science vs religion = meta-religion

Posted by on March 2, 2007 in general thoughts | 2 comments

Ok, be honest how many of you groaned when you read that title?

Apologies for the weight of this entry, I have to get it off my chest… don’t worry, I’ll post something stupid again soon!

(click for the full entry –>

Right then…

About a week ago I was discussing an internal conflict I had regarding religion.

On the one hand, I think it is all rubbish and that believing in things of that nature causes a number of issues:

1) It holds back society and mankind as a whole from furthering our understanding of the world – religious fanatics in America have held back stem cell research by years, thereby increasing the time to develop cures for things like Alzheimer’s.

2) Religion causes wars. You can argue this one with me till you’re blue in the face, my mind is made up. It causes wars, get over it.

3) It externalises responsibility – hopefully I can explain this one. By believing in something greater you’re more likely to remove responsibility for your own actions in certain circumstances. Lack of ownership and responsibility is a real problem in the world today; everything is someone else’s fault or problem.

…but on the other hand I want to respect people rights to worship g-d, allah, Buddha, his noodly appendage… whatever.

These two positions seem to contradict, leaving me a bit confused at times. After some discussion with a colleague, he told me that he used to have the same conflict until he realised that science was just another religion.

His logic is that under pinning everything in science is a belief or a hypothesis, there is very little that is actually proven, like religion.


My gut reaction was, “no way”… at the time, I couldn’t answer why, but, I trust my instincts so I left it in my unconscious mind to resolve and let me know when it was done.

My brain went “ping” this morning. I have the answer as to why Science is NOT just another religion.

Fundamentally yes, they are both built in beliefs and theories. I had to agree this one, in part.

Here’s my reason why science is not a religion. If you assume that science is another religion on the basis that in the end they all boil down to a set of beliefs, then you must accept that science is inclusive of other beliefs in so much as, yes all things in science start off as theories (or matters of faith) but that it is an inclusive approach – ie it allows for other theories/hypotheses and beliefs to be examined and either accepted or dismissed where as religion is essentially exclusive in that it offers only one possible theory/hypotheses or set of beliefs.


….Doh! I just had a thought…

Does this make science a meta-religion?

i.e. a religion of religions??? THE “religion” that allows for the others as a part of, not an alternative too… hmmm…

Bugger… would that mean it IS just another kind of religion!?

Whatever the answer to these questions, I’m still convinced that we need to evolve.

At first homo sapiens invented “gods” to explain things we didn’t understand like volcanoes and the sun… we then developed religion as we know it today to explain things beyond our comprehension, like the creation of the universe, space and the babel fish (geek joke alert)…

Human nature is inquisitive, adventurous and experimental by nature… we move forward by this continuous process of development and rejection of things we can disprove, not by blind faith in things with 6 arms or supernatural powers.

“oh but plenty of things in (the bible/the torah/the koran) can be proven to actual real events” – sure, some of it probably is based on factual events and the morals/teaching were great in helping us develop as civilisations, in the same way that believing in Wagara (the volcano god) kept us alive all those years ago.

Damn my over thinking brain, I clearly have too many brain cells available for use… good thing I’m planning on killing a few this weekend!!


  1. Logical problem here in that the religion of science is not inclusive. Often scientific thought disallows one hypothesis in order to produce an appropriate synthesis. In other words, science is based on conventions and many of these conventions exclude theories that are counter to the accepted thesis.

    An example of this would be the scientific explanations of ghosts. It is empirically disallowed to accept ghosts are the disembodied souls of the newly departed. The physical ghostly manifestations are explained as some local disturbance or other but at no point is the belief that ghosts are the souls of the dead allowed. This would open up the scientist responsible to ridicule as he had accepted one of the proscribed theorems.

    Coincidently I no more believe in ghosts than I do penta-quarks (another geek joke 😉

  2. Response to the science and religion post, posted on both my blog and Luke’s:

    1) Religion has indeed held society back at some points of history. It’s also driven society forward at some points of history. We can’t know what many of the great artists would have done without religion as inspiration (in music particularly) but the church was pretty good at funding all that art. Likewise religion was an organising force which promoted things like basic food hygiene (a lot of Leviticus/Deuteronomy is good hygiene – laced with homophobic bigotry etc, admittedly).

    2) Religion causing wars? Not sure. Religion is one way in which societies can identify themselves. Certainly religions have been the organising elements of many wars, but I’m not at all convinced that those wars wouldn’t have happened anyway, possibly in very different guises. Basically religious wars are often like street gang wars, but on a bigger scale – and we know those happen on a regular basis without religion being involved.

    3) Externalising responsibility – I completely disagree with you on this, because Christianity (and no doubt other religions) teach that the whole world *is* your responsibility. You can’t deny that many charities have religious foundations, and that’s precisely because of the social responsibility nature of them. This is another example of religion driving society forward. Churches were promoting fair trade coffee *long* before it became fashionable!

    As for science vs religion – I don’t see that they need to be in conflict. I’m perfectly happy to be a generally scientific person and a committed Christian.

    There are *some* so-called scientists who definitely turn it into a religion, ignoring evidence which goes against their pet theories etc. Indeed, some of the more eminent scientists in history have used their positions as “thought leaders” to effectively bully scientists who disagreed with them, preventing their theories from getting as much of a look-in as they should have had.

    Fundamentally science and religion are looking at the same world from different perspectives. I think that’s healthy, and I don’t think either of them need to “lose” for society to win.

    As for science being inclusive and religion being exclusive: there are plenty of scientists who exclude any form of religious belief pretty much out of hand, and plenty of religious folk who are happy to look at many scientific theories, and enjoy inter-faith dialogue too. The media tends to like to portray every religious person as being a nut who won’t give the time of day to any other religion, but that’s not accurate. How much attention have you been paying to the relationships between the different worshipping communities in your area?

    This is not to say there *aren’t* those who are closed to other possibilities – just pointing out that that’s true of both science and religion, as is the converse.


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