For the student, when he learns about science, there are two sources of difficulty in trying to weld science and religion together. The first source of difficulty is this—that it is imperative in science to doubt; it is absolutely necessary, for progress in science, to have uncertainty as a fundamental part of your inner nature. To make progress in understanding, we must remain modest and allow that we do not know. Nothing is certain or proved beyond all doubt. You investigate for curiosity, because it is unknown, not because you know the answer. And as you develop more information in the sciences, it is not that you are finding out the truth, but that you are finding out that this or that is more or less likely.

That is, if we investigate further, we find that the statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty: “It is very much more likely that so and so is true than that it is not true”; or “such and such is almost certain but there is still a little bit of doubt”; or—at the other extreme-“well, we really don’t know.” Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.

It is necessary, I believe, to accept this idea, not only for science, but also for other things; it is of great value to acknowledge ignorance. It is a fact that when we make decisions in our life, we don’t necessarily know that we are making them correctly; we only think that we are doing the best we can—and that is what we should do.

I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty, then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do not know the answers to different questions. This attitude of mind-this attitude of uncertainty—is vital to the scientist, and it is this attitude of mind which the student must first acquire. It becomes a habit of thought. Once acquired, one cannot retreat from it anymore.

Richard Feynman – The Relation of Science and Religion (from The Pleasure of Finding Things Out)


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