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To Be, Or

Posted on the 15 July 2013 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

Science and Nonbelief

Science is, according to Taner Edis, ambitious. While Science and Nonbelief is somewhat sympathetic to the religiously minded, Edis demonstrates how science aggressively tackles the issues steadfastly claimed by religions, and ultimately triumphs. Interestingly enough, early on in the book Edis notes that “truth” is a philosophical concept, and science operates on the principle of the best explanatory theory of the moment. So far I am in complete agreement. I guess the part that gives me the most trouble is the assumption that reason is the only way of knowing. Perhaps I’m just not enough of a scientist to know such things, but it appears to me that all “lower” animals appear to get along very well in the world without great doses of “reason” that supposedly catapult humanity far above the other species. Scientific observation would seem to confirm that many animals feel emotion—after all, what is fight or flight if not an emotional response? And since we are animals, I reason, have we lost something when we leave feeling aside as a way of knowing?

Edis is quite fair-minded. He notes that science has no way to prove or disprove the existence of a deity, or deities, but he also states that the empirical method is so successful that a spiritual world is no longer required. He may be correct. The vast majority of the people in the world feel he is wrong, however. I may state this since we know, statistically, that most people in the world believe in some form of religion. Rational or not, here they come! It would seem that evolution has endowed us with religion, or an awareness of something we feel rather than reasoning out. And yet, we are told, science takes no prisoners.

I often ponder the fact that no one person has all the answers. Part of the human condition involves possessing limited resources for specializing in too many fields. Polymaths become rarer each year as specialists grow more and more precise. In this great mix of human learning, science often steps in and claims all the marbles belong to it. The rest of us have lost ours, apparently. There’s no denying that applied science has been very successful in bettering our understanding of our universe and our lot in the world. That doesn’t mean that all will believe in it. The title of Edis’ book is apt; belief is the real issue in attempting to fit religion and science into the same world. It is quite clear that religion doesn’t explain much in the way of the natural world. I wonder, however, if science is really capable of encapsulating all of what it means to be human.

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