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Science not only contests fixed beliefs, but also identifies as independent religion

Science is the new national religion. There is no need to list the number of goods that science has done for us, the number of conveniences and cures that it has brought to us or the great leaps in mankind’s development that have come about thanks to it.

Imagine if we never knew about the cell, about physics, about evolution; we would be living in the dark ages. Science is an extremely powerful force, one that is only matched in its influence by what it replaced: theistic religions. Forget about Zeus and Ares, hello Einstein and Galileo.

But what is science, beyond, of course, the colloquial? Well, according to the dictionary, science is a study of the physical world through observation. I won’t disagree.

At the same time, however, science seems to be an avenue for the human discovery function, as I will call it. Humans are naturally curious; we want to find out as much as we can. We wonder and speculate.

In the past, we did this much in the same way as scientists do so these days: we experimented, we observed, and we described.

How else would mathematics or early anatomy have come about? But those things that we could not explain, those beautiful virtues or the great feelings when in the throes of emotion, or those natural occurrences that seemed just too great for man, we left in the hands of gods.

Finally, science, as we know and understand it, really started to take off sometime in the 16th and 17th centuries at an exponential rate. It took the natural curiosity of humans and made it more efficient.

Better results came faster and led us to a multitude of discoveries about ourselves and our world. And this new ability to discover led us to wonder even more, searching deeper and deeper for smallest particle, all the while reaching loftier heights.

And today we know more about the world around us and how our bodies function than any other time in history; I might even say we are the most informed generation yet.

But we must ask ourselves what kind of information we have and what exactly our knowledge means. There is internal knowledge which we know through our own intuition and feeling and there is external knowledge that we gain through observation and learning. In the same way then, we have information that comes to us through our experiences which we register, decipher and store in our memories.

We also have information that we gather through reading textbooks, articles and generally observing. It seems fair to me, and I would imagine to others as well, that both of these forms of information and knowledge are important and useful.

I might even argue that observational knowledge helps to shape the internal knowledge already in us, guiding and directing our already present internal ideas. And we rely on both. But it seems that as of late, we value observational knowledge more.

I recently discussed the human soul with a friend. I claimed that the soul is what helps us give meaning to the information that we take in, both from internal sources and external sources; it is what connects us to the physical experiences of our world, helps us connect with music, to understand things symbolically, to love.

He claimed soul was a misnomer, and these things are simply results of brain wiring.

I pressed further, saying that if we looked at the brain of every person who says that they are in love, certain specific sections would light up and change, but what accounts for the differences in their descriptions, expressions and responses? Neuronal pathways and synapses connections.

It was then that I realized he and I were arguing from two fundamentally different perspectives; he placed more value in the external observation for explanation while I placed more value in the internal knowledge.

But what happens if we continually devalue the more internal knowledge?

What happens is that we end up in a society that asks what he is doing rather than why does he feel the need to do this?

We have been around so long as a species that we think we have learned all there is to know through our internal dispositions, but just because I am a member of history does not mean that I myself know all there is to know about me.

I am discovering things about myself every day, things that aren’t written in textbooks and can’t simply be explained by a greater presence of gray matter on my right cortex.

Further than this though, the soul and God are placed on an even more perilous slope. Since neither the existence of God nor the soul can be proven or disproven, no hypotheses made, no data collected, science really has no choice but to deny their existence. And if we continually need proof to believe in things, I think that the world is heading for a very dark place.

The soul and God have always appeared to me as sources of comfort more than anything else. They enabled people of bygone eons to imagine that they were not alone, that there was something beyond the things most apparently visible, some beautiful divine order, something like hope. There are few things that could inspire hope like the soul and God.

I know that’s what they do for me. And call me a fool, I’ll gladly accept the title. The scientist may well sleep with the hope of tomorrow, but I can’t imagine many sleep with the hope of infinity.

As I said at the outset of this article, science now seems to be even more influential than that belief system that it seemed to replace, that belief system of course being the assumptive theistic religions.

But what I believe is often overlooked is that science really is a new religion. It’s religion for the materialist; it is revered and quoted, idolized and extolled. And just as humans used theistic religions for good and evil, so they have used science. Man will always need a god.

So those proud and confident mockers of the zealous hearts of old, look well at yourselves. Aren’t you still bowing down?

Brendan Krovatin can be reached at bkrovati@villanova.edu. 

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