Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Difference between worldviews of scientists and believers

Religious people see the world differently than those of us who prefer a scientific or naturalistic interpretation of the world. I thought this might be an interesting and visual way to encapsulate the differences.

The world

How scientists see the world

How the religious see the world

Creationists tend to jump around from topic to topic, poking their little fingers through holes in our scientific knowledge. A creationist (and by "creationist", of course I mean "intelligent design proponent") might challenge you with "What came before the big bang?", or "Radio-carbon dating is based on false assumptions", or (my favourite) "Show me the transitional fossils between species X and species Y."

If you're willing to give up if you can't answer every one of their questions, then you should choose a religion and just be happy. However, if you can accept that we don't (and probably won't) know everything, then the best we can do is our best. And our best is to try to piece together all the thousands of experiments and bits of knowledge that we've acquired over the ages and try to come up with some coherent theory to explain it all. Hence, the scientist's view of the world, though somewhat cluttered and confused, shows a consilience of information.

consilience (noun)
  1. (logic) the concurrence of multiple inductions drawn from different data sets
  2. Agreement, co-operation or sharing of methods between or convergence or overlap of academic disciplines

Every tidbit of data adds something to our understanding of reality. Take the theory of evolution as an example. It's one of the most successful theories ever. Genetics, molecular biology, anthropology, geology, developmental biology, mathematics, and physics (to name a few) all tend to point toward the same general conclusion, that life on earth evolved over a long period of time by natural selection acting on genetic variation. It would be difficult to be so confident of that conclusion if you drew from only one of the academic fields. But the fact that they all converge on the same conclusion... that's consilience!

If instead you pick'n-choose a small number of facts, you can arrive at any of a number of conclusions that are inconsistent with the vast majority of other facts. Religions tend to fit in that category.


  1. That's ... actually a really fine way of putting it. Can't say I've ever seen this particular analogy used before.

  2. Thanks Joé. I appreciate the feedback.

  3. Hi. I followed your link in a Pharyngula comment.

    I started by only glancing at your post, looking at your three figures and the definition of 'consilience'.

    I've decided not to read any of the other text, because it's entirely unnecessary. Your thesis is complete without it, and beautifully expressive. This is simply excellent.

  4. reality .................no one know it .