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The Spirit of Enquiry

Posted by on 22/06/2014

Doubt is the basis of all scientific progress. Without doubt, there is no enquiry, and without enquiry, there is no progress. Every scientific advance we have made is because of the spirit of enquiry.

We have to question ourselves constantly. Even with an expected result in an experiment, the scientist thinks, “Perhaps this is not true. Perhaps I should investigate… Let me find something wrong, maybe an inconsistency, and look for another answer.”

Imagine if things were different. Imagine if scientists just had faith in their results. Imagine vehicles built by engineers who put them out to the public without any testing because they had faith in their designs. Without questioning, without doubt, without the spirit of enquiry, there can be no progress.

Assume you believe in one or other religion. The same questions should be on your mind. What you have assumed to be true may not be true at all no matter how much faith you have.

The worst that can happen when questioning any belief is that we find we were previously wrong. Ask the same questions as the scientist. “Perhaps this is not true. Perhaps I should investigate… Let me find something wrong, maybe an inconsistency, and look for another answer.”

In a scientist, this involves perhaps submitting a paper to a peer-reviewed magazine where people will look sceptically at the conclusions of the scientist, follow the data sets and follow the reasoning before deciding whether to recommend rejection or publishing.

For someone questioning their own religious beliefs, perhaps they should start by reading the works of people who can expose the fallacies behind religious belief systems, not merely reading reinforcing works by others of the same faith. Tough questions are needed.

Of course, some people are scared to ask themselves those questions because deep in their hearts they know that their beliefs have no basis in reality, but to quote Socrates, who took great pleasure in exposing people who pretended to know things that they could not possibly know, such as the mind of a god, “The life which is unexamined is not worth living”.

All I know is that I know nothing. Socrates

But those with the courage to question themselves, to question their beliefs, to question what other people say, may be surprised by the light that comes into their lives.

John Bremner