On science, society, philosophy and literature by George Zarkadakis
Monday, April 27, 2009
Science as Religion
Science and Religion can be easily compared in the context of narrative. Both are narratives (see also “The Book of the Universe”). Religious narratives always interrelate an explanation of the world as well as a set of moral instructions. Within the set of moral instructions we must include ritual, which is by definition a moral instruction too. Science, since Descartes, has excluded itself from advising on rituals or good behavior and has concentrated solely in the business of explanation. Although much doubt on the explanatory power of Science still exists amongst many of our fellow human beings, I will argue that any well-meaning person with the capability - and courage - of rational thinking ought to ultimately accept Science as the best of all possible explanations of the world. One may even argue that one does not need to “believe” in Science in order to accept its validity; in contrast to a belief system such as Religion. I, on the contrary, will argue that acceptance of Scientific Truth and belief in Religious Truth are not as dissimilar as they appear. Religion assumes a Higher Intelligence in trying to make sense of the cosmos; this intelligence (a “God”) may be self-conscious (“theism”) or not (“deism”); but without It there can be no complete explanation. Science, based on its methodology and the amazing and self-evident observation that the Universe is so finely tuned for life, has arrived at a very puzzling conclusion: that the Universe is either a product of blind chance (“one of many universes”) or that there is a “fifth element” at work which always “obliges” a Universe to arrive at a life-supporting version. This “fifth element” could be an as yet unknown law of nature that shapes a causelessly-created Universe into an anthropic one. The first hypothesis is supported by the “democrats” and the second one by the “aristocrats” (see “Spontaneous Dichotomy in scientific debate”). Arguably, both scientific hypotheses require a big amount of belief, at least for now, since none can be proved or disproved. String theory as well as closed-loop quantum theory are trying to suggest feasible experiments in order to examine which one of the two hypotheses is the true one; but until now none has succeeded in doing so. One hopes that they soon will. But if Science and Religion both share a certain degree of belief, what of the moral instructions? If I am to compare the two then I should take issue with the second axis of a religious narrative too, which tells me how -and why - I should behave in a certain way; eat fish and not pork, for example, or face Mecca and bow five times a day, or sacrifice a cock on a full moon, or never to tell lies. Lately (see also “The Book of the Universe") it has been argued by many prominent scientists and philosophers that Science can also do exactly that: teach Humankind a moral code of self-regulation and mutual respect. Science is becoming more and more like Religion.