If you’re reading an article like this, you’re almost certainly smarter than the average person. That’s not flattery, it’s just a decent guess. You’re likely more educated, too.
And many of you – not all, certainly, but many – will hold the power of science near and dear to your heart.
As you should. The scientific method is one of civilisation’s greatest accomplishments. It gives you a way to sort truth from tradition, fact from fiction and logic from lies. It transcends human frailty and stares nature in the face – unwaveringly and desperate for truth.
That’s how we dispelled the old superstitions and build all these technological marvels.
Religion is not the enemy or opposite of science. I’m not going to say they’re both ways of exploring the universe, although they are. The earliest religions used scientific principles, because theology appealed to the great thinkers of its time.
Sure, they didn’t use scientific principles consistently. Proper scientific enquiry would have found sacrificing animals didn’t change the weather much.
But you can’t be too hard on them. Modern scientists hardly apply the principles consistently either. That’s partly why nutritional science and medicine are so unsure and conflicted.
It’s how corporations and governments can pay for results they want.
It’s why universities struggle to innovate on how universities should run, and why so much valuable science time is wasted on grant applications and politics.
This is not a judgement against science. I just want you to see the gap between science and religion (and there is a gap, I don’t deny that) is smaller than you think.
Consider that the Buddha told his followers not to believe anything just because he said it or it’s tradition. And the Jewish faith has a strong tradition of analysis and doubt. Meanwhile, science often gets sidetracked with bouts of hero worship or politically motivated research.
Those are failings of our institutions, though, not of science itself.
But even an ideal scientist needs to break the rules of the scientific method sometimes.
Take Einstein, for example.
He didn’t develop his theories from observation or incremental improvements. He daydreamed possible models of physics that explained the universe, then sought to create them mathematically.
When asked what he would do if one of his key experimental tests – a measurement of starlight during a solar eclipse – proved his theory wrong, he said he’d pity God for making a mistake, because his theory was right.
This is not the correct scientific attitude to take. But he was right – and he knew it, purely from the strength and elegance of his model.
Intuition and faith are key virtues of the scientist. They simply use different (and generally better) tests to check their guesses.
A close mind advocated logic over instinct, or vice versa. A smart person knows to use one to bolster the other.
And a really smart person?
They find a way to strengthen both – something like this: