• Question: Richard Dawkins devosed a book called religion is a illusion, is this not the case with science as all science start of as theories and cannot be 100% fact?

    Asked by hassan to Dalya, Derek, Sarah, Tim, Tom on 18 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Sarah Thomas

      Sarah Thomas answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      I have that book at home!!

      I see your point but I don’t think science is an illusion because we can prove our theories with experiments! There is a lot of science that we cannot see with the naked eye, but can be measured with accurate instruments like spectrometers, microscopes etc. Theoretical physics is really the only branch of science that at the moment, there are a lot of unsolved mysteries and theories to explain the universe. But I have *faith* that we will have answers to those questions in the future.


      awesome question!

    • Photo: Tim Millar

      Tim Millar answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      Its making the difference between faith in something and having the empirical information to prove that faith. Unfortunately for me Dawkins comes across as evangelical as those he wishes to dismiss and for that, does himself no favours.

      Just like the climate change lobby, lets stick to the science and not the politics.

    • Photo: Derek McKay-Bukowski

      Derek McKay-Bukowski answered on 16 Jun 2011:

      We have to be sooooooooo careful to understand what science does. It is easy to get “fundamental truth” mixed up with “defined and predictable”.

      Science starts with something that is unexplained. It tries to work out a model that explains it, in a logical and consistent way. When that works, it can be used as a starting point for the next investigation. However, this does not necessarily mean that the model is “truth”, it just means that it works.

      Additionally, if someone finds cases where the model no longer works, it doesn’t mean the theory is totally wrong… just that it is limited.

      For example… Newton devised a theory of gravity. For most cases it works. If we drop something, Newton’s laws are accurate, repeatable and reliable in giving us the right result. However, in space, the conditions are more extreme. It was realised that Newton’s laws weren’t working too well. It took Einstein to come up with a more complex, but comprehensive model. It is more precise that Newton’s and works in more extreme cases, but it doesn’t make Newton’s work wrong… just limited.

      At the moment, scientists are struggling with other problems (such as dark matter). It may be that Einstein’s theory is also limited. However it is holding up well for now.

      But this is all part of the challenge. You take NOTHING for granted in research and test and question everything. Yes, there are theories and models, but they are not realities — only a way of expressing our understanding. That said, our understanding in some areas is deep and the models and theories we have are solid and robust to experimental challenges. But they are not fundamentally infallible.

    • Photo: Dalya Soond

      Dalya Soond answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      That is a very intelligent and well-articulated question.

      The main difference between religion and science is that science will test hypotheses to check if they are facts. Religion does not. If experimental or mathematical data does not support the scientific hypothesis, it is disproved and scientists will accept that it is wrong.

      In science, we do often find that we have made errors in interpreting our data or designing our experiments because new findings come up we weren’t aware of before or there were limitations in the equipment available at the time we were doing an experiment, etc. When such flaws come to light, we will accept that the hypotheses previously accepted as theory may have been incorrect and we will re-test again. So in that way, science is always re-evaluating the truth of their theories rather than keeping them virtually unaltered for cednturies.

      I say this being a kinda religious person myself though. I think because religion fulfills humans spiritual and emotional needs, it has an important role in society even if it isn’t always completely accurate or fair (nor is science, as I outlined above).

    • Photo: Tom Crick

      Tom Crick answered on 18 Jun 2011:

      I have read The God Delusion and it is an interesting book.

      The scientific method is based around developing theories to make predictions and using experiments to validate the theory. The best thing about the scientific method is that we can continually re-evaluate what we believe and change our theories when we find new evidence.

      We have to be careful about stating things as absolute 100% fact; even in mathematics, it is only possible to “prove” something because you have to make assumptions about certain underlying axioms.