The Difference Between Science and Religion
by Hrafn Th. Thórisson

As published in Reykjavík University's paper "Háskólablaðið", 2006
Nominated for Best Article


A picture of Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Science has had a short life when compared to religion. Yet we've seen civilizations better themselves a thousandfold since hands unclasped, grabbed scientific instruments and started measuring the world. Is science some form of new religion? Or is science different from religion? Debates of this matter have been common since the dawn of science. Articles on their differences, similarities and clashings have crept up on society and affected everyone in the western civilization. Most recently, religious fanatics have resorted to new methods to reach out to potential followers, using scientific arguments in a seemingly desperate attempt to reestablish the stranglehold religion had in the pre-scientific era.

An illustration of various religious symbols
For the past few years there has been a growing fad in religious circles, dubbed "The Intelligent Design Theory" (I.D.), that uses a scientific style to claim that the universe was designed (by god), rather than having evolved. Statements such as these are not uncommon: I.D. provides evidence that life was created rather than evolved. That Darwin's Theory of Evolution must be religiously tainted simply because it concerns the origins of life – and that followers of I.D. seek neutrality that is currently amiss in modern scientific research.

Neutrality amiss in scientific research? God being a counterweight to the theory of Evolution? These statements are not only wrong, misleading and hypocritical – they are false scientific claims to recruit vulnerable young scientists, and by doing so undermine real science. It's fair and just to claim that science holds no evidence against there being a god – but to use that as an argument for there actually being one, and to claim scientific evidence for it is absurd and idiotic. It's beyond idiotic, it's completely religious.

Logically, any argument related to a supreme being as the designer of the universe is not a scientific one. To prove this, one merely has to explore the fundemental difference between science and religion and abolish the notion that scientific beliefs are in some way the same as religious ones. The following explains the difference between science and religion – and hopefully rescues some indecisive individuals before the religion-monster renders them logically and scientifically impotent.

But first, let me emphasize what I have already implied: I do not exclude the possibility of the existence of a supreme being. It would be scientifically wrong to exclude something without proof (and sometimes even with proof). However, I do
believe that there is no such being – yes, I said "believe" – which brings us closer to the heart of this article. It is painstakingly clear that all humans must follow one or more "beliefs" as we do not hold scientific proof for everything. In fact, we have scientific proof of very few things. But make no mistake: Many of these beliefs do absolutely not equal religious beliefs, as some people tend to think and use as arguments. There is no gray zone between science and religion, there never was, and there never will be. Science is in fact a completely different phenomenon alltogether. To explain the difference I will start by hypothesizing the following:

It could be that I am imagining the world, you, everything – and tomorrow I'll wake up to realize that I myself am in fact a lonely supreme being that blissfully decided to live in ignorance.

In this small sentence one can find the essential difference between science and religion. Can you spot it? The key is that there is no direct way to scientifically investigate or prove that this hypothesis is in fact true. There are, however, other possibilities that can readily be explored scientifically. Such as the possibility that I am not a supreme being – but an evolved biological animal wishing there was more to life than just kinship with monkeys. Therefore, this second option is a scientifically justifiable belief as it's antithesis (me being god) has no scientific relevance. This means that the belief that I am a god imagining the world would be a "religious belief". In other words: If I were to believe that I am imagining the universe, I would be believing it on a religious basis and not a scientific one since there is no known scientific way to investigate, prove or refute it.

As mentioned before, since I am scientific in nature (and a megalomaniac), I do not completely rule out the possibility of actually being a god, since I might possibly discover means in the future to scientifically investigate that notion. Until then, however, I am inclined to -scientifically believe- that I am a biological machine that gradually evolved from the primordial soup.

A picture of a possible ruler of Earth... a mouse.
All that the shortcoming's of the Evolutionary Theory proves in fact, is that we can't rule out that the world wasn't created by a supreme being – but then again we can't rule out either that the world is just part of my imagination, or that Douglas Adams might have been onto something when he wrote that the Earth was ruled by mice without us knowing it. We can't prove any of those statements wrong, but it would be completely unscientific (religious) to actually consider them legit when there is no known scientific way to investigate them.

This is the definition of religious beliefs; religious beliefs are anything that can not be scientifically investigated, has not been derived from scientific evidence or does not allow the possibility of being refuted. It's the hallmark of religion to make decisions without evidence. The same hallmark as any bad politician has: if they make decisions without evidence – that is, out of touch with reality – they are bad politicians. They are making decisions on faith. As with religion, faith in this case means preconceived ideas – which are of course out of touch with reality, and history has shown our preconceived ideas to be terrible; such as the earth being flat, or that smoking is safe. On the other hand, things that can be investigated and proven right or wrong are scientific – like the question of who wrote this article. If they can't be proven right or wrong – for example that there's no signature to be found in the article – science resorts to an explanation that can be explored and proven: the missing name was a mistake and we explore it by calling the editors. If an explanation proves right, the evidence becomes a building block to answer the next batch of questions – if wrong, the same thing happens. Scientists would not decide before further inspection that the article was planted here by aliens and that it's content might carry hypnotizing subliminal messages. That would be... you guessed it: a preconceived idea – a religious belief. Science is as close to reality as we can ever hope to get.
Religion and science are never harmonious, they are opposites. And please do not use the analogy of science and religion as yin and yang. It's wrong. Unproven theories do not count as scientific support for religious beliefs.

Therefore, I hereby refute that the shortcomings of Darwin's theory establish in any way scientific grounds for the Theory of an Intelligent Design on the basis that I am not god. As this might seem vague to some, I will spell it out as well: Since there is no direct way to scientifically investigate, refute or otherwise prove that the world was created by a supreme being, it must therefore be declared a "religious belief" – which clearly means that it cannot be considered a scientific argument. Let alone be used as an argument to undermine the Theory of Evolution.

Unexplained phenomena fuelling preconceived (religious) ideas is unfortunately not limited to the Theory of Intelligent Design. Using the mysteries of the world in the language and style of science to mesmerize the common man are common tactics within religious circles. Quantum physics being one of those mysteries, and the recent documentary "What The Bleep Do We Know?" being a good example of a weapon in the religious arsenal – in which the mysteries of the universe are celebrated with a cry of joy from those who see the unveiling of universal mechanisms reveal no god – and therefore cherish every unanswered question.

At this point I quote genius Isaac Asimov who once wrote "To surrender to ignorance and call it god has always been premature, and it remains premature today" – and to the question "What the bleep do we know?", I answer: Why the bleep does it matter? Does the fact that there is something left to discover scientifically suggest that we should default to religion? That we should abandon the scientific method and decide that mind-boggling mysteries are an "act of god"? No. The mind-boggling mysteries of yesteryear were explained by science this year. Not religion. Religion makes us stop asking questions. When we do that science dies. While there is something left to discover, we research. Going to church will not explain quantum physics, or any other universal mystery for that matter. Only more science can.

At this point it should be obvious that the Theory of Intelligent Design cannot be sanely considered a scientifically plausible theory. The fact that Darwin's theory is not complete has no relevance, it by no means justifies doing research on something that cannot be researched. I therefore also refute
any argument at allthat uses science to suggest the world was designed by a god on the basis that it isn't a scientific theory at this point, but a religious one – and one can't scientifically support something that by definition is not scientific.

This is the difference between science and religion, and the reason that theories of an intelligent design can't scientifically challenge the Theory of Evolution or fill it's shortcomings.

Please, in light of the evidence, stop the madness.



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