For thirty-five years I belonged to a religious organization that called itself, among other names, the "science of the soul." I liked this name at first, but eventually I began to wonder if the organization, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), really understood what science was all about.
After breaking away from RSSB in 2005, I kept asking on this blog if religious believers could provide demonstrable evidence of God, spirit, soul, heaven, higher realms of reality, or any other supernatural entity.
So far, I've gotten no such evidence.
Which isn't surprising, because if there was solid evidence of anything supernatural, this would be amazing news. Everyone would be talking about it. Arguments about the validity of religious experience would have an empirical foundation.
Since this hasn't happened, I've become highly dubious of claims that it is possible to have a scientifically-based religion. A book review by Joshua Rothman in the October 5, 2020 issue of The New Yorker, The Rules of the Game: How Does Science Really Work?, helped confirm this attitude of mine.
The book discussed in the review is "The Knowledge Machine: How Irrationality Created Modern Science" by Michael Strevens. The author is a philosopher of science at New York University. He makes the case that the core of science is something he calls the iron rule.
Here's passages from the review that explain what the iron rule is.
The allocation of vast human resources to the measurement of possibly inconsequential minutiae is what makes science truly unprecedented in history. Why do scientists agree to this scheme?
...Strevens thinks that they do it because they have no choice. They are constrained by a central regulation that governs science, which he calls the "iron rule of explanation."
The rule is simple: it tells scientists that, "if they are to participate in the scientific enterprise, they must uncover or generate new evidence to argue with"; from there, they must "conduct all disputes with reference to empirical evidence alone."
Compared with the theories proposed by Popper and Kuhn, Strevens's rule can feel obvious and underpowered. That's because it isn't intellectual but procedural.
"The iron rule is focused not on what scientists think," he writes," but on what arguments they can make in their official communications." Still, he maintains, it is "the key to science's success," because it "channels hope, anger, envy, ambition, resentment -- all the fires fuming in the human heart -- to one end: the production of empirical evidence."
Makes sense. Before modern science, Rothman says, thinkers like the ancient Greeks and more recently, Descartes, for example, tried to come up with all-encompassing views of the cosmos that were founded in logic (roughly speaking) rather than evidence.
Religions always have done this sort of thing, of course. They come up with interesting stories, then package them in holy books like the Bible, Koran, and such. There's a certain internal logic to the stories, but no way to test their truthfulness.
Thus the value of philosophies, like religions, can be debated without end, because they lack the empirical evidence of modern science. I'm well aware of this, since I've gotten over 61,000 comments on this blog during the 16 years of its existence.
Religiously-minded commenters have been saying the same things for all of those years.
Which is fine. I like philosophical debates as much as anyone, even if there is no end to them. However, I'm also a lover of science -- because science makes progress in finding truths about the world due to its requirement that anyone who makes a truth claim has to provide evidence to back up the claim.
Now, I realize that religious people say that an experience of God or some other supernatural entity can't be proven, since it takes place within the psyche, not anywhere outside.
OK. But that means a supposed supernatural experience is akin to a dream. It is available only to the person having the experience, and there's no way to tell whether the experience points to a reality outside of the consciousness of that person.
So religious believers need to stop claiming that what they experience has any sort of objective truth. Like a dream, the reality is in the consciousness of the beholder, not anywhere else.