I was going to write today about some believers’ insistence on the need to prove the existence of their divine being, whatever that being may be, and how perplexing that is to me. Conversations I have had this week, however, have driven this week’s column in another, though not entirely unrelated, direction. I want to talk about how some people seem to mistakenly believe that science and logic are themselves some sort of subjective belief set.
This is upsetting for so many reasons. Leaving aside the silly “well if you don’t believe in science, why are you using a computer” sort of arguments I have seen. That is tu quoque and if you respect logic, you will avoid those sort of comments. No it is upsetting because it creates a larger trend toward not respecting the future importance of scientific discovery and logic. If we reject logic and science as nothing more than another subjective belief set then we cannot properly use them to resolve our differences, to cure diseases, to build better infrastructure or to learn more about the human condition.
The scientific method and reason are not subjective, nor are they strictly the creation of the West. The conversation that got this started was one in which a young man called out the atrocities of non-Western cultures, while, I might add, acknowledging the atrocities of Western ones. Someone accused him of being Islamophobic and not respecting other traditions and that these beliefs are subjective, and that the logic and science he “puts so much faith in” are also and that they were “Western” creations foisted on others. The thing is, that is just not true. Every culture, well before their encounters with Europeans used logic and the scientific method. Yes, the latter would not be written out and recognized as such until Sir Francis Bacon came along, but they still made use of it. They studied outcomes, they tested their ideas and they put reason to use.
Reason is reason, no matter what your cultural background. P cannot be P and not-P, that is impossible. Likewise the entirety of the Rules of Logical Inference remain the same, no matter what your religion, what your background or whether or not you agree with them. To put it in terms you can better understand, it is like the underlying principles of mathematics, they can never change. We can discover new things about them, but they stay the same. Likewise, the scientific method is not a belief, but a system of discovery. Scientists “put faith” in it because it works. The discoveries may turn out to be wrong, but that is the beauty of it, when they are, you go back to the chalk board and try again, and you have a set of tools to help you do so.
These things matter. If you want to live your life by your faith, go ahead, but actively undermining people’s trust in science and reason can do nothing but make them vulnerable to those that would manipulate them. When you do that, you make me wonder what your motives really are.