Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Faith and Science: Solipsist Implications

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007   No comments

by Mohammed Golam Ahad, University of Central Florida

Abstract: For centuries throughout history, paradigm shifts caused by scientific discoveries have placed religion on the defensive pertaining to the quest for truth. Discoveries attained via the scientific method have compelled theologians to change their model of God in an attempt to legitimize it by conforming it to facts of science. However, in this paper I will assume science and religion are indeed conflicting entities. I intend to employ the philosophical doctrine of metaphysical solipsism to promote skepticism towards empiricism and logically validate faith over science.

Indisputably the most hackneyed argument for atheism is simply the scarcity of empirical evidence for the existence of God. Science, the process of attaining knowledge through repeated observation and experimentation, remain the foundation for pursuing the unfalsifiable truths of the universe for most atheists. Richard Dawkins, eminent evolutionist at Oxford University and outspoken atheist clearly summarized the dilemma between religion and science:

“Well, science is not religion and it doesn't just come down to faith. Although it has many of religion's virtues, it has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence. Religious faith not only lacks evidence, its independence from evidence is its pride and joy, shouted from the rooftops.” [1]

Carl Sagan, eminent Cornell astronomer, shares similar sympathies towards science and religion:

Think of how many religions attempt to validate themselves with prophecy. Think of how many people rely on these prophecies, however vague, however unfulfilled, to support or prop up their beliefs. Yet has there ever been a religion with the prophetic accuracy and reliability of science? [2]

The centuries of paradigm shifts caused by scientific revolutions in history have weakened the credibility of religious doctrines. Numerous theologians, such as William Lane Craig and Zakir Naik, take the “concordist” approach towards science and religion by accepting scientific theories and accounting them to their respective God. They assume science as truth and incorporate science into their faith in an attempt to legitimize it.

In this short paper however, I intend to employ the “conflicting” approach between science and religion, considering religion as primary truth while science being secondary. The study of metaphysical solipsism places science under scrutiny. With the implementation of solipsist principles, I intend to promote skepticism towards anything observed via the scientific method.

According to British philosopher Anthony Flew, solipsism is the “The theory that I am the sole existent. To be a solipsist I must hold that I alone exist independently, and that what I ordinarily call the outside world exists only as an object or content of my consciousness.” [3] Solipsism denotes that anything observable is actually a projection of the mind. In other words, the human mind has no valid vindications for believing the existence of anything in the material universe besides itself. Anything observed are actually sensory input conjured in the human mind and does not necessarily exist, which is analogous to dreams, as Rene Descartes elucidates:

“How can you be certain that your life is not a continuous dream, and that everything you think you learn through the senses is not false now, just as much as when you are asleep? In particular, how can you have learned that you were created by a superior being who, being all-powerful, would have found it no more difficult to create us just as I am describing than you create you as you think you are? [4]

Indeed this paradox explained by Descartes provides us a reason why we shouldn’t rest our trust on empiricism in our quest for truth. Descartes incorporates three justifications for this doubt:

1.) The dream argument: The idea that perceptions may not be caused by the external world but may actually be a dream.

2.) The deceiving God argument: The contention that an omnipotent God have deceived the human mind even pertaining to areas of logic.

3.) The evil demon argument: The idea that a demon, instead of God, is deceiving the human mind.

All three arguments share a theme that external world may not be experienced directly, but rather through images that may not be true representations of it. “Unreal world” solipsism questions the rational grounds upon which we perceive the things we perceive are real rather than unreal. Hence, since science is based on data attained from our senses, metaphysical solipsism undermines the truthfulness of the laws of the sciences since our perceptions have potential to fool us.

In conclusion, I believe that the presumed incompatibility between science and religion is a logically invalid reason to undermine religion and change our model of God. Metaphysical solipsism, as explained earlier in this paper, logically imposes the potential deception of the scientific method.


[1] Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion,” Humanist (Feb. 1997)

[2] Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark (Ballatine Books, 1997)

[3] Antony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy, (St. Martin’s Press, 1979)

[4] Rene Descartes, The Search for Truth in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, Vol. 2, (Cambridge University Press, 1984)

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