Science, Reason, and Belief
Majid Ali, M.D.
Science is the study of natural phenomena. It is authenticity of observation, untainted by pre-conceived notions of what is to be observed. A valid scientific observation stands by itself. The conclusions drawn from scientific observations can be—and should be—open to question. However, the integrity of a scientific observation must not be dismissed because it does not fit into an imagined whole. The tenets of science are testable, therefore refutable. So, science is self-correcting.
Reason is human faculty of adding new observations to old observations to advance knowledge and understanding. We grow by reason. We also grow by doubt. So doubt is an integral part of reason, often serving as the stepping stone to deeper inquiry into the nature of things.
Belief is certainty unencumbered by the observable. While reason and science are founded on the observable, belief holds itself above it. Accordingly, belief is immutable. Belief grows its roots by mere existence. I illustrate my point with a simple thought experiment. A villager holds a belief that he is superior to another villager of a different ethnicity. With passing time, his belief grows stronger. His son is born into that belief, which then deepens as the boy grows. Until confronted by observation to the contrary, the belief thickens with time.
Let us conduct another thought experiment. A professor in a New York medical school has never practiced nutritional medicine and yet carries a belief that nutrient therapies are useless. A young intern joins that professor’s staff and acquires that belief as well. Whenever a patient tells him of drawing clinical benefits from nutrient therapies prescribed by a nutritionist, the intern rejects that categorically without considering the evidence. Years later, that intern himself is appointed a professor of medicine in another medical school and passes that belief to young doctors training with him with one difference: the belief is being presented as a fact.
Belief As An Unchanging Mental State
The notion of belief has two components: a person (the believer) and an idea (object of belief). Since the state of technology at present does not allow anyone to observe the inner workings of the believer’s mind, we are left only with an idea that is not founded on any observable facts. The belief is neither testable nor refutable. It is an impervious mental state.
Science, Reason, and Belief in Healing Arts
What might these basic considerations of science, reason, and belief have to do with healing arts? For this I offer a third thought experiment. Let us assume that there are four primary causes of diseases: genes, foods, environment, and stress. Next, we assume that no gene-replacement therapies are known at this time to treat any of the common diseases. We are then left with three primary causes of diseases: foods, environment, and stress. Since the medical professors of our thought experiments in New York City reject nutrient therapies, they can treat their patients only with environmental detox therapies and stress control. Since these professors accept that stress control in New York City belongs to the province of psychologists and therapists, they are left with detox therapies.
I have never read a paper published by any New York medical professors about the benefits of detox therapies. So, I return to my question: What might these basic considerations of science, reason, and belief have to do with healing arts? I leave the answer to the imagination of the reader.
The truth. Speak the words and anticipate the questions: Whose truth? And for how long? Perhaps the truth is only a question and not an answer. Where might we go from here? To love?
I close this article with the following words from a poem entitled “Thursday” in my book Drone Democracy (2011) downlodable at www.aliacademy.org
A day for,
For trancing in every shrine,
From the mind of the malign,
Into the heart of the Divine.
A day for love,
That only soul can refine.
On the way to be a nobody.