One of the more useless debates we encounter is “science vs. religion.” Many people approach their religion as a form of science and many other people approach their science as a form of religion. Earlier this year, San Francisco psychiatrist Joseph M. Pierre offered some thoughts recently in Psychology Today, on whether religious faith is compatible with scientific thinking:
Here are some of his thoughts and some responses:
Faith—that is, choosing to believe something in the absence of evidence—is a normal process for dealing with uncertainty around those kinds of questions.Joe Pierre, “Is Religious Faith Compatible With Scientific Thinking?”Psychology Today, November 14, 2023
Actually, wait. In the vast majority of cases, faith is not belief in the absence of evidence. Suppose I believed that local government is run by space aliens, as opposed to the typical collection of people who somehow or other happened to get elected…
Most people would not say that was faith. It would sound more like mental illness.
In reality, faith means that you can’t be absolutely sure that something will work but it is a reasonable belief. It could be a business idea, a political idea, or a religious idea. But the point is that it is a reasonable belief, based on what we know, not some wild conjecture.
Dr. Pierre worries that religious people might be especially subject to conspiracy thinking:
But it is true that most of us hold scientific beliefs based not so much on faith as on the trust of experts. In my opinion, mistrust or loss of trust is a major root cause of those who embrace conspiracy theories. Once scientific evidence and expert consensus is rejected, it can lead us down the “rabbit hole” of misinformation, especially on the internet. Similarly, loss of trust—more so I think than denialism—explains how one can come to abandon evidence and shift beliefs in a different direction.Pierre, “Scientific Thinking?”
Again, wait. The big problem with conspiracy theories is the belief that Top People need to be in a conspiracy of some kind in order to know what is in their interests. Top People can usually tumble to the same ideas without having a meeting about it — which could be damaging to their interests overall. The rest of us need to get together, as needed, to share information in order to figure out what to do in response.
Science is grounded in a particular form of skepticism that holds that beliefs should be based on repeated observation and experimental controls—that is, evidence.Pierre, “Scientific Thinking?”
And if this were applied to string theory, what would the outcome be? Science has simply long since ceased to be what Dr. Pierre would like it to be.