Because there are a lot of people, especially some anti-theists, who seem to have the wrong idea about what science is, and what it isn’t.
I am a psychology major. That’s what I’m studying in school right now, and I have two semesters left before graduating. However, I’ve been learning a great deal about what science is and isn’t from my studies, and I think it’s relevant here especially. When we talk about science in conjunction with religion and spirituality, we’re often talking about psychology. Much of what I’m going to say here, however, is true for most, if not all, scientific disciplines.
One thing I would like to point out is that so far, not one of my professors has ever spoken about religion. I don’t know if any of them are religious or not, and it isn’t my business if they are or aren’t. Thing is, religion and psychological science–or science in general–aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are two distinct realms of thought.
The problem with trying to use science to disprove religion or spirituality is that the questions asked by religion and spirituality are unfalsifiable, and therefore not even in the realm of science. Despite what some would say, however, this does not mean that all scientists must disregard religious questions as false, because that is something else entirely. Being unfalsifiable means that these questions cannot be proven either way. They cannot be proven true, but more importantly, they cannot be proven false. And science doesn’t seek to prove the truth of anything; science seeks to falsify first, to find what is not true so that what is leftover is more likely to be true.
Let’s also tackle this idea of “proof” and something being “proven” false or true. Because the truth is, nothing is ever proven 100% ever, not even by science. Again, science doesn’t seek to prove things true, it seeks to prove things false. Scientific experimentation is for the purpose of breaking down everything that is wrong with a hypothesis, to move science forward, and bring up new questions and new roads of thought. A hypothesis must be tested over and over again, the results must be shown to be repeatable by other researchers, for the hypothesis to even become a theory, and then it is still only a theory. Because no matter how many experiments are run, no matter how many different sets of researchers run them, one can never, ever know if an experiment or group of experiments accounted for every single possible variable that could affect the outcome. It simply isn’t possible to know this.
This past spring, I took physiological psychology, which was a very long, grueling semester of learning about the parts of the brain, neurons, and neurotransmitters, and what each of them does, and how, and why. And I cannot count the number of times the professor told us “This thing does this,” and then asked “So why does this do this?” and the answer was “We [neuropsychologists] don’t know!” Yes, we have learned a great deal about the way the brain and its chemicals function. But there is still far more that we don’t know. We may be able to say “this part of the brain controls this function,” but we can’t say why. And even that isn’t as simple as “this lobe of the brain controls this emotion or function,” because part of what I learned is that emotions and bodily functions actually have several layers of function on their own, and thus may actually be controlled by more than one part of the brain.
Our understanding of our own functioning is still rudimentary at best.
So what does all this mean, what am I getting at? What I’m getting at is that science doesn’t have all the answers. In fact, true scientists will tell you that we don’t have any answers, only theories. Science is a really good way of exploring ourselves and our environment, of seeking to understand ourselves. It’s a tool, and it’s useful. But it isn’t the only tool, and other tools–like religion and spirituality–have their uses, too.
We can’t say “Science has proven this!” because it hasn’t. Science has shown that a lot of things are more likely to be true than others, and some things have been able to be observed as true, the Earth being round instead of flat, for instance. It wasn’t science that proved that, though science did a lot to contribute to that proof. It was the actual observation of Earth from space that proved, beyond a shadow, beyond theory, that the Earth is not flat. One day, there might be a way for us to observe other things science has theories about, but to say that science has proven anything is just as false as saying that religion proves anything. In a way, having faith in science is just like having faith in a god or gods.
For the record: I love science! Being a student of psychology, I am a scientist. But I bring with me the same healthy sense of discernment and skepticism to science as many anti-theists say we theists should bring to religion. Because that’s what scientists do.
Here, have a science kitty: