Sunday, 30 September 2007

What is religion? What is Science?

reposted from:

BASELINE THINKING: A Summary on 6 Sept 07
By David Flint

We have a good consensus on the nature of science. Science, we think, is an attempt or set of attempts to understand the universe. It has four distinctive characteristics:

1. It creates theories (models) which must (after Popper) be refutable in principle (Rees, Coleman, Flint, Egan, Catt)
2. It tests its theories against evidence (from observation and experiment) (Pepperdine, Renshaw, Coleman, Flint, Rees, Jellis, Poppleton, Behman, Edmondson, Roberts)
3. It employs a variety of distinctive methods (eg peer review, double-blind testing) (Pepperdine, McNight, Rogers, Flint, Poppleton)
4. It is the product of a community (ideally but not necessarily open) which shares results, methods and comments (Flint, Poppleton).

Religious beliefs
The substance, nature, sources and consequences of religious beliefs are distinctive:
1. Substance: They claim to be about 'ultimate reality (aka "life, the universe and everything" (Renshaw, Edmondson).
2. Substance: They almost always include beliefs in supernatural entities or states (Rees, Flint, Edmondson, Behman, Rogers, Poppleton).
3. Nature: The beliefs are not testable (Rees) and specifically (after Popper) such that no evidence could show them to be false (Flint).
4. Source: They are based on faith, revelation or tradition (Rees, Jellis, McNight, Coleman, Behman, Roberts, Poppleton) rather than evidence (Renshaw, Edmondson, Roberts, Catt).
5. Consequences: They always demand that people do some things and refrain from others (Poppleton).

Religious beliefs are protected two supplementary beliefs which discourage close examination by adherents:
" The belief that belief itself is virtuous - even in the absence of understanding (Coleman, Flint, Catt).
" The belief that doubt is undesirable, even wicked.

Religious practices
We recognize that each religion is a system of beliefs and practices but had little to say about the practices.

[Comment: This is a weakness since for many adherents the practices ARE the religion whilst theology is little considered.]

Religion as an historical phenomenon
There was less consensus on the historical, social and psychological nature of religion. The following views were expressed about origins:
" Religions were originally attempts to understand the world (McNight).
" It was natural to personify natural phenomena (Rogers) through rituals, prayers, etc. (Flint)
" It seemed possible to influence these supernatural persons - giving power to priests and their allies (McNight, Behman).

Pepperdine suggested that religion evolved to strengthen the cohesion of human groups.

McNight, Broughton and Pepperdine suggested that religion is a psychological prop, welcomed by "that part of human nature which rejects evidence, reason and logic in favour of emotionally charged conclusions" (McNight).

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