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Meditation 673
Science, Philosophy and Religion

by: Bernardo Arroyo

Editor's Note: This was submitted as a response to issues raised by Rob Lockett in the discussion arising out of Talk Back 86. As I have closed that discussion, and as this article has implications wider than that discussion (and should not be buried there), I felt the article more belonged in this section. Meditation 674 continues the discussion.

To open a discussion on this article, please use the contact page to provide your comments.

On Rob Lockett and Pantheism

Science is not religion nor is it philosophy. Science is a method. It is a way to analyze what we perceive as reality. As such, it has worked very well through a significant part of our history. It has been a useful method to produce satisfactory and trustworthy explanations for many natural phenomenons. It has been even more useful as a tool to develop very helpful techologies that make our lives easier, longer and arguably better.

Science as a method needs some basic assumptions from which to start. Just like algebraic axioms, these assumptions are elemental, self evident and consistent with logic. Basic assumptions are not a dogma of faith, they might be explained more as a definition. It's a form of establishing a basic set of bricks for building structures. Algebraic axioms are not accepted on faith, they are adequate for their purpose and are correct for all algebraic manipulations. As long as they are used for the algebra for which they are true, they will never fail. That is why there is no risk that the bricks may fail and the structure built on them will fall. As long as science is used in a way consistent with its own assumptions, the findings of science will be trustworthy.

That nature be ordered in an intelligible, logical and coherent fashion is NOT one of the basic assumptions of science. Scientists set out to seek order and structure, when they find it they report it, when they don't, then they keep looking. So far, order and structure have been found in many aspects of nature, but there is no guarantee that they will be found in every aspect of nature. That is where philosophy comes into play.

Philosophy is a discipline which speculates about everything. Its only assumptions are those that we call logic. In my opinion, science may be considered a subset of philosophy. Philosophers are free to speculate as long as their speculations are consistent with logic. Scientists can only speculate as long as their speculations are consistent with observable phenomenons. The method additionally requires that all scientific speculations be tested, sooner or later, and either confirmed or rejected. Philosophy has been also very useful and scientists often profit from philosophical speculation, but only when they limit themselves to the confines of the method are their conclusions taken seriously. Furthermore, experience has shown, that only when scientific conclusions are consistent with the scientific method, they are useful at predicting results of experiments or at developing technologies. Philosophy then does not really offer a solution for anything, it's more like a brain storming tool. Some fantastic ideas have come from it, but also many huge volumes of insufferable babble.

If my description of the scope of philosophy is accepted, then religion is not a philosophy either. Religion is a discipline which speculates about everything, but it does not have to limit itself to the constrictions of what we call logic. That there might be a higher level of "logic" that we currently do not understand (or may never), with which religion and its broadest speculations be consistent, may be possible, but at this moment, we simply don't know (and it doesn't seem likely). Faith is a decision some people make to believe things that are not consistent with logic, but that are, nevertheless, consistent with their particular religious dogma.

I will agree with Rob Lockett on one thing though. If by the word god we mean everything, the whole universe, the natural laws, our mind and our matter, then we agnostics and scientists and philosophers and theologians may be searching for the same thing, yet through very different methodologies. However, if that is the case, please tell me, Rob, if this pantheistic god is what you mean by god, what intelligence designed it all? Who is out there designing god (which is everything)? If your answer is "god designed itself" then how is that different from saying "the universe works as it does because it can, and the only thing we know for sure is that all this is the universe"?