The Religion of Science
In his retirement my father used to do a fairly challenging crossword every day as exercise for his brain. Often he would appear to have nearly completed it successfully, but be stumped by the last missing word or two.
Later, when the answers were revealed it would often emerge that he had made some fundamental error that he had succeeded in compounding until he just couldn't make the final words fit any more.
Building a body of scientific knowledge, I think, is a lot like doing the crossword. And the fact that some of the data isn't fitting our current model should be a big fat clue to the fact that we have made some erroneous assumptions somewhere along the line or at the very least that our understanding is woefully incomplete.
The fact is that each scientific discipline is only holding a small piece of the puzzle and that its understandings rest upon assumptions gleaned from other fields.
Although to an outsider or even to a scientific novitiate things may look solid and hang together, you don't have to ask "Why?" very many times for the neat explanations science currently offers to come unstuck.
In itself this is not an issue, except for the fact that scientific knowledge is often presented as a being full, comprehensive and complete understanding of the laws of nature that cannot be shown to be false.
This is far from the truth.
The way things have been structured in science means that each discipline is standing on the shoulders of another, with the sole exception of quantum physics which informs all other fields as shown in the table below.
The mind bending nature of the quantum world we have been discovering in the last few decades often referred to as 'quantum weirdness' appears not to have permeated the other disciplines who seem not to have noticed that the very foundations of their field are looking very shaky indeed.
As shown in the accompanying illustration below, it does not take much to unbalance the whole edifice of scientific knowledge.
The old science: Reductionism
The laudable concept of science is that probable concepts - hypotheses - are formulated in order to be tested. If a hypothesis fails the test, then it is back to the drawing board in order to formulate and test another theory or it is time to rethink the assumptions the experiment relies upon. The more a theory is tested and found to pass, the more it is accepted by the scientific community.
In addition, scientific investigation has been based upon the following principles:
Materialism All that matters is matter and matter can be studied.
Reductionism is the mind-set that believes you can explain something by taking it apart. From splitting the atom to dissecting the human body, the thought is that the universe is a machine composed of working parts.
Determinism is the concept that outcomes can be predicted and controlled.
Repeatability is the idea that in order for data to be acceptable it has to repeatable - by other researchers in other laboratories. But Black Swan Theory tells us that it only takes one observation - in this case a single black swan - to disprove the theory that all swans are white. Just one documented anomalous observation whether repeatable or not should be sufficient to call into question some widely accepted theories.
It also could be argued that the scientific community uses as their rationale for the creation of the universe, life, humanity and consciousness something so deeply unscientific as an unrepeatable series of random chance events - likened to the monkey creating the works of Shakespeare given an infinite amount of time.
Current scientific dogma
According to my dictionary, 'dogma' is defined as being a body of teaching proclaimed by authority to be true. Whilst historically this has been the preserve of religion, now it seems the scientific world strongly adheres to its own dogmas for which there is little supporting evidence. Here are just a few examples.
Darwinian evolution There is not just one missing link in the human story of evolution, but thousands of missing links in the story of evolution of all life. Little evidence has ever been found to support the idea of transitional species and even Darwin knew this to be "The most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory". This lack of evidence is assumed to relate to the particular circumstances that have to pertain in order for a fossil to be created.
Another criticism levelled against Darwinian evolution is that of explaining the evolutionary steps taken to create a wing and flight, for example. And, fundamentally, what is the underlying drive towards order and increasing complexity in species?
Global warming Even the terminology can obscure the cause. Many think that global warming is solar warming - the warming of the entire solar system as evidenced by the melting of Jupiter's moons and the ice caps on Mars, and satellites picking up hotter and hotter solar flares. In fact, 30,000 scientists have signed a petition, of which nearly 10,000 have PhDs taking issue with global warming, but the bandwagon still rolls on...
We are all alone Having repeatedly insisted that we are the only life in the universe most cosmologists have now conceded the possibility - indeed the likelihood - that we are not alone. As the enormity of the universe has become apparent with its 100 billion stars in our galaxy and 100 billion or more galaxies, the odds against other life are now looking exceedingly small.
The theory of everything This is the modern scientific 'Holy Grail' as scientists try to reconcile the laws that pertain to the cosmos (the macro) with those that apply to quantum mechanics (the micro). This unification theory is required because if we accept the current 'Big Bang' explanation of creation, then everything shares an origin and therefore should be operating according to the same set of rules.
Scientific pride before a fall
The fact is that most scientific theories are really just hypotheses that have not yet been disproved, found wanting or challenged. However, over time they start to gain the status of TRUTH or LAWS, but they are not the truth - only a working model of our current understanding until it is superseded by another theory which better explains the data.
Scientists however, often appear to think that its answers are infallible and it was ever thus. For example, Newtonian physics was accepted throughout the West for over 200 years as fact and its principles were often referred to as 'Laws of Nature'.
So confident was the scientific community that they had it all sewn up, that in an address to the the British Association for Advancement in Science in 1900 the Irish physicist and mathematician known as Lord Kelvin stated that "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurements."
Around the same time, the first American Nobel laureate in physics, Albert Michelson, also stated that there was no more need for physics graduates since "The grand underlying principles have been firmly established. Further truths of physics are to be called forth in the sixth place of decimals."
So just dotting the I's and crossing the T's then?
And then along came Albert Einstein's groundbreaking Theory of Relativity in 1905 which blew everything they thought they knew out of the water with its talk of photons and the interchangeability of light and matter. Interestingly, although Albert Einstein was subsequently honoured with a Nobel Prize, it was not for this work which was considered too controversial.
Does this scientific certainty sound familiar?
"The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge."
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist
The split between religion and science
For hundreds of years the Catholic Church claimed absolute 'divine' knowledge and maintained its power with a reign of terror known as the Inquisition. It tortured and killed people that disagreed with its world view until dissenters were silenced or dead and others were too terrified to speak up for fear of what would happen.
Religion and science subsequently went their own ways and an uneasy and unspoken truce was declared that neither should meddle in the other's business. But the fact is that spirituality and science are not separate, but two ways of enquiring into the fundamental nature of reality - one with the mind and the other with the heart or inner knowing.
“For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible.”
Many scientists are either privately or openly religious or spiritual people. Relatively few are like the evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, believing only in the 'cold, hard, provable scientific facts'. So perhaps it is no surprise that, according to a survey in the journal Nature, 40% of American physicists, biologists and mathematicians believe in God and the quotations included at the end of this article are testament to their investigations into the mystery of life.
It is intriguing how uncurious science is when confronted with data that does not fit their model like the memory of water, spontaneous healing or the placebo effect. For the fact is that it is simply not possible for anything to violate the laws of nature, only what we understand of the laws of nature. In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe "The unnatural, that too is natural".
It is also interesting how willing scientific journals are to accept and print studies that confirm the currently held theory du jour, and how differently evidence that rocks the scientific boat gets treated when it is subjected to a whole new level of scrutiny.
Although we now celebrate many of our greatest scientific minds, they were often given a terrible time in their lifetime. One notable example is that of the French immunologist, Jacques Benveniste, who was head of the Immunology Department at France's National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and tipped for a Nobel Prize.
He published a paper in the journal Nature in 1998 which found evidence to support the memory of water. As a condition of publication, Nature asked that the results be replicated by independent laboratories and the paper was eventually co-authored by four laboratories around the world. In an editorial which accompanied the paper Nature stated "There is no physical basis for such an activity".
After the article was published, the journal sent a fraud investigation team including the illusionist, James Randi, and a fraud expert, Walter Stewart to examine Benveniste, his laboratory and experiment. Although Benveniste managed to duplicate the results three times the fraud investigation team then set up a double-blind experiment and the findings did not support his results.
He was suspended by INSERM, his reputation was damaged, his external sources of funding were withdrawn and he died just a few years later after heart surgery. It is hard to know whether this scientific witch hunt actually killed him.
The history of science is littered with similar tales such as the English physician, William Harvey, who published a book in 1628 detailing how the heart acted as a pump. At this time this was thought to be so heretical that a contract was put out on him and he had to leave England for 10 years.
The nineteenth century Austrian physician, Dr Ignaz Semmelweiss, was on the receiving end of scientific rough justice too. Working in the maternity unit of the Vienna General Hospital he had became concerned by the high death rates on his ward from puerperal fever.
He reasoned that the only difference between his wards and the other wards was that students attended his patients fresh from dissection. He then had the temerity to suggest that they wash their hands using an antiseptic before attending patients, and the death rate on his clinic normalised. However, he was ostracised by the medical community and died insane in an asylum.
It seems that while claiming to be receptive to novel ideas, science has assumed the mantle of the church in persecuting free thinkers.
The Copernican revolution
Five hundred years ago, humans believed that they - and the planet they inhabited - were at the centre of creation and that the other planets orbited the earth. The model of the cosmos that prevailed was that formulated by the Greek philosopher, Ptolemy, around 140 AD. Plato had argued that heavenly bodies were just that - heavenly - and as such must display perfect motion which he decreed to be circular.
But the planets did not describe the perfect circular orbits predicted by such a model, instead 'wandering', appearing to reverse their motion from time to time and speeding up and slowing down.
Because Plato had determined that all orbits must be circular, a new theory involving epicycles (circles around circles) evolved to accommodate this data. And then later, an even more complex system of epicycles was developed to explain further anomalous observations. This working model of the universe survived, virtually unchallenged, for thirteen hundred years!
Then the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, proposed a radically different model of the solar system in which the earth and all the other planets were orbiting the sun. In this heliocentric model the apparent anomalies in the movement of the planets could be explained as an illusion caused by the movement of the observer.
Knowing these concepts would inflame the Catholic Church, Copernicus kept his ideas to himself until he knew he was dying. He then published a book on the subject that was brought to him, it is said, shortly before he died in 1543. However, it was only some decades later when the Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, took up his ideas with the newly developed telescope that his enormous contribution became apparent.
Galileo also came under fire from the Catholic Church. When he refused to recant his ideas and observations on the nature of the solar system he was placed under permanent house arrest so that he could not propagate his ideas.
At about the same time the German mathematician, Johannes Kepler, found that the movements of all the other planets could be accounted for, if their orbits were ellipses rather than circles. Then 50 years later the English mathematician, Sir Isaac Newton, using the laws of motion he developed calculated that orbiting bodies would indeed move in an ellipse - just as Kepler predicted.
This scientific revolution had taken nearly 150 years to complete, and the Vatican only admitted that Galileo had been right in 1992 - nearly four centuries later!
The new science: Holarchy and complexity
Whilst science sees hierarchies and reductionism, the fact is that nature is a system - a holarchy - where everything is working together and everything is affecting everything else. This is a big concept and may be beyond the ability of the human mind to conceive, but all the evidence emerging from quantum theory shows this to be so.
For example, humanity maintains a birth rate throughout the world which is almost constantly 105 men to 100 women to allow for the higher death of young men through recklessness and war. However, after a war, more males are born until the population ratio is restored. How can this be?
The human body too is a colony of 50 trillion cells which collaborate until the moment of death when order ceases and chaos and degeneration begin.
The concept of Gaia first occurred to Sir James Lovelock when he saw the pictures of the earth taken from space, when it became so obvious that our blue planet was throbbing with life compared to the other planets that you didn't need to send probes to test for life. He concluded that there was some animating force and that the earth and everything on it was one superorganism he called Gaia.
One of the problems science has is that as we investigate further, everything turns out to be whole lot more complex than we could ever have assumed and as our knowledge expands new horizons invariably appear.
In short, I believe that we are currently integrating the discoveries of Einstein and others in the West with the centuries old understanding of systems gained in the East in a quantum leap set to rival that of the Copernican revolution.
It will have far-reaching repercussions for both science and religion.
And the fact is that it's here already - just outside the scientific fortress walls.
Quotations from scientists about God
Have we, in short, spent a long time looking at matter, but missed the divine animator? After a lifetime of scientific enquiry these prominent scientists think so.
"That religious experiences exist no longer needs proof. But it will always remain doubtful whether what metaphysics and theology call God is the real ground of these experiences. The question is idle, actually, and answers itself by reason of the subjectively overwhelming numinosity of the experience. Anyone who has had it is seized by it and therefore not in a position to indulge in fruitless metaphysical or epistemological speculations. Absolute certainty brings its own evidence and has no need of anthropomorphic proofs."
Carl Jung, psychiatrist
"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."
Sir Fred Hoyle, British astrophysicist
"There is for me powerful evidence that there is something going on behind it all. It seems as though somebody has fine-tuned nature’s numbers to make the Universe. The impression of design is overwhelming".
Paul Davies, British astrophysicist
"If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in."
John O'Keefe, NASA astronomer
"Astronomy leads us to a unique event, a universe which was created out of nothing, one with the very delicate balance needed to provide exactly the conditions required to permit life, and one which has an underlying (one might say 'supernatural') plan."
Arno Penzias, Nobel laureate for physics
"When confronted with the order and beauty of the universe and the strange coincidences of nature, it's very tempting to take the leap of faith from science into religion. I am sure many physicists want to. I only wish they would admit it."
Tony Rothman, physicist
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
Robert Jastrow, agnostic
"Then we shall .. be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason - for then we would know the mind of God."
Stephen Hawking, British astrophysicist
"When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics."
Frank Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics and author of 'The Physics Of Christianity'.
"We know that nature is described by the best of all possible mathematics because God created it."
Alexander Polyakov, Soviet mathematician
"The fine tuning of the universe provides prima facie evidence of deistic design. Take your choice: blind chance that requires multitudes of universes or design that requires only one. Many scientists, when they admit their views, incline toward the design argument."
Ed Harrison, cosmologist
"Who created these laws? There is no question but that a God will always be needed."
Barry Parker, cosmologist
"It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life."
Arthur L. Schawlow, Professor of Physics and Nobel laureate in physics