I believe that the answer to this question goes right to the heart of the difference between science and religion. By restricting itself to seeing the world through this filter of objective (observer independent) observation, you basically force the world to fit into this activity of the observer studying that which is apart from himself. This is unavoidable because if the observer interacts with what he observes then the nature and character of the observer becomes relelvant in what is observed and that means it is no longer observer independent - it means that the observation proceedure will obtain different results depending on who does it, and when that happens science does not recognize any evidence upon which it can draw conclusions.
This does not mean that science does not recognize these limitations, or even that it does not draw conclusions from it. Quantum physics is certainly one of the most familiar examples to me, where it is recognized that the act of measurement not only alters what is being measured but tends to even create the very thing being measured. Examples of how science has to navigate around this limitation in many fields of science shows just how unavoidably real it is. And I think this is how a scientist can perceive a serious flaw in the naturalist presumption that what science describes is all that is real.
Certainly psychologists have come to realize how belief affects perception, and this is one of the things that shows just how important this objectifying technique of science can be in understanding the world, for it allows us to go beyond the limitations of our belief to discover things about the world that we could never have imagined. Modern medical science has to constantly confront and navigate around the placebo effect by using control groups in the test of a possible cure for disease. Thus there is absolutely no denying that belief effects what we observe - it is scientific fact, thus my question is not whether belief affects reality, but how?
Simple logic suggest that what this limitation of the methodology of science is going to affect most is when the subject of our observation is closer to the observer himself. So it is no accident that the two examples above are medicine and psychology. But what I want to do is to look at is the serious flaw involved in trying to force self-examination to fit into the scientifc activity of the observer studying that which is apart from himself. The apparent contradiction is quite obvious. But just try to imagine what this says about some of the typical situations in life where we are forced to examine ourselves.
For example, consider the question of love. Do you love this person? The question is not avoidable because it involves some rather important decisions about how you will live your life? But can you answer such a question by examining yourself as if you were a bug under a microscope. When people do try this, they usually fail - it is a senario examined by quite a number of books and films. The critical element that this approach usually misses is the answer to the question, do you want to love this person? There is dissonance between answering such a question and the usual standard of scientific objectification, where what what you observe should not depend on what you want to be the case.
To avoid misunderstanding let me make a clarification about what topic this thread is addressing. If we consider the question "Does the belief about a particular thing have an effect on the reality of that particular thing?" It should be clear that the answer in general is no. However what my topic here is getting at is that this is not true for all things because that we must distinguish those things that we have no control over from those which are very much subject to your own decisions. Now I am not saying that everything can be neatly categorized in one or the other, our health for example is one of the things where the two intimately interact. On the other hand, even within the question of health the distinction is there. The body requires the function of the heart and kidneys in order to continue living. If these fail and are not replaced then you will die, and all the wanting it to be otherwise will not change this. On the other hand, doctors see all the time, how the desire to live plays a critical role in whether their patients survive.
The reason I believe that all this ties into the nature of religion, is because religion very much imposes upon our perception of reality, beliefs about the way things should be. It constantly confronts us with the question what we want to be case, particularly what kind of person we want to be? It studies the question of how our choices and our beliefs effect the living of our lives - not only the choices of the individual but the choices of society. And thus I believe that within religion, in addition its arbitrary cultural baggage, there is a reservour of experience about the answers to such questions. It is fustration about the difficulty in distinguishing between these two that often causes people to abandon it altogether.
The point here is that for all its usefulness and truthfulness, science is not the be all and end all of human life. It is not simply enough to understand the world around us. We have to decide what to do with that understanding. We have to decide how we are going to live our lives. And that is not something that science can answer because it is not simply a question of what is, but also a question of what we want to be the case. We are not just observers looking at life as if it were something apart from ourselves. We are participants and what we decide to do (and to believe) has an enormous impact on the kind of life we are going to experience. Indeed there are some new age religions which have tried throw out all the cultural and doctrinal baggage in order to focus on this role of religion exclusively (such as the church of religious science). However one thing that should be clear, is that not everyone is going to answer the question of, what we want to be the case, in same way, and the result is that diversity in the area of religion is just going to be a reality that we have to accept and one that I hope we can learn to embrace.
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