Silence: A short history of our atoms is actually a posting by Dutch blogger Renee Alkmar about the idea of science as a form of religion. I arrived there via the link from the author’s March21 comment on the Jan24 posting at ‘Philosophy Talk’. Such are the vagaries of asynchronous communication. I often find it fascinating to see a seemingly dead thread revive like a dry seed in the sand at the onset of rain, but that is not my point in responding so let me move on to the issue at hand.
In her posting Renee comments on the very real spiritual sensibility with which many of us approach science, but I believe that there remains a major distinction between science and religion which hinges on the confounding of two quite different uses of the word “believe”. In particular, the belief I have just expressed is one which I can imagine giving up in the face of a contrary argument, but the belief of a religious disciple prides itself on its immutability. To me, that is the essence of “religion” and is something to be avoided. Perhaps “faith” would be a better word for the religious kind of belief. Granted, that word also sometimes is used with a more modest interpretation – more like “trust” (in the sense that I may have “faith” in my climbing rope but if that faith is betrayed I will be shocked and dismayed but won’t suffer a philisophical crisis over it even though fear of impact may cause a mental breakdown to precede the physical)- but I believe that the weaker interpretation of “faith” is less common than that of “belief” and so that that word is the better choice for how people feel about religion.
Also, a religion seems always to be based on authority, but I believe that a “belief in scientists” is in fact contrary to the true spirit of science. In my opinion, a true scientist doesn’t believe something because some greater scientist declares it but only as and while she is convinced in her own mind that the weight of evidence and argument supports it.