Faith vs. Reason and the Power of Irrationality - can 92% of scientists be wrong?

Find out what Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has to say about the weekly Prayer Meetings taking place in Room 219 of the U.S Capital. Also, her perspective of the sacrifices and faith of our Founding Fathers is sure to stir your heart. Find out more by visiting The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation website at

Since the national American Chemical Society meeting last week, I've had an ongoing dialogue with Sir Harold Kroto about his insightful seminar "Science, Anti-Science and Survival." He described the "power of irrationality" as one of the greatest challenges of our day as scientists strive to reveal truth. He feels that the primary ethical purpose of education is to teach young people how to decide whether what they are being told is actually true or even can be true.

The brief video of Congresswoman Bachmann (R - Minnesota) is emblematic of the central role of religious faith in decision making by some American politicians. {It is notable that she earned her law degree at Oral Roberts University.}

Don't get me wrong. I do not discount the value of faith in one's personal life. My focus here is on the role of religion in guiding public policy and how religious faith in society can be a significant roadblock for scientists communicating their findings to the public.

Consider this:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

John F. Kennedy

Scientists by their very nature are skeptical and tend to be adverse to religious faith that requires the believer to accept "truths" in the absence of evidence. This is not to say that scientists cannot integrate faith into their personal lives.

From Harry Kroto: {notes added for clarification}

Dear Jeff,

I feel a responsibility to represent the views of the majority of the scientific community on these issues. 92% of NAS {National Academy of Science} members and 92% RS {Royal Society} fellows are atheists, agnostics or freethinkers.

Our VEGA Nobel Interviews (at these times!!!) and you will get the full flavour of what the top scientists think - NB here I cut off at Nobel scientists.


I have selected two responses below from Nobel Prize winners when asked about religion and God:

Masatoshi Koshiba , Japan shared half of the Nobel Prize for Physics with Raymond Davis, USA in 2002 "for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos" The other half was awarded to Riccardo Giacconi.

Are you religious?

/(You Mean) God?..... I don't know..... You deals only (with?) those things which you can confirm by observation or by experiment.....God doesn't come into that (category). So God...the problem of God, is not a problem in science.

Video interview recorded in 2004. Martinus J.F. Veltman, the Netherlands shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1999 with Gerardus `t Hooft the Netherlands "for elucidating the quantum structure of electroweak interactions in physics"

What is your view about God and religion?

We are living in a totally ridiculous world. We have all kinds of things from horoscopes to Zen Buddhism to faith healers to religions to what have you. All kinds of things are going around in the world [...], including what politicians do and the kind of nonsense they let us swallow. The whole world around us is full of nonsense, baloney, big speak and what have you. And that of course is not new. 99% of what people do usually moves in the sphere of something which is irrational, not correct, what have you? So in this whole world of all the baloney that goes on why does it [science] exist? It's because [...] a few hundred years ago Galilei, Copernicus and these people discovered the scientific method. And the scientific method is something that allows you to make progress whereby your statement is this: In the scientific method [...] the only criterion we have is that it can be explored experimentally and if we have a theory we will believe it if it produces something that can be verified experimentally. And in this way without telling us why and how it is there we have separated our science from religion. We have found a basis on which we can access without being put on a stack and set to fire. So for science it's very essential that we take a position that through the scientific method that keeps us away of all the irrationalities that seem to dominate human activities. And I think we should stay there. And the fact that I'm busy in science has little or nothing to do with religion. In fact I protect myself, I don't want to have to do with religion. Because once I start with that I don't know where it will end. But probably I will be burned or shot or something in the end. I don't want anything to do with it. I talk about things I can observe and other things I can predict and for the rest you can have it.


More like this

"Don't get me wrong. I do not discount the value of faith in one's personal life"

That's the's personal life is tied to public policy. People are elected by people, and policy is made by people, etc. The faithful, already lacking rationality, can't draw the distinctions that someone who is more rational can. If they were that rational, they wouldn't be faithful.

If you don't criticize personal faith, it will show up in public policy.

Point taken. However, the comment to which you are responding had in mind intelligent, open-minded people of faith, including scientists. Such individuals, hopefully including some of our policy makers, are capable of balancing personal religious faith with an analytical, logical view and are receptive to current scientific theories and the scientific method. If they are an elected official, it is possible to balance their personal views with their broader responsibility of public representation of our diverse society.

I did understand your point....I should have elaborated and said that politicians go with the flow. A very, small percentage of them truly can't divorce their personal views from public policy. They don't have the mental skills.

A larger percentage can....but find it political expedient not to.

Which is why I conclude that the focus has to be on criticizing personal faith on an individual basis. Once racism was publicly criticized, the politicians followed suit.

It is funny that she refers to Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams. It was John Adams that signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion". Many of the Founding Fathers were secular and/or not-Christian, but deists. A prayer room on Capitol Hill dishonors them.

PS: The youtuber behind the video is censoring video comments, they haven't censored thumbs down yet, and they forgot to censor their channel comments so far.

By NoMoreMasters (not verified) on 04 Apr 2011 #permalink

She got a degree in Oral?
Sixty-nine percent no doubt.

"In the scientific method [...] the only criterion we have is that it can be explored experimentally"
Science employs vitally maths and logic in its method, and they are not experimental. And that is why the question of certain types of god is reachable by the scientific method, and that is why indeed scientists will/have proven traditional gods to not exist, as is discussed here:…

comment to which you are responding had in mind intelligent, open-minded people of faith... an analytical, logical view and are receptive to current scientific theories and the scientific method

And what does that have to do with a video of Michele Bachmann?

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink