Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Truth" Or "Goodness" - The Difference Between Science And Religion

Issues in Science and Religion
Issues in Science and Religion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Somebody said Oscar Wilde said, "Old people believe everything; middle aged people doubt everything, young people know everything." Based on this quote, I found I was quite "normal" to doubt lots of thing these years, because I am middle aged!

Things I've doubted the most were science and religion* (or faith). When I was young I was a science "believer", but later I found the science had its limit, and realized that believing science was not much different from believing "God". So, it seems to make sense to say, that there is not much difference between science and faith. But I am not satisfied with this thought. I found these two fields are still essentially different: one is derived from an objective thinking style: to know, or to understand how the world (universe) works; another is derived from subjective thinking style: to wish, to hope, so that human kind would be mentally in a better condition, either during or after our lifetime. Science respect facts  ("fact", or "truth" here mean anything that can be verified by our sensory organs), regardless they are good ("good" means "favorable") for humans or not; on the other hand, faith focuses on humans needs, regardless what they believe are true or false.

From this point of view, we'd better not ask truth in religion, nor, seek morality or emotional comfort in science, though these two fields do cross each other at some points. Take the human origin as an example. Both science and religion have their interpretations on this subject: science says human evolved from lower life forms, religion says humans were created by God. People from different sides always demand each other for proofs. I would say, please don't ask science to provide evidences for evolution, because if there were no evidences, there would be no such idea; also please don't ask believers to provide evidences for God, because the beauty of faith is "blind". To say evolution is completely an objective view, not only because it was based on evidence, which means no one would just invent such idea by imagination, also because no human being would be "spiritually" or "emotionally" benefited by knowing we evolved from lower life forms. On the other hand, to say faith is subjective, not only because we got this idea out of our imagination, but also the idea makes us feel good. Imagine, if the story of Adam and Eve was true, would we not feel much better by knowing we are protected by God, and a guaranteed life after death? So, from this view, science and faith, which one would be "truer" should not be a dispute, and which one would make us feeling better but may not be true is also obvious.

Science doesn't always do "good" to human, because it does not mean to - it is out of our curiosity, an instinct that is like our sex drive, or our appetite for foods. To simply put, we just need to know, regardless of the outcome; faith is not always truthful because it doesn't care about truth, it was created for consoling our desperate living situation. The reason that science and religion fought so violently for centuries, by my opinion, is because most people confused by the essential difference of these two fields, so they ask science for "good", religion for "truth". When people found that science can do "bad", they think we should not at all believe whatever science says, and when people found faith is not "true", they would think we should be completely cynical, not to have faith at all. They forgot that these two fields derived from different side of our brains, serve for different purposes, and they have their respective necessities for humans. Unfortunately, I found many people, probably majority, due to many reasons - possibly both natural (biological) and cultural (educational) reasons, only possess one type of thinking style, either subjective, or objective. Only in minds of some, maybe minority of population, these two thinking styles can coexist peacefully.

By saying "these two thinking styles coexist peacefully", I did not mean they (science and religion) should negotiate with each other, thus lose their own attributes, rather, I mean their difference is granted by their "owners", and the owners know how to use them for different purposes, such as, when concerning about "truth", or facts, they go to science; when talking about value of our life, struggle in despair, fighting with injustice, pursuing happiness, they would hold faith without hesitation.

So, science and faith, rather than letting them fighting with each other, we probably should realize that they can be "friends" to each other, and leave them as they are, without change their identities.

Hope I don't sound so confused after all. :-)



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*In this article, "science" means scientific spirit, or an objective attitude towards the world, doesn't include all contents under the full definition of "science", such as scientific knowledge, discoveries and technology, etc.; "religion" here means faith, or spiritual attitude towards the world, doesn't include religion institutions and doctrines.
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14 comments:

  1. Nice article,


    I have never understood who some religious people are anti science.

    Whether God created earth and all of it's creatures or not, science just studies what is there, and if we are all God's creations, then everything we do must be God's work.

    This is an interesting flow chart about religion and science.

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-h5Tdpx4uVZM/T1AmQs6sniI/AAAAAAAAAKk/dSW78qp216k/s1600/science+vs+religion.jpg

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  2. Yun, Whatever can go right, can go wrong too. And whatever can be put to good use, can be misused too. Science, as in a Hiroshima or a Nagasaki or a Chernobyl; Religion as in Taliban.

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  3. @PBScott,
    That's a neat chart.
    I think the reason that some religious people are anti science is because science make humans look less favored by God.

    @Uma, well said!

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  4. "I would say, please don't ask science to provide evidences for evolution, because if there were no evidences, there would be no such idea; also please don't ask believers to provide evidences for God, because the beauty of faith is "blind"."

    Loved this, and loved the rest of the post. Gives me something to contemplate.

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  5. Hi Yun Yi,
    Great article. Elegant in it's simplicity and makes the central point easy to follow.

    I feel the key difference between religion and science is humility. Science does not posit absolute truth; only the best replicable and testable conclusion based on current research. It must be peer reviewed and tested for falsity. It will humbly accept new research every day, that may question or disprove other data.

    Compare this to religion of whatever variety. They deal in unquestioned absolutes and if there is ever any negative information, this is dismissed or rationalised. It was said that early archaeologists went to the Holy Land with a pick axe in one hand and a bible in the other; so certain were they that would find absolute proof of Biblical history.

    The disappointing results meant that this was soon given away, but of course that didn't mean the Bible account wasn't accurate. Imagine if science was like religion. The new religions, whatever they would be, would be totally unrecognisable from those of today.

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  6. I really like this post, Yun Yi. Science and religion are both attempts to explain natural phenomenon, so I see no reason why they couldn't co-exist peacefully. The problems begin when people try to impose their religious or scientific beliefs upon one another as the truth.

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  7. Great thought Yun Yi! I think the message of the article is very clear that one should have balance over intuitional thinking and rational thinking. Both are necessary for human being. They are like two legs of human; anyone lacking would make the human disabled. I am completely with Yun Yi on the essence of the article. I think the cause of confusion is the terms: science and religion which are used to represent rational and intuitional thinking respectively in the article. My opinion does not coincide with Yun Yi over the use of the terms science and religion in this regard. It would be unjust to distinguish them simply over the issue of faith and truth solely because both used the crutches of faith and truth to walk through their evolutionary paths.

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  8. yunyi, I've never had much interest in science or religion I've never been able to find much relevance in either to my everyday life.

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  9. @Charlene, Thanks!

    @Neil, thank you so much for comment. I totally agree with the humility of science. That's what I call "objective attitude".

    @kris, you are right, the problem is some people on either side insist to impose their partial understanding on the other sides.

    @Ravish Mani, thanks! I thought of your "two sides of same coin". The use of term might be a bit arbitrary, but I believe it does represent the "spirit" of science and faith.

    @marty, you don't have to. :-) thinking such issue is just completely my personal interest.

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  10. Science is morally neutral. How we apply what we learn from science may be good, bad or neutral, but that is not the function of science itself. As you suggest, the job of science is to uncover objective truths. (Is there really any other truth? Another word for "subjective truths" is guesses—possibly very good guesses, possibly morally uplifting guesses, but guesses nonetheless.

    Science sometimes makes mistakes, and there are undoubtedly more things for science to discover than it has already discovered, but uncovering truths is science's objective, whether it succeeds at that objective or not.

    Religion, on the other hand, is rarely morally neutral. Most religions include at least some definitions of what is morally right and what is morally wrong. If religion get those definitions right, then religion might have some benefit to society in that regard, but if it gets them wrong it can do great harm to society. And, if the religion engenders intolerance or, worse, hate for people of other faiths or of no faith, the consequences for society can be dire.

    Science can, and probably should, study many important aspects of religion—its evolution, the neuroscience of it, the effects of it on individuals and groups, etc.—but there is nothing inherent in religion that gives it the tools necessary to study science.

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  11. well said Joel.
    What you said is more about the overall comprehensive definition of "science" and "religion". What I focus on this particular post is the "thinking style", or "spirit" of science and religion (or "faith"). Maybe I really should change the title to "Difference between objective and subjective thinking style".
    Nonetheless, I agree with every words you said.

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  12. Yun Yi, you’ve written a wonderfully, well thought-out analysis of the difference between science and religion. Yes, one is objective and the other subjective. I have never gotten them confused but I believe it’s because of my childhood background with religion having spent time with nuns and in parochial school. I prefer the objective views of science, but unless religious views are extreme, I will not discount the value of the religious viewpoint for many people. Yes, each one can have its place.

    You have such a valid point that science and religion are “derived from different sides of our brain,” serve two distinctly different purposes, and that each has “their respective necessities for humans.” That’s a very logical and well-reasoned way of looking at it. I have to also agree with you that some people (far too many it seems) “possess one type of thinking style, either subjective or objective.” I believe it’s that “one type of thinking style” that causes much of the conflict between science and faith. Like your conclusion that rather than fighting with each other, science and faith can find a middle ground and be friends without changing their identities. An excellent post!

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  13. @Madilyn,
    I feel wonderful that we are on the same boat on this issue. And I truly appreciate your "objective view", despite of your catholic upbringing. Yes, it takes lots of wisdom to rebel, also it takes even more wisdom to respect the value of different believe.
    Thanks you so much for your thoughtful comment!

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