Monday, November 7, 2011

Science and Religion

Science and religion:  it seems Americans often get the two confused.  Religion is a matter of faith; you “believe in” certain concepts: heaven, hell, angels, salvation, God or gods, etc.  Science is pragmatic; it’s used to predict and to explain the mechanisms that drive those predictions.  Good scientists don’t “believe in” theories, in fact they often look for evidence to refine or overturn them.

The problem with getting the two mixed up is that people want to believe in or not believe in certain scientific discoveries.  They will reject findings that are contrary to what they wish were true.  Is the earth round or flat?  We have some pretty good evidence in this case, but some still choose to believe otherwise.  I have heard defenders of Intelligent Design argue that many scientists don’t “believe in” the Darwin’s theory of evolution and that it’s only a theory.  Both those statements are true, but science has nothing to do with belief and theories are valuable for their predictive power.  If they can use the knowledge developed from this theory to produce a more effective flu shot or help the police solve a crime using DNA evidence, then it’s useful.  That’s all that matters.

Now I have come across a few recent articles that people will want to argue with, primarily on the basis of preferences and beliefs.  The first was an interview with a Purdue University professor of horticulture who was asked about whether organic foods are better for you.  His answer:  “There are papers that show certain (organic) foods … are better for you and others that say (they are) not.”  Notice that only certain ones may be better.  Some people continue to justify spending more on this “maybe” situation, not having done any research or reviewed the studies, but they believe they are doing the best thing for their families.  Well, if wasting money is the best thing for your family, go for it!  Likewise there have been many studies showing that tap water, which costs less than a penny a gallon, is as good as bottled water, which is more expensive than gasoline.  Many don’t want to believe it.

In another study “researchers are finding very little benefit from these substances.”  The substances referred to are multivitamins and supplements, an industry with $20 billion in annual sales.  In addition, scientists have found some dangers.  How many Americans will rethink their habits or at least consider the possibility and how many will go along believing what they want to believe and acting accordingly?

Finally, I saw an ad in the mail for slimming briefs (formerly called a girdle) that asks:  “Are you one of the millions that believe in the power of magnetic therapy?”  Belief is required because there is no science behind it.

My question is:  Are you one of the millions who confuse science with religion?  If so, you are wasting a lot of money, money that could be spent adding value to your life instead of adding profits to companies with clever advertising tricks and bogus products.  Some things are to be believed and some are to be tested first.  We must understand the difference.

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