It kinda summed up how I believe about science and God (with some edits). The post to which I responded is here. The blogger is one of my favorites, so she merits long responses like the one below.
Here’s the passage I wrote:
I remember once asking an ophthalmologist: “Who is really color-blind? Those of us with normal sight, or those we classify as ‘color-blind?’” He replied that there’s just no way to tell. The “science” that provides the definition is based only on the conclusion that the perceptions of the vast majority — who are defined as not color-blind — are correct. It’s absolutely possible that the “color-blind” are really perceiving colors correctly, and that everyone else is not.
Thus you have a vast body of “settled science” — rock-solid beliefs possessed by billions around the world — based on what is possibly an incorrect, but popular, corner-stone premise.
Furthermore, the eye-doctor said, if we wished, we could define “color” and “colors” based purely on the perceptions of the color-blind if we wished, and that would have every bit as much validity as what we have now. We then could turn that into “settled science,” if we so desired.
Apparently there is quite a bit out there that is called “settled science” that is purely subjective. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the idea that “science is the be-all and end-all as far as conclusive proof is concerned” is just a silly notion, and no real scientist — of which I’m one — believes it… except maybe when applying for grant monies.
This desire to “settle” science, ie to stop further inquiry and/or debate is strong. We all want to be “right,” and we all want others to acknowledge our rightness. Especially if we’re applying for grant monies! :)
Think of it: what is the proof even that atoms exist? No one’s ever seen one. Forget the fuzzy IBM pictures, those could have been fabricated in five minutes using PhotoShop. No, we have faith that they exist, because the math is beautifully elegant and seems to work (though it frequently changes) and the idea seems to make sense and the notion that everything is composed of building blocks is compelling (except atoms? Hmmmm…), and the science resulting from our faith in the existence of atoms seems to make sense. However, the actual conclusion that atoms exist is based purely on faith.
In fact, all science is based on nothing more than human observation, human integrity and … faith. That faith rests on a confidence that our human observations are accurate to the necessary degree, and that the observers have faithfully and honestly reported those observations. And then we must have faith that the conclusions drawn from those measurements and observations are correct! To believe the science, in the incredibly competitive world of scientific inquiry and the mad scrambling for funding, is to believe that in the pursuit of those monies, no scientist would ever, not ever, never, never, never fudge, manipulate, or mis-report any of his findings, observations or measurements. Furthermore, it is to believe that every scientist always draws the correct conclusions from his work.
Talk about a leap of faith!
The fact (in which I have faith) that so many scientific conclusions of the near, not-so-near and distant past are being “proven” wrong should give rise to the only obvious conclusion: there is no settled science. Furthermore faith in science is based on wildly shifting sands. Ask yourself: is coffee good for you? You’ll get a different answer from “science” every week. How about eggs?
Climatology, that sexy, oh-so-hot, oh-so-hoppin’, oh-so-current body of “science” is riddled with the corruption that I mentioned above. With manipulation and mis-reporting of measurements, with internal plots to squelch the many dissenting opinions, with e-mail trails loaded with plans to commit scientific fraud, even with temperature measurement devices placed on trees such that they would record temperatures (in the direct sun) up to an average of five degrees higher than the actual ambient temperatures. And all, apparently, in the pursuit of funding.
It would be astonishing if the rest of science were not riddled with the same corruption, especially those branches that are not as sexy and hot as climatology.
None of this discredits science in the least; it simply says that scientists are human too. Not some demi-deities wandering the world in white robes, blessing us with the deeper knowledge they possess. Nope. They’re just blokes like you and me out there trying to make a living… just like you and me.
Even atheists acknowledge God. If they didn’t — think about it — there’d be no, or very few, atheists today. There’d be thousands of atheist suicides every day, until their numbers diminished to very few. Because without God, there’s no reason not to succumb to that impulse that we all experience several (many?) times in our lives when things appear their bleakest. Without faith in Someone greater than we, and if we truly were convinced that there is just nothing afterward, again, there’s no reason not to succumb to the temptation to kill oneself. Yet, suicide — all over the world! — is still an extremely rare phenomenon.
Call it the “survival instinct” all you want, but the man who has banished God from his life, has easily overcome anything resembling a survival instinct.
A guy responded to my response. He said that I was anti-science, and that therefore, my “comment signifies a rejection of common sense and modern science.” And: “Such a broad-based rejection of the foundation of Western Civilization is a clarion call to the personal bias and superstition that plagued humanity’s pre-modern past.”
I disagreed… as follows:
@silence: thanks for your thoughtful comment. I may not have been clear enough, but color-blindness is not the inability to see color, but the perception of some colors as different colors. My dad was color-blind, and I forget which colors he mixed up — red and green maybe — but he saw other colors just fine. Bottom line: he couldn’t describe to me precisely what he saw for red, though he tried for years to.
Also, my friend the ophthalmologist said that my dad’s rods and cones were not defective — just different. He saw colors differently. He saw colors “incorrectly” only because we base everything we do with color on the perceptions of those we don’t define as “color-blind.” Red and green traffic lights, for example.
Yes, scientists “discovered” atoms long ago. Man “discovered” God long ago (the circumstances behind both discoveries differ :) ) … man has still seen neither God nor atoms. Yet, atoms are “settled science,” and God is constantly up for debate. I believe in both, but I admit that I have to have faith to believe in either.
Look at it this way: I could write a very convincing book telling of my discovery, for instance, of the building blocks of atoms. In that book. As I work my way up from these unimaginably tiny things to atoms to larger things, there would be an interface between my fictional “reality” and that believed by most scientists today — just as there is between the atomic world and ours.
That latter interface — the one believed by most scientists — is described elegantly and nicely by a system of formulae and axioms and hypotheses vouchsafed to us by the very scientists who would have us believe in atoms — as, by the way — I do. However, since I don’t have the full body of scientific knowledge necessary to make my sense of the probability that my belief is correct surpass 99.99%, I have to be stuck with that level of confidence — 99.99% — that my belief is correct.
Ask any scientist who studies atoms for a living and he will tell you that his confidence in his beliefs is something like 99.99999999% or thereabouts. No honest scientist will ever tell you that he believes in anything at 100%. Well, the difference between 99.99999999% and 100% is faith.
Back to my hypothetical description of “reality” at the atomic and sub-atomic level: The interface between my level of “understanding” and the atomic level would be perfectly undisprovable. I could even, fairly easily, make equipment that would “prove” my hypothesis by producing pictures and things that show what I want them to show. When I produce such outputs I could point to them and say, “See? See? This shows what I’m talking about!” Others can express skepticism all they want, but they can’t disprove the “science,” — no matter how fraudulent it might be — because they’re unfamiliar with it.
The point: Our — the people’s — belief in the scientific rests on those things I mentioned above: (1) human observation, (2) accurate communication of observations and measurements, (3) human integrity and honesty, (4) a scientist who can communicate his findings effectively(*) and even then (5) faith. Because we can never get to 100%. (**)(***) All that is a very, very tall order, up to which (Winston Churchill is laughing now) the stalwarts of the climatology branch of science, for example, proved unable to stand.
Common sense is a great thing, but the difference between common sense and certainty is, again, faith. Common sense tells me there’s a non-zero chance that I’ll get hit by a meteor when next I exit my residence. Faith allows me to go to the grocery store.
Please don’t misinterpret that I have any disdain for science. Far from it. I love science and respect it, and think it a spectacularly wonderful way to approach that delightful human pursuit: the inquiry into the unknown.
However, as a scientist, I recognize its limitations — all scientists do — and don’t expect more from it than it can deliver. For example, science has never been able to tell us what life is — just to measure it and describe it, but never to tell us what it is, what its nature is, how it comes about, where it comes from. That’s kind of a fundamental thing not to be able to do, no?
Nor has science ever been up to the task of proving or disproving God’s existence. Hmmmm… could the two be related?
As to your last paragraph. Under no circumstances do I reject science or commonsense or any other foundation of Western Civilization. But, if we are going to discuss science and its pluses and minuses, it’s important that we be talking about the same thing. Science is nothing but a structure meant to facilitate inquiry. Nothing more nor less. It has rules and processes and procedures and customs that are all designed, then implemented, by people. People are prone to all the temptations and foibles and distractions of every other human, at every step of the way. In theory, science is a beautiful, pure, pristine, shiny, clean, sparkling tool. In reality science is all too frequently a dirty, mud-caked, twisted, corrupted, slimy, ratty, tattered mess (cf. eg: “climatology” — global warming, climate change, etc.). But it isn’t always that way, and some of the things that come from science are beautiful, and spring from disinterested (not “uninterested”), honest efforts by men of integrity.
I do observe, furthermore, that the most superstitious people I’ve ever encountered have been atheists. I mean like holy mackerel! Over the top superstitious!
(*) And scientists are notoriously ineffective communicators!
(**) Cf, eg: Heisenberg, whose premise was simply: in observing something we act on it and change it.
(***) Which is why, even though there is evidence aplenty to produce a commonsense consensus, René Desartes was reduced to “I think therefore I am,” thereby saying, I can prove me to me, but I can’t prove you to me. To believe in you, he recognized that despite the evidence of all his senses and despite common sense, he still needed faith.