Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Some Say Only Unbelievers Can Be "Real" Scientists

In response to last week's column some say real scientists can't be believers. Others are worred about my afterlife.

Some Say Only Unbelievers Can Be “Real” Scientists

Before it gets too late, I’d like to share a couple more interesting responses I got to last week’s column. A few readers were shocked that anyone as overtly religious as Peter Dodson could function as a real scientist.  

“I am always astounded when I read about scientists who are also religious.  There is such a huge disconnect between the basic precepts of these two disciplines that I can't imagine a person embracing both.  True scientists do not, I repeat, do NOT, exercise blind faith in their scientific beliefs.  A scientific fact or law or value must be achieved by the scientific method, a mandatory series of steps. ….(a long description of the scientific method follows)

If the results are confirmed by several other workers, then the idea is accepted as a scientific fact or rule.  Belief in a scientific fact, then, comes about as a result of a series of important steps designed to confirm or deny that belief. 

The relevant question is not whether God exists, but whether religious scientists exist. Religious scientists are relatively rare, but there’s documented evidence they do exist and some of them have made significant contributions to their fields.  

The fact that religious scientists exist doesn't mean that there's any scientific evidence for religious ideas nor does it mean that science and religion are necessarily compatible.

But for a few people, it’s possible to apply scientific thinking at work and not in one’s personal life. And there’s more to science than the scientific method. There are many kinds of talents that can lead to achievements in science.  

Scientists can distinguish themselves with a leap of the imagination – inventing a way to solve a problem that nobody thought of before. Lunatics and flakes have achieved insights that led to Nobel prizes. Some scientists see the big picture and some apply perseverance and creativity to a small part. Some are good at designing mechanical things for experiments and some are good at math. Others excel at networking and persuading funding agents to help them. Some, like Charles Darwin, had an astonishing ability to observe living things.

Scientists are not required to be rational or even sane every minute of every day. Science works because it's a self-correcting collective endeavor. Experiments have to be repeatable, and theory has to describe observation and experiments. Some results survive and some are discarded as new evidence comes in.  

Others readers were concerned about my prospects in the afterlife:

But you're certainly right about one thing: if you're wrong you won't be neighbors with Dodson in the afterlife, and I daresay it's going to be a long eternity to be thinking over these issues. ( I apologize if this statement strikes you as harsh but from my point of view it would be uncaring to put another way.)

In the meantime, as this is the season that Christians celebrate the historical and spiritual reality of the empty tomb, I'll leave you with this food for thought and wish you the best:

‎"In 56 A.D. Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6.) It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus."

On that note, I’ve posted the above sign. It's an image I found on the always interesting website Why Evolution is True.

 

 

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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