The Scientific Method vs. Religious Dogma

science-cartoon1We, as humans, know that we know very little. The more knowledge we obtain, the more we realize how much knowledge is still out there, still beyond our reach. This fact is strongly upheld by both science and religion, but where the two differ is their treatment of the fallibility of the human mind. While the scientific method is built on principles designed to reduce the effect of our biases and ignorance, religion, particularly Christianity, takes advantage of that ignorance and even asks us to embrace it.

I watched this video a while ago, and recently came across it again. The first time I watched it, I was still a Christian, but something he said at the end really stood out because it highlights a major difference in the way I approach the world as compared to, say, almost everyone else I’ve ever known. He says, “If you think that something is true, you should try as hard as you can to disprove it. Only then can you really get at the truth, and not fool yourself.”

This is the scientific method. Instead of looking for evidence of what you already believe, you challenge your bias by trying honestly to find evidence against it. Science learns and grows because it uses this system to challenge itself, modify beliefs where they are flawed, and find new truths that were previously hidden. It may be true that some scientists hold to old ideas despite new evidence, which is a common flaw of human nature, but in doing so they aren’t following the scientific method.

Religious dogma, on the other hand, makes a claim of absolute truth that cannot be challenged. It takes the truth that you know very little, and then tells you that you cannot know more without accepting it on faith. To buy into religious dogma you must embrace your subjectivity; Abraham was considered righteous because he had faith despite all the contrary evidence, while Thomas was chided for wanting real evidence of an extraordinary claim.

Christianity rewards belief in face of the absence of proof, and belittles those who ask for evidence that its claims are true. What this sort of religion essentially does is punish people for using their god-given reason, and reward them for basing their idea of truth on subjectivity. I ask for concrete evidence because I don’t trust my own mind, and somehow, this request is considered a lack of trust in god.

What Christians want me to do is trust their version of god until I feel better. If my emotions aren’t in line with what I’m supposed to feel, it’s not because the religion is false, it’s because I’m not trusting enough. When I have “true faith”, they say, I will suddenly know that it’s true because I feel it. Having been a Christian, I know exactly what they’re talking about. I most certainly have felt it…a sweet relief when I let go of truth and truly believe a delusion.

That’s all it is. The human mind has a great ability to truly believe anything it wants. The emotions you feel when you wholeheartedly buy into a delusion are not proof that it’s true. Evidence must come from outside your own mind, otherwise you are placing your faith in human bias and ignorance. Christians often claim that people like me have faith in science or something else in the same way they have faith in god. I don’t think it’s comparable at all, and my new friend Neil Carter proposed a couple questions to ask of your worldview to determine how true to reality it is.

I don’t agree with holding emotions above reason. If your definition of “genuine faith” rejects logic in favor of a feeling in your heart or a voice in your head, then it cannot be objective and is a poor system of finding truth. The truth is not what you feel to be true. I know because I’ve been there; I had genuine faith exactly as I hear Christians describe it. I believed without any doubts, I believed with everything I had, and I put myself into the whole thing with no reservations.

Then I discovered that without a grounding in concrete reality, you can do the same thing and get the same results with just about any belief system. If you apply the same principles of unquestioning faith to Islam, you would be a Muslim. Apply it to Buddhism, and you’d be a Buddhist. In every case you would believe just as strongly that your belief system is correct, and you would feel the same “truth in your heart”, because your faith is not based in reality but rather in your own desire to believe something despite any contrary evidence. That peace you feel is the disappearance of cognitive dissonance that happens when you learn how to totally disregard or re-interpret anything that doesn’t fit into your chosen ideology.

If a piece of evidence doesn’t fit what I want to believe, I must accept that there is just as much chance of my beliefs being wrong as there is of the evidence being somehow false or misinterpreted. For a Christian to think this way would destroy the entire foundation of their faith, because an honest search for the truth requires distrust of your own mind and emotions, while Christianity requires distrust of reality, reason, and concrete evidence.

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