The other day, a Christian friend of mine expressed to me that he did not understand how so-called scientists can be open to exploring the unknown, yet appear foreclosed on the possibility that religious-based notions may be valid, but simply have yet to be proven (e.g. "miracles," an omnipotent "god," etc.). He asked why scientists adopt a neutral stance on many unproven matters, yet do not apply such openness to religious beliefs. As I reflect upon Easter, I thought I'd share with readers what I had conveyed to my friend.
If (as an hypothetical example), an indigenous tribe in the jungle were to proclaim that rubbing tiger urine over a cut on the skin would heal it, I'm going to adopt a neutral stance; I cannot dismiss the potential healing powers of tiger urine so quickly because it might be effective. Indigenous folks may have been using tiger urine for centuries, so maybe they're on to something. However, I'm not -- at all -- going to embrace the notion that tiger urine heals until I subject it to blind clinical trials. Evidence -- credible evidence -- is paramount for scientists to accept an idea.
So, for matters that have a reasonable chance of being valid, good scientists are open to those possibilities, even though nothing has been proven or disproved as of yet. But (and this is big "but" coming here), that open, neutral stance toward yet-to-be-proved ideas does not apply to religion. Why?
The ideas of religions all around the world are so far-fetched that they defy logic and reasoning. Some indigenous beliefs include worshiping the sun as a "God" and that the sun sent "children" to the earth in the form of other, smaller Gods, etc. For those of us not indoctrinated with such indigenous beliefs, the whole prospect is rather absurd. There is no point in being open to the possibility that the sun is a God and has children.
And the idea that a God would send an illiterate man as a "son" to roam around the desert in what we now call the Middle East who said to others, "People, If you just believe in me, you're gonna to live forever." And people around him reacted with, "That's wonderful. I want to live forever. I'll believe in you..." And of course, the larger society dismissed him as "crazy" and eventually killed him. Yet, 2,000 years later, there are close to a billion people who "believe" in him and think by doing so they have attained eternal life. That whole prospect is absurd.
There are 100s of religions that have fantastic stories about how life began, who is taking care of us, and what happens to us after we die. The good scientist would not need to be "open" to the possibility that any of these beliefs might be valid, especially when many of us in the intellectual community understand the human motives for having invented all of these beliefs: to help us cope with the fact that we will die and our life will come to an end. Most humans don't want to accept that.
Good scientists are open to any idea that holds the slightest promise of turning out to be valid, but we are not open to ideas that are far-fetched and are easily explained by rational explanations.
Most humans are good scientists, too (except when it comes to their own religion). If I tell you that sitting out by the pool 30 minutes a day, relaxing, will cause you to live an additional 5-10 years, you may be open to that possibility, although there is no, as of yet, evidence confirming that proclamation of mine. On the other hand, if I tell you there is a purple elephant floating around in the room and I "believe" in him, and because of my belief in him, I will have eternal life, you will not be motivated to be "open" to even the possibility of such a claim. It's just too far-fetched. And imagine if were to say in defense of my belief, "You don't see or feel the presence of the purple elephant because you have not opened your heart to him and have not accepted him into your life as your personal Savior," most people -- scientists or otherwise -- would still not be open to the validity of the purple elephant.
So, in the most respectful way to all the believers of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and so on, all religions are tantamount to the purple elephant. Critical thinkers, regardless of their academic credentials, cannot justify being open to stories for which there is no evidence for their basis.