Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just a question...

Dr. Syphers,

I was just wondering about your take on the entire science vs. religion arguement... Do you face a personal conflict or does it not affect your work at all?

Also, where do you personally see your work in its effects on future technology and generations


Hi Melissa,

Thanks for your question. I've never personally seen any conflict between science and religion, so it has not affected me in my work or in my daily life.

Science is a "process," through which we try to get closer to the truth of the physical world. That is to say, what we do as scientists is to collect facts through experiments and observations, develop detailed theories that can predict these facts, then test these theories with very well controlled experiments to see if the theories break down. There can be several "theories" that predict the same observed facts. The difference will be if a theory can predict something that has not been observed before. If we do an experiment and we see something that a theory cannot predict, then that theory goes out the window. If a theory predicts something, and we do an experiment and find that prediction to be true, then that gives credence to that particular theory. Note, however, it doesn't prove that the theory is correct either! It just says it's better than the other theories that don't predict this outcome. In this way, we can get closer and closer to the real truth of "how" the physical universe is put together and what the rules are that it appears to follow.

Through this process -- the scientific method -- we try to better understand how the world works. As far as "why" it works that way -- how did it all get started? why are we able to understand it, anyway? "who" made up the rules that we discover? etc. -- these and many others are questions that science cannot even address. So, I really don't think there is any conflict here at all. Science and Religion is not an "either - or" situation. Many, if not most, scientists that I know are very spiritual people. I even know ministers who are scientists and I had a close and well-known colleague (now deceased) who worked with me at Fermilab and was a Jesuit Priest.

-Mike Syphers

Hi again, Melissa,

To answer your last question, I'll just say (which I probably said in some earlier posting) that the effects of our research on future generations is very hard to predict. What's not hard to predict is that there will almost certainly be an effect. Every piece of technology we have today -- iPods, computers, flat screen TV's, cars, planes, everything! -- can be directly connected to scientific research that was performed in the past, typically years or decades, sometimes even hundreds of years ago.

-Mike Syphers

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