Saturday, April 26, 2008

Religion and Science

Hi Andrew,

Regarding your post Is Religion A Threat To Rationality And Science?, presenting snippets of arguments by Daniel Dennett and Lord Winston, I take issue with Lord Winston's argument, especially in how it is framed:

The problem is that scientists now too frequently believe we have the answers to these questions, and hence the mysteries of life. But, oddly, the more we use science to explore nature, the more we find things we do not understand and cannot explain. In reality, both religion and science are expressions of man's uncertainty. Perhaps the paradox is that certainty, whether it be in science or religion, is dangerous. The danger of Dennett's relatively gentle brand of certainty is that it increases polarisation in our society. With inflexible positions on both sides, certainty surely is the biggest threat to rationality, and to science.

Firstly, Lord Winston presents a straw man argument with his claim that Dennett and scientists believe in certainty. That is false. No scientist believes in certainty, scientists are only 'certain' of what they know from test data at any given point in time. When the data - and the facts - change, so does any measure of certainty. Scientists know and understand that for every question that is answered, they find ten more questions.

As for Lord Winston's claim that religion and science being expressions of man's uncertainty, there is a fundamental difference between the two, and therein lies the danger of certainty. Science embraces uncertainty, while religion is automagically certain. As far as being inflexible is concerned, perhaps Lord Winston can identify which has had more influence in the history of mankind, and which has been more successful at persecuting and marginalizing the other. Religion or science?

If certainty is the biggest threat to rationality, then religion is the embodiment of that threat.


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