Daily Archives: Monday, 7:33, April 16, 2012

Science vs. Religion on “The Unknown” (Ann Druyan)


Blinded To Science


Religious symbols from the top nine organised ...

Religious symbols from the top nine organised faiths of the world according to Major world religions From left to right: 1st Row: Christian Cross, Jewish Star of David, Hindu Aumkar 2nd Row: Islamic Star and crescent, Buddhist Wheel of Dharma, Shinto Torii 3rd Row: Sikh Khanda, Bahá'í star, Jain Ahimsa Symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve sometimes been chided for dismissiveness of such alleged ways of knowing as faith claims and personal experience, particularly those of an extraordinary or mystical/spiritual nature. However, I’m also aware of many ways in which those can lead us to believe things that simply are not so, especially when we make assumptions of facts not in evidence.

I’m aware that our entire view of the world is literally a construction of our brains, a picture put together in our heads, through our limited and often faulty sensory systems, by way of our prior knowledge, beliefs, personal biases, our physical perspectives, and any of various mental and physical states we may be in at a given time.

Personal experience, often lacking any rigor or public accessibility, is an unreliable guide to the truth of a matter, and faith — I’m speaking here of the religious sort — seems to me bankrupt as a real path to knowledge.

Sorry. Nobody’s faith and personal intuitions outdo science — In the contest between faith and science, science has the better track record by far.

The best such faith can do is serve as a means of believing things to be so, not knowing them, so the claims of some to ‘know’ certain things on the basis of faith alone, much less certainly, are without support.

To assert claims to knowledge by such means at best shows a conceptual misunderstanding of what knowledge is, and at worst is willfully dishonest.

Claims to knowledge must be backed up with evidence. Hitchen’s razor — ‘Nuff said on that.

Often quoted is the phrase, “None are so blind as he who will not see,” and ironically, this applies to everyone, for most important to an accurate view of the world is not just seeing what’s there, but avoiding seeing what is only within the recesses of our own minds.

Superstition and magical thinking can be powerful ways of leading us on a merry chase toward folly, through our natural inclination to see meaning and purpose in the meaningless, simplicity on the complex, patterns on the patternless, and our wish to be connected to the cosmos, as well as our innate desire to see something more to the world than is immediately apparent.

But I think that a tendency to see the supernatural as real, far from completing the world and adding majesty to it, demeans the very real wonders and yes, stark terrors, that are apparent to the scientifically literate — it’s a literacy that makes the world look different from the simple, intuitive, neat, meaningful, and misleading supernatural picture of the world.

Are there things about the universe beyond what is immediately known? Certainly. It would be foolish to claim that our current knowledge represents the ultimate boundary of what we will ever know, and it is equally fatuous to say that one’s own personal understanding and intuitive sensibilities represent those same ultimate limits.

But if we are to learn anything about the universe of any real consequence, it will probably be through science that we find it out.

As important to many as purpose, meaning, and centrality to the Cosmos are, the fact that science can’t tell us everything right this moment doesn’t justify anyone’s just making things up and declaring this to be infallible truth merely by the arbitrary fiat of mystics and entrenched religious traditions.

As a former believer, I can see the need to somehow supplement the world with the constructs of our admittedly powerful but limited imaginations, but this does a great disservice to those pioneers of our species who labored to back up their speculations of the world using reasoning and data.

It seems to me that those who are closing themselves off to a real understanding, through blind wishful thinking, false hopes and fear, are denying themselves of some enriching, enlivening, enlightening things that would be evident if only they would permit themselves to learn and see what really is.

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