Thursday, July 25, 2013

Questions of origins - religion vs science

Ahh, I've been slacking off on writing. Well, less slacking than wanting to find good topics and not doing so on time. Still, one came up (and another, and a third which may or may not see the light of day.)

I was watching an interview with Richard Dawkins on Al-jazeera (on Youtube) - I do recommend looking it up, it's quite interesting. Prof. Dawkins expressed incredulity when the interviewer assured him that yes, he did believe Mohammed flew up to heaven on a winged horse, and didn't quite understand why he felt that was so hard to believe.

Later in the interview, near the end, things like the big bang and multiverse theory were brought up - also as "things you can't prove to me." A very common tactic was used - to try to portray the two as equivalent.

This, of course, is a false equivalency, often tied to saying atheism is a religion as well. But, of course, there are problems with this.

In various holy books, extraordinary claims are made. There is no evidence outside said holy writing for these tales - So and so split the moon, walked on water, turned water into wine, parted the red sea, went to heaven on a staircase or on a winged horse. When asked for proof, two responses are typically given - "I don't need it, I have faith" and "Why don't you disprove it?"

These, of course, are nonanswers. "I have faith" has no bearing on reality - I can have faith that if I spin really fast, I can take off like a helicopter, but it doesn't bear fruit. (And, of course, the rejoinder there is "If it didn't work, your faith must not have been strong enough!" An unmeetable burden.) And of course, you cannot disprove things like those 100%, just provide a great enough degree of uncertainty to make it not rational to believe in. I cannot, for instance, disprove a T. Rex didn't walk past my apartment complex five minutes ago. I can point out the lack of any signs (footprints, witnesses, video footage, droppings, noise,) and that T. Rex has been extinct for millions of years... enough to give 99.99999% certainty that one did not. But, sure, I'll grant there's always that very miniscule chance that one did and happened not to leave any signs.

With the winged horse (taken from the interview,) no, we can't prove Mohammed didn't fly to heaven on it. But we can ask questions. Where are these winged horses? Why have there been no other incidents of winged horses? Where are their remains? How big were the wings? How was their biology arranged to allow it to be a four-footed herd animal with the strength to lift both itself and a rider - horses are certainly not *light* creatures. Where is "heaven," and how did the horse reach it? Would the trip be survivable? The more you ask, the more uncertainty has to come in for this claim (or just "taking it on faith," which, again, is no answer.)

Religion starts with an "answer." It provides further "answers" that don't need to be consistent or coherent - just taken on faith.

Science, by comparison, goes by evidence. Someone may come up with a hypothesis. That is then tested and proven or disproven. Those results are then tested by others and verified. These tests, combined with observations and fact, are brought together as laws and theories. Science actively works to disprove things. Things that prove hard to disprove (heh) or have certain conditions (Humans can breathe normally while on land on Earth, but not underwater without assistance) are used to build further hypotheses and ask other questions.

So when science says the universe came from "nothing" (and there's actually varying definitions of that, much like "theory") it does so after observing how the universe is NOW, testing how things are NOW, and working backwards, testing and proving or disproving observations and hypotheses. It can prove and demonstrate each step back to show why it came to this conclusion.

In other words, if we compare the two and question, we'd get these sorts of results:
Religion - "God spoke, and the world came into being."
Skeptic - "How do you know this?"
Religion - "My book and my faith tell me."
Skeptic - "Where is your proof?"
Religion - "My book and my faith..." (ad infinitum.)
Skeptic - "Could you be wrong?"
Religion - "No!" 

There is no proof, it just sort of "poofed."

Science: "The world coalesced from a cloud of gas and dust as the sun was forming."
Skeptic: "How do you know this?"
Science: (provides chemical models, scientific models, observational evidence.)
Skeptic: "Where did that come from?"
Science: (provides evidence, math, etc. rewinding the universe, showing proof for conditions met.)
Skeptic: "OK, but you dont' have an answer for this point...."
Science: "We have theories we're currently testing. These theories were disproven, here's why. These still seem to explain things well, and are still being tested."
Skeptic: "Could you be wrong?"
Science: "Sure. In which case we'll take the results of testing and build theories from those, and test it some more."

Result: "It may have 'poofed' from our point of view, but these are strong candidates with the evidence you yourself can verify and test as to how and why."

The two are just not equivalent - but it won't prevent the theist from trying to make them look the same.

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