I posted this earlier today on Pharyngula, commenting on a post by PZ Myers about the New York Times article from August 24th, about the struggle to teach evolutionary reality in high school biology classes in the US.
Enough with all the bickering about science and religion asking different questions, occupying non-overlapping magesteria, or whatever. They both ask the same questions; how does the universe really operate and what is our relevance to the rest of everything?
The difference between science and religion is not WHAT they ask, or what answers they offer. The difference is HOW each tries to answer its questions, and its a difference that even the most lunatic godbots have to acknowledge… because most of them are proud of it.
Every religious answer to life, the universe and everything comes back to an argument from authority. Every one. The entire mindset of religion is based on the premise that there is a non-questionable ultimate authority hovering out there in space, and if you’re a minion of this cosmic mastermind you’re also above questioning. It’s a pyramid scheme of ever larger and more ridiculous “authority” figures, each one a blank stone wall blocking the path of actual knowledge.
This is the ultimate, final, fundamental difference between science and religion: authority. Science doesn’t have authorities that are above questioning. In science we accept heroes not because they say they’re heroes with some deep, mystical understanding of their own little fantasy world, but because they demonstrate something amazingly cool that no one knew before, and which the rest of us can go out there and test for ourselves. In contrast, the Pope asserts something he came up with in a dream, or the shower that morning, or where ever fiction writers come up with their ideas, and a billion people just say “yes, master”.
This is also the reason that religious people keep insisting that science is a religion. They can’t imagine anything else. They can’t imagine that it is possible to think about uncomfortable possibilities or new paradigms without asking someone’s permission. It’s the permission part that separates the rational people from the ones with a god infection. I don’t need permission to think for myself and conclude that two plus two is actually four.
As a scientist, when I get asked something about my field, I reference the work of others so they get fair credit for being first to demonstrate something, but you better believe I’m also the first to point out any and all flaws in their work. Even my scientist friends. Even my most respected science heroes. Every science book ever written contains flaws, imperfect explanations, voids where I’d love to see evidence instead. Those voids are where the future work starts. But in religion, those voids are “mysteries” that cannot be questioned, or must be papered over by apologists who weave convoluted retconning explanations like something out of a Marvel comic. What? The tales of other virgin-born, miracle-wielding gods who came back from the dead centuries before Jesus were just stories put there by Satan after he went back in time? Yes, and Jean Grey didn’t really die when she shot herself with a blaster dug up from ruins in the Blue Area of the Moon when she was the Dark Phoenix, because in reality that was the Phoenix Entity who had taken her place and had long ago put Jean’s hibernating body in stasis on the bottom of the ocean after she saved the X-Men when they were about to crash in a space shuttle. Please.