- Published on Monday, 04 March 2013 06:01
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1128
It's easy for an atheist to say (and think) that the only way to decide something is to use the scientific method. It uses evidence and facts and has a method that is rational and logical and produces results. (Scientific Method for Atheists). But it's not that simple. People who are strongly religious will often say that "Science doesn't know everything" and "There are other ways of thinking and knowing". Atheists and scientists would all concede that there is still much to learn and that science does not know everything. "People of Faith" want answers for everything so turn to religions for answers to questions that they think are not yet resolved by science. The second comment implies that the scientific method is not the only way to find out the truth. The idea is that we should discover things through faith or revelation from someone who claimed to be God or a messenger from God. The catch of course is that the sources have to first prove that they are divine or divinely inspired.
But does it make sense to say that there is only one way to think about subjects? Should everything be subject to the analysis of science? It is clear that feelings don't help with factual subjects so faith is not useful where the facts are known (e.g. palaeontology disproves creation in the last 6000 years). It is obvious that you cannot prove something by insisting on belief or responding to feelings. But perhaps understanding why people do things is, as a minimum, a different type of science. For example history and economics (and perhaps other subjects) are different ways of thinking and so different ways of knowing. Unlike physics, our view of history varies with time - we see the 19th century differently now than we did in the early 20th century. Is that because we are progressing or simply because we are different now compared to 100 years ago? Changes in physics build on earlier theories; we don't talk about different "views" of physics.
If history and economics involve a different way of thinking and getting answers, does that mean that perhaps the subject of God and religions could also require a different way of thinking? The short answer is that it depends. If we are talking about material things as are described by physics, chemistry, engineering, biology etc. then the scientific method works so should be applied. This means creationism, life after death, miracles, and in fact most of the things talked about in religions cannot be justified with a "different way of knowing". These are just nonsense since they are physical but have no supporting evidence. But emotions, feelings and the human desire for mystical experiences cannot (yet) be described by science - except empirically. That is, there is no established science that connects biology and the brain to emotions - although there is work being done to make the connection, notably by Patricia Churchland.
Maybe one day, these feelings, which cause religious people to believe that there is a different way of knowing, will be shown to be the product of brain chemistry. Maybe we will be able to take a pill to make us have different feelings (e.g. love instead of hate). Meanwhile, some subjects do indeed require a different way of thinking and knowing. However, this does not mean blind faith is useful or a good way of knowing although I don't think arguments about that involve the scientific method. These are philosophical arguments. Is philosophy a science? I don't think so.