The last few articles by my fellow writer Luke Davis have attracted a lot of attention through his staunch attack on religion and what he seems to imply is the opposite of “reason”. While I can see the logic in many of the points he makes, I find it hard to agree that the voices of logic, reason and science are, without question, the least harmful to the human race and that religion should be ignored.
The argument is used by what I ironically call “fundamental scientists” (due to the fact that they refuse to acknowledge that there may be other answers other than science) such as Richard Dawkins that religion always goes against rational thought and all reasoning. However there are specific cases where rational thought and reasoning are not able to give an answer, at least at present. In some cases science is able to give theories but these shouldn’t be taken as definitive proof as in a lot of cases in the past they have turned out completely wrong. An example of this is the old time theory that the earth was flat. If you were a “voice of reason” at this time then you would have believed this theory but technically you would have been a fundamentalist. I see no reason why this still can’t be the case today. While I agree, on the most part, with theories such as the theory of evolution, it still wouldn’t be earth shattering for me if they were proven wrong. Obviously it would take quite a discovery and a lot of explaining but if you look at the progress of science throughout time a reversal of a theory of this magnitude is not something too far out of the ordinary.
I think that the reason why science is perceived to be the most likely answer to absolute truth is that it is making consistent progress towards it. My theory about how science and religion compete for the absolute truth can be best shown by a simple diagram.
In the above diagram the x axis represents time and the y axis represents “perceived” knowledge. The word “perceived” is critical as it represents that the amount of knowledge is only the amount that people think the rivalling schools of thought can prove. The red, stepped line on the diagram represents religion is shaped as such due to the fact that religion tends to benefit from big jumps in believers, popularity and thus perceived knowledge. These jumps could be due to the uprising of a new religion such as Islam, the creation of a new denomination in a religion such as the surge of Mormonism in the United States or a large supernatural event which makes people question their perceived reality (for instance a large volcanic eruption in ancient times would have been seen as a sign from the gods).
The black line on the diagram represents the timeline of science and shows how it benefits from continuous discoveries that give reason for people to think it is knowledgeable. The science curve asymptotes towards the perceived absolute truth because as science becomes more knowledgeable people expect greater discoveries which won’t be possible as we approach a point close to absolute truth and so the perceived rate of gain in the knowledge of science will slow.
I, like many others, find it hard to believe that either of the two schools of thought will ever reach perfect absolute truth as with every new discovery there are new questions to be answered which effectively raise the perceived absolute truth line and put the human race further away from it.
In my opinion the best way in which the human race to advance is to have a mix of both science and faith. Use science for questions that are answers beyond doubt and use faith for all the gaps. For instance, science cannot answer what happens to the human consciousness after death with any proof whereas faith provides an answer that gives people motivation. I asked Luke before he posted his last article what he thought the scientific answer would be in this scenario and his answer was the the human brain dies and decays and so the human consciousness must also. In many faiths there are answers which provide images of judgement days and an afterlife which is based on people’s actions in this life. The question I will ask is which is better for the human race to believe?
Should we give people unproven theory or motivation? If there was no spiritual meaning of life then I do not believe that the human race or, ironically, science would be where it was today. People need to feel like they will be personally rewarded for their actions. One of the failings of the communist regimes around the world is that in most cases people aren’t motivated enough to work just to help their country. Either they become lazy, less productive or rebellious as in the soviet union or they are given a spiritual motive as in North Korea where Kim Jong Il is promoted as almost a living God. Which of these two communist states is still around? That’s right, the one that provided spiritual motivation.
The fact is that neither science or religion is right about most questions that have been or will be asked but in most cases they will try and provide answers that their supporters will believe. In this sense they are both fundamentalist schools of thought but they are both needed for the advancement of our race.