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Zoe Louise Matthews | ASY-EOS | UK

View Blog | Read Bio

Science vs Religion

It occurred to me today that, bypassing the very false stereotype “all-atheists-are-scientists-and-vice-versa”, I think what I believe has a lot to do with how I think.

As human beings, just as we are built to be co-operative for our own survival, and have built-in morality and empathy (whether we choose to listen to it or not, and I exclude any relevant psychological disorders in that), we are all wired to be scientists in some sort of way – we seek explanation in our experiences because we are curious. However, everyone experiences the world differently and some experiences seem more important than others. You will know exactly which experiences mean the most to you in your life – they are the ones whose explanation you cling to or search for, whether religious, emotional, scientific or purely imagined, no matter what the consequences might be of finding that explanation. For me, they are the experiences that leave me awe-struck, questioning and fascinated by the world around me, and I don’t have an explanation for them all yet, but I am learning all the time. Everything from observing the apparently following Moon and Sun from my Dad’s car and being confused (parallax is cool!), wondering about the origins of colour, and setting a fire in my Nan’s microwave with foiled chocolate, to the nature and evolution of the universe, and the traits, behavior, diversity and progression of life on Earth.

Religion often focuses on finding philosophical answers to unmeasurable questions, while science probes deeper into the measurable world to find a more precise explanation of what can be seen. However, the idea of “science vs religion” makes me a little sad, as one only threatens the other if a person chooses it to. Simply by observing the world as it is, measuring and trying to understand it, even pushing the boundary of what is measurable, science does not threaten anything other than what is false (for example, Copernicus and co. observing the night’s sky and showing the Earth is not the centre of the solar system). Scientists will look for logical theories to describe what they observe, and these theories often have tremendous predicting power for future observations. However, they can be wrong, and when they are, they change to fit the new information. What is measured is not necessarily a threat to theory or belief but simply another experience that, for you, may or may not require explanation. Ultimately, there are things we can never really observe (the afterlife, the space and time past our observable universe “bubble”,  the existence of the pink-teapot Richard Dawkins loves to remind us of). For those, I require no explanation, yet many people do. Science though, can never really threaten these explanations.

The way my mind works is very much that of what particle physicists would call a GUT theorist (despite not being smart enough to be a theorist!) Basically, I want a Grand Unified Theory. I want an explanation that fits all. If I have a way of thinking about something that breaks down when I find out new information or get new evidence, I change that idea and make it fit. My world view needs logic and consistency. The things I don’t care to find an explanation for are those I cannot measure (this makes me very much an experimental scientist!) but I want one that explains everything that I can measure.  Not asking too much, am I? 😉

Many people were upset with me when I told them some years ago that I had become atheist. People somehow see turning to atheism as worse than changing religion. However, the fact is, culture aside, any belief (atheism included) is simply something a person has to explain their experiences. I don’t expect people to see the world in the same way I do, but it works for me because of the experiences I want explained.

I have seen many an anti-LHC youtube video proclaiming about the dangers of the experiment, but there are some rather startling views out there, more so than Angels and Demons suggested! A strong one seems to be coming from a religious group who believe that the world will end some time next year. In addition to their belief that life came to Earth from alien DNA left here by planet X (or Nibiru), one stance is that the LHC will open a portal to another world and allow the anti-Christ in (I am saying nothing, but if you are curious, check out gorilla199!). However, obscure end-of-world scenarios aside, many deeply religious people are against the LHC because they misunderstand the media-coined term for the Higgs boson, “the God particle”, and get the impression that science can somehow prove or disprove the existence of God. Naturally they feel threatened by this, and some very angry responses have come out. I have two points to make to those angry people. First of all, there is not a scientist on the planet who can probe the afterlife and come back to publish a paper on it, so calm down. Secondly, as a scientist, if something I observe threatens my theory I consider rethinking my theory. Something to think about.

I apologize if I offended anyone with that, but at some point you have to fight back at all this science-is-evil rubbish. I know plenty of scientists with various religious beliefs (and they are very secure in their beliefs, as am I). Science is not the enemy, it is a route to an explanation.

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