Science and religion have done an enormous amount to make our society and our everyday lives so much better. Imagine what it was like in primitive times with no social order and no home comforts. Religion and science have created the best of our society and our modern lives. For many centuries, science and religion have vied with each other to gain supremacy. And as with all revolutions, the winning revolutionary becomes the old tyrant with a different coloured hat! We first look at the negative aspects of religion and compare these with modern science. Actually, some of the examples are very old. Current examples tend to be highly emotional, and it is difficult to study them objectively. However, by examining the old and not so old examples, we can more easily look at present times with a more rational, sensible outlook.
In history, and today we hear of people who are persecuted because they believe in another religion, or because they are heretics. Religion is sometimes tolerant of other religions, but never of heretics.
Science can be compared and contrasted with Natural Science, and Psychology can be compared and contrasted with Applied Psychology
The characteristics of science:
The essence of science
In essence, science is concerned with the outside world. Scientific statements say something about reality. They say that reality is such and such. They do not merely say this. They say it such that it is related to reality in a special way. They say it in a way that is provable. To be accurate they say it in a way that is disprovable, because you cannot, strictly speaking prove a scientific statement. If a statement says something about reality, it must be possible for reality to be different. If I say, "Unicorns play on everyone's lawn at sunrise and sunset.", we can safely dismiss it as nonsense, especially if we observe our lawns and do not notice any unicorns. And especially as we do not notice unicorns anywhere - on lawns or elsewhere.
The statement is however a scientific statement. We can disprove it. In this case we can disprove it easily.
|Nonsense||Unicorns play in my garden.||Only empirically verified statements are meaningful. Everything else is non-sense.|
|Sensible||Sodium is solid at room temperature.||A noun is a naming word.|
|The above matrix shows that statements can be
scientific or non-scientific, and these can be sensible or nonsense. The statement about
the unicorn was nonsense, but was scientific, because it can be disproved. The statement
about nouns is sensible, but not scientific. However, it is not unscientific because it
wasn't intended to be scientific. It is about definitions and language, and not about
empirical reality. This is important. You cannot apply a standard to something that is not
in the category to which that standard applies. Not all non-scientific statements are
nonsense. Or unscientific. The law for example is not science, but it isn't un-scientific.
Poetry is not scientific, but it isn't un-scientific. It could be bad poetry, but hardly
bad science! The statement 'Only empirically verified statements are meaningful.
Everything else is non-sense.' is not evidently nonsense, but it is when you think about
it. The statement itself is not empirically verifiable, so it is by its own standard,
nonsense. Hence it is not true.
Science and Natural Science
What we now call 'science' was once called 'Natural Science' to distinguish it from other sciences. The science of literature may sound strange to us nowadays. However, it means the reading and classification of literary works, the observation of patterns and the formation of theories and formulae to describe how to produce certain literary effects. You can test these theories and produce evidence and counter-evidence. Natural Science would involve the same sort of thing, but be directed at the physical or natural world. Further Natural Scientists would carry out experiments in the physical world which the other 'scientists', such as literary scientists, or legal scientists, would not.
The value of science
Facts are determined by observation, not argument
There is a story that one evening, at a meeting of the Royal Society, they spent the whole time arguing why a live goldfish weighed more than a living one. One member went home afterwards and weighed his goldfish, killed it, and weighed it again. The weights were the same. The Royal Society had wasted the evening try to determine something by argument, when what was required was a physical experiment. (I think he was cruel to kill his pet goldfish, too!)
Although science requires experiment, not argument, so do other areas of study. Did Bacon say 'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?', Or did Bishop say 'The pen is mightier than the sword'? You cannot settle these questions by argument. You can only settle them by looking at the original works, or books of reference.
Scientists make very careful observations, and, if possible,
measurements so that they can find answers to questions that they could not find by
The limitations of science
This is not an attack on science. We acknowledge that science is one of the great pillars of human achievement. What we wish to do is to point out a human tendency that exists in science as it does elsewhere, such as in religions. Although we compare science with religion we are not suggesting that this hierarchical disease is an essential part of all or even any religion (or science). But it has been observed in religion, and many of the words used to describe the phenomenon such as heresy, ex-communication, and dogma, are taken from religion. The examples taken are largely taken from a previous time. This follows the academic tradition of studying old books rather than today's newspaper. When we study today's newspaper the facts and the arguments have not been established. We do not have the advantage of looking at things without raising strong emotions that detract from the point that is being made. The purpose of the examples is to sensitise the reader to the hierarchical disease and to be alert to examples in the present day. Beyond this, we wish to make the point that science, like all human endeavours, has presuppositions that are held for mainly emotional reasons. These presuppositions, on the positive side, bring order to the subject, and prevent strange beliefs being accepted. On the negative side, they also limit the subject, throwing out the baby, and retaining the bath water Science deals with part of knowledge, not all knowledge.
For example, the statement, 'Every scientific statement must be
capable of verification' cannot be verified by scientific method. It is therefore, not
scientific! Also, science deals with a pure realm, and its application in life, though
often immense and valuable, is not is not always possible. For the following reasons.
I believe that the limitation of science at present is that it draws conclusions from limited cases and tries to apply them to the real world, where other, unstudied factors may alone or in combination produce quite different results. Scientists sometimes study phenomenon under highly controlled conditions, because this is easier than studying the real world in its complexity. See Nazrudin.
The next articles look as science more as modern man's religion (or superstition!)
Modern Man's Religion