At a recent conference at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, scientists debated the relationship between science and religion. Not surprisingly, most of those in attendance had little use for religion, seeing it not just as the “Opium des Volks,” but as a veritable poison.
Yes, religion, even those based on messages of peace like that preached by Jesus, has contributed, either by condoning or causing, much of the hatred and intolerance in the world today. And religious adherents, even those who claim to follow the same book, whether the Koran, the Torah, or the Bible, are often at odds with one-another, disagreeing violently about how their chosen book should be interpreted. And some religious fundamentalists cling to assertions that are just downright silly and that have no basis either in science or in the verses of whatever book they follow.
Still, it’s ironic that these scientists have such disdain for religion. Science, at least as it’s practiced by many today, is no better.
While religious zealots may hoard weapons of mass destruction, it’s scientists who continue to refine those weapons. Remember Fat Man and Little Boy, the atomic bombs detonated over Nagasaki and Hiroshima? Those gems weren’t created by a group of priests but by a team of scientists who knowingly and willingly took part in the annihilation of tens of thousands of innocent people. Whether you believe those actions were justified or not, killing is killing, and those scientist’s hands are as bloodstained as the clerics who blessed the soldiers who flew the missions.
Nor are scientists exemplary in their honesty. As reported in an article in the Washington Post, 5% of scientists surveyed admitted tossing out data that contradicted their previous research. 15% “changed a study’s design or results to satisfy a sponsor, or ignored observations because they had a “gut feeling” they were inaccurate. 13.5% admitted using research designs they knew would yield inaccurate results.
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This is only what those who responded to the survey admitted to. There’s no way to tell what the real numbers would be if all those surveyed responded, and if all those who responded did so truthfully.
Why would scientists, who ostensibly are on a quest for the truth, falsify data – lie? Because they’re driven by the same human foibles that drive their religious counterparts, in this case greed and ambition.
In order to get funding, they have to produce results. A paleontologist who picks up a bone in the desert is under pressure to find fossils older and more significant than those found before. 30,000 years old? Bah! 15 million years old? Now, that’s special. And if laboratory dating, itself suspect because it’s calibrated on earlier finds, reveals that it’s not quite as old as originally thought? Well, there’s no reason to reissue the paper.
Laymen in religion are criticized because they blindly follow whatever the priest in the holy frock says, and because they follow a book they really don’t understand. But science has its own priesthood, only instead of wearing black robes they wear white lab coats. And the public is expected to accept what they’re told, whether they understand it or not, because the scientists say so.
In religion, those who disagree with the dogma are branded as “heretics.” In science, those who disagree with the dogma are branded as “science deniers.” And this is true even if those deniers can point to other scientific studies to support their claims.
Take, for example, the matter of climate change. Many people believe that all scientists agree that climate change is not just occurring, but is accelerating, and is caused primarily by human activities. But there are some who point to studies showing that climate goes through cycles regardless of human activities, that carbon dioxide is a necessary and beneficial component of the atmosphere, and that climate change is driven more by the influence of the sun than by human activities. Yet, because they disagree with the popular opinion, they’re labeled as science deniers, even though they have science on their side.
As another example, ask the average person who believes in evolution to explain it, and they won’t be able to. Then why do they believe it? Because some scientists say it’s true, and they must know what they’re talking about. How is that any different from religious faith?
Does this mean we should ignore science? Not at all. Science can help us understand the creation around us and can help us produce useful and beneficial tools. But it should not be seen as an end itself. Nor should those who practice it be seen as infallible. Doing so turns science into a religion.