I grew up default Christian. My parents took me to church, usually the (generalized) Protestant services at the on-base chapel. I went to Bible school. Listened to sermons. Sang the hymns. And prayed before I went to bed. As a child, it was easy for me to have faith and to believe without questions.
But that did not last long. I started questioning and stopped going to church. I never took the giant leap of faith. I learned about other religions; adopted some aspects of each for myself. And continued the rest of my life not being religious, but not disrespecting religion either.
It’s worked for me. But I always assumed that my questioning of beliefs was over. Until this year.
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If you ever want to have some fun in a group of intellectuals (or, in my case law school students), challenge science. Better yet, compare belief in science as the same as belief in religion and watch the reaction. It is amusing; of course, it might only be me.
I started playing devil’s advocate during a discussion over school curriculums; specifically, whether Creationism should be taught in schools. Rather than arguing that Creationism should be taught in schools, I attacked whether the theory of evolution should be the only thing to be taught during science class (to explain the beginnings of well… us). Apparently, I hit a button because most of my classmates went on the defensive.
The best I can describe their reaction is this: they were trying to convince me that evolution is NOT a doctrine, in the same way many do when trying to defend the rightness of their religious beliefs.
I realized during this discussion the hypocrisy of it all. We are allowed to question the core beliefs and assumptions of religion, but not those of science. I was merely turning the tables against science (something I’ve never done before, it is quite fun), and got shouted down for it. The next day, a classmate pulled me aside to make sure I wasn’t offended, which may indicate how the discussion played out.
I never really thought about science as doctrine before this class. And surprisingly, there are basic assumptions made in order for science to work.
Science operates on the assumptions that natural causes explain natural phenomena, that evidence from the natural world can inform us about those causes, and that these causes are consistent.
It may not seem like much, but people put a lot of faith into the assumption that everything that happens around is caused by something not-divine (in other words, caused by “nature”).
Another assumption of science: humans can interpret the natural phenomena correctly (or even truthfully).
Questioning science, of course, seems ridiculous. Science has safeguards against coming to a false conclusion. We’re all taught (hopefully) about the scientific method: Make a hypothesis, test the hypothesis in a way that can be duplicated, manipulate different factors, and record the results. Repeat ad nauseum until you can safely say, “Sure, Hypothesis X is, more likely than not, true.”
Wait … what? More likely than not?
That seems to be the biggest safeguard of it all: Science, as in the acquisition of knowledge through the scientific method, rarely leads to absolutes. (Probably because everything is continuously tested and absolutes would take the fun out of science.)
So many take for granted that science is not absolute and it is an interpretation of the things that happen around us. Religion, to some, operates in the same way.
Through all of this, the interesting thing I find is the common thread of everyone just trying to figure what all “this” is. What is it that drives us to seek the explanation? And why is it so hard to see that we’re all trying to get to the same place?
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All the time we are aware of millions of things around us…these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road…aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig