The Religious Scientist: A Frustration

I blogged this a few months back, and I realised that it might be right at home here. It's really about my frustration at religious scientists, who by necessity, compartmentalise:


This has been my topic of frustration this week. Maybe I'm being a little bit unreasonable but I would like to clarify and justify my position on this.

I find it really frustrating when a scientist has a religious belief. This is maybe not quite accurate. What I should probably say is that I find it really frustrating when a scientist has any silly superstitions. That covers more bases and explains what I mean a little bit better.

By this, I really mean that it's ridiculous for any scientist (or anyone that has to think rationally about a given subject) to believe in anything at all without a reason to do so. No reason to believe something is a perfectly valid reason not to believe it.

It's a strange notion that Monday to Friday a scientist can be sitting at a computer, simulating models of particle interactions and attempting to unlock the secrets of the universe and then when it comes to Sunday morning, go to a church service and believe that some megalomanical dictator in the sky was actually responsible for the things they were investigating through the week. This is a notion that is clearly beyond my way of thinking. In a way, it seems like you must have a way of separating your life into two distinct areas, changing the way you think in each.

There seems to be no way to justify simultaneously requiring mountains of evidence in order to understand and believe a given natural phenomena, and then understanding and believing another particular things without that requirement. Why not extend it to all areas of your life? Why can't you be rational in all areas of your life? Demand that in order to be convinced that something is true you be shown the evidence.

I'm concerned at this point someone may suggest things like multiverses or Hawking Radiation, or wormholes as being such things that people believe in without coming across concrete proof of their existence. You would first have to appreciate that, unlike the archaic belief in deities, there are actually reasons to at least believe these phenomena are possible. Don't be fooled into thinking that it demonstrates that simply because the mathematics works out in the favour of such things, they must exist, and scientists must believe they exist. This simply isn't true. In fact, it's plausable that these suggestions are nonsense. We haven't even established how many dimensions exist in the universe we're in - this kind of thing could affect the above examples. It can be seen, however, that these are possible explanations for the goings-on of the universe - hypotheses.

This is very distinct from the notion that one particular deity - who cannot be seen, heard, felt, or even questioned - exists beyond all certainty. Apart, that is, from a select few, who have the dual ability of being one of God's chosen people to spread the word on this earth, and of not being of sound mind. They have counterparts who have managed to get themselves abducted by aliens, probed, and then discarded onto earth again. Why aliens haven't attempted to probe our most influential intellectuals we may never know.

There is absolutely no reason to believe in a deity. There is no evidence anywhere that suggests the existence of such an elusive being, even though, according to Abrahamic religious beliefs, that very same said being wants us all to know that he cares deeply for us and does not want us to perish eternally for not believing in him. Fresh eyes on this sort of description would be throwing up red flags left, right and centre. People should be looking at this and thinking, "This is silly; clearly just an old fashioned campfire story". For some reason that doesn't always happen. Why is this? To be honest, I'm as confused as anybody else that questions religious belief.

You cannot justify rational thought in one area, and abandon it in another. There is reason to believe that the big bang occurred, that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and that our species has evolved from very simply organisms over a period of many many millions of years. There is no evidence that a supreme being designed, developed, patented and watched over this universe for 13.72 billion years (or 10,000 years if you are so inclined), and therefore it should not be thought by any scientist that this is what happened - it didn't. We can actually assert with a high degree of certainty that the God of the Abrahamic religions does not exist. It's very simple to see why, which I may cover another time, and I certainly will if there are requests for my justification.

I apologise for singling out the God of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim beliefs but that being is the one that is most in contact with my day to day existence (oh, the irony), although the same thing extends to all deities, and indeed to all superstitious beliefs, be they ghosts, goblins, witchcraft, unicorns, walking under ladders or astrology.

I feel I've rambled on quite enough. I apologise also if there are many spelling and grammatical mistakes. Should I notice any gargantuan errors I will get down to some editing to weed them out. Comments on this would be much appreciated - opinions, and hatemail is always enjoyed.

Views: 26

Comment by Dave Nichols on July 22, 2009 at 10:26pm
Good rant. I would offer the counterpoint that we can't always take a person's stated beliefs to be their actual beliefs. There have been many closeted atheists throughout history, and its only been short periods of time since the rise of Christianity and Islam where atheists were able to speak freely. There is also a lot of cultural baggage for many scientists who may be very deeply involved with the church as a social outlet (especially with family that proclaim belief). Sometimes it is easier for them to be thought kooky by their colleagues than by their kin. Though the kin probably think they are kooky because they are scientists anyway, so...

That said, I feel you, it is very frustrating regardless.
Comment by Doug Reardon on July 22, 2009 at 11:21pm
Any functioning "normal" person can have a delusional concept that lies buried beneath their serene exterior. Unless you happen to "flip that switch" it generally lies unnoticed. But, if you do happen to "flip that switch", your normal person can quickly become a ranting, ravening, maniacal, wacko. The problem is that you never know who has that delusional concept.
Comment by Sophie on July 23, 2009 at 1:45am
Great post! I enjoyed reading. I am going to agree with Dave with this one.

I would offer the counterpoint that we can't always take a person's stated beliefs to be their actual beliefs. There have been many closeted atheists throughout history, and its only been short periods of time since the rise of Christianity and Islam where atheists were able to speak freely.

That said, I feel you, it is very frustrating regardless.
Comment by Brian Colquhoun on July 23, 2009 at 11:48am
Oh, I certainly agree that if it's peer-reviewed and published then that's the main thing. It just concerns me that people are able to be in two minds over something. You'd think they'd have their brains fully functioning at all times. Personally, I wouldn't be a scientist if I couldn't think rationally about all things.
Comment by Brian Colquhoun on July 23, 2009 at 12:11pm
That's true, but still doesn't explain why they think there is justification for the invisible. They usually require evidence for the things they believe in. Even then, scientists can be highly sceptical cf. quantum mechanics in the early 20th century.
Comment by Morgan Matthew on July 23, 2009 at 1:20pm

Comment by Brian Colquhoun on July 23, 2009 at 2:10pm
Ah, priveleged =]

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