Sunday, October 23, 2011

The beauty in not knowing.

Science and Religion are two topics that cannot be easily compared, despite how often they come up in discussions together. There is a key difference between these two fields, and it is often overlooked or at least oversimplified by theists and non-theists alike. Science is a method; It is NOT a system of beliefs. It is merely a process for determining a system of beliefs. It is not an answer but rather a means for asking a question. Scientists do not “believe in” science; it would be more apt to say that they trust in the scientific method. Religions, on the other hand, are belief systems. They dictate a set of beliefs to the follower. These beliefs can include anything from how to treat others to what happens after death. Beliefs are intended to be answers to a question.

I am making this distinction as a result of a conversation I had with a co-worker the other day. We were discussing the universe and the existence of a god. At one point, he asked me, “If you don’t believe in God, then where did everything come from?” Although there immediately appears to be something flawed in this sort of question, it’s nonetheless an awkward question for a non-theist to answer. Although we have theories of the origins of the universe, they are obviously highly theoretical and it would be scientifically reckless to pick one and go with it. The correct answer to the question, “Where did everything come from?” is simply “I don’t know.” This answer is usually highly unsatisfying to a theist, and they may interpret it as a sign of weakness. However, if you want to have an open conversation (and not a primitive science vs. religion argument), you must expand on what you mean by “I don’t know” and why it is actually a beautiful answer to the question.

The point of science is that theories gain their value from scientific verification; in other words, certain beliefs can be said to be “justified” if there is adequate proof for their existence. Obviously, there is not much decisive evidence concerning the creation of the universe, so non-theists cannot provide a definitive answer to the question.

The lesson to be learned here is essentially this: Do not be afraid if you do not have all of the answers in life. It is easy for the uncertainties in life to make us anxious and feel like we need to pick an answer. This is called cognitive dissonance and it a natural feeling. Once you step back and take a deep breath, you can start to find comfort in the uncertainty. After all, what would be the point of life if we had all the answers from the start?

Remember Socrates' famous line, "I know that I do not know."


  1. cool discussion, I love this philosophical stuff. Indeed, we don't KNOW why things exist, but its very possible that there is no intelligent reason for it. No plan, but just naturally occurring phenomena. For people, this is difficult to digest, because our natural tendency is to believe that everything has a purpose. More and more, I think this isn't the case. In any case, religion provides much less answers worth considering in the grand scheme of things than science does.

  2. Great read man, keep it up.


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