Thursday, May 9, 2013

Belief versus Knowledge


All across the world wide web are comments from theists of every stripe denouncing modern science as an attempt by the ungodly to disprove their god or gods. In their never-quenched thirst to be seen as persecuted victims of a world-gone-wild (without taking any responsibility for it, even though they brag about the universality of their beliefs while ignoring the fact that universality undermines their claims of persecution), they try to convince the uncritical and uncertain that science is determined to prove gods do not exist. They make it sound like a holy quest, though we know only believers can enjoy those. 
Religious believers refuse to acknowledge that the best evidence against the possible existence of any particular god is the gross lack of any evidence for one. We have yet to discover any credible, physical evidence that can only be explained by the existence of a certain god and that god’s intervention in our natural world. Science isn’t trying to disprove god, science simply hasn’t found any evidence that irrefutably proves there is one or requires a god to explain natural phenomena.
Even if we could somehow learn to a 99% certainty that the universe began this way or that, that knowledge will not kill off the idea of god.
Science will never make an absolute declaration that it knows how the universe came into being. Definitive, absolute proof doesn’t exist. Science is not religion. It can only draw tentative conclusions from what evidence we can collect. Scientific conclusions are only as valid as the data. As we come across more information, science has to adjust its conclusions. Religions pretend to know absolute truths, yet they require us to accept these truths on faith. Knowledge will never be absolute, religious belief always portrays itself as such. 
If science were to state that all the evidence leads us to believe that the universe started in this or that manner, there will always be room to squeeze in religious belief. We see historically how religions adapt to current reality in an effort to stay relevant and retain their power over people. In all probability science can’t and won’t put an end to superstitious belief. With our complex brains otherwise intelligent people believe in luck and fate. Beliefs can exist beside knowledge without being eradicated by that knowledge. No matter how smart we become about reality, superstition will survive. There are many theories as to why humans develop and believe in superstitions, but history leads me to accept that every human has them. Religious belief will no doubt change subtlety, as it has before, to accommodate secular knowledge, but it will unfortunately be with us for a long time yet. It is, after all, just another superstitious belief.
Already there are Christian groups that have managed to incorporate scientific conclusions into their dogma. They accept the Big Bang as the best explanation for the beginning of the universe that can currently be drawn from available evidence and still credit their god with having set it all in motion. They give reverence to the Bible, but as an allegorical work rather than literal truth. Scientology is another example of a religion that has incorporated some science into their otherwise wildly fantastical belief system.

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