Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Religion of Science

There’s a face of the boy that’s been a bit hidden. He’s there, in fact he’s a core part of the boy, but he doesn’t get out much. Let me introduce PreacherBoy. He’s the one that does most of the thinking, has been here from pretty early on. Preacher examines, cogitates and over the years has come to some pretty fundamental views of the world. I’ve been debating letting him out of his comfortable library in my mind, but really I’d always intended to let him out. From time to time he’ll take the pulpit and let you know some of what the boy believes.

Please understand, Preacher likes an argument. You don’t have to agree with him, in fact he kind of prefers it that way. Preacher wants to challenge, to make you think. Argue back, he’ll answer. Ask him questions even, he really likes that. So then, we start. Today’s sermon is on Religion, and on one Religion in particular. Science.

Lets start with a basic definition of Religion. There are many, but I don’t think many would disagree with the following. That Religion is a set of beliefs that attempt to explain the world, our lives and, frankly, why. Within that definition, there is a word that needs further definition. Belief. Again, I don’t think many would argue with the statement that belief, in the end, is a knowledge that can’t be proven. By its very nature it is unknowable, and no amount of fact or investigation can prove it.

So, why do I say Science is a Religion? It is generally accepted that Science is based on truth, that the Scientific Method is about taking a Theorem and proving it through replicable experimentation and definable fact. Science is the antithesis of Belief. It understands reality by investigating and proving how it works.

However, this is perhaps less known, deep down in the bowels of Science there are these little known things called axioms. At its simplest an axiom is something so obviously true it needs no proof. Kind of sounds like a Belief, doesn’t it?

Let me explain. 1 + 1 = 2. We all know this don’t we? Its taught throughout the world from the earliest age. Do you know that you can not prove that 1 + 1 = 2? Whitehead and Russel, in their Principia Mathematica spent over 300 pages building up a proof of basic mathematics. I struggled my way throw it when young, it is pure genius (someday I will expound on math as the ultimate art form). Yet, even they, with their brilliance, still had to rely on some fundamental axioms.

I can here you laughing out there, scoffing even. Everyone knows 1 + 1 = 2. Take one apple, take another apple, you have 2 apples. Ask yourself, what do you have two of? They are in no way identical. Each apple has its own unique shape, different colouring, different numbers of seeds, texture, moisture, and taste. They are really only the same in a very general way. Even two hydrogen atoms, one of the fundamental items of our world (though read about quarks, fascinating stuff, and even now it is thought there may be even more fundamental elements), will not be identical. Their electrons will have different orbits, different shapes. No two atoms are identical.

1 + 1 = 2 is actually a simple example of something known as set theory. It is a way of identifying things that are a bit different, yet more the same, and classifying them as the same thing. One apple plus another apple makes two apples.

More interestingly, did you know it is possible to develop a whole mathematical structure where 1 + 1 does not equal 2? We're getting into wild thinking here, but genius has spent lifetimes on this. Such math can be used to explain things normal math can’t.

So, Science has under it Belief, and Science is used to explain our world. That sounds a lot like the definition of Religion we started with. Don’t get me wrong, it has done so better than any Belief system man has devised. We truly understand our world better than at any time in man’s history. It has given us massive benefit, and has allowed our species to dominate our environment through understanding it. Yet it is not infallible, it can’t be. Nothing defined by man is infallible. No Religion is certainly, and, do not doubt it, Science is a Religion.

In all of this I do not mean to undermine Science. I believe in it fervently. Yet I do think it is believed in a bit too unquestioningly. We should always understand our belief, make sure it is believed for the right reasons. So go forth and question my children. So ends today’s lesson.


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