In a recent thread, I was wondering how people can have confidence in a religious leader who gets it obviously wrong. In a comment, brettandkatie asks (ask?) a really good question that I’ve been thinking about:
So, how does this differ from “further light and knowledge”? The apostle know what they are given now, just like I know what I am given now. Further revelation may change this. I don’t think that God and science should be separated, for they work together.
I don’t discredit science, it has given us so so much. However, we are getting the best of what they “know” may change. How can you use the word “know” if it is a hypotheses? I’m just saying that having full confidence in everything current science is saying can be hard because, while much of it is fact, much is also an educated guess that will change in the future. So how is this different from what you claim the LDS church does?
In other words, scientists learn more, and their knowledge changes. Religious leaders learn more, and their knowledge changes. So how is science different from ‘continuing revelation’? Don’t they work the same? Am I being unfair to expect religion to work differently?
It’s a tempting comparison, but not all systems that advance incrementally are the same. Consider the cheating spouse who tells a little of the truth, and then comes out with more and more of it when confronted with more and more of their lies. Or what about L. Ron Hubbard, who made up more and more of his phony-baloney science fiction religion bit by bit? That’s incremental, but most people are able to see how that isn’t quite on a par with science.
Before getting to the meat of it, a couple of caveats. First up, I’m addressing this from a Mormon perspective, since I’m most familiar with it and because it’s in response to a Mormon commenting on a post about a Mormon apostle. I think this relates to other religions too, but if this criticism doesn’t seem apt, be grateful that your church doesn’t do this. (Or it does, and you just don’t realise.) Also, I don’t think I’m comparing ‘ideal science’ to ‘the worst of religion’; I think I’m comparing how they work most of the time. Again, take it for what it’s worth.
|With science, you start with the facts and move to conclusions.||With religion, you start with the conclusion and see what facts will get you there.|
Still love this cartoon:
|In science, you start with the null hypothesis (assuming the hypothesis is not true), and you use evidence to build up a picture. An idea must be within a certain degree of confidence before you settle on it.||Religious people require that an idea be argued down to null before they’ll abandon or (more often) modify it. As long as there’s a sliver of hope, they’ll cling to it.|
|The evidence for a scientific idea must be publicly verifiable, and replicable. Scientists submit their evidence and conclusions for peer review.||So-called ‘spiritual evidence’ comes from emotions, experiences, and unusual-seeming happenstances, which cannot be examined directly by others, or replicated under controlled conditions.|
|The evidence for scientific ideas comes from the natural world.||The evidence for religious ideas comes from interpretations of holy books and authority figures.|
|Scientists change their views when the evidence requires.||Religions change their views when they become unpalatable.|
|Scientific hypotheses make testable predictions. If those predictions don’t come true, the hypothesis is rejected.||Religious leaders sometimes make a prophecy. If it doesn’t come true when expected, the prophecy is either kicked down the road for “sometime in the future”, or reinterpreted to apply on a “spiritual level”. They are not typically abandoned.|
|In science, you publish your results when they change.||With religion (particularly the Mormon sort), you quietly drop doctrines and hope no one will notice after 40 years. (The most recent exception I can think of happened in 1978.)|
The main idea here is not just that science and religion are different in lots of ways, though they are — they actually function as opposite and incompatible methods. Science expands when it can; religion contracts when it must.
And finally, an observation: Science is a system created by humans.
Religions claim to get their answers from an all-knowing, all-powerful being.
Yet science has been much more successful at gaining knowledge, promoting longevity, and finding out about our universe. That ought to give believers some pause.
Let’s just say that brettandkatie is (are?) right, and science and religion are comparable systems. Why would a god even need to spread his knowledge by using the same system that humans invented? Wouldn’t we expect him to do better? An organisation led by a god would surely have more knowledge and would show more moral progress than a purely human one. Yet religions display less knowledge and poorer moral judgment than humans generally. So what are they for?
Some believers acknowledge this, but then say that god is ‘teaching his people line upon line’ or that ‘god chooses to work through fallible people’. Well, God would be awfully hamstrung if he could only teach to the level of his most advanced followers. Why would a god limit himself in this way, and not take the lead? We are meant to believe that this all-powerful being is stymied by human cognitive limitations and human intransigence. This makes no sense.
(p.s. You can tell I’m pretty gung-ho on science, but please don’t have full confidence in everything current science is saying. It’s going to change. That’s why it’s good.)