Most of us want to understand the world we live it. We seek to make sense out of our lives; why we are here; what the purpose of our existence is. Not knowing is unsettling, even scary.
For thousands of years, likely since humans could actually think as we understand that wold, we have tried to find ways to understand how things work. We tried to explain the forces of nature that we can’t control. Weather, seasons, earthquakes, volcanos. These things frightened us. To try to reduce the fear and uncertainty, we tried to explain these things as best we could. We created spirits, demons, monsters, and gods.
These creations varied from culture to culture. The Greeks had their Zeus, the Romans Jupiter, Bushmen had Cagn, Babylonians worshiped Marduk , Jews had Yahweh, Christians, Jesus. All of these deities had mostly similar traits, but also differences that varied according to the particular culture.
Some people, however, tried to find a different way to explain the world around them. Ancient Greeks had Plato, Aristotle, and others who tried to use reason and observation to explain things. The were often wrong, but it was a departure from just explaining things away as acts by a deity or deities.
In the 15th century, Galileo used his telescope to discover truths about the universe: that the planets were worlds like our own and not just points of light on the backdrop of the celestial sphere. Kepler, Copernicus, and later Newton, added to our understanding of the cosmos. The defining idea of these endeavors was that they used careful observations and reason to explain how things worked and, for the first time in history, accurately made predictions about the world that we could rely on. By the 18th century, the discipline of science was born. Engineering, medicine, communication, and other practical areas of study emerged that were different from the old ways of explaining the world. This way of learning about and explaining the world had two major differences from the mythologies that tried to explain things before: it was able to accurately make predictions, and it worked.
This leads to the most important difference between the mindset of religious and magical thinking, and reason and scientific thinking: People who rely on faith, hunches, and the like are afraid not to know. They seek solace in their faith in their god or gods. Their gods love them, watch over them, and will even save them from death by allowing an afterlife of rewards for being faithful.
Those who believe in the scientific way of thinking are not afraid of the unknown, in fact, they embrace it. The unknown is where we lean, where we can grow in understanding. It allows us to beat back the fear and uncertainly. It lets us make predictions about how the world works that can be tested and proved or disproved. This is how we can understand how our bodies work, which has lead to a doubling of our life spans in just over a hundred years. It is how we have provided ways to communicate across the globe, to share our thoughts and ideas, our emotions, our hopes and dreams.
It has been said by some that science is just another religion. This is false. The reason it is false is that science, unlike faith, can cause us to modify our ideas about the world as new information is discovered, giving us ever more accurate explanations for how the universe works. This allows the technological advances that save millions of lives and make our lives more comfortable. Unlike faith, it allows us to make predictions about the world that are accurate and reproducible, bringing certainty to the previously unknown, and pushing back the fear that the unknown brings. And unlike faith, science just works.