Science as Theology

Science as Theology

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Every theology is based on some doctrines. In fact, a set of doctrines is sometimes referred to as a theology. Doctrines are statements which one is expected to accept and believe in, without any or sufficient proof. Often there are advantages to accepting doctrines: In the religious context, the acceptance of doctrines permits membership in a group, and it may lead to positive feelings and certain types of enhanced experiences as a human being.

In the scientific world too there are some basic doctrines, though they are seldom explicitly stated as such. For example, the statement that every feature of the experienced world must be intelligible to the human mind, i.e. can be adequately explained by the exercise of reason through scientific methodology, is a doctrine to which the scientific community subscribes. The statement that every occurrence has a cause is another doctrine in science. Or again, of a set of possible explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest is the correct one is also a universally accepted and implicit scientific doctrine.

Another important doctrine of science is that the laws of nature operate everywhere in space, and have not changed since the genesis of the universe. [These have been shown to be related to the conservation of linear momentum and of energy.] It could, in principle, be that different laws operate in different remote galaxies. But such an assumption would make it impossible for science to consider cosmology. Science is an intellectual enterprise, which means that it needs a well-defined framework to operate.

The most compelling argument for accepting some doctrines of science is that on their basis, science has been able to obtain an impressive range of significant and consistent results pertaining to perceived reality.

Up until the first decade of the twentieth century, physicists were largely concerned with the explanation of observed phenomena. Indeed, this was the avowed goal of science. However, in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein initiated a search which was quite different from this classical goal: He tried to develop a (mathematical) theory which would unify electromagnetic and gravitational fields. This was probably the first time that physics strived to develop a theory whose purpose was not to explain any observed phenomenon, but to formulate mathematically elegant laws. Einstein’s efforts in this regard had nothing to do with data or experiments, but was inspired by the conviction that harmony and simplicity reign in the universe. It was left to experimentalists to discover, if possible, phenomena in which the two fields would actually be shown to be interconnected (unified). The only inspiration for Einstein’s efforts was that in the previous century J. C. Maxwell had succeeded in unifying the electric and magnetic fields.

The search for unity in the absence of experimental pointers may be described as scientific theology, in that it is based on a doctrine for which there is no observational evidence. To say that there is a theological dimension to science is not to belittle it, but to recognize that this enormously powerful enterprise rests on some unproven, but immensely rewarding fundamental assumptions.

Finally, and with a negative connotation, the dogmatic assertion that everything must be ultimately reduced to science and that the only thing of relevance or significance is science, is known as scientism. This too is a kind of theology.