Is science a religion? Or is it the polar opposite of religion, a belief in empiricism over dogma?

This thorny issue has theorists' heads in a spin, because science and religion are both systems of thought with rich literatures and traditions, both (supposedly) dedicated to discovering the real truth behind reality. And yet their methods are polar opposites, one seeks truth through "revealed knowledge" (ancient literature, spiritual leaders, subjective intuition) while the other proclaims a philosophy of eternal skepticism, the polar opposite to dogma. Don't believe in anything!

The issue is simply resolved by giving a name to something that all (real) scientists already believe in, and that is SCIENTISM. I am a Scientismist! I believe in science as the most reliable path to the truth. And so do all the rest of us scientists, otherwise we wouldn't bother with science! Nobody ever proved that Scientism is right, but I believe in it anyway because it has proven itself over the centuries at least to my satisfaction. If you too are persuaded, they you also believe in Scientism.

This one admission of faith as the foundational pedestal underlying science, changes the whole equation, and opens the possibility for a new religion dedicated to the REAL discovery of REAL truth. And it opens the possibility of devising a system of ethics and morality based on reason, without recourse to supernatural belief!

Check it out and post your comments: Are you a Scientismist?

Scientism: A system of ethics based on reason without recourse to supernatural belief

   Steve Lehar

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Reply to leveni:

Science has nothing to do with ethics. Ethics is a field of philosophy, it's not a field of science. 

Correct. But ScientISM does! Thats the point.

To answer the question, am I a Scientismist? I have to say 'no'. For me science is about verifiability. It's a process, to verify how things work, based on our five senses.

So you reject dogma and superstition and faith? Thats a belief system! You believe in science!

???, Science is a process to explain stuff. But a path to the truth?, You need to define what truth is first.

Science does not tell us which questions we should ask. That is up to us. But when we raise a question to which we want an answer, science is the most reliable path to that truth.

All of our systems on earth are based on reason already. China, Iran, Russia all have ethical and moral systems in place that are based on human reason. If you are not happy with some of these systems then the problem is with you and not the system.

Yeah but their reasoning was wrong! Communism doesn't work. Liberalism doesn't work. Islamofascism doesn't work. They are all based on flawed foundational assumptions. Its getting the right foundational assumptions that is so important. I propose that we extract those assumptions from the origins of our own ethics in our animal past, and extrapolate them by the same principles into the future. Check out my paper and see if you agree.
 But I don't believe or have faith in the theory of relativity, I don't believe or have faith that it is true. For me it's more about understanding how it all works. 

Why don't you go to church and find your understanding there? Many find their "truth" in God. Because you don't believe in that path, nor the "truth" it claims to reveal, you choose the path of reason because you are a reasonable person. That belief in reason is itself a belief system, and you only find difficulty recognizing it as a belief system because it is so reasonable that it doesn't require belief. But that is only because you already believe. You are already a Scientismist, that is your belief system, otherwise you'd seek your truth from unreasonable sources.

"People shouldn't use the word truth unless there's an "s" at the end of it."

~ John Hiatt 

After the assassination of MLK in 1968, the fires and riots in Anacostia, I returned to my classroom and for a full mile and half the town was ashes and falling bricks. When I opened my classroom and sat to ponder the events women started coming, quietly, few words, someone brought a thermos of coffee another brought baked goods, and we sat. No words, not even any emotion. We sat in silence. One of the women started singing "Jesus loves me" and we all joined in. Overwhelmed by human events and out of control anger and frustration, the citizens of this little bedroom community to Washington, DC could not reason our way through this. We were stunned. Helpless. Emotionless. The only thing these women could hold onto was that Jesus loved them. Born out of centuries of slavery, suffering, broken families, forbidden to learn to read and write and do arithmetic, all they had was faith. 

That link is up and working now, you can check it out here:

You have good ideas, but your communication could be better.

I would throw away the word 'scientism' and speak more precisely of specific values and beliefs.

I would start with David Hume's maxim: "reason is ... the slave of the passions".

Hence you should order your ideas as: emotional value X is desired, and is best fulfilled by strategy Y. That way, you and your readers get a clear picture of what emotional values are driving you, rather than being muddled in the word "scientism".

I'd start with the ultimate driving value of maximising happiness, which you seem to agree with as "the urgent propensity to survive and to thrive".

I would rephrase "I believe in science as the most reliable path to the truth" to:

"I value reliable beliefs because they are effective/efficient means of maximising happiness". (truth is an ungraspable concept, so I'd avoid the word).

And then you can make arguments for whatever else you value: capitalism, survival of the fittest, animal rights, transhumanism, whatever. Demonstrating how each one maximises happiness.

You to seem to favour a politics/lifestyle that matches our fitness/ability. I like this idea. A lifestyle that matches what our biology is geared for is one that will be self-sustaining, low maintenance, and lasting.

Transhumanism has good and bad. We always welcome big and better tools. But I don't want to see our appearance morphed into some alien freakery.

Can science develop an optimal lifestyle/ethics that maximises wellbeing? In theory, I guess so, but that's a long way off.

Reply to Michael R:

I respectfully disagree. The word Scientism pre-existed my use of it, and although it has had an entirely different connotation than what I intend, its definition is exactly the way I use it.

Scientism has been used as a pejorative term, as if it were a paradoxical contradiction in terms. A belief in science is not science, it is belief, and therefore as a scientific hypothesis it is absurd nonsense. And this has always been a sticking point for us devoted atheists because we supposedly don't believe in anything.

My point is that that is not true! We DO believe in something that is a real philosophy, but that belief in science is not itself a scientific hypothesis, it is a belief system like any other belief system, with the unique feature that it happens to be true (or at least WE believe it to be true) so it does not feel like we are believing in something, we think we are just being rational.

I think it is a vital, indeed novel contribution to the debate between religion and science, because it puts us on an equal footing with believers, because we can now shamelessly acknowledge our dogmatic "religious" faith,  the only prime distinction being that that which we believe in is reason itself, the first truly reasonable religion, and indeed, a kind of religion that could even be seen as the religion to beat all religions. 

To proclaim a belief in REASON is a positive declaration of faith in something we truly believe to be "Good". We can now even claim tax exempt status and establish "churches" and educational institutions dedicated to the belief in reason!

Can you imagine setting up a fund to establish churches of reason in the dark un-enlightened corners of the earth, and send forth missionaries to preach the clear true word of reason! Hell, I would even dedicate my life to service in such a noble cause! This is a true belief system to live and die for! It is nothing more than an extension of the age of enlightenment, a final resolution to the age-old debate between reason and dogma.

There's a difference between knowledge and belief. Even if we do not have evidence that our reality is not just a mere dream or hallucination, because we experience it as real, even if it was some matrix-like illusion, it is our reality, so there's no need to believe in it. 

"I think therefore I am." Descartes

As for scientism, I'm not very familiar with the word, but elegance is in simplicity, and the simplest and most elegant rule is that knowledge and believe are two different things, as another member already explained, knowledge relies on evidence and methodology for creating empirical facts. You cannot simply equate the scientific method to some belief system, or tool someone needs to believe in. The scientific method only requires the use of logic. I do not need to believe in the theory of evolution to understand that this is the best explanation of how the world came to be as far anybody know, but that potentially one day it might be disproved by contradictory evidence.

Knowledge does not require belief, and belief does not require knowledge. They are like two circles that share common area, but also have distinct areas, dogma being that area proper to belief, and reason being proper to knowledge. You focus only on the area that they both share, because you believe people believe in sciences, but scientists in their very methodology absolve themselves of any belief, for it is the very goal of science to be objective.

To have have to know that something isn't true....and then have faith to continue believing in it. So by definition, you're saying Science isn't true, but I have faith that it science will take me to where I want to go. Atheists/Skeptics have an issue with the first part, since science is our Prime Standard for knowing (not believing) what is true, we don't need to have faith that it might be true.

To have faith you have to believ in something that isn't true?

That is nonsense! I have faith the sun will rise every morning for the rest of my life. Does that make it become untrue? It is only FALSE faiths that are untrue!

If you have faith that science will tell you what you need to know, then you, sir, are a Scientismist, whether you acknowledge it or not.

That doesn't mean you are unreasonable, quite to the contrary: It means you are committed to reason and truth. That is a GOOD faith because you believe in something that is ACTUALLY true, not just some dogma that CLAIMS to be true.

Scientists must abandon their distaste for faith, there is nothing wrong with faith, it is only irrational or baseless or false faiths that are wrong.

To have have to know that something isn't true....and then have faith to continue believing in it. So by definition, you're saying Science isn't true, but I have faith that it science will take me to where I want to go. Atheists/Skeptics have an issue with the first part, since science is our Prime Standard for knowing (not believing) what is true, we don't need to have faith that it might be true.

Saying that, L Ron Hubbard started off this very same way..........



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