April 2009

Religion VS Science

by Lloyd H. Whitling

April 27, 2009, updated July, 2013

The religious describe science as based on an illusion of reality that is necessarily a temporary version of a creation God will soon destroy. Secular supporters of science portray religion as based on unverifiable myths told about absurd incidents. Each side claims it cannot understand how the other can claim to possess the only version of truth. The conflict appears unresolvable for lack of a shared vision of what constitutes reality, and a shared language about it where words mean the same on both sides.

We can only and most quietly hope to settle the differences between science and religion, and show why science is the most effective stabilizer of humanity, by taking the discussion into a completely unrelated place. Let’s take it into the ownership of real property to not only emphasize the nature of both, but to perhaps show why this kind of property gets called ‘real’.

Real estate involves definite chunks of property, with or without buildings, located in recognizable places on the face of the Earth. Consider how ownership gets transferred and also how it gets established. We can compare modern methods to the ancient, call the ancient “organized religion” (faith) and the modern ‘organized science” (objective). Faith and objectivity both are not about whether or not the property exists, but whether it was accurately and cogently described, and whether those descriptions were accurately translated into usable every day terms. In simpler words, we can believe what we were told, or we can show details from the owner that can be verified.

In ancient times, where individuals could own land, borders and corners were by individual agreement, as being something on the order of “From that hilltop by that tree down to that bend in the creek, over to the road, then to the bridge over the ravine, and back up to the hilltop.” While that might not be an exact replica of every instance, the intention is to demonstrate the absence of any precision.

Winds blew hills away as the land passed from generation to generation, the creek eroded a new bed (or dried up and disappeared, the tree died and another grew near to its place, and the bridge over the ravine one day collapsed. The generations of humans involved kept their faith in the old descriptions, and learned to revise them as time would pass and the scenery rearranged itself.

As science advances, technological innovations develop to fill human needs, and accurate deeds and descriptions were most certainly one of those needs. People applied scientific discoveries to more accurately find locations on the Earth’s face, not for just this problem, but for how to cross oceans and end up closer to one’s intended destination, and, eventually, how to fly blindly through the sky and still arrive at a destination.

What works on sea without landmarks works even better on land. The development of accurate compasses made predictable directionality a welcome achievement. The development of accurate clocks led to the dividing of the Earth’s surface into longitude and latitudinal divisions, wherein exact points could be defined by surveyors, trained to read each other’s instructions and find within inches of where another had been perhaps years into the past. Stakes driven into the ground get reassessed from time to time to assure new owners that old lines were accurately defined and they could know where their property rights ended and their neighbors’ began.

Today, entire megalopolis-sized cities depend on scientifically-stated accuracy for their layouts, including beneath the surface. Mines collapse, and rescue workers on the surface drill precisely-located shafts into the ground to where they hope to find survivors. Pipelines and roads are laid out and constructed in carefully measured plots and, nowadays, crews can work toward each other while fully expecting to meet in an exact fashion.

Compare that to the laying out of Tennessee’s northern border and the obvious miss those crews made while using ancient methods and primitive instruments. Constant refinement enables science to introduce technological devices of which that absence of accuracy is no longer granted consideration. Look at Tennessee’s northern border: that has not always been true.

It is not only the exact locations that get serious consideration nowadays, but also the exact area confined with a set of borders. A small farm that may once have been assessed at “about” eighty acres may now be accurately measured at 72.6 with no one disagreeing. Surveyors can walk knowledgeable people around a plot of land and explain how they arrived at their figures, and all parties will either arrive at the same numbers, or know wherein their disagreements lie.

That cannot be said of the ancient ways. Money would exchange hands, a fight or feud break out, some authorities get called upon to arbitrate, but all sides would as likely as not fail to achieve real satisfaction from the results, wherein there would be winners and losers with bad feelings between them. One side’s ‘faith’ in the results would be the other side’s reasons for doubt. That has been the case for most of the duration of human existence.

It is the nature of human beings that vested interests will also lead to doubt, one way or another. Application of technological advances that led to a smaller tax assessment might have gained a farmer’s support, but if it led to assessing a smaller acreage at the time of intended sale would certainly be put to the test. There will always be exceptions: “Uncle Charlie took it like a man, and sold a smaller farm than he bought and paid for.”

Part of science is the finding of ways to gain dependable answers to the questions it raises. If Uncle Charlie worked with the surveyors who measured his farm and understood their math and methods, he would be satisfied with a result that might have disappointed him. He would fully expect that surveyors far into the future would measure the farm and arrive at very similar conclusions. He would know that mistakes can be made, and that part of the process would require verification, and that he could, himself with the right training, check the math and methods and see for himself there were no mistakes, or show the surveyors why he disagrees.

That sort of assurance is not available where ancient methods still prevail. People who must “take it on faith” that their authority figures are acting in their behalf have to make choices when some authorities assess their property at “more or less eighty acres” but another insists it is hard-put to make sixty. Where the tax man insists upon eighty acres for a plot that a potential buyer can only see as sixty, a sale is apt to fall through unless the seller can successfully convince someone the farm is worth the asking price no matter what its size in acres.

When science fears to tread on religion’s domain, as in today’s hazardous world, no modern surveyors will ever get called in to decide the actual size of such a farm. The farmers on either side of the deal will have no idea how the surveyor arrives at his results, except for stories told down at the meeting hall in town. Urban legends will abound in such a climate, such as the story about a man who owned an entire tall mountain that got surveyed “as only one acre, and he had planted ten acres worth of seeds and gotten that much of a crop off it.”

After much exposure to many such stories as that, the farmers on both sides of a potential deal will hesitate to rely on modern methods and those who use them. Even worse, having heard of other surveyors who might have been beaten or killed for arriving at figures that diverged from what both sides had expected, many surveyors might turn down the job. The farmers on all sides might revel that the old ways of faith had been preserved, and never get to realize the peaceful sense of confidence they would never experience in their lifetimes.

By now, the point of this should be well understood. Faith in myths and guesswork will never be the equal of confidence found in verifiable accuracy. Even while the landscape changes around us, an accurate understanding gained from verifiable methods enables the tracking of those changes, and awareness of their effects upon how we will describe and recognize that little portion of it all we wrap our minds around. Without that awareness, we must resort to placing our faith in authority figures and the “immaterial” gods for whom they decree enforcement.

And, that is when we have religion instead of science. It has little to do with the existence of gods, and much relevance to zealous eagerness to accept “on faith” what unknown, unidentifiable strangers have laid claim to in an ancient past and attributed to truth, only to be “verified” in our own times by others with a vested interest in keeping the myths alive. Such people provide no verifiable trail to any origins for their information, but accredit unverifiable divination, clairvoyance  or revelation.  We cannot legitimately accredit such dead-end “sources” when verisimilitude is completely absent among all the competing and contradictory variations in the messages claimed from them. For so long as that is the case, your ‘faith’ is in the messenger, not a proclaimed sender who may have played no part in it.