I always thought that there was a huge difference between the epistemological methods of Anselm and the scientific method. Anselm says, for example, that we need to “believe in order to see”. Usually, science has been portrayed in my classes as the opposite of that statement: “see in order to believe.”
However, one of the suggestions of one of my previous professors suggests otherwise. She responded to the claim that science begins with skepticism (as uttered by Michael Shermer in Why People Believe Weird Things) by saying that science begins with imagination.
This certainly seems to be true, for the second step in the hypothetico-deductive model of the scientific method is this:
2. “Form a conjecture: When nothing else is yet known, try to state an explanation, to someone else, or to your notebook.”
Forming a conjecture certainly requires some creativity and some imagination. One must find an explanation that accounts for all phenomena. What I wonder, however, is if the next steps of the scientific method fall under Anselm’s maxim: “believe in order to see”.
Believe is not such a straightforward word. There is some dispute about what exactly it means (see this episode from philosophy tv). Regardless of this dispute, it seems that we must admit that on some level the scientist accepts his proposed conjecture enough to act upon that belief. Otherwise, he would not continue the steps of the method, which are these:
3. Deduce a prediction from that explanation: If you assume 2 is true, what consequences follow?
4. Test: Look for the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2.
So, perhaps for all the squabbling that occurs between religion and science, the difference between the two is not so drastic. A part of me wants to use this similarity to make myself feel less ridiculous about my beliefs. Interestingly, Paul suggests that we embrace the absurdity of our belief in 1st Corinthians 3,
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.
At first, this may seem opposed to some of the things Jesus has said (there are plenty of times when this is the case). However, Paul’s statement is nearly identical with another statement that Jesus made in Matthew 16:25,
For whoever wants to save his lifeh will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Essentially, Jesus seems to be saying here, “the wise prescriptions that are supposed to be salvific, are actually noxious”, which seems identical to the wisdom of the world is foolishness.
On both accounts then, I should embrace the absurd, but this is a more difficult path no doubt. For if I accept that what I believe is foolish in some sense, then it will be that much more difficult to have faith in. On the other hand, if I try to justify my belief or reject that it seems like foolishness, I will be able to believe it without much “work”, and the way is supposed to be narrow. Perhaps there is something salvific about the “work” that must be done in order to accept the absurd. On a more practical note, spreading the good news is probably a whole lot easier and palatable for the receiver of the good news when we start with the disclaimer, “I know this sounds crazy, but God loves you.”