Is science a religion?

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Yazata, Jan 4, 2020.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Me thinkum that he that "confuses/conflates" religion and science, speakum with forked tongue.
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  3. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I'm very much a fallibilist myself. I'd say that none of our beliefs is absolute in the sense that it's impossible for the belief to be wrong. Whatever the belief, I'm inclined to think that there's always some chance that it's mistaken. That chance of error might be exceedingly small in some cases, while others of our beliefs are more or less shots in the dark and very likely wrong. (Speculations, Hypotheses...) It all depends on how attached and wedded we are to the belief. Which at least ideally should depend on what kind of justification the beliefs have. (In real life our attachment to beliefs is often much more emotional and irrational than that.)

    So right out of the gate, we are going to have not only our beliefs about reality (however fallible we take them to be), we will also have beliefs about how beliefs should in principle be justified.

    I don't think that making a pragmatic move from what is to what works will succeed in banishing belief from science. We will still have beliefs about what sort of beliefs work. (Otherwise, where would that leave engineering?) We will still have to have some agreement about what "work" means in each instance, about what kind of practical/observational/experimental results represent the ideas working.

    We will still believe that when faced with determining the pressure/temperature/volume relationships in a steam boiler, that physics' familiar gas laws will be more useful than consulting the Bible or listening to the whispers of MR's spirits. (Even the vast majority of devout Christians will agree with that one.) So there are epistemological and metaphysical assumptions being baked into it.

    Paddoboy will still have his beliefs about the superiority of his "Scientific Method" and will still seemingly believe that whatever that method is, it's the model and paradigm for all successful cognition.

    And on and on...

    Pragmatism wasn't intended to banish the idea of belief. It was meant to replace what was perceived as a problematic conception of truth as correspondence between our knowable ideas/perceptions, and the unknowable world as it is in itself apart from our knowing it. It was based on a particular construal of 'observables' (perhaps derived from the neo-Kantianism popular in Germany at the time) as mental states, as ideas. So if we can only know our ideas and perceptions of the world, establishing that those ideas and percepts do in fact correspond to an unknowable world beyond themselves would seem to be impossible. It would require that we be able to step outside ourselves and take a "God's-eye view" of things.

    So pragmatism argued that truth isn't a correspondence between our ideas and extra-mental reality. It argued instead that truth is a matter of relationship among observables, such that when we observe this, we will subsequently observe that. If we observe ourselves heating what we take to be the fluid in the boiler, we will observe the pressure in the boiler increasing in a predictable way. All without having to say anything about what boilers and fluids are in themselves, separate from our observations of them.

    Of course our theoretical physicists are rarely satisfied with that kind of instrumentalism. They will happily spin out their theories of quantum fields or whatever it is, proclaiming their belief that reality is fundamentally quantum fields and their excitations. Or that space-time really does warp in the presence of mass. Even the physicists seem to believe that their ideas are about physical reality, not just about how they take physical reality to be.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2020
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  5. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    Not really, what you're saying is...

    1) Science is an organized body of ideas held to be true
    2) Astrology is an organized body of ideas held to be true
    3) Science is Astrology

    Notice the "undistributed middle"? Your claim is invalid.

    That's not even required for your argument, because there was no mention of being suitably justified, which was not even necessary to show your claim was invalid in the first place.

    Yeah, I get that, like believing the Sun will rise tomorrow morning. Most tend to not use the word "believe" in such a way considering the belief the Sun will rise tomorrow changes to "understanding" the Sun will rise. That's what the "Process" of Science achieves, turning beliefs into understandings so that we may no longer invalidate our reasoning to conflate Science as a belief system.
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  7. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    Desperate to drag science down to the level of religion thinking it will boost religion up to the level of science

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  8. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I can't really object to that, but I think it misses the point. Not all belief systems, as you define them, are equally valid.

    Beliefs are subjective. They are all about what an individual does or does not find convincing, for whatever reason. That's a different matter from what is or isn't true. To put it more starkly: plenty of people hold bodies of ideas to be true that are demonstrably not true. That tells us that not all belief systems are created equal.

    It seems obtuse to me for you to try to argue that widely-accepted scientific findings are "poorly justified". It is a hallmark of science to test theories against facts, in contrast to some other kinds of "belief systems".

    I agree with you that justification - good or bad - is not necessary for somebody to hold a belief (or a system of beliefs). But here it seems you want to contrast science's justifications with some other, as yet unspecified, method or system that has a better justification? Do you think there's a better justified system of beliefs to be had?

    I disagree with you that the philosophical underpinnings of science have not been "fully revealed, explained or justified". I am aware of quite an extensive literature on the topic. In fact, "philosophy of science" is a well-established field of study at all good universities.

    It sounds like you don't personally believe in the existence of "scientific methodology". That merely tells me that you have some kind of alternate "belief system" that you adhere to in preference to belief in science, fact and the like. What is it, and what features of your system make it superior to those of science?

    It also sounds like you're trying to make an argument that evidence has no bearing on the truth of conclusions, since you apparently want to deny that it has "some sort of bearing on the truth of conclusions". I think you have a lot of work ahead of you to establish that evidence is irrelevant to truth, but I will be interested to hear whatever arguments you have lined up in support of your proposition.
  9. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    But you are going to, aren't you?

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    Which is perfectly ok. Actually when I replied to Saint in post #167, I was in part trying to respond in a more thoughtful and humane manner than your own post #163. So yes, there was some implicit rebuke there.

    I never said that all belief systems are equally plausible (note the change in wording). I most emphatically don't believe that they are. I think that some of our beliefs are almost certainly true, while others are basically speculations. And I'm pretty well convinced that many beliefs (other people's, not mine) are probably false.

    Validity is something else. I know what logical validity means, but this clearly isn't that. Which is kind of the point, isn't it? What (if anything) makes scientific arguments more valid than other sorts of cognition? Particularly when those scientific arguments aren't deductive? (Hence when logical validity doesn't apply.) Induction and abduction arise there, as do the foundations of logic and mathematics.

    The problem is explaining and justifying our many intuitions about these things.

    I am inclined to think that if we inquire into the foundations of even the ideas that we believe are most solid, that those foundations will be found to be murky at best. That's going to be true of every belief, I guess. (Perhaps I'm suggesting some form of anti-foundationalism there.) It's the human condition.

    And I thoroughly agree.

    Up above, I was just reacting to Michael's assertion that science isn't based on beliefs, presumably because knowledge is something separate, with far stronger foundations than mere belief.

    I'm basically an adherent of the 'justified true belief' account of knowledge, so that knowledge (including scientific knowledge) is in my view a subset of belief, namely those beliefs that are indeed true and satisfactorily justified by whatever the standard is. (Which raises new problems right there.)

    Certainly. Holding an untrue belief would suggest that the untrue belief can't be knowledge. I think that it's obvious that not all beliefs rise to the level of being knowledge, but some beliefs obviously do. A great many (but probably not all) scientific beliefs do, in my opinion.


    Which it might do many Sciforums participants some good to study. (Especially considering that so many threads on this board aren't even about science per-se, but rather about the philosophy of science.)

    I believe in the existence of many different scientific methodologies, rather than one single master methodology that supposedly raises science above everything else. Scientists observe, they describe, they classify, they create mathematical and mechanical models, they explain, they predict, they reduce, they deduce, they induce, they infer to what seems to them to be the best explanation, they manipulate, they perform thought experiments, they hypothesize... and when one studies science at the university level one discovers that there are lots of different ways to do all of these things. All sorts of spectography for example. All kinds of molecular biological methods. A big part of learning to be a scientist is not only learning the methods appropriate to one's science, but also developing a feeling for what kind of method is appropriate when. It's largely a matter of circumstance. A few blessed scientists even manage to invent new methods.

    So what do all these methodologies share in common? It seems to be that they all share a basic grounding in logic, mathematics and some fundamental metaphysical and epistemological assumptions. And problems do arise when we try to justify those kind of very fundamental things. How do we justify our logical intuitions without circularity?

    I'm something that most of Sciforums will probably never understand: A Skeptic. Which is something very different than the sort of debunker who goes by that name here on Sciforums. A true skeptic is somebody who asks "Why?" to every proposition that they are being expected to believe, not just those that are inconsistent with whatever the debunker's own belief system is, which remains unchallenged.

    Which, as has been observed since ancient times, creates a regress problem. If every belief requires a justification, and if the justification in turn requires another justification, you reach the boundaries of human knowledge in just a few iterations. (It doesn't matter what the subject of the belief is, no human belief seems to be solidly grounded.)

    I'm not saying that at all. In my own thinking, I'm fully convinced the evidence does have bearing on truth. But I can't really explain what that connection is. The belief is a basic principle that just kind of floats, based on something very much like faith I guess.
  10. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I think we have diverged somewhat from the ostensible thread topic: is science a religion?

    Science's sources of knowledge seem to me to be quite different from religions'. Whereas religion largely relies on dogma and unevidenced assertions and assumptions about supernatural entities, science largely relies on induction informed by careful observation of the physical world. Given the obvious differences in methods of science and religion at trying to attain truth, I'd say that it is very difficult to make a coherent argument that science is a religion. Perhaps that's all that really needs to be said on the topic, then.

    But we were having a discussion about the philosophy of science...

    There's a reason I chose the word "valid" there. Plausibility is subjective, just like belief. What you find plausible, I may not. Validity suggests a more objective standard. We talk about validity in the context of logical arguments because, in principle, everybody should be able to agree that a certain logical argument is or is not valid. The only prerequisite to that is to accept a small number of "obviously sensible" axioms. It is possible to imagine a situation where those basics aren't automatically accepted (e.g. instead of an axiom of identity we might consider whether "a thing can sometimes be other than itself"), but without them reasoning itself (as we know it) breaks down and there's no way to progress towards knowledge.

    The obvious difference between science and philosophy, if you ask me, is that science must always maintain a connection with the physical world that we observe, whereas philosophy isn't restricted in that way. Philosophical arguments can be logically valid but nevertheless fail to accurately represent anything that is actually observed in the physical world. Science, on the other hand, is constantly striving for a more and more accurate match.

    Personally I think that's one of the dangers of disappearing down the rabbit hole of ontology, disconnecting from the physical world in the process. If you try to live in a universe of ideas, there's nothing really firm to get a grip on.

    As far as justification goes, I think I'm probably a pragmatist. Science, for instance, tends to produce visible results, most obviously in terms of the technologies that spin off from it. Religion has never delivered in the same way.

    I agree with you that some knowledge of the philosophy of science is useful (all knowledge tends to be useful). Certainly it is naive to think that science has no limits, or that it is capable of finding all truths.

    I agree that there are many different methodologies. I also think that the philosophy of science is a field of study that could do with more input from actual scientists, since it tends to be the province of the kinds of liberal arts types who tend to study philosophy. They aren't always best placed to understand what it is that scientists actually do, or why they do it that way. From what I've seen, they tend to bring their own assumptions and preconceptions to the table rather too often.

    True, but there are common denominators.

    These days "skeptic" is used in different ways in different contexts. The classical Socratic Skeptic is the kind of skeptic you're referring to, I think. The modern skeptical movement, on the other hand, is based on critical thinking informed by science, for the most part. Modern skeptics tend to emphasise critical thinking and scientific evidence-based methods for getting to the truth of things.

    No doubt you would say that these modern skeptics aren't doing skepticism right, because they should really be questioning such things as the validity of science as a set of methods, the extent to which physical evidence is necessary for knowledge, and such things. That's all well and good, but historically the modern skeptics have found themselves facing off against opponents who bring little to no physical evidence of their claims to the table, and who claim there are powerful forces and/or entities at work that are not in any way scientifically evidenced. Those people would love to overturn the apple cart and claim that science itself is on an unreliable footing, thereby advancing the (false) impression that their own dubious claims are somehow on an equal footing with - or superior to - scientific claims to knowledge.

    I would suggest that, as a bear minimum, for any sensible discourse to occur between people, there needs to be some element of a shared reality. The most obvious common element would appear to me to be the physical world. Evidence is important because it comes from the physical world, and most of us (the ones who we generally label as "sane") tend to agree on certain physical facts.

    It is always open to anybody to follow Descartes, say, and to doubt even the existence of physical reality itself. But look where that led Descartes. It led him to God, which is to say that it led him to fall back on his previously-held assumptions, having found nothing better to go with.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2020
  11. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member

    At the end of the rainbow WHY - THERE ARE NO ANSWERS

    And to me never ever can be

    Speculation only, which the church has conned hoards into believing is true because a magical person come down for the sky and told us

    Science cannot answer WHY ARE WE HERE? in the sense WHAT IS OUR PURPOSE?

    They CAN answer WHY ARE WE HERE? in the sense "Well this chemical reaction caused this other chemical reaction and a process we call life began blah blah blah blah and we got Trump"

    But PURPOSE? cannot answer. My answer would be none. Some have stated make your own purpose missing the point we are not here TO MAKE OUR OWN PURPOSE

    We are here . Deal with it

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  12. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I am not sure that Descartes' God is of a spiritual nature. Descartes' God may well be of a mathematical nature.
    There is no functional difference in either concept, other than we know about the mathematical properties of the Universe but have no knowledge of a formless, invisible motivated intelligence .
  13. pluto2 Banned Valued Senior Member

  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Well and succinctly said, pluto.
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    If I remember correctly, Descartes identified his god as the Christian one.
  16. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    Thanks for making me research the issue. This may be of interest to other readers;

    Although he claims not to be familiar with Anselm’s version of the proof, Descartes appears to craft his own argument so as to block traditional objections.

    My personal question is if the Universe is indeed a supremely perfect being. What does that even mean?
  17. river

    To your last statement

    Nothing . Because a Supreme Being never stops absorbing knowledge . Learning . Therefore is never " supremely perfect " . And has a Psychology as well .
  18. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    If it still has things to learn then it's not "supreme" (since there's always a chance that someone/ being knows something(s) this "supreme being" doesn't. Which would make the "supreme being" inferior in knowledge to that creature).
    Therefore isn't really supreme.
    Really? How do you know?
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  19. river

    Exactly .
  20. river

    Because we are all emotional .
  21. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    In other words a supreme being isn't a supreme being?
    Couldn't you have simply said that?
  22. river

    I have in the past .

    I have said that rather than a god , that the Universe is in the mind of a being .
    Beings really . Both genders .
  23. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I may be mistaken, but I believe there is a mathematical equation that rests on probability;

    Price equation

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