The Engine and the Bushfire
I found this video on You Tube, which was created by John F. Weldon. I think it makes a very good point, that while there are disputes within science just as there are disputes within and between religions, they manifest themselves in very different ways.
Disputes within science are professional, not personal. They are conducted through one medium only, words. Those words may be strong, passionate, even emotional, but they simply make use of the free speech to which we all have an inalienable right. No blood is spilt, nobody fights, nobody kills, nobody gets hurt and nobody dies.
Disputes within science are also descriptive as opposed to prescriptive, that is, they are disputes about the way things are, not the way they should be. Nobody tries to force anyone to do anything. All parties involved in the dispute have the same goal in mind – the truth.
These points relate to the manner in which the dispute occurs, but there is another, more important difference between religious and scientific disputes: scientific disputes get resolved! It may take years, or even decades, but invariably agreement is reached. The simple reason for this, is that scientists use a properly formulated system to work with evidence and testable claims. Each time a scientist makes a statement about which a dispute can occur, experiments can be carried out to see who is right. It is not always as simple as the example in the video, which is why it can take a long time, but ultimately, through repeated testing and carefully examining and analysing all of the evidence, science inevitably finds the answers and comes to agree upon – what is then referred to as – scientific knowledge.
There are of course disputes going on within and between various branches of science at all times. However, if the future plays out as the past has done before it, the next generations of scientists will thank us for the hard work we put in to resolving them, and laying the ground work for whatever disputes they are having at the time. They will realise, as we do, that science is a self correcting process, and it is through dispute, and a collective effort to resolve those disputes, that science makes progress. A healthy competitive spirit and work ethic within the scientific community, combined with principles like peer reviewed journals, mean that any new theory has to run a gauntlet of criticism in order to be accepted.
Meanwhile, the next generations of religious fanatics will be fighting, killing and dying over exactly the same disputes that their ancestors were fighting, killing and dying for thousands of years ago.
What religious people don’t seem to understand, is that dispute is not a bad thing in itself. It is the nature of the disputes, and how they are handled that matter. The dispute is simply a means to an end. We might thing of it as a form of fuel, one that works in a very different way for religion from the way it works for science.
Religion is like a bushfire that is burning out of control. A raging inferno that has ravished all woodland and moved into the cities, its poisonous smoke and fumes pollute the atmosphere, choking the life out of the natural world. It devours everything that stands in its way, leaving destruction, destitution and despair in its wake. Everything that religious people do to try to fight it just makes it worse, because their disputes are the fuel for the fire. The fire gets worse because each religion shows no flexibility when trying to reconcile disputes with each other, constantly referring back to their holy books which, unlike their followers, are forever frozen in time. And as they argue, children burn in their beds. Each religion agrees upon the method to extinguish the fire: get everyone to follow the same religion. As long as it is their own. “Just join our religion and all this can end”, each one says to the others. But this will never happen, because each one is convinced that they have God on their side. And they will never reach a compromise, because there is no road that they can all walk together towards reconciliation. There is no evidence to work with, and even if there were, there would be no method with which to analyse it. They have no system – it is simply one word against another. The more they disagree, the fiercer the fire burns, and the more fervently they blame it on each other.
In contrast to the fire of religion, science is like an engine. It is the engine that powers the progression of civilisation and mankind. Running silently, it is a highly efficient, environmentally friendly engine, emitting no harmful gases or pollution of any kind. It is fitted with filters to prevent personal bias, incompetence and fraud from infecting its output. Dispute is its fuel. Disputes within science happen when we don’t know the answers. This state can be referred to, in a non-pejorative sense, as ignorance. Unlike religion, however, science does not accept that state of ignorance, but labours intensively to purge it. The engine of science takes ignorance and turns it into knowledge. This is what scientists use to resolve their disputes. They put them into the science engine, along with all the available evidence, and see what comes out. All parties involved know how efficient and consistent the machine is, and they have the flexibility to accept being wrong.
Ultimately, when religion fires back at science that we have disputes too, it is arguing against a straw man. It is not disputes in religion that bother us. It is the trivial, frivolous nature of the disputes, the grossly disproportionate pain and suffering they cause, the complete impotence to resolve them and the consequences of perpetuating them through the indoctrination of children. They claim to fight for a noble cause, but there is nothing noble about it – it is shameful to commit and allow atrocities in the name of God. There is no need for compromise here. Science is the only one fighting for a noble cause, but with our minds, not weapons. We strive day in and day out to better ourselves and each other, to increase the quality and length of life for all humans, and to deepen our understanding of the universe in which we reside. It is the engine of science that will continue to propel humanity forward, as stagnant holy water fails to quench the thirst of the relentless religious bushfire.