How about we chill the old science vs.
religion and return to the OP question, as bigfatfurrytexan suggests?
From what I've seen of people, they don't worship what they understand. It is what they don't
understand that fills them with wonder, fear
and awe, and inclines them to worship. When we know what makes the thunder, we cease to worship Thor.
Now, as we all know, science is capable of some pretty wonderful things. To a savage, or even to a mediaeval peasant, the ability to fly through the
air, to cure deadly diseases with the jab of a needle, to throw your voice across the world at will, or see things happening in faraway lands - such
powers are magical. Yet these are examples of mature technologies that we accept without thinking twice about.
How many of us really understand what goes on inside a TV set, or a mobile phone, or know how an aeroplane flies? Not many. Yet compared to what
contemporary science can do, these are very simple devices. Even to us, accustomed as we are to the power of science, the ability to do such things as
breed glowing rabbits, see the brain at work, detect the motion of planets light-years away or pick pieces off comets and bring them home to us seems
magical. The science behind such technologies is intrinsically recondite and complex, well beyond the average person's ability to understand even if
he or she were to try. Science has advanced so far it has left the majority of us behind. We may never catch up.
In the world today, we have a small intellectual elite that drives science forward, a substantial class of engineers and technocrats who turn science
into usable technology, and a vast populace of scientifically illiterate or semiliterate folk who consume those technologies without understanding
them, dependent on the technicians and marketeers to keep their machines working for them or replace them when they break down. As science advances,
the intellectual separation between these classes grows.
Do you not see the potential here for making a religion out of science? I find it easy to imagine a future - is it even the future? - in which
scientists, in their distant ivory towers, pursue researches and concerns so specialized, advanced and far removed from public concerns that, to the
average man or woman, they become incomprehensible, almost godlike beings. There may come a day when these beings become the object of worship on
account of the wondrous goods they make available and the fearsome powers with which they threaten us. A scientific cargo cult will grow up, and
people begin to attribute godlike powers to scientists, making myths about them and turning various scientific apparatus into cult objects. Science
What can prevent this from happening? Clearly the answer is widespread understanding of what science actually is, what it can do and what it cannot.
Key to this, obviously, is scientific education. By this I don't mean learning how genes are engineered, necessarily, or how an MRI scanner works --
although such knowledge should be readily available to the curious -- but education, above all, in how to do
science. Of course, this already
happens in schools, though the quality of it varies both around the world and within individual countries. Overall, I think the world should be doing
more of it, extending the reach of scientific education to more children, young people and even adults, and improving its quality.
I certainly don't want to see every kid turn into a scientist. I don't even believe that's possible. But I would like to see every kid understand
what science is, how it's done and how important it really is to human civilization, how it stands behind us, supporting as well as threatening the
world we have made for ourselves, yet how it is always amenable to human control, and how to control it.
If we could achieve that, there would be no scientific cargo cult.
Sadly, I think it will also have another effect. If everybody were scientifically literate, few, I believe, would be religious at all. Understanding
drives out faith; knowledge makes belief redundant. The greater penetration of science into culture has always been at the expense of religion, and I
don't see this changing. To me the two have always seemed naturally antipathetic.
Why do I, an atheist, think this is sad? Shouldn't I rejoice at the withering-away of religion as scientific rationalism spreads like a calming,
cooling infusion through society? Perhaps I should, but I don't think it's going to happen. Religion is a very powerful force in society. It has
many powerful and influential institutions to protect and promote it, as well as armies of foot-soldiering faithful numbered in the billions. Many of
these institutions and congregations agree with me on the incompatibility of science and religion, and will oppose the spread of scientific literacy
and education with far more energy than we poor atheists, even with the allegedly godlike powers of science on our side, could possibly muster.
Today, we see Luddism and fear of the dangers posed to religion by science well entrenched in American political culture and growing stronger. In the
Muslim world, too, science is understood as a threat to religion and treated with suspicion, in many cases with downright opposition. Much of the
third world, including my own country, still exists in a pre-scientific condition; religion powerfully dominates culture and science has almost no
place in it, though technology is eagerly embraced. The dangers facing science in these places - including the danger that it will become a religion,
which would be fatal to it, you understand - are all too real.
reply to post by BeyondDoubt
And if you don't mind me asking, what field do you work in? I assume you are not a non-scientist.
I am a writer. My education and interests are scientific.
[edit on 12/6/10 by Astyanax]