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Is my belief in science more scientific than your belief in God?
December 4, 2006 12:04 PM   Subscribe

How is my belief that the world is round any more scientific than someone else's belief that a benevolent deity listens to her prayers? (I know this may seem chatty or open-ended, but I have a feeling that there is a neat argument out there that would wrap up this question for me, and meanwhile I'm in a bit of philosophical crisis about it.)

I believe in the roundness of the Earth (to put it very simply) because of things I've read, because of things teachers have taught me, and because of my culture's constant reinforcement of the idea. Isn't that very similar to the way most people come by their religious beliefs? Is there anything intrinsically scientific about believing things scientists have agreed upon? Or is a belief a belief?
posted by CrunchyGods to Religion & Philosophy (60 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
The difference is: You can empirically test your belief that the world is round; there are hundreds of ways to do so. There are no known methods to test whether "a benevolent deity listens to her prayers".
posted by xil at 12:10 PM on December 4, 2006


A longer version of what xil said:

"Let us first clarify what this intellectualist rationalization, created by science and by scientifically oriented technology, means practically.

Does it mean that we, today, for instance, everyone sitting in this hall, have a greater knowledge of the conditions of life under which we exist than has an American Indian or a Hottentot? Hardly. Unless he is a physicist, one who rides on the streetcar has no idea how the car happened to get into motion. And he does not need to know. He is satisfied that he may 'count' on the behavior of the streetcar, and he orients his conduct according to this expectation; but he knows nothing about what it takes to produce such a car so that it can move. The savage knows incomparably more about his tools. When we spend money today I bet that even if there are colleagues of political economy here in the hall, almost every one of them will hold a different answer in readiness to the question: How does it happen that one can buy something for money--sometimes more and sometimes less ? The savage knows what he does in order to get his daily food and which institutions serve him in this pursuit. The increasing intellectualization and rationalization do not, therefore, indicate an increased and general knowledge of the conditions under which one lives.

It means something else, namely, the knowledge or belief that if one but wished one could learn it at any time. Hence, it means that principally there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. This means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service. This above all is what intellectualization means."

Science as a Vocation, Max Weber, Originally a speech at Munich University, 1918.
posted by otio at 12:15 PM on December 4, 2006 [17 favorites]


Additionally, all observations that have been made about the shape of the earth have shown it to be spherical. Satellite photography, observations by astronauts, circumnavigation by plane and boat, and others have all mutually confirmed its sphericality. A spherical earth also works with the theories of physics, i.e. if the world were flat, then the predictions made using certain theories be incorrect. Instead, the predictions do hold true to a very high standard of accuracy and precision, and thus it is likely that those theories, which depend on the existence of a near-spherical planet, are correct.

Such observations are not available for a deity.
posted by The Michael The at 12:21 PM on December 4, 2006


In order for a belief to become scientifically accepted, it needs to be tested and re-tested by different people who obtain consistent results (that's the definition of the scientific method, pretty much: repeatable tests of phenomena with predictable results that can be obtained by anyone who does the test). So if the majority of scientists agree on something, it's been tested many times. Like if we wanted to prove that the world was round, I would do some measuring and calculations, and you could too on your own, and we should come up with the same answers. If this was not true than most scientists-- reputable ones at least-- would not believe that the world is round.

Religious beliefs can't really be proved true or false because they rest upon things that we cannot actually interact with, test repeatedly, nor obtain consistent results.
posted by holyrood at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2006


*would be incorrect (correcting one of my lines above).
posted by The Michael The at 12:23 PM on December 4, 2006


"The earth is round" is a falsifiable statement. That is, it is possible to imagine an observation which would refute the concept that the earth is round. If we sailed out into the ocean and then fell off the edge, that would constitute a refutation of "the earth is round." If we viewed the shadow of the earth on the moon during a lunar eclipse and observed a sharp angle in the shadow, that would constitute a refutation of "the earth is round."

"God listens to my prayers" is not falsifiable. Suppose you pray all day and night for months for God to make you rich. You don't become rich. Does that mean God doesn't listen to your prayers? No, maybe he heard them and chose not to make you rich anyway--there is no conceivable observation which would refute "God listens to my prayers," so the statement is unfalsifiable, and thus not a statement which can be evaluated by science.

Note that I'm not saying all statements about God are unscientific. "God destroyed New York City on December 3, 2006" is a falsifiable statement and can be evaluated by science.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:24 PM on December 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


#xil: There are no known methods to test whether "a benevolent deity listens to her prayers".

Actually there are ways to test the efficiency of prayer. They involve setting up a bunch of cases with prayer and non-prayer and see if there is any correlation with the outcome. So far all have shown no correlation. The latest I recall involved people praying for the recovery of people in a hospital. Prayer showed no statistical effect.

All arguments for the worth of prayer are annecdotal - e.g. "I prayed that something would happen and it did, therefore my prayer worked".
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:27 PM on December 4, 2006


a) You can see evidence that shows that the earth is round.

b) You can reproduce that evidence every single time, for example you fly a plane high enough, observe a lunar eclipse or watch a ship sailing over the horizon.

c) You understand why gravity would make the Earth round.

d) You can think of experiments that would show that the earth is not round.

Alse see this Straight Dope.
posted by stereo at 12:28 PM on December 4, 2006


Actually there are ways to test the efficiency of prayer.

The proposition stated in the original question was about a deity hearing prayers, not about a deity acting on prayers. The studies you cite may test whether a deity acts on prayers, but they are unable to make any assertion about whether a deity hears prayers.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:30 PM on December 4, 2006


The "we were both taught by culturally approved teachers" argument does not hold water as you can test the proofs of one of the claims but not the either. Go do some astronomy. Go ahead. Start small. Observe the sky. Observe what shape the shadow is on the moon. Hint, hint. Then move onto telescopes and satellite imagery.

Now try the same with the religious angle. You can't.

Science is not only falsifiable, but a lot of the basic theories can be validated by a layperson with a little time and effort.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:32 PM on December 4, 2006


You can measure whether prayer has an effect (result so far: unlikely), but indeed not whether that is because they have a positive psychological effect or because $deity answers petitions.
posted by stereo at 12:35 PM on December 4, 2006


MonkeySalted .. God has that one covered "You shall not test the Lord your God"

Makes sense really, if God exists, she's keeping a low profile. Hardly likely to reveal herself only to a properly double-blinded team of Stanford researchers.

A huge number of people on the planet do believe that God hears and acts on their prayers. Ultimately the test is a personal one. If you think it hasn't occurred to that army of believers that they may be rationalising coincidence or good fortune, then you are mistaken.

For those people the evidence of God is much more direct, personal and alive than any theory about the large scale structure of the Earth.
posted by grahamwell at 12:36 PM on December 4, 2006


xil and otio have done a pretty good job of answering this question, but let me just say that some researchers and scientists argue that some mystical explanations for physical phenomenon can still be considered "scientific". Native Science is an interesting read. I've been meaning to approach Zapotec Science, but so far I've only read reviews.
posted by muddgirl at 12:37 PM on December 4, 2006


One can be proven with absolute scientific certainty, the other dependent only on the certainty of faith. 'Faith' if you look at the word real careful, means beleiving in something without proof.
posted by Kololo at 12:37 PM on December 4, 2006


Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example, or the theory of Dark Matter? Or that everything came out of nothing, for no reason. I'm curious.
posted by grahamwell at 12:44 PM on December 4, 2006


a) You can see evidence that shows that the earth is round.

My evidence is the economic argument. If you have taken long plane flights (to Europe or Asia from the U.S.) you'll notice that they follow Great Circle paths. Obviously these are the shortest paths because I believe the airlines will do whatever is in their power to save money on fuel and time!
posted by vacapinta at 12:45 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


When you say something is scientific, what you're really describing is the method, viz. the scientific method, by which you have obtained your results. Scientific results have certain benefits--they have a very high level of "concur-ability", and they are in general more practical than results yielded by other methods. Unfortunately, science does not yield all the truth available to us as human beings.

Your question as written seems to confuse "scientific" with "objective" or "true". These are different categories. Also, scientists believe all sorts of things with no proof whatsoever. Every argument has a leap of faith at its root; it's called a premise.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2006


Here's another way to look at it. You've seen pictures of the earth from space: it appears round. Either it is round, or someone is faking the photos.

Suppose you want to decide for yourself--without relying on what you've been taught, what you've read, or what culture tells you--whether the earth is round. You decide to go into space and look at the earth for yourself, and see whether it's round.

Now, maybe this isn't possible today--space tourism is still too expensive for the average person. But maybe it will be accessible in the future. So you delay your trip for awhile, but don't forget about it.

Eventually the price of space travel comes down, and you go into space and look at the earth from a great distance. You will have one of two reactions, depending on what you see:

a) OMFG! It's not round at all!! My teachers, all the books I've read, and culture have all been lying to me all along!

b) Yes, I can now see for myself that it's round.

Either way, you have now scientifically evaluated the claim that the earth is round, based on your own observation. The fact that you could do this--regardless of whether you actually do or not--makes the claim "the earth is round" a scientific one.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2006


Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example

You're joking right? People have been trying to falsify that one for millenia.
posted by vacapinta at 12:47 PM on December 4, 2006


Easy:

You are wrong to believe that the earth is round. You should either know that the earth is round, or not know it. You can hypothesize that the earth is round, and then test your hypothesis. After testing, you'll discover that the earth is, in fact, round - whether you "believe" it or not.
posted by odinsdream at 12:51 PM on December 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example, or the theory of Dark Matter? Or that everything came out of nothing, for no reason.

"Everything came out of nothing" is not a falsifiable statement. You may be thinking of the Big Bang theory, but that's a lot more precise than "everything came out of nothing." It's more like "everything came out of nothing 10-20 billion years ago and started in a microscopically small universe which then expanded in this certain way, etc., etc." The Big Bang theory makes a number of predictions, one of which is that there is a background of microwave radiation permeating the entire universe. If the cosmic microwave background were not found, the Big Bang theory would be falsified. (But not "everything came out of nothing," because there are other ways that everything might have come out of nothing besides the way described by the Big Bang theory.)

Unfalsifiable statements can sometimes be made falsifiable by adding in more details and making the theory more precise; conversely, falsifiable theories become unfalsifiable if you oversimplify them and take out details to the point where they no longer have any predictive power.

"God exists" is unfalsifiable. "God exists and looks like Godzilla and is currently rampaging around downtown Tokyo and destroying buildings" is falsifiable.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:58 PM on December 4, 2006


In theory the scientific consensus, if one exists, should always be based upon rigorous scientific data and nothing more, which means that you can trust it for the reasons stated above, but in practice scientists are human, and as such they can be more likely to promote their own results and conclusions, having an emotional attachment to them, and more likely to disparage other results. Furthermore the leaders of their fields, which you could call the scientific establishment, have a good deal of control over what results get published, and while I personally trust scientists more than I trust priests or politicians, still there's no absolute guarantee that important results will always receive the attention they deserve, especially when such results challenge the status quo and threaten to overturn research performed by members of the establishment. History is full of such personal squabbles. See, for example, the work of Heaviside.

Michael Crichton's A State of Fear is an attempt at discounting the scientific establishment's consensus about climate change. I haven't read it but I read the foreword on his website, and to set up his thesis that the scientific community is wrong about climate change, he demonstrates that in the past the community was wrong about eugenics. I found this argument distasteful - eugenics has no relevance with respect to climate change and he is playing for an emotional reaction - yet nevertheless it does raise an interesting question. How do we know that the scientific establishment is being scientific and not political when they are pursuing or promoting an issue?

I haven't fully worked out an answer to this question either. I trust the scientific establishment because it has a staggeringly high rate of accuracy when it comes to predicting and explaining natural phenomena, and it tends to be self-correcting over time as well. But scientists are humans too and we should not forget that.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:01 PM on December 4, 2006


There are many great answers here, but there's one aspect that no one is touching: faith. By "faith", I mean "accepting that something is true without reliable evidence."

It's important to bring up faith, because if if a science vs. religion discussion delves deeply, faith will come up. The question is this: are science and religion both based on faith?

Many people will disagree with me, but -- though I'm an atheist and a devotee of science -- my answer is YES. I think there are huge difference between science and religion, but "science is not faith-based" isn't one of them.

For instance, science takes it on faith that matter exists, that we can measure matter, and that cause and effect exists.

We then take these faith-based premises and say, okay, since we're assuming that matter exists and is measurable, what results do we get when (say) 10 scientists make the same measurement? If all 10 repeatedly get the same results, we say that these results are true.

The faith part is vital, because we need some starting assumptions, and unfortunately, these starting assumptions can't be proved.

Some may agree with me in principle but balk at the word faith. Indeed, I'd say that my faith in matter is a bit different from most religious people's belief in God. Why? Because I keep somewhere in my mind the fact that matter might not exist -- that it might just be a useful assumption. I doubt too many theists do the same thing with God.

On the other hand, to be fair to the theists, my back-of-my-mind realization that matter might be an illusion really is in the back of my mind. My day-to-day premise is that matter DOES exist. Also, I think I'm different from some scientists in that I not all have the back-of-the-mind thing going on. Some "religiously" believe in matter the way a theist believes in God. But to be honest, I think these are small differences. In one way or another, all scientists take their base assumptions on faith.

One major difference between most scientists and most theists is that scientists are committed to MINIMIZING the number of faith-based assumptions. They goal is to make as few of them as possible. Reluctantly, we must make a few, but the goal is to see how many truths we can find by starting with those few assumptions and not making any more. Whereas for many (but not all) theists, faith-based assumptions are good things, and they don't shy away from making tons of them.

Also, for a scientist, an assumption is only worth making if (a) it's absolutely necessary for the entire mechanism of science and (b) if it helps make predictions about the (assumed) natural world. An assumption is not worth making because it makes us feel good or helps us make life choices.
posted by grumblebee at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2006 [5 favorites]


You can empirically test your belief that the world is round; there are hundreds of ways to do so.

I think the poster's crisis might come from the problem that most people never do run their own empirical tests on scientific claims. In many cases (though less so with the shape of the world), the knowledge necessary to perform such tests is missing from a large portion of the population, and so the process by which they come to concur with even a solidly established scientific view really may not be more rigorous or well-founded than some religious ideas.

Note that doesn't mean that all religious ideas and scientific claims have the same level of tenability. It just means that the process at which people arrive at belief in either can in fact be similar. Like... asking another source for an argument you find acceptable. :)

If you are not confident in either hypothesis, the best thing to do would be to read about tests for both of them and perform them.
posted by weston at 1:17 PM on December 4, 2006


Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example

In Physics lab, a month or so ago, we took a cart, measured it's height along a track, and calculated it's potential energy, then released it down the track and measured it's speed at a pre-determined distance. The potential energy difference between the release point and the measurement point ALMOST perfectly matched the kinetic energy at the measurement point. After a little heming and hawing, we figured out that the missing energy was the same as the coefficent of kinetic friction for an object rolling on steel (.003, as close as we took it), so all the energy was accounted for. If it were not, and that were reproducable, then that would disprove the law of conservation of energy.
posted by Orb2069 at 1:20 PM on December 4, 2006


Devilsadvocate, don't wish to derail but it seems to me that the Big Bang theory made a number of predictions, such that the universe would not be isomorphic at large scales, or that the rate of expansion would be steady or slowing down. Both of these have been comprehensively falsified, but instead of throwing out the Big Bang, we've constructed elaborate additional theories to 'explain' these inconvenient facts.

When I did Science for real, this always seemed to me to be how it worked. If you don't get the result you expect, you don't throw out the theory straight away. You examine your instruments, consider other variables and possibly just write it off and go to the pub. The Popper falsifiability thing seemed not to be a description of how Scientists actually work.

Orb 2069 - If we disproved the Law of the Conservation of Energy we would have to rethink much more than Physics. It turns out to be mathematically derivable directly from the symmetry of time. A perpetual motion machine would be a challenge indeed. That's why we have 'potential energy' which is really just something to make the sums balance.
posted by grahamwell at 1:26 PM on December 4, 2006


How do we know that the scientific establishment is being scientific and not political when they are pursuing or promoting an issue?

We don't absolutely know this, though there are generally good odds that this isn't the case.

A scientific truth is different from a religious truth (at least in terms of the way religious truths are often explained to me). In science, something is true if it's been proven via the Scientific Method. If later it's found that the specific methodology used was faulty, then the truth is no longer true.

Many people assume that when something is true, it's TRUE -- as in it's decided and done and can never be false. But how can we really know that about anything. In reality, "true" means we have astoundingly good reasons to bet on it.

For instance, I believe that Darwinian Natural Selection is true, because (a) I understand the mechanism and it makes sense to me; (b) many many many scientists have conducted research and experimentation that has backed up Natural Selection; (c) assuming Natural Selection is true allows us to make accurate predictions.

It's remotely possible that (a) I have misunderstood the mechanism; (b) all of the scientists work is flawed; (c) NS is yielding good predictions in spite of the fact that it's not true or not entirely true (like Newtonian Physics). But this scenario seems so remote that I'm going to call NS true until it is proven false.

This isn't an abuse of the word "true," because nothing is TRUE in the sense that there's absolutely no way that it could ever be false. Things are just true to the point that they are incredibly likely and incredibly useful.
posted by grumblebee at 1:27 PM on December 4, 2006


Well, the Bible (Hebrews 11:1) says that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Additionally, Descartes pointed out that Science is only true if our senses are really sensing what's really going on in the world. He went on to say that unless one could prove that there exists a good god who gave us all of our perceptive abilities, then there was no reason to trust them. For it could be the case that an evil demon is constantly tricking us for some unknown reason. Or we could be constantly dreaming or in The Matrix. It is only when one is sure that s/he is in the real world and can trust that measurements on a dial, for instance, are really what they are perceived to be, then one cannot begin to trust science.

Thus, Descartes felt that Science was based on a belief in a good god.
posted by samurphy at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2006


When I did Science for real, this always seemed to me to be how it worked. If you don't get the result you expect, you don't throw out the theory straight away. You examine your instruments, consider other variables and possibly just write it off and go to the pub. The Popper falsifiability thing seemed not to be a description of how Scientists actually work.

Ha! There's a book for that too! The Structure of Scientific Revolution explains exactly that. For example, scientists worked for years trying to shove the square peg of measured fact into the round hole that was the theory of aether. However, eventually all of the old guard retire, and someone comes along who can synthesize the data into a new, better theory.
posted by muddgirl at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2006


That Bible quote is lovely, but I'm not sure what it means. If things that you hope for have substance, then you don't have to hope for them: they're here! And someone knocking at the door is evidence of something not seen. I don't BELIEVE that someone is visiting me because I hear knocking, but I do take the knocking as evidence that someone MIGHT be visiting me.

Descartes -- as you've presented him -- is silly: I agree with him that science is only true if our senses are accurate, but it's foolish to say talk about proving there exists a good god, because we'd have to use our (possibly inaccurate) senses to do so.

And assuming our sense ARE accurate, why would they necessarily have to have been given to us by a good god? Why couldn't they have been given to us by an evil god who wants to force us to confront painful truths? Or a god that isn't good or evil but is simply interested in performing a specific experiment? (If I create a robot and give it good sensing mechanisms, does that make me good?) Or why couldn't these accurate senses simply have arisen through some natural (and unintelligent) process?

By the way, if we're living "in the Matrix", then the Matrix is our universe. We still may be able to make accurate measurements or predictions of it.
posted by grumblebee at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2006


However, eventually all of the old guard retire

I think this is an important point. Good science tends to work slowly. Yes, in the present, people are biased by politics (the need to get grant money, etc.), but Science goes on forever. In 50 or 100 years, scientists will still have biases, but they won't have the same ones they have today. So if they still accept something we accept today, it's more likely to be true.

Also, science in international, which is important. A scientist in Russia may not be under the same pressures as one in America.

Science operates somewhat like Wikipedia.
posted by grumblebee at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


<soapbox>
Attempting to prove the effectiveness of prayer through double-blind clinical trials does not work because that is not what prayer is meant to provide. God is not a cosmic customer service department, and that the purpose of prayer is not to attempt to change the universe. Any examination of prayer which assumes that an effective prayer is one in which the outcome changes in the direction requested by prayer is based on a sad misunderstanding of the nature of prayer.

Prayer is a method for communication between a person and the Divine. (Your perception of the Divine may vary.) It is a two-way communication which is meant to encourage a personal relationship between the person praying and the object of prayer. While petition and intercession are certainly elements of prayer, the promise of (Christian, Jewish, and quite a few others, but not all) Scripture is that God always listens, not that God will always give you what you ask for. Submitting a petition to God in prayer should be an implicit acknowledgment that the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God may well know better than you what actually needs to happen in the universe.
</soapbox>

As for Science vs. Religion; my opinion is that Science seeks explanations while accepting that there are things we don't understand yet and Religion seeks explanations while accepting that we are not capable of understanding everything. These two are not necessarily incompatible.
posted by leapfrog at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


This isn't an abuse of the word "true," because nothing is TRUE in the sense that there's absolutely no way that it could ever be false

I dunno, something like "the earth is round" can be said to be TRUE because it is making a descriptive empirical statement rather than claiming the fundamental ontological fact - ie, to state that the earth is is more complicated because that demands a definition of being which turns out to be harder to supply than we might wish. But if we take the pragmatic approach and accept as given that whatsoever is consistently revealed by the senses is as it seems, then insofar as the earth is, it is (essentially, not perfectly) spherical. This is evident in basic observation of the horizon, and has never been seriously disputed; the ancients knew the earth was a globe, but thought it was at the center of the universe. Likewise, columbus' unpopular view wasn't about sphericity, but size; his claim was that the earth was actually quite a bit smaller than it was thought to be, and that a western route to india was feasible. He was, of course, wrong about that.

If the earth were to turn out not to have been spherical, that would not be merely a shift in our understanding of the shape of the earth - that would require a much deeper misunderstanding of what empirical knowledge is.

Now, this all gets more complicated when we add the factor of time, and try to work out what must have happened in the past, etc, so scientific certainty is elusive, but there is absolutely a very important distinction between something taken to be true based on empirical evidence, and something believed for other reasons. Science is descriptive. It observes and describes, and tries to guess or understand how things may relate to each other, in order to work out what to observe next.

Religion serves an entirely different purpose, about parts of life that science doesn't deal with - religious "truth" should be considered in the same category as poetic truth - it is not about hard facts. It's about meaning and love and beauty and stuff like that. serious theologians don't think "god hears prayers" in anything like an empirical way - as St. Augustine puts it, god expressed “by a word which was intelligible and eternal not vocal and temporal”— and presumably that is how "he" would hear as well.

So - the criteria for the truth of empirical knowledge is empirical (sensory) evidence; if you are making a claim to some form of non-empirical knowledge, you have to determine the criteria for that separately. If someone is claiming an empirical god who empirically hears prayers, then they have no evidence, whereas the shape of the earth can be known by sight and measurement. Most believers at least tacitly recognize that god is not empirical, although they often do not put much thought into what that ends up meaning they think that he is, and simplistic notions of 'spiritual' existence being 'kinda like empirical but more wispy' arise. Honestly I think those ideas are the results of people trying to metaphorically understand unintuitive concepts.
posted by mdn at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2006


Devilsadvocate, don't wish to derail but it seems to me that the Big Bang theory made a number of predictions, such that the universe would not be isomorphic at large scales, or that the rate of expansion would be steady or slowing down. Both of these have been comprehensively falsified, but instead of throwing out the Big Bang, we've constructed elaborate additional theories to 'explain' these inconvenient facts.

Ah, but the variations did throw out the original Big Bang theory! In common parlance--perhaps even in common scientific parlance--the original and the variants may all be called the "Big Bang theory." From a philosophy-of-science perspective, however, it's more useful to look at them as separate theories.

When you have evidence to refute a theory, yes, you have to get rid of the theory. However, the next theory you come up with, which explains all the available evidence, may be very very similar, but not the same, as your previous theory. "You have to come up with a new theory" doesn't mean "you have to come up with a new theory completely from scratch and it must be completely unlike the previous theory in every way."

If you don't get the result you expect, you don't throw out the theory straight away. You examine your instruments, consider other variables and possibly just write it off and go to the pub.

Suppose you hypothesize that water boils at 100°C at sea level. Let's say you boil some water, and according to your thermometer, it boils at 80°C. "Water boils at 100°C at sea level and my thermometer is broken" is a perfectly valid hypothesis which explains the available evidence--if it were me, I would continue testing that hypothesis by trying a different thermometer. Scientific evidence that your thermometer is broken may not constitute a conclusion worthy of publication--no one else cares that your thermometer is broken, and it's unlikely to have any wider, real-world application--but the fact that your thermometer is broken is a scientific discovery nonetheless.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:29 PM on December 4, 2006


I've read through all the answers above and they pretty much sum up what I would have ventured to suggest. To sum up and answer your question as phrased, your belief in a round Earth is completely scientific. Belief in the efficacy of prayer is not, because it doesn't use the same standards of measurement and result.

That was too easy. Which led us to discussion of whether your question was more along the lines of: How can anyone prove that any measurement, observation, or inference we make as humans is any more "real" than the belief that there is an omnipotent deity who shapes all human interactions with their given environment? If you are a theist and position the deity as a forerunner to science, you could argue that [insert deity] has given us a few rudimentary tools to try to explain the world that has been created for us, thereby rendering all our "scientific proof" just a vain yet comical attempt to furrow our brows and understand what the hell is going on.

As others have mentioned, the principal difference between science and faith is that science seeks to limit variability in an effort to predict other outcomes; faith foregoes this causality, allowing for seemingly random events that are often considered pre-determined or "destined." While true scientists need to exercise extreme discipline in controlling all variables and then getting consistent outcomes from their tests, all a theist needs to argue, against all scientific results, is to say "You assume your measurements matter. What the hell is a meter, liter, or gram?" Cue angels dancing on pinheads and brains exploding.

So the answer is: 42. No one's going to win this argument anytime soon. Unless a deity reveals itself to the scientific community and performs miracles that warp reality itself, meaning we have no control over life and no real reason to exist.

Or we tie up all the scientific loose ends and derive the formula for something like the TOE, whereupon we know the reason for all things past, present and future, meaning we have no control over life and have no real reason to exist.
posted by krippledkonscious at 2:32 PM on December 4, 2006


It is quite possible to believe something to be true, to be correct in your belief, and believe it for all the wrong reasons.
posted by allthewhile at 2:40 PM on December 4, 2006


#leapfrog: the purpose of prayer is not to attempt to change the universe. ... While petition and intercession are certainly elements of prayer, the promise of ... Scripture is that God always listens, not that God will always give you what you ask for.

You seem to contradict yourself above. You also move to the position that God will (not) always give you what you ask for. While the evidence is that for a wanted outcome, whether you pray or not makes no difference - God never intervenes or responds outside of your mind.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:51 PM on December 4, 2006


krippled, you're assuming that one must come to the belief in the roundness of the earth through experimentation and the scientific method. As a child I believed it to be round because I was told it was round, not because I observed and weighed arguments for its roundness. The way that the questioner set up the question leaves open something which I've observed quite a bit; I've met quite a few atheists who didn't rely on reason, but rather the sentiment, "all the smart people are atheists."
posted by allthewhile at 2:52 PM on December 4, 2006


As a child I believed it to be round because I was told it was round, not because I observed and weighed arguments for its roundness."

allthewhile, otio answered that point way-up thread. Have you read it? Let's frame this the other way. Let's say the current scientific knowledge, for some nefarious reason, is that the Earth is flat. "Well, that's preposterous!" says the people who live on a coast, or have been in a sailboat. "I can see perfectly clearly with my own two eyes that the earth is round - sail boats appear over the horizon mast-first." Anyone who's been in space will say, "That's preposterous! The earth is as round as my own two eyes." Anyone who's studied astronomy will say, "Why is the earth flat when every other heavenly body is round. And furthermore why does it cast a spherical shadow?" Just because you yourself didn't personally discover it doesn't make it an article of faith. (of course, there's more to the scientific process than just observation, but that's a very important step nonetheless)

I've met quite a few atheists who didn't rely on reason, but rather the sentiment, "all the smart people are atheists.

Atheism isn't science any more than theism is science.
posted by muddgirl at 3:13 PM on December 4, 2006


Interestingly, "all the smart people are atheists" - or at least a weaker version of it - is a falsifiable proposition. Here's the relevant propaganda.
posted by flabdablet at 3:17 PM on December 4, 2006


I believe in the roundness of the Earth (to put it very simply) because of things I've read, because of things teachers have taught me, and because of my culture's constant reinforcement of the idea.

But this belief is also verifiable, even if you haven't actually verified it yourself.

William James:
Take, for instance, yonder object on the wall. You and I consider it to be a 'clock,' although no one of us has seen the hidden works that make it one. We let our notion pass for true without attempting to verify. If truths mean verification-process essentially, ought we then to call such unverified truths as this abortive? No, for they form the overwhelmingly large number of the truths we live by. Indirect as well as direct verifications pass muster. Where circumstantial evidence is sufficient, we can go without eye-witnessing. Just as we here assume Japan to exist without ever having been there, because it works to do so, everything we know conspiring with the belief, and nothing interfering, so we assume that thing to be a clock. We use it as a clock, regulating the length of our lecture by it. The verification of the assumption here means its leading to no frustration or contradiction. Verifiability of wheels and weights and pendulum is as good as verification. For one truth-process completed there are a million in our lives that function in this state of nascency. They turn us towards direct verification; lead us into the surroundings of the objects they envisage; and then, if everything runs on harmoniously, we are so sure that verification is possible that we omit it, and are usually justified by all that happens.

Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs 'pass,' so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them. But this all points to direct face-to-face verifications somewhere, without which the fabric of truth collapses like a financial system with no cash-basis whatever. You accept my verification of one thing, I yours of another. We trade on each other's truth. But beliefs verified concretely by somebody are the posts of the whole superstructure.
posted by russilwvong at 3:49 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


leapfrog: the purpose of prayer is not to attempt to change the universe. ... While petition and intercession are certainly elements of prayer, the promise of ... Scripture is that God always listens, not that God will always give you what you ask for.

MonkeySaltedNuts: You seem to contradict yourself above.


Where's the contradiction?

1) the purpose of prayer is not to attempt to change the universe.
2) petition and intercession are certainly elements of prayer.
3) God always listens; [He doesn't] always give you what you ask for.

MonkeySaltedNuts, are you saying that if God listens then the universe IS changed? This is only true if God is part of the universe. And even if He is, I doubt that a meaningful enough change to count. For instance, if I say to a child, "when I clap my hand, do something," and I clap my hand and he just stands there, I'll ask him why he didn't do anything. If he says, "I did do something: I listened to you clapping," I'll tell him that's not what I meant.

Or do you think there's a contradiction between (1) the purpose is not to X and (2) X is certainly an element of... ?

X can be an element of Y without being the purpose of Y.

While the evidence is that for a wanted outcome, whether you pray or not makes no difference - God never intervenes or responds outside of your mind.

Can you site some studies of this?
posted by grumblebee at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts: I see no contradiction in my statement. It is normal for a child to ask his parents for ice cream before dinner, because that is something the child wants. It is also normal for the parents to deny such a request, because a parent knows what the child needs better than the child does. Should the child ask instead for a second helping of vegetables at dinner, does that mean that the parent should deny him?

Asking for something and expecting to receive it are two entirely different things. If I ask God for patience, I should not expect that God will suddenly hit me with a beam of light that makes me a patient person. Instead, I should expect that God will show me situations where I see the value of patience and so I will learn it on my own. It is not that God will change the world to suit my desires, but that the act of prayer itself allows me concentrate on how God meets my needs.

I admit fully that prayer does not affect the outcome. (I must accept the learned determinations of double blind studies as well as personal experience on this matter.) I cannot pray for X and expect to get X. As I said before, this is not the purpose of prayer. I can instead pray for X and expect that through that communication I will be brought into greater connection with the Divine. I can expect that God will put me at peace with my desire for X, that God will make it clear to me I am not ready for X, that X will not make me better, or that I really didn't need X in the first place.

Does God intervene? We have come to a great point of debate here, and I cannot speak authoritatively for anyone but myself. I believe that it is inappropriate to call it intervention, as that implies that the universe would go on its own merry way without God and it just happens that He likes to come in Saturdays to sweep up the stuff we break. The God I accept and know does not intervene in the universe-- He sustains it. Without God there would be no universe. Without the persistant and constant presence, providence and oversight of God, the universe and all things contained therein would cease to be. I am certain that there are a great multitude waiting to dissect this belief and I could ramble at even greater length on it but we will get no closer to coherent discussion. Suffice to say that at the center of the Athiest's construction the answer is "Well, I don't know how that work, but I'm sure we'll figure out eventually", or "It works that way because if it didn't we wouldn't be here to discuss it"; at the center of my construction the answer is "It works that way because it is God's will for it to work that way". I find both viewpoints equally valid, and the reasons I accept my viewpoint cannot be measured or evaluated against scientific reason any more than the assertion that science will eventually lead to the understanding of all things.

Does God respond outside of my mind? That is even more difficult to answer. I don't need to go far into philosophy to figure out that the only tool I have to answer that question is my mind, and every psych class I ever took told me that my mind really only perceives what it wants to perceive. I can accept that others think my prayers only rattle around the inside of my head and go no farther; the evidence I have experienced to the contrary is my own. No one else has lived my life and has experienced what I have experienced and so no one else is qualified to understand the relationship I have with God. I know that if one truly and earnestly seeks God, he will find God. I also know that if one is truly and earnestly seeking to discredit or minimize God, he will find ways to discredit and minimize God.

In the interest of keeping the thread short, I will not answer farther here; anyone wishing to go farther may do so at my profile address. I will accept any further commentary, public or private, with the assertion that I am happy to engage in discourse so long as it does not degenerate precisely the sort of free-for-all flamewar we've all come to expect. I have said my peace and stepped down from my soap box.
posted by leapfrog at 4:11 PM on December 4, 2006


leapfrog, I really liked your post. I take issue with just one thing:

the Athiest's construction ... is "Well, I don't know how that work, but I'm sure we'll figure out eventually", or "It works that way because if it didn't we wouldn't be here to discuss it"

"Issue" may be too strong a word, because I realize you don't mean that this is how all atheists think.

But THIS atheist would change your first quote to "Well, I don't know how that work, but I HOPE we'll figure out eventually" My change also affects your earlier statement: "Science seeks explanations while accepting that there are things we don't understand yet." I take exception to the word "yet." I'm sure there are scientists that believe we will one day know everything, but that's not a scientific attitude (there's no way to test whether or not we'll one day know everything). Without believing in a god, I find it quite easy to imagine that we may always have mysteries. The human mind has its limitations and tools are limited by the constraints of physics. If we're ever going to know everything, we'd better hope there's nothing in the universe that will be affected by those limitations.

As for "It works that way because if it didn't we wouldn't be here to discuss it": surely that's putting the cart before the horse. The fact that we're here to discuss it CAUSES the way the universe works? Surely we're able to discuss BECAUSE the universe works the way it does.
posted by grumblebee at 4:26 PM on December 4, 2006


We have come to a great point of debate here, and I cannot speak authoritatively for anyone but myself.

leapfrog has, voluntarily or not, helped to clarify the discussion. If you wish to explore his/her beliefs further, you have to rely on his words and on the authority and conviction in what he says. That is all well and good and I'm not picking on him but its not a scientific statement.

A scientific statement would be more of the form "Here's an explanation from me but...if you go do such-and-such I guarantee you will be able to verify this for yourself." In that sense, religion is a bit closer to aesthetics or taste. Nothing wrong with that - a sense of beauty helps to drive Science. But if I tell you that some Movie is great and that if you see it I guarantee you will love it too, well, that is a soft statement outside the realm of Science, which deals in harder currencies.
posted by vacapinta at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2006


I think it's important to distinguish that your "belief" that the world is round isn't belief in the same sense belief in God is. It is more likely that you believe that the community and the culture you live in, which has discovered and proven (as much as the scientific method can prove anything) the world is round, to be correct about most basic scientific assumptions. Your belief is more akin to a trust in the system that came to that conclusion, which is likely being constantly reinforced by evidence that you do have more direct contact with. It's effectively a short cut in order to not have to process more information than would be feasible.
posted by haveanicesummer at 4:48 PM on December 4, 2006


Yes, "belief" is a belief.

This whinging on about "provability" and "falsifiability" is just plain silly considering the assumptions you have to make to get that far. See Solipsism.
posted by tkolar at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2006


Others here have covered the general cases very thoroughly and entertainingly, so I thought I'd chime in with a few specifics you can use.

Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example, or the theory of Dark Matter? Or that everything came out of nothing, for no reason. I'm curious.

To disprove the law of energy conservation, simply make energy vanish, or create a device that produces energy from nothing. Disproving this law is extremely simple; the fact that nobody ever has tends to indicate it's a pretty damn good theory.

Falsifying dark matter/energy, on the other hand, isn't really possible yet. The Universe is behaving in a way we don't understand. The dark energy theories are one attempt at explaining what's going on, but we're missing a fundamental piece that we need. We don't understand how gravity works, and on the large scale, it's not behaving as we expect. Dark energy is one possible explanation, and a lot of cosmologists are using it, but until we understand gravity, we may not have the tools we need to falsify that particular theory.

(That whole thing is pretty exciting, actually, albeit at a slow pace....the guys and gals working on that are grappling with the absolute fundamentals in how the Universe is constructed. Hopefully humanity is smart enough to figure it out.)

To prove to yourself the world is round... one very easy experiment is simply to go to the ocean and watch a ship sail out to sea. You will see it gradually drop out of view. (If the earth were flat, it wouldn't do that, it would just get smaller.) Proving that the Earth is roughly circular is just a matter of taking distance versus height measurements both north/south and east/west, and doing some fairly simple math.

Another way to do it is to duplicate an experiment in ancient times, much easier these days: put two vertical sticks in the ground separated by a few hundred miles. Recruit a friend. At a given, precise time, both of you should measure your shadows, direction and distance. Doing somewhat more complex math on your results will show you that the Earth is pretty close to circular. (and you can do it live, too, just call your buddy on his cell phone!)

Another point of validation: Google Earth. If you'll notice, you can zoom in on your own neighborhood and verify that the layout is perfect. If you zoom out, you can continue to verify that every piece is exactly where it is claimed to be. You can do manual measurements and compare it against your Google Earth results, and it will come out right every time. If you zoom out far enough, you can see that the Earth is round... and you can tell it's a good representation because every measurement you take in real life will match what the program tells you.

Specifically, start on a line of longitude and drive east or west until you get to another one, and jot down your odometer reading. Go a long distance north or south and repeat your trip; it will be longer or shorter. Voila: you have proved that you are on a roughly spherical surface. (note: if you do this on both sides of the equator or at the poles, your mileage may not vary. :) )
posted by Malor at 5:02 PM on December 4, 2006


This particular atheist's analogue of "It works that way because it is God's will for it to work that way" is, simply, "It works that way."
posted by flabdablet at 5:02 PM on December 4, 2006


Basically, CrunchyGods, you have an interest in the philosophy of science. It's a great field -- there's a tremendous amount to explore and the questions only get more interesting. I'd recommend starting with What is this thing called science?. Reading Kuhn too early in philosophy of science is not something I would recommend.
posted by ontic at 5:21 PM on December 4, 2006


#grumblebee:
Where's the contradiction?


Jeez, do you have the ability to read? I quoted someone who essentially said "prayers don't want God to make changes" and also said "people pray to God to make changes". Thats a pretty big contratadiction in my book

Can you site some studies of this?


One easy find is: Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:13 PM on December 4, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts: thanks for the link to the study. I look forward to reading it.

I actually read leapfrog's post four times before my post, and I have just read it a fifth time, trying to see it your way. I still can't.

Your quote is incorrect. He never wrote "prayers don't want God to make changes." I'm not even sure what that means, since "prayers" are thoughts or utterances made by people. Those people may want things, but the prayers themselves don't want anything. Unless, by prayers, you meant "the people who are praying" (like footballers). If that's what you meant, I think you misunderstood leapfrog. He wasn't writing about what individual people are trying to do when they are praying, and I'm sure he would agree that many theists misunderstand the purpose of prayer. He was talking about what God means by prayer.

Here, I'm quoting directly from leapfrog's post:

"the purpose of prayer is not to attempt to change the universe ... While petition and intercession are certainly elements of prayer, the promise of ... Scripture is that God always listens, not that God will always give you what you ask for"

Where is the contradiction?
posted by grumblebee at 7:10 PM on December 4, 2006


MonkeySaltedNuts, I would like to clear something up about your previous post, but I'd prefer to do it offline. You have no email in your profile. I do. Please email me. Thanks
posted by grumblebee at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2006


#grumblebee: MonkeySaltedNuts, I would like to clear something up about your previous post, but I'd prefer to do it offline. You have no email in your profile.

There is a reason that I do not provide a email in my profile - I would like to express my opinion without be being harasses by nut-casess
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:16 PM on December 4, 2006


I wasn't going to harass you. I was going to apologize for offending you. I'm not sure how I did it, but it seems to me like I did.
posted by grumblebee at 8:54 PM on December 4, 2006


In order to 'prove' that the world is round some above have stated that you could get a rocket to outer space and look at the earth. It is possible however to prove the theory without taking off and spending billions. Eratosthenes did this (and made a very fine prediction as to the actual circumference of the globe) in the 3rd century BC and you could do it today without considerable expense.

The 'theory' held by some that a deity listens to them has no comparable test (and many that hold it to be true make a virtue of it's untestable nature). This I hope gives some solace to the philosophic crisis mentioned.

Of course those proponents of faith who claim their belief is as valid as the scientific method as arbiter of 'that which is true' will point at findings not quite as obvious as earth's roundness to state that scientists are 'believers' in revealed truth as much as those who believe in god are believers in their own truth. That the faithful are now claiming equivalence with science (rather than claiming those that dispute their holy truth should be, say, burned to death) is a leap forward in the past few centuries in our society. However the approach of science is no different for 'the earth is round' assertion than to the more tricky questions that science is grappling with these days. Just a tad trickier and more expensive in time and equipment to verify personally.
posted by Gratishades at 5:22 AM on December 5, 2006


grahamwell: It's not unreasonable that we try to check our instruments, our calculations, go to the pub and come back the next day to double-check everything, etc. before throwing out the theory. Baby and bathwater, you know - we're human and sometimes we make mistakes. Our machines aren't perfect, and sometimes they can contribute to the error too. Really, in science, one should be cautious about everything, including one's own results. That's why there's emphasis on repeatability of both attempted proofs & falsifications. So to say that the whole scientific falsifiability thing means we should completely discard a theory after a single bad result is to ignore the very real spectre of error and the way science has to work in the real world. Similarly, theories like the theory of the Big Bang, with all its specifics, are complicated, and don't always need to be discarded wholesale - the data support some parts of those theories (e.g. stellar motion, background radiation), and so it's reasonable to say "Well, obviously we're missing something, but we also don't appear to be totally off-base. Can we revise our hypothesis on the basis of this new data?" Again, in the real world, this process ends up being slow. That doesn't make it invalid.

Now, sure, this does mean that sometimes people take a long time to admit that a pet theory isn't working. But in the end, the data'll speak for itself - which is one of the great things about science. In his day, Mendel and his plants were hardly well-known; today everyone learns about him in high school because his basic theories are so vital to our current understanding of a lot of genetics. Took a while for his results to make a difference, but in the end they did. Similarly, I can go back and find inspiration in a paper that no one really noticed 50 years ago. Ultimately, science moves slowly, and yeah, the people involved are still human, but the process as a whole works surprisingly well.
posted by ubersturm at 6:33 AM on December 5, 2006


Just for fun, explain to me how you would falsify the law of Conservation of Energy for example

You're joking right? People have been trying to falsify that one for millenia.
posted by vacapinta at 12:47 PM PST on December 4


The apparent fact that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, instead of slowing down as everyone has believed for a couple of decades until recently, rather flagrantly contradicts Conservation of Energy, does it not?

That physicists in general so casually accept the notion of "dark energy," which 'saves' Conservation of Energy, and for which accelerating expansion is the ONLY evidence to date as far as I know, demonstrates what a grip LCE has attained on scientific imagination.

I am, by the way, a firm believer in dark energy.
posted by jamjam at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2006


[derail about the principle of conservation of energy]
Disproving this law is extremely simple; the fact that nobody ever has tends to indicate it's a pretty damn good theory.

I'm not sure about this. As a matter of fact energy appears and goes missing all the time (just look at your heating bill). We consider that it's been made from fuel and dissipated in low-level heat (for example the experiment that orb2069 mentioned above) - ahah! it's gone into friction with steel. Or something else, there's always something.

Orb's experiement is interesting because the whole thing is actually backwards, we work from measures of kinetic motion and heat and when it seems to disappear, create something called 'potential energy' to explain where it's gone. How do you measure potential energy? What instrument do you use? (Don't forget to measure magnetic potential, I've hidden one under the table)

Do you want to see energy come from nowhere? OK then, hold a pen out in front of you and let go. Where did all that motion come from? Oh yes. Gravity and Potential energy again. We speak with such certainty but do we really know what's going on?

As I mentioned above, the law of conservation of energy seems to have a special status, as Emmy Noether proved (in what seems to me an astonishingly significant piece of work) the law derives directly from the principle of temporal symmetry - our belief that an experiment performed today will (all other things being equal) have just the same result as one performed yesterday, or tomorrow. This is a belief that we simply couldn't do science without and it therefore seems clear that the principle of conservation of energy cannot be parted with, whatever the evidence seems to say.

Imagine that I do produce a perpetual motion machine - a waterwheel for example. No, I'm not kidding - a waterwheel is a good example. It goes round and round for ever. Where does the energy come from? We go looking - and in time we put togther a broader narrative, one that includes the rain, evaporation, the water cycle and ultimately the sun. So the energy comes from the sun. OK and where does that energy come from? Well, hydrogen fusion. And that energy? Err, the Big Bang. And that?

At some point the waterwheel's energy must have come from nowhere.

We have to think like this. It's the way we are made. However we shouldn't mistake these principles of thinking itself with some contingent, empirically discovered, fact.

[end of derail]
posted by grahamwell at 10:23 AM on December 5, 2006


I'm right with you, grahamwell, in that potential energy has always struck me as more of a bookkeeper's hack than an actual description of something real; but the fact remains that the model of reality that includes this notion of potential energy (and the conservation principle behind it) actually does have a well-established track record of useful predictive power. E = mgh works.

Unlike jamjam, though, I'm not a believer in dark energy. This is not because I am interested in denying dark energy. Rather, it's because I don't have enough of a grasp of the theory of which dark energy is a part to understand why dark energy is a necessary part of that theory; I don't have any need to believe in dark energy.

Emotionally, I find the Big Bang model completely unsatisfactory, and I don't believe in that either - but nor do I deny it. I simply don't have a need to use it, so I haven't bothered to learn much about it.

What little I do know about it has always smelled of epicycles to me. The assumptions underpinning it strike me as forced and arbitrary. What if the Universe doesn't actually have an average density? What if it isn't uniform on a very large scale? And would it be possible to construct a model where not only is our present place in the universe not special, but neither is our present era? Is it not conceivable that backward extrapolations of presently-observed trends (redshifts, microwave background etc) made at any time and place would always yield an apparent universal age of fourteen-and-some billion years? What if the projected age of the universe depended sensitively on the observer's local gravitational conditions? What if the universe is expanding not linearly, but geometrically?

I don't have the mathematical chops to model the consequences of any of these questions, so I simply enjoy thinking about them in an idle kind of way; nothing I think about cosmology has the kind of emotional attachment that would qualify it as a "belief".

I do have a fairly strong emotional attachment to the belief that anything I know may prove to be wrong, or simply deficient; I enjoy and welcome surprising new discoveries that jerk my present worldview around. And it seems to me that this, rather than formal notions of falsifiability, is the main thing that distinguishes a scientific mindset from a dogmatically religious one.
posted by flabdablet at 3:21 PM on December 5, 2006


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