Chet Raymo’s ‘Skeptics and True Believers’ at first glance looks at the age old tension between science and religion.  However, he turns the subject on its head by asserting that the issue is not between science and religion at all, but ‘followers’ of both sides who maintain a close-minded perspective of their world.  He argues that the most powerful and enlightened leaders of both religion and science are those who actively question their conclusions embracing inconsistencies, problems – in other words, failures – of their theories and liturgy as a way to exercise and strengthen their views.  He defines these adherents to both sides of the debate who embrace failure as a positive force in their science and faith as ‘Skeptics’:
“Skeptics are the children of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.  They are always a little lost in the vastness of the cosmos, but they trust the ability of the human mind to make sense of the world.  They accept the evolving nature of truth and are willing to live with a measure of uncertainty.  They tend to be socially optimistic, creative, and confident of progress.  Since they hold their truths tentatively, Skeptics are tolerant of cultural and religious diversity.  They are more interested in refining their own views than in proselytising others.  If they are theists, they wrestle with their God in a continuing struggle of faith.  They are often plagued by personal doubts and prone to depression…Not all religious people fit into the category defined as True Believers, just as not all scientists are Skeptics.”
Much of his analysis follows the concept of intellectual evolution with a ‘survival of the fittest’ dynamic for ideas (this notion is most prominently examined by Richard Dawkins in his ‘meme’ concept).  ‘Evolution’ is one of the most powerful expressions of embracing failure for a positive end as the entire process is based on the notion that certain species and members of species must fail for that species and ‘life’ overall to strengthen.  Raymo compares the progress of science to evolution as competing ideas battle against each other until “new ideas suddenly emerge and triumph.”
“Einstein once remarked that the most important tool of the scientist is the wastebasket.  A scientist must be sceptical of her most cherished theory; if she is not, then others within the scientific community will do it for her.  Indeed, science is little more than organised scepticism.”

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