At the Altar of Science

Religion is a faith-based vehicle, in which people unquestioningly believe in a god, gods, or deities. They adhere to teachings and inherit values, and ascribe to a life that revolves inside a system based solely on one’s faith. Using this as a barometer, it is certain that, in recent years, science has taken on religious qualities.

Science is the beacon to which humanity has increasingly flocked to explain the idiosyncrasies of the universe. This has, to some extent, replaced the usefulness of religious organizations. People are searching out their own spirituality and building their own understanding with a greater acceptance of science. Rates of religious affiliation are down across westernized countries, which are often those that seem to populate the forefront of technological advancement.

Most people are not scientists and don’t claim to be, but defer to science to make decisions regarding a myriad of issues. They cite popular opinion and berate ‘pseudoscience’ when they, themselves, do not understand the intricacies behind what they espouse (or reject). They put belief in science, in particular that which is peer-reviewed and popularized in the media and politics; they assume scientific results adhere to acceptable levels of accuracy and that the disseminated information is not falsified – especially that which informs public policy. This is a faith-based system. Much like the question of God’s existence, people put faith in the scientific process and academic publications. We believe God to exist much like we believe the science backed by governments and policy to be accurate.

While this might be a cynical viewpoint to consider, it is hardly far-fetched. Within a society that applauds specialization, individuals tend to know more about less; they carve out a living with an increasingly narrow set of skills and breadth of knowledge. Thus, individuals choosing a vocation outside of the sciences tend to be disconnected from the academic rigour required to guarantee a reasonable level of accuracy. As one might defer to a mechanic to replace the radiator on their 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee, having faith in their ability to do so, one might defer to a scientist or a scientific think-tank to inform them on the merits of the latest influenza vaccine. More and more, the average person would rather defer judgment than invest the time to do their own objective research. This could be due to lack of time, resources, interest, or a general inability to understand scientific findings. Regardless, it does cause people to defer and thus, put faith in, the altruism and knowledge of those with perceived or demonstrated authority in subject areas beyond one’s knowledge.

Further, we should consider a grander scale. Science from the 16th century was far less accurate than our current breadth of knowledge. Some beliefs we held as truths have long since been revised. It can be argued that science is always incomplete and, while we do what we can with the level of knowledge we currently possess, it takes faith to consider today’s science accurate enough to act upon. The case of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) could be pondered here. While science has consistently deemed them safe to consume, GMOs have not been around long enough for the scientific community to adequately execute long-term studies on their potential effects to the environment and human body. Regardless of prevailing knowledge, it is hard to argue that their safety can be permanently relied upon because our science could potentially still be in its infancy.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon science. In fact, the opposite is true: we should continue to advance scientific knowledge and processes to better understand ourselves and our environments while acknowledging the possibility that our current understandings and truths might not actually be accurate. To be blind to these possibilities is dangerous and infantile. Those who choose to cite prevailing scientific conclusions as absolutes are taking a massive leap of faith.

Science can, in fact, be considered a religion.

Filed under Daily Letters

Thomas Thayer is a blogger, writer, thinker, and poet with an academic background in Urban Studies and a fascination with ghost towns and local history. He currently resides in London, Ontario with his fiancée and two cats.

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