It's Our Turn: Our new national religion
In our miraculous modern age where we can hold the whole world in the palm of our hand, science and technology seem limitless and infallible.
Not surprisingly, this has led to a reverence for science that has in many ways eclipsed its actual purpose and caused some major misconceptions.
A letter writer in the Echo Press earlier this summer displayed some of these misunderstandings when writing about the “cult of ignorance,” which keeps some people from accepting the “truth” of climate change and how science is true whether we believe it or not.
Unfortunately, this common view of science as being equivalent to truth now influences much of our modern-day thinking. Probably never before in history has there ever been a time when people were more confident that they knew everything there was to know about how the world worked.
This idea is both inaccurate and misleading. Science is not truth – never has been, never will be. Rather, science is the best explanation that we have at the time and with the available evidence.
For example, we can do a simple scientific experiment by dropping a ball to see if gravity always pulls it down. After thousands of tests with the same result, we can be reasonably sure that it will fall the next time it’s dropped. We can even make the statement that dropped balls always fall down. But even with this simple example, we can never be 100 percent sure of what will happen in the next experiment.
And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Science can give us information about the natural world and how it works, but never absolute, unchanging certainty. Science is always changing and making new discoveries that force us to continually re-write the science books.
To view science as truth is to elevate it well beyond its intended purpose – from a method to find out how the world works, to the realm of blind belief.
But you don’t have to accept my words; listen to the experts:
“I think that we shall have to get accustomed to the idea that we must not look upon science as a ‘body of knowledge,’ but rather as a system of hypotheses, or as a system of guesses or anticipations that in principle cannot be justified, but with which we work as long as they stand up to tests, and of which we are never justified in saying that we know they are ‘true’ . . .” – Karl R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery.
“We’re probably fairly good at recognizing what’s false, and that’s what science does on a day-to-day basis, but we can’t claim to identify truth.” – Dr. Steven M. Holland, University of Georgia geology professor.
“Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.” – Richard Feynman, Nobel-prize-winning physicist.
If we say science is true, regardless of whether people accept it or not, we are not displaying a scientific attitude, but a religious one. And in many ways, science – not the kind scientists use but the kind the average person believes in – has become our national religion. Not only do we look to it to save us, but we have now become convinced that the natural world is all that really exists and that anything that cannot be proven scientifically is not real.
When science becomes our religion, it becomes improper to question it, only to blindly believe that it is truth. But real science thrives on questions and challenges. In fact, the way to prove something in science is to try to disprove it by meeting each challenge objectively to see if it holds up. If something is incapable of being tested and potentially disproven – or worse yet, if questioning it is politically discouraged – we need to be very cautious because we are either outside of the reach of science or in an area where science has been hijacked for political ends.
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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.