is actually some infinitesimal chance that old Saint Nick does exist! It’s just way too unlikely for any reasonably sane person to believe in.

Now, the problem with accurately estimating the probability of Santa’s existence is pretty difficult. Unlike evolution, evidence of his existence is hard to come by in any creditable form, and there does seem to be a pretty decent amount of research towards the contrary. We could question that research though… we could also argue that the holocaust didn’t occur despite the large amount of evidence that it did. The same logic applies. Just one pesky infinitesimal always keeps us upon the edge of improbability, unable to leap into the impossible… because it is impossible! Unlike fat men in red suits and elaborate hoaxes involving millions of people, theism is a great deal harder to prove… or disprove. We’ll come back to that.

To deem any aspect of a reality, including its whole, as “true” requires belief. As I said and others before me have acknowledged, this is completely accepted. But weather belief requires “faith,” becomes a tad more murky, particularly since definitions of faith come a dime a dozen.

With science, there is a sincere effort to avoid faith. With uncertainty inevitable, science makes every effort to reduce uncertainty of fact to as small an infinitesimal as possible, and then goes back to rigorously review the manner of random sampling and re-test, re-test, re-test! When the probability of one theory loses consistency and is outweighed by another, the older theory eventually is cast aside, only preserved so one can survey the evolution of thought. Religion is not so inclined. In the face of uncertainty, religion is far more inclined to embrace faith as its stave. When a theologian does address uncertainty, with ideas contrary to the norm, ideas of change, more often what will happen is a new sect of the religion will be formed and the old will live on, and not merely for a few generations while the two perspectives of truth are being compared with scrutiny, but till present and on with still no interest in either willfully assimilating into the other. Though we still in elementary physics show ancient illustrations of the sun orbiting the earth, we find few scientists today who actually believe what they imply.

But here comparison fails, for among the many reasons we cannot look at Abraham, Jesus and Mohamed as the equivalent of Newton, Einstein and Hawking (or even Aristotle, Galileo and Newton), is the nature of these two systems. In systems of observation, evidence and reason, keeping one model after another makes more sense in every available way, seems irrational. With systems of faith, where evidence consists of little beyond the existence of scriptures where reason often stands as much at odds with faith as beside, any new model or variation upon the prior does not through probability disprove the prior in its independent form. It becomes purely a debate of authenticity of scripture and faith vs. reason where both are but right and left boxing gloves worn by both combatants. As a result, science becomes more refined in a sense with differing schools of thought still embodied within its whole and purpose, slowly shedding away with the constant inflow of new data while religion diversifies with faith into more and more different beliefs and interpretations, able at times to align by common belief, while only shedding away as contradicting views literally – one way or another – die off.

The systems of science and religion contradict one-another in their approach to uncertainty. Some I am sure will respond now to this argument by saying I have oversimplified religion to my aim, and neglected how many heated divides do exist in science. Nonetheless until extensively proven wrong, I maintain that my underlying point is valid. To any insulted by my use of Santa Claus and the Holocaust, my examples were, as I stated, not comparisons to the existence of god but only used to convey the extents that the logic of faith and infinitesimal uncertainty embody. To which I now return to the discussion of, for the fundamental dividing point that makes strict creationism and even general creationism inappropriate for a science class, as opposed to a philosophy or other classroom, is that it deals with the concept of god.

There is a common misconception (I’m beginning to feel like that is the most used phrase I’ve ever typed) that science is an atheistic school of thought. It isn’t. Though there are many logical arguments that have been made against the existence of god, there is no actual scientific evidence either way. One can produce evidence to challenge areas of specific religious claim, such as strict creationism, but as to weather or not god does or does not exist is impossible to proclaim with 100% certainty. Theism can no more be proven than atheism, solipsism or nihilism. As a result, it is not that science stands against the claim that god exists; it simply is not concerned with the matter. What science attempts to do is understand the space between are presumed consciousness and that unanswerable question.

Others have alluded to the purposes of science as a means of predicting the tangible, and I believe there is a great deal more to be argued as to why the practice of faith should be kept separate from science when taking in the scope of fields it covers that depend on certainty as opposed to gambling, however, I feel the most important point has now been made and will leave it at that for the moment. As for the debate of evolution vs. creationism, I feel there is little more to say beyond what plunge has stated:
If the opposition does have something to contribute, then it must play by the rules: vet their work against peer review, defend it and actually respond to criticism as opposed to dodging it. Once it is well established THEN perhaps we can discuss whether it belongs in science class.


Blogger Cory Capron said...

My definition of general and strict creationism is being debated in a new forum on Waldo's blog if anyone's interested.

5:25 PM  

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