Recently I was talking with someone about Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), the India-based religious group centered on a guru that I was a member of for 35 years.
I mentioned to this person that I'd always loved science, so one thing that attracted me to RSSB way back in 1970 was that it sometimes used Science of the Soul to describe itself.
I liked the idea of a spiritual science. But back then I hadn't given a lot of thought to what makes something a science.
There's lots of different definitions. In her book, "Existential Physics," here's how Sabine Hossenfelder speaks about science and what she calls ascience or nonscience.
The distinction between scientific and nonscientific explanations is central to this book, so it deserves a closer look. Science is about finding useful descriptions of the world; by useful I mean they allow us to make predictions for new experiments, or they quantitatively explain already existing observations.
...The belief that an omniscient being called God made the chemical elements is not a good scientific theory. You might say it is in some sense a simple explanation, and maybe you find it compelling. However, the God hypothesis has no quantifiable explanatory power. You can't calculate anything from it. That doesn't make it wrong, but it does make it unscientific.
So while Science of the Soul sounds nice, my current conclusion is that it has nothing to do with science. After all, there's no evidence that soul even exists, much less that it is capable of revealing hitherto unknown knowledge about reality.
God is a belief. Soul is a belief. Returning to God via one's soul is a belief. These can be comforting beliefs, but if we're concerned about truth rather than mere comfort, it has to be admitted that those notions are thoroughly religious, not scientific.
Which as Hossenfelder said, doesn't make them wrong. It is very difficult, maybe impossible, to prove conclusively that something doesn't exist. God and soul may exist. However, there is no demonstrable evidence that they do.
Hence, God and soul are ascientific, which is pretty much the same as nonscientific. Atheism simply means not-theistic with the addition of a beginning "a." Same applies to ascientific.
Hossenfelder views theories about the multiverse (other universes that can't be observed) as ascientific even though many scientists speak and write about them a lot. She writes:
The scientific status of these multiverse ideas is thus the same as that of the many-worlds interpretation [of quantum mechanics]. Assuming the reality of something unobservable is unnecessary to describe what we observe. Hence, assuming that these other universes are real is ascientific.
This isn't a particularly difficult argument, so I find it stunning that my physics colleagues can't seem to comprehend it.
...Well, as I have explained so often, this isn't about what I believe or not; it's about what we can know or not. I am saying that what's beyond what we can observe is purely a matter of belief. Science doesn't say anything about whether it exists or doesn't exist.
Hence, claiming it [the multiverse] exists is ascientific, and so is claiming it doesn't exist. If you want to talk about it, fine, but don't pretend it's science. At that point they're [her physics colleagues] usually either confused or offended or both.
...No one should be denigrated for what they believe in. If you want to believe in the existence of infinitely many universes with infinitely many copies of yourself, some of whom are immortal, that's fine with me.
But please don't pretend it's science.
Now, I feel the same way about nonscientific religious beliefs, which I used to embrace. I realize how appealing those beliefs can be. They supported me for many years. I can't blame anyone for holding on to such beliefs.
Life can be painful, difficult, scary, frustrating, sad. If an unscientific belief helps you get through life with more ease, great. Keep on believing if that works for you.
But as Hossenfelder says, please don't pretend that what you're doing is science, a reflection of what reality actually is like. Religious belief doesn't cause problems when the believer understands that what they have faith in is purely subjective with no clear connection to objective reality.
However, when religious belief is wrongly considered to be Truth From On High, that's when harmless belief turns into dangerous dogma.