There are a lot of folks out there who claim they have no religion or that they are atheists or agnostics, but many of them are lying. I’ve found science to be the single most potent false religion of our day and the irony is that most of the followers believe they’ve somehow avoided being a part of organized religion. I’m not here to criticize these folks. You are welcome to pursue any belief system you want. I believe quite strongly in free will, but I do want to point out the difference between the pursuit of scientific knowledge and the pursuit of scientific faith.
Science is the search for useful systems of prediction. In science, you do something 100 times and try to figure out what is common between all the times. Can you predict what will happen on the 101st time based upon what has already happened? This is science. Newton’s science helps us understand what will happen when we throw a basketball or shoot a canon ball: Where will it land? How can I make it go farther? How can I make it go higher? Science helps us find common factors in observed phenomena. This is science as a search for knowledge.
Faith comes in when you decide science can take you one step further, to truth. Truth is what you look for when you try to find meaning to this senselessly unfair life. You have entered the realm of religion when you start trying to fit things together to answer the question: Why?
Science doesn’t do this on it’s own, at least as long as it remains an objective search for predicting the outcomes of experiments or finding likely correlations in those observations. When you start trying to say that science shows us why the world works and has meaning, you’ve created a sacred cow out of science. Now it is your religion. You’ve taken it out of the world of mathematics and logic and statistics and moved it into a world of philosophy, religion, and faith.
Sometimes when I read scientific literature, I am pleased to read about how useful a theory is at correlating and explaining the relationships of things. Other times, I’m disappointed to read how a theory shows us why the universe works. Scientific writing that gives species or rocks or the universe a motive, as if they were gods, is really troublesome. Just because a canon ball fired into the air follows a parabolic trajectory doesn’t mean that the y=ax2 is how it works, it just means that the equation happens predict the trajectory.
If you want to believe in science as providing meaning to the universe, feel free. However, realize that you are engaging in a form of faith rather than purely scientific pursuit. Criticizing me for disagreeing with your perception of truth because your truth is based on science and mine is not, is no less dogmatic than my Christian beliefs. Science and religious belief are not orthogonal, but they are not directly correlated either.