The Religious Artist as Skeptic – And the Scientific Method

There are two types of believers in art, or religion, or even science: the true believer, who is constantly testing his beliefs by doubting, by relentless questioning,  playing the devil’s advocate, so to speak. The other believer is the blind believer, one who believes everything handed to him by the ‘book’ or ‘theory’ is the ultimate truth and needs to be unquestioningly defended.

Sadly,  in popular culture, the blind believer is often called the true believer.

In science, the strength of any theory depends on how well  it suggests ways to disprove itself. Because for any theory to stand, not only does its experiment  have to be confirmed  by others; but also that disproof after disproof by other experimenters fails. In the process, the theory becomes more and more true; or less and less so or even completely false (as in the recent  Duke University Cancer Treatment Scandal.)

Therefore  a scientific theory is never absolutely true – because all it takes is one observation or experiment that disproves it. This comes frequently with better technology, like  better microscopes; or unfortunately  less human bias, as with the Duke example (scientists can become biased too).

This is what the Nobel physicist Richard Feynman calls the uncertainty of knowledge (or science).  

Religion, on the other hand,  is different. It demands absolute faith. But is religion any less relevant when there is doubt?  Not at all – in fact this is where art comes in.

Read Terry Teachout’s inspired piece in the Wall Street Journal  How Can Skeptics Make Convincing Religious Art? about great art made by doubters; and also the comment by Avner Mandelman, an equally inspired piece and apparent rebuttal (but I think confirmation) of Teachout’s theory. A quote from Mandelman:

True artists, like scientists, work against their own grain, trying to prove their beliefs wrong”.

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