Discussions of certain aspects of religion sometimes require the discussion of science. While science is not a religion, the principle of respect that governs this board must still be applied in posting to such discussions.

But science requires a different form of respect than that required when discussing other religions. Science is a process that seeks explanations of certain aspects of reality rather than an overarching understanding by which one governs one's life. The respect due to science is the respect due to any tool or method that does its job well. And the respect due to scientists is the respect due to people who undertake a difficult and complex job that is of benefit to others.

Paradoxically, the respect necessary for science requires the constant challenging of its current views. Such challenges can only be properly made if one has enough understanding to be able to make such challenges. The proper respect due to science is to understand what it is, how it works, and how and why its views change over time.

The core of science is a sophisticated process of trial and error called:

The Scientific Method.

The goal of the scientific method is to create theories (that is, mental descriptions) that as accurately as possible model natural processes in a predictive manner. Scientific theories are valued by how well they predict outcomes of events that have not yet happened (like the next time a star goes supernova) and accurately predict what will be found in the results of events that have already happened (such as seeking the causes of a fire).

There are two basic scientific methods for creating and refining theories.

Method 1

1. Observe something that needs explanation.
2. Formulate a hypothesis that explains the phenomenon.
3. Deduce consequences of the phenomenon from the hypothesis.
4. Using the deductions, create predictions of what the phenomenon should produce.
5. Create experiments that will measure these predictions.
6. Examine the results of the experiments to see how closely the actual results match the predictions.
7. If they match closely, tell others about the hypothesis and the experiments so they can try it themselves.
8. If they don't match closely, go back to step 2.

Method 2 is an elaboration of step 2 in method 1. This method is used if the scientist can't think of a good hypothesis.

1. Do lots of different measurements of various aspects of the phenomenon.
2. Try to create in mind a hypothesis that accounts for the various measurements.
3. In doing step 2, introduce as few changes into current theories as necessary.

Note: This does not mean that radical new hypotheses should not be made. It means that one should introduce radical ideas when they are shown to be necessary.


What Can Science Be Applied To?

The scientific method implicitly restricts science to the study of phenomena that fit certain criteria:

1. They are independently observable and measurable by multiple people.
2. They belong to a class of phenomena which behave in the same manner.

Any phenomenon that does not fit these two criteria is not the subject of science. Thus a great many subjective phenomena are not within the bounds of science.

To take a really simple example, the color of an object can be externally measured. The experience of a person seeing that object and how they feel about the color cannot.

This is the first and most important semantic difference between scientific discourse and most religious discourse. In religion individual awareness and understanding are often the center of discussion. In science they are explicitly moved to the side.

This also brings up the first serious challenge between scientific and religious discourse. The act of removal of a subject from a discussion can seem like a dismissal of the importance of that subject. Because personal experience is not the subject of science it seems as if scientists would regard personal experience as unimportant.

This view of scientists is simply not true. Scientists value their personal lives as much as anyone else and consider their personal experiences as important as anyone else.

What they don't do is regard their personal experiences as scientific evidence.

Furthermore, this separation between scientifically examinable phenomena and those that cannot be so examined can be seen as evidence of the uniqueness and individual character, the personality, as it were, of non-interchangeable phenomena. My subjective experiences are not the same as yours, my life is not the same as yours. It can indeed be deemed a mark of respect that such experiences are not the subject of science.

Within those classes of phenomena to which science does apply, science has shown itself invaluable. Science has passed the basic test of a good tool: Does it do a good job when properly applied. The trial and error character of science means that as an endeavor science begins in error and moves closer and closer toward understanding of those phenomena.