RobertMason

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Outside the Laboratory

In learning we have two drives, to find truth and to avoid error. These rarely do come in conflict, and even more rarely do they come into any major kind of conflict, but there still are times that we have to decide whether we consider it to be more important to find truths or to avoid errors. Religion, for instance.

Let us imagine that a time traveler arrives from some distant point in the future and teaches me five facts which are not currently known to the world. Four of these facts can be explained with current scientific knowledge, and when they are tested they are proven correct. The fifth is as far beyond our current scientific knowledge as quantum mechanics is beyond the state of science as it was in the first dynastic period of Egypt. We not only are unable to understand the explanation or how to test it, but we are unable to understand the information that would let us understand the explanation, and so on and so forth for a great many regressions.

Nevertheless, because I am more concerned with finding truth than I am with avoiding error, and because the time-traveler's first four facts were true, I would conclude that it is reasonable for me to believe the fifth fact until I am proven to be in error or at least have sufficient reason to doubt it.

This same process applies to religion. The concept that there is some kind of higher being or beings is a concept which causes the universe to make more sense to me in several ways. Some of these ways are ones which I cannot even express well if at all, making it even more difficult to find possible alternatives, but I am not very distressed by this situation. There are concepts which you yourself no doubt believe and which similarly fulfill and answer things which I cannot express to my satisfaction.

Where there would be issue is in knowingly believing an error. While certain interpretations of Deity have been proven wrong either by history or mere logic, I do not believe that theism as a whole has been proven utterly incorrect. Perhaps this is straying into the territory of "Religion cannot be proven incorrect and is an entirely different magisterium," but in the end, if your concept of God is flexible enough, God actually can't be proven to not exist. Some hypotheses can't be tested. It makes them utterly useless for scientific purposes, true, but I've never thought that we can prove that God exists or not, only that we can prove that a particular religious concept is incorrect.

Knowing this, I revise my religious beliefs in accordance with scientific knowledge. I consider evolution to be true, and I am well aware of such things as the craziness of our retinas, and so I do not believe that the Divine created everything in six days, or even that the Divine did anything at all to guide evolutionary processes. I am aware that there are studies which raise interesting questions about consciousness, free will, and the relationship between the two, and I have had to redefine my conception of the soul as a result.

I do not believe that there is any issue with a scientist who has religious beliefs. The problem lies with scientists who have religious beliefs which are incompatible with science and basic reason.

Good day, sir. I look forward to continuing my reading of your site and can hope only that, whether you agree or disagree, I have at least managed to state my case in a way that does not, through its ludicrousness, lend support to the idea that some people shouldn't be allowed to reproduce or even talk to other people.