TED Conversations


This conversation is closed.

Science is a religion

Dear TEDsters,

For almost a decade I've been appauled by people claiming that "if you don't trust science you're an idiot" or "Religion ha that's just for people who don't know facts!" or the really old "If you don't think I'm right you must be incompetent".
These arguments have been made by many scientific and religious fanatics alike.

Nowadays more and more people seem to confuse science with fact. Also there is the expression "to measure is to know" (at least in my language that is an expression). Although this is in part true this doesn't hold for the entire field of science and not even neccesarily for the most basic principles of science.

First of all let me state that I do not and can (probably) never know how you percieve the world as is the case for your ability to judge me.
Secondly even how you percieve the world changes during your lifetime as does it for me. Do you still remember how when you were young a kilometer seemed so large and tables seemed high etc.?

What we can do however is take an object (clone it) show it to everyone (which doesn't mean everyone has the same perception) and label that. This is for instance what we've done with a meter. Then we use a great invention called math to be able to do calculations with or about this object.
Up till now everything is fine ;)

Great scientists can percieve things differently. Einstein for instance saw a relation between energy, mass and the speed of light. Something nobody at that time saw, and probably many still do not. The fact is however that his equation is accurately describing/predicting many galactical events and phenomenon.

But we must NEVER forget that all we do is describe the events in such a way that our (math) explaination of it can insanely closely (up the the point where we have full believe in it) show what will happen.

The fundations of science however is that we believe what we percieve and we assume that when our describtion of it is correct the physics behind it is too.


Closing Statement from Richard Krooman

In this thread I try to take the point of view that all science is based upon the faith that our perceptions could be wrong and that therefor our scientific findings could be wrong. (This is not my personal view but I wanted to encourage people to see it like this.)
Also I try to enhance the point that although we are reasonably sure that we have accurately described certain observations throught the use of math it could always be possible that another explaination better describes this (aka einstein > newton).
Thirdly I wanted to focus on the 'unquestionability' of science where people always think that previous scientific findings are 100% fact. Even though there are many instances of previous scientific beliefs that have been falsified through the process of science. However the very idea that backs up science is that "something is true unless proven false" basically also means "A true scientist cannot ever be 100% sure of anything". Which than automatically makes it such that he has faith that previous findings are correct.

Quite a few people get a bit too hung up on the differences between science and religion that they forget to argue with the real point that I try to make.
And some people (falsly) believe that questioning science means that you disregard findings which "work" (especially examples with medicine are used in this thread).

Also too many people are thinking that the idea of God is somehow retarded because science has proven that there is none... which is also false. Science has just shown that to explain most things we do not need one (btw I am an atheist). And imo we cannot go into the argument because science can never prove that there is no God because he would be almighty (if he exists he can make us believe whatever we could believe).

The brain in the vat argument does well to make people think about the above concepts.

In the end I came to realize that it takes more faith, and less benefits, to believe in science than it does in God

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Mar 22 2012: We remain poles apart, Richard. I see how you have used the word, faith and then equated that to religion. I think it is a very loose misunderstanding of the word, as applied to science.

    When I heat a substance in a test tube with a bunsen burner, I know that it will get hotter. It is not an article of faith. Science is able to let anyone follow the same method used to create an experimental situation and reproduce the results identically, given that all other factors are equal.

    Religion does not conform to any reproducible model. People of the same religion will experience different things at the same event. The fact that they all ascribe their personal experiences to the same superhuman being is incidental and something akin to a phenomenon such as mass hysteria.

    Creationists (a religious sect) have faith in the bible and cite Genesis as the starting point, when the earth was created by god in six days. Adam and Eve are to be found in the garden of Eden and are supposed to be the ancestors of all living humans. The bible mentions their 3 sons and no daughters. Were Cain, Able and Seth homosexual? How did they produce children? What of the daughters who we know must have been present for babies to have been born? Was incest the rule?

    What faith requires is that one suspends their critical faculties and accepts that the nonsense written in the bible is true. I pointed out early on that god was obviously a psychopath. Many religious people will cite god's love for all living things as proof of his/hers/its existence. When questioned about the needless slaughter of innocents (e.g. the three young children shot dead by a maniac in France recently) religious people reply it is because we have free will. I don't buy that response and any half decent omnipotent god would have prevented the deaths of three children.

    Happily, science is not religion. I don't see religion as being worth any of my time. Religion is the single greatest cause of needless suffering.
    • Mar 23 2012: it's fine that we're worlds apart.
      You've proven quite often that you're in the category of people that just refuse to question science on philosophical grounds. And that's fine... your anger/hatred towards religion is somewhat disturbing though.
      You also don't think you've made a choice to believe in science... so in my eyes you're just fooling yourself into thinking you can't question science -> it is similar to a religion.

      But like I said it is fine that we disagree on these things...
      • Mar 23 2012: Richard, philosophy is not a true science. It is not based on objective measures nor does it modify over time.
        • Mar 23 2012: I've ignored all your posts up till now because you refuse to see that the point I make is a philosiphical one.
          I am perfectly well aware that I can't prove through science that science is a religion. I'm also perfectly aware that I can't argue from religion that religion is a science.
          You cannot see it my way because in your eyes all science is factual and you completely disregard philosophical statements because they make you question your own ideas about the world... You'd rather let 'science journals' tell you how the world works... while not questioning anything that is written there... Man those last lines sounded a lot like religion.
      • Mar 24 2012: "You'd rather let 'science journals' tell you how the world works" = I would rather investigate these so-called journals to grasp a better understanding of the concept; I am not a gullible idiot who would just follow these potential faulty journals.
        I do not disregard your statements as philosophical because in reality, critical thinking is philosophy, and it is obvious that you are thinking heavily about this subject. I do disregard the meaning of your statements because I find a fault in them.
        In a realistic world, some things that are believed to be false are later turn out to be true and some things that are believed to be true are later turn out to be false. In religion, concepts are rarely modified over time, and if they are modified, they follow the advancements of the modern world, not their own studies. I do admit that religion is consider a philosophy, philosophy created the foundation for science; therefore, religion aided the construction of science in a sense. However, religion is a philosophy, philosophy is not a science; therefore, religion is not a science.
        • Mar 24 2012: the "I would rather investigate these so-called journals" is what saves you.

          The problem I see is that less and less people do and just assume the validity. More and more scientists even show this awesome ability of proclaiming they are right while everyone who claims otherwise doesn't have his/her facts right.
          I know I assume too many things which I read to be true... but I 'choose to believe' them regardless... but it's a choice.

          But philosiphically we can't be sure. The argument that I've discussed in other posts of a brain in a vat for instance is a way of thinking that has no flaws. All scientists should hold this posibility open to them. One of the questions that results from this how is "holding the believe that this might be true while not assuming that it is not real" any different to a leap of faith?
          You know that you might be a brain in a vat... however we (or well by far most people ;p) choose to assume that we are not.
          Many more scientific findings, theories and can boil down to questions like this where you have to choose what you want to believe. Because at the end of the day... we're not sure.
          My posts are basicly saying that scientists should question their trust in science more. Because many (apparently not you) think that it is the absolute truth (which I in part actually agree with but hey that's just me)
      • Mar 24 2012: Richard, I don't need to philosophically question that which I know to be true. I neither hate religion nor am I angry.

        So from your enlightened position, kindly tell me (and everyone else) which religion is the one true religion? Which god is the one true god to whom I must submit and prostrate myself?

        I certainly don't know and I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I have no place from which to begin to address this question... but I do know that religious wars are common. All of the major religions in the world believe that they are the only true religion and everyone other religion is wrong.

        Science is required for my work and I chose my work. Science just happens to be the means by which my work improves. I won't improve my field of work by prayer or attending any one of the numerous religious services that attract the ilk of the Moonies, PeoplesTemple Agricultural Project, Branch Davidians as well as... Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and Quakers et al.

        I have no faith in things that cannot be understood and my tool for understanding is scientific method, not guesswork, desire, intuition, superstition, fairy tales, wish fulfilment, lack of self-responsibility, feelings, comfort and the complete panoply of baggage that accompanies the acceptance of religious supremacy.

        Not for nothing are religious beliefs frequently referred to as doctrinal and dogma. I choose not to be hoodwinked by people claiming to be the mouthpiece of god. I choose to think for myself rather than having this one-size fits all notion of life imposed upon me by the same people who derive comfort from the notion of a supreme being.
        • Mar 24 2012: "I don't need to philosophically question that which I know to be true."
          1) Then why do you post so much here?
          2) If you know them to be true you won't be able to question them. And because science itself is based upon the foundation that we cannot know things with absolute certainty. So actually you're proving me right because this sure looks like a religion to me.

          "So from your enlightened position, kindly tell me (and everyone else) which religion is the one true religion?"
          I personally choose science to be closest to the real thing (most probable to be fairly correct) the fact is that I do not know. But the point that I'm making is that everyone should respect the choice that other peope made to believe in something.... As long as they knowingly made their choice. Something which most scientists of this day and age have not done (many religious people also forget that they have a choice though).
      • Mar 24 2012: Science is not a religion because religion assumes that its beliefs are definitively true, but science always modifies its works to see if it is true. There are scientific laws such as gravity is a force that will always push objects downward and air resistance is a force that will always push objects upward, but even these we test daily by everyday actions. In science, you are suppose to be skeptic, humble, and curious, but in religion, you are suppose to be skeptic and somewhat curious. The goal of scientific experiments are to be replicable because there could always be error in the results such as the study that states immunizations can cause autism or homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse, but these results haven been proven false with later findings that suggest they have weak correlations. Personally, Cable is too headstrong with his definition of science, and I do admit that science does not hold all the answers of the universe, but its answers are more reliable than the ones given by religion considering the fact that science modifies itself over time with objective research.
        I do not deny that my brain can be in a jar and this world can be nothing, but this is truly subjective for it cannot be proven true or false, but as I mention again and again, science is based off of objective research, which is why philosophy is not considered a true science.
        By the way, if a scientist believes his or her research are 100% true, then he or she would be definitely considered error-prone.
        • Mar 24 2012: now we're getting somewhere :)

          Let's first say that I do not attribute the next paragraph to you, but in general towards 'scientists who lost their way'.

          the "I do not deny that my brain can be in a jar and this world can be nothing, but this is truly subjective for it cannot be proven true or false.....". How come more and more people nowadays claim that all religions are false (or stupid / whatever negative term they use) while also the existence of God cannot be proven true or false?

          For me the assumption that many scientific findings are true, based on my perception of the world, is similar to "faith in my perception" / "faith that there is an exterior world".
          If someone percieves that "God blessed them with a gift" while I can explain it through reproduction of cells ;). Who can say which of us is correct? Perhaps I'm seeing it wrong and their perception is right. I don't believe I'm wrong but because I am a scientist I must assume that I might be wrong.
          This mindset is completely absent in many scientists who, by doing so, are (in my eyes) turning science into a cult / religion.
        • Mar 25 2012: Richard, the 'brain in a jar' argument doesn't apply as easily as you make it seem. While it is true that it cannot currently be proven true or false, the fact is irrelevant. No one is trying to claim that we are in deed brains in a vat and the statement doesn't affect anything. On the other hand, established major religions have billions of supporters who claim that their one and only religion is infallibly true. It's the good old 'burden of proof' argument. As long as believers want to convince other of their religion's monopoly on truthfulness, there needs to be some form of proof.

          Now, at the same time, if someone believes in an indefinable deity outside the realm of organized religion, that's where I give up my efforts to seek evidence. If you simply believe in a higher power, go ahead. Call it Yahweh and we're going to have a discussion.
        • Mar 26 2012: Johan Pärjamäe

          "On the other hand, established major religions have billions of supporters who claim that their one and only religion is infallibly true."
          Scientific people are starting to act like that as well. Which is the thing I have a problem with.

          The brain in a jar argument does apply easy because all scientists hold it to be possible and therefor all scientists must also hold religion possible but they choose not to believe that but rather put their trust in science. Ofcourse there is no saying which religion is right... but to a convinced scientific atheist it doesn't really matter to me. What does matter to me is how convinced scientists are that they have figured it out.... there is no god.

          It's not that I don't think science is right... I think that scientists are arguing the wrong discussion in the 'faith vs religion' debate. Which is why I wanted to make scientific people realize that they actually assume that they don't know the (full) truth.
      • Mar 24 2012: Science is simply objective and religion is simply subjective. One's perception in science is nothing compared to our perception in science. Scientific studies are meant to be replicable, otherwise they are usually discounted for. People discredit religion because science is more reliable than religion in the end. I choose medicine over a prayer any day of the week. Personally, I think it does not hurt to have faith in god as long as one has greater hope in science. Many hospitals allow religious figures come into the buildings and give hope to patients; studies have shown this reduces stress which helps the patient to improve from his or her condition. The same people who simply accept a scientific study as fact and ignore other studies are the same type of people that believe in the eugenics movement. Science is more likely to be right than religion because it is humble; religion simply assumes that it is true, while science sets out to prove that it is true. If I were to assume that I am right all the time, then I would overlook the times when I am wrong; religion can ignore its errors. The only science that comes close to a cult is cosmetology because it is superficial and materialistic but even that is a long stretch. It is just a hyperbole to state science as a religion or cult.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.