Science knows a lot about reality. Even more impressive, science steadily knows more and more about reality.
I subscribe to several science magazines, New Scientist and Scientific American. In every issue I learn about advances in the scientific understanding of the cosmos. But when was the last time religions told us something factually new about how the world works?
In fact, so far as I know there hasn't been a first time. Or an anytime.
Meaning, even though prophets, mystics, sages, gurus, enlightened masters, and such supposedly have had access to beyond-normal ways of knowing, none of them ever have communicated a confirmable fact about reality that wasn't already understood by "mere" scientists.
I got to thinking about this after reading an article in the January 5, 2013 New Scientist, "Quantum Shadows."
I didn't grasp every detail of it, but got the basic message: light doesn't only manfiest in the familar wave/particle duality; there's also in between, perhaps more accurately stated as "none of the above." Some excerpts:
"Our experiment defies the conventional boundaries set by the complementarity principle," says Li. Ioniciolu agrees. "Complementarity shows only the two ends, black and white, of a spectrum between particle and wave," he says. "This experiment allows us to see the shades of grey in between."
..."Particle" and "wave" are concepts we latch on to because they seem to correspond to guises of matter in our familiar, classical world. But attempting to describe true quantum reality with these or any other black-or-white concepts is an enterprise doomed to failure.
..."Sometimes the photon looks like a wave, sometimes like a particle, or like anything in between," says Ionicioiu. In reality, though, it is none of these things. What is is, though, we do not have the words or the concepts to express.
Now that is strange. And for quantum physicists, all in a day's work.
That's a new understanding. At least for me, and I've read many books and articles about quantum physics. Light can look like something in between a particle and a wave.
Thank you, science. This isn't airy-fairy conjecture or anecdotal opinion.
That understanding resulted from reproducible experiments using particle detectors and other sophisticated equipment. The video below accompanied the "Quantum Shadows" piece by Anil Ananthaswamy. At the end is a mention of "look for something halfway between a wave and a particle, and you see something halfway between a wave and a particle."
Far out. Yet also decidedly grounded. In reality.
There's plenty of mystery, majesty, and wonder in the cosmos as it genuinely exists. No need for religious fantasies. Reality is weird enough without imagination being added on.
Religions, though, offer us a worldview that isn't founded on the world as it is, but on the world as most humans would like it to be.
With life after death. A loving God who watches over us. Rewards for the righteous and punishments for the wicked. All kinds of spiritual goodies to make us feel better about the "bads" of life: pain, suffering, disappointments.
Hey, I wish all those things were real. Who doesn't? I just no longer find it possible to believe in what I'd like reality to be. Knowing how things are strikes me as much more desirable.
In part (or maybe in whole), this is because evolution rewards adaptation to the world as it is.
Individuals and species which can accurately sense the situation they're in do better than those which can't. Hoping that a saber-toothed tiger isn't lurking in the bushes, when one actually is, can lead to one less overly optimistic early human.
So I, like everyone else, am fine-tuned by evolution to understand what is actually part of the world. This would ensure the extinction of religiosity, if believing in imaginary supernatural stuff was deeply detrimental to our ability to survive and reproduce.
But religions basically are irrelevant in this regard.
They don't help us better understand the reality in which we live, yet neither do they markedly hinder our capacity to get through everyday life. A religious fundamentalist can farm just as well as an atheist.
Religious people do, however, benefit from advances in secular science -- such as medical treatment breakthroughs and technological discoveries. Thus faith-based religiosity rides on the back of the skeptical scentific method that it so often disaparages.
In the end, the superiority of science over religion is shown by how well each understands the nature of reality. Science continually demonstrates expanding knowledge of how things are, while religion doesn't.
Yes, I'll admit that religions are highly skilled at marketing false promises to people who wish life were other than it is. The question each of us has to ask of ourselves is: do I want to live in reality or fantasy?