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Mar 01 2013

Taking the wonder back

Oh, how I hate this stupid question:

Many popular scientists are atheist, so why are they so happy to use the misty-eyed language of religion?

Check your assumptions, journalist. Why do you associate feelings of wonder and awe with fucking religion? Look at the stuff she quotes from prominent scientists: it has nothing to do with religion, except that religion has spent millennia appropriating these ideas.

It’s ironic that the public engagement with the science crowd is so pro-wonder, because they’re so anti-religion. "All the great religions have a place for awe, for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation," writes Richard Dawkins. "And it’s exactly this feeling of spine-shivering, breath-catching awe – almost worship – this flooding of the chest with ecstatic wonder, that modern science can provide."

"I’m an atheist," said maths professor Marcus du Sautoy when he took up the Charles Simonyi chair in the public understanding of science at Oxford. "But for me the important thing is the wonder of science." Advocates for science can’t seem to give up on religion’s selling points: the awe, transcendence, and worship.

Notice what the godbots have managed to do: they have taken a child’s delight in the natural world, stolen it, and said, “Awe belongs to god; you aren’t thrilled with dandelion fluff, stars in the sky, or the leap of an antelope, you’re really feeling ecstasy at gods and the supernatural.”

That’s a lie. The scientists are taking back a stolen joy and placing it where it belongs: in our universe, in our natural world, in us. The journalists should be asking instead how we got so duped that we take it for granted that we’re worshipping an invisible man when we find happiness in a clear warm sky and the scent of grass on the wind and a calm sense of our place on Earth.

That isn’t the language of religion. The language of religion is dominion, tribalism, ignorance, and fear.

51 comments

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  1. 1
    moarscienceplz

    Amen, brother PZ!

  2. 2
    Sastra

    If you define ‘religion’ so broadly that it just means the feelings themselves then no fair taking it back later and pretending that the beliefs were critical to your definition when you began. They do this all the time. It’s standard tribalism: claim a characteristic for yourself and then insist that anyone who isn’t in your tribe but has it anyway is mimicking you.

    Journalists are usually eager to talk about “spirituality,” sliding from one reasonable secular meaning to the woo-based one and back again so that it all sounds like the same thing.

  3. 3
    Rowan vet-tech

    I love those moments of wonder and awe. I never feel more alive than when I’m standing at the base of a redwood tree. It’s a moment of “This exists. I exist. This is fucking awesome” and it requires no supernatural beliefs. I enjoy that feeling of how miniscule I am, compared to that tree and in turn compared to the universe. It’s a giant “wow”.

    And it’s spring in California (our weather is straaaaaaaange) and Big Basin is not far away. I think next week it’s time to visit my tree.

  4. 4
    kosk11348

    That article is a fail in so many ways.

    But it’s too easy for the meekness we feel in the face of extraordinary facts to blur into deference towards popular scientists themselves, with their public profile and their privileged access to those facts. Like priests, they occupy an elevated position in relation to the phenomena they admire. While putting on a good show of being amazed, they function as powerful gatekeepers to a mystical beyond.

    Unlike priests, the phenomena scientists admire are real. And scientists don’t function like defenders of irrational fables, they function like teachers who help the rest of us to understand the reality we live in. No “mystical beyond,” just the here and now.

    Cox may not look like a boffin, but it’s telling that he’s always called professor.

    I have no idea what this means. Why is it “telling” to address people by the the titles they have achieved? Treating learned people with respect is problematic somehow?

  5. 5
    glodson

    There’s so much in our language that some think belong to the religious. And this article… gah! I couldn’t even finish it.

  6. 6
    Caveat Imperator

    This is just as dumb as the claim that there can be no concept of beauty without God.

  7. 7
    JJ831

    @3

    And it’s spring in California (our weather is straaaaaaaange) and Big Basin is not far away. I think next week it’s time to visit my tree.

    Ohhh yeah, I’m looking forward to the spring, Big Basin, Henry Cowell, Forest of Nisene Marks and a few Big Sur / San Lucia trips are in the books. Maybe a Skyline to the Sea or Sykes. The awe will be present, no gods required.

  8. 8
    Jafafa Hots

    Eliane Glaser’s conclusions awe me a bit and make me wonder, but I don’t worship her.

  9. 9
    Samantha Vimes

    If anything, religion tends to try to force wonder to submit to it. It tries to rewrite a fundamental emotional response to the sublime, the rare, the beautiful, the large, the strange, etc, into its own script. Science makes people aware they don’t have to read from that script. The beauty of a sunset doesn’t have to be overwritten by, “You find it beautiful because of God. You should be thinking about God right now,” but, knowing a bit about light refraction, absorption and scatter can free one’s mind from the religious script so that one marvels that such beauty comes from the perfect balance of pressure and gravity, see that balance as a metaphor for the balances in one’s own life, see the sunset as a metaphor for the closing of some part of life one wants to set behind, muse on astronomy and how the sunset will allow the visibility of countless other suns, etc… in short, the mind is free to roam, build on themes, and unveil new wonders.

  10. 10
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    Fuck you, Godbots. You don’t own wonder.

  11. 11
    Emrysmyrddin

    I sent you an email about a week and a half ago, PZ. When you get around to it through your mountains of other mail, you’ll find that you have mirrored my feelings on this subject of instantaneous, childlike wonder at the world, beautifully and cogently. Thanks much for this.

  12. 12
    Dabu

    The natural world really is wondrous and spectacular, by virtue of its being fractally fascinating. Religion only says that it’s awesome, wonderful, et cetera. I always hated it when someone would implore that the trees, mountains and lakes were awesome, but God made them, so isn’t he awesome too! Fuck that. Mountains and lakes don’t need anything other than themselves to deliver a wondrous feeling. Religious claims are nothing more than parasites on those experiences.

  13. 13
    aziraphale

    “Advocates for science can’t seem to give up on religion’s selling points: the awe, transcendence, and worship.”

    Do I feel awe at the universe, and at many of the things in it? Yes.
    Does it transcend me? Probably.
    Do I worship it? No. What would be the point? It’s not going to notice.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    mildlymagnificent

    I really , really resent this notion.

    I like to take mysteries and wonders of the world neat.

    No other mysteries should stand in my way to fog up or distort the view. And like a good whisky – it must not be watered down with other stuff. Nor should it be contaminated or coloured up by other unnecessary substances.

  16. 16
    Argle Bargle

    I read Glaser’s article. It was awe-full.

  17. 17
    coragyps

    “you aren’t thrilled with dandelion fluff, stars in the sky, or the leap of an antelope”

    Or with a picture of Rhynchocyon petersi, which deserves to show up here Monday, if Mary approves……

  18. 18
    kevindorner

    Prof. Marcus du Sautoy did the BBC series on maths called “The Code”… a must-see that I’m planning on reseeing tonight with friends possibly. I wondered if he was an “out” atheist or not due to some of the comments in the first of the series that he didn’t subscribe to the beliefs of the builders of cathedrals. I didn’t doubt it due to his appreciation for the beauty of the mathematics of the natural world.

  19. 19
    Rob Grigjanis

    kevin @18: He’s an Arsenal supporter, so faith plays a huge role in his life.

  20. 20
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re

    Cox may not look like a boffin, but it’s telling that he’s always called professor.

    I have no idea what this means. Why is it “telling” to address people by the the titles they have achieved? Treating learned people with respect is problematic somehow?

    Being American, I am always “amused” by the British use of “boffin”. Is that word what puzzles you? Assuming it is (since I am also); “boffin” is kinda “slang” for “scientist” or “expert in some field”. But even if that was so (your confusion), I have no idea how “telling” got thrown into that sentence. Or even what the writer is trying to say, at all with that sentence. Baffled here, also.
    Is xe making some kind of “appearance” stereotype: e.g. “even though Cox doesn’t look smart, he actually does have a PhD”?

  21. 21
    steve oberski

    That claim that religion has any wonder to take back is the biggest lie promulgated by religion.

    Science isn’t taking back the wonder and delight from religion, it’s in an ongoing process of discovering it in the first place.

  22. 22
    Ichthyic

    Amen, brother PZ!

    ..yet another thing stolen by religion; the idea that you can’t have a social group without it having religious connotations.

  23. 23
    AsqJames

    stevem,

    She’s saying “Come on, he pretends to be all cool and laid back and just wanting to spread his delight in the natural world to us normal people and get us interested in science, but really he’s all elitist and aloof because he insists on being called Professor all the time.”

    When you see someone who’s cleverer than you, or achieved more than you, or has been more successful in any way, you can either admire them or be jealous. If you plump for admiration, you can set out to emulate them or fulfill your own potential If you go for jealousy and envy, you can attempt to belittle them and tear them down to your level.

    Either may make you feel less inferior in the short term, but only one will eventually make you satisfied with your own life.

  24. 24
    Ichthyic

    Is xe making some kind of “appearance” stereotype: e.g. “even though Cox doesn’t look smart, he actually does have a PhD”?

    my interpretation is:

    “He doesn’t look the part, but anyone who hears him speak immediately would identify him as being a professor.”

    example: Einstein.

    what would you conclude watching an old guy with hair like that riding his bike down the street? …and then what would you conclude if you actually discussed physics with the man?

    like that.

    could be wrong.

  25. 25
    zibble

    What awe does religion really offer? We’re supposed to think this is the God that made the rings around saturn, the black holes, the colliding, destructing, rebirthing galaxies, and he impresses desert peasants with a burning bush.

    People go to religion because the actual awesome majesty of the universe is too much for them. It’s too vast and humbling, and it diminishes all the sources of our undeserved arrogance. It’s much better to make the alien complexities of reality human and relatable, imagining ourselves or our parents (or both at the same time) in control of existence and unreasonably obsessed with all the things that matter to ME.

  26. 26
    Susannah

    Coragyps #17

    I couldn’t wait; I Googled. Oh, cute! I found a video showing his amazing nose: here. 29 sec..

    Awesome!

  27. 27
    otrame

    Rowanvt,

    Yeah trees always do it for me. Big trees: I swear I can feel the life and power of them. There is a big live oak in the courtyard of the Alamo that was probably why they decided to move their mission to that particular spot in the first place.* I always have to stop and put a hand on it and feel that life and power (just my imagination? Yeah, almost certainly. So what?).

    And baby trees: I grow tree seedlings for people to put in bonsai. There is something about them as full of potential as any other baby.

  28. 28
    neutrinosarecool

    What does theism have to do with nature and science?

    Nothing.

    What does atheism have to do with nature and science?

    Nothing.

    Atheism is a religion-oriented philosophy, and that’s not really deniable, is it? I mean, most atheists seem to be refugees from the religious community, as far as I’ve seen. Understandable of course, but perhaps the next generation just won’t give a fuck about theism – anymore than they care about questions like “is Santa Claus real.”

    You at least have to admit that a concept like a-theism is intrinsically connected to the concept of theism, don’t you? Atheists are not spending their time thinking about nature and science, they’re spending their time thinking about theism and religion. Evidenced by this post. Q.E.D.

  29. 29
    Anthony K

    Atheists are not spending their time thinking about nature and science, they’re spending their time thinking about theism and religion. Evidenced by this post. Q.E.D.

    Strangely enough, I spend a lot of time thinking about how generally stupid human beings are, as evinced by this comment. Q.E.D.

  30. 30
    Anthony K

    Atheists are not spending their time thinking about theism and religion, they’re spending their time thinking about nature and science. Evidenced by this post. Q.E.D.

  31. 31
    Rob Grigjanis

    @28:

    What does atheism have to do with nature and science?

    Makes it easier to do it right.

    Atheism is a religion-oriented philosophy

    That’s like saying sobriety is an alcohol-oriented condition. We’ve been soaking in it for millenia, so terminology can’t avoid some reference to it. How else do you say “not like those other people”?

    My apologies for dragging noble alcohol down to an analogy with theism. Cheers.

  32. 32
    Ichthyic

    Atheism is a religion-oriented philosophy

    not at all.

    it’s a conclusion, not a philosophy.

  33. 33
    John Morales

    neutrinosarecool:

    Atheism is a religion-oriented philosophy, and that’s not really deniable, is it?

    Atheism isn’t a philosophy at all, though A+ might be considered one.

    So, yes, it’s deniable.

    You at least have to admit that a concept like a-theism is intrinsically connected to the concept of theism, don’t you?

    You at least have to admit that a concept like a-sportism is intrinsically connected to the concept of sports, don’t you?

    (Sheesh!)

  34. 34
    Anthony K

    We’ve been soaking in it for millenia

    No, you’re thinking of Palmolive.

  35. 35
    Ichthyic

    Atheists are not spending their time thinking about nature and science, they’re spending their time thinking about theism and religion. Evidenced by this post.Q.E.D.

    Q.E.D. ….

    anyone else hate it when someone uses that without really knowing what they are saying?

    QEF

  36. 36
    evodevo

    “We’re supposed to think this is the God that made the rings around saturn, the black holes, the colliding, destructing, rebirthing galaxies, and he impresses desert peasants with a burning bush.”

    Better yet, we’re supposed to believe he cares whether your kid’s peewee football team wins the upcoming game on Saturday …..
    Or whether you find a parking place near the front entrance of WalMart tonite …..

    Their self-absorption is awe-inspiring in its immensity.

  37. 37
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    the awe, transcendence, and worship.

    <music> ‘one of these things is not like the others… one of these things just doesn’t belong…’

  38. 38
    Menyambal

    The snotty claim that scientists say we are all instinctive machines shows the writer has no clue as to the reality of scientific discovery.

    For me, there is wonder in the things that I would not know without scientific investigation:

    The size of the universe.

    The age of the Earth.

    We are star dust.

    Evolution.

    Our brain cells crawl into place.

  39. 39
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    OK, so which approach to nature is more filled with wonder–actually looking at everything in minute detail and finding the echoes of the birth of the Universe and learning what the Higgs boson tells us about its end, or “GODDIDIT”. The defense rests.

  40. 40
    ramblindude

    Try telling a devout Christian fundamentalist how the universe created us, rather than it being created for us, and see how long their wonder lasts. I find that they typically are so preoccupied with the rules and directives of their beliefs that don’t have time or attention to be awed by the real wonders of the universe. Religion not only hijacked awe and wonder; it all to often waters it down and turns it into something insipid, into mere contrived emotionalism.

  41. 41
    anteprepro

    Ah yes. The religious really have pissed all over awe and wonder, marking it as their territory, and make sure that there are plenty of barks expressing outrage or befuddlement if anyone else dares to tread on those grounds. And, of course, the “awe and wonder” that they claim to have are pathetic mockeries of the real thing. They are awe and wonder’s hollowed corpses, eyes replaced with fortune cookies full of Bible verses, mouths stuffed with marbles and fecal matter, used as handpuppets in order to make the religious’s eternal Weekend at Bernie’s a little less lonely, yet exceptionally more creepy. It’s an “awe and wonder” that is felt once or twice a week, to make sure that your fellow feelers of “awe and wonder” know just how sincere and deep you are. It’s an “awe and wonder” that lets you imagine how that stuff in that one book you read really DOES explain everything in the universe. It’s an “awe and wonder” that lets you feel like your personal ignorance is in fact part of the Great Big Mysterious Unknown. It’s an “awe and wonder” that lets you deny reality in favor of whatever lets you feel more of that sweet, sweet “awe and wonder”. It is an “awe and wonder” more focused on imagination than reality, and more focused on a heavily dogmatically-constrained imagination at that. It is a numb, myopic product of a mealy-mouthed game of pretend. I’m sure it seems genuine to the religious, but I suppose that is the point: That they assume that religious “awe and wonder” is the gold standard and really it appears to be the other way around when you aren’t constantly patting every religious person on the back merely for the noble act of being religious.

  42. 42
    naturalcynic

    She really needs to read Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World. Really, really, really needs to. Very badly.
    Or just watch Cosmos.
    Slaps you upside the head that you don’t need religion to have a sense of awe and wonder.

  43. 43
    Azuma Hazuki

    PZ…thank you. I needed to hear it said by someone else. Religion [i]has[/i] hijacked this sense of wonder, one of the things that moved and defined me ever since I was a little girl digging in the dirt outside the playground or reading a half-me-sized “How Does The Earth Work” book in second grade.

    Hitchens saying “religion poisons everything” might not be strictly true, but in this sense it is purest truth. It’s insidious. And it makes a lot of people lose their innocence and basic goodness in this case, to have every single spontaneous good feeling co-opted and attributed to the same God who…well, read Numbers 31 or Joshua.

  44. 44
    anchor

    Yes, yes, and hell yeah. And all the perfectly serviceable words they monopolize as their very own, too. Its doubly frustrating when well-meaning and ostensibly rational atheists, skeptics or humanists (that should cover the bases) reactively bounce off of many instances as if their usage was somehow unfair. And yet they’re just ‘words’, yes?

    I personally have little or no use (or respect) for the word ‘spirit’ (or ‘soul’) or ‘spiritual’, for example, because I can’t sincerely place them into a serious (or un-satirical) statement. And I will probably never again use such obscure horrors as ‘laicization’ or ‘sedevacantisation’ in a sentence, but once coined these and a disquietingly number of uglier examples are up for grabs by anyone who wants to use them for any purpose, including usage antithetical to the purpose of the minter.

    But I’ve seen people bristle when someone employed such a relatively mundane and benign trifle as ‘heavens’ when poetically referring to the sky, or fly off the handle because somebody (not in this forum) in a hazardous poetic moment made the horrid boo boo of employing the word ‘pray’, as in “Pray tell us about what you think”.

    Language isn’t the exclusive property of any particular individual, cultural group or ideology. While they may indeed be spawned by them, the very presence of an audience of listeners or readers renders the terminology universal property once in circulation. ALL words, no matter how hideous, are potential game. (I don’t need to belabor the obvious to those who know all that, I just want to set the stage for any who may not). The appropriation of words from one culture or ideological perspective by another (if done thoughtfully and meaningfully) is as natural or legitimate as the exchange of putatively ‘foreign’ genes. It might be a mash-up mess, at least initially, but its also a test or trial of who gets to set the definition. The potential literary, poetic and even musical aspects of language, besides its precise literal exercise, demands that words acquire their meaning within the context of the message within which they are emplaced, not as some knee-jerk reactionary trigger signifiers.

    Religion is by no means the only source of the trouble, although it sponsors and abets much of the hijinks we see in the secular arena. For example: same bullshit with what’s happened to the popular take on the words ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ in the political arena. Depending on who one asks, they have come to mean drastically different – even diametrically opposite – things, not only with respect to each other but from their original meanings. The terms have become the very epitome of stereotypical pigeon-holing. The original meaning of the words have eroded away and mutated into preposterous monstrosities.

    Some like me marvel that ‘conservatism’ for many now (and unconsciously so) comes to mean an almost pathological readiness to exploit natural resources to virtual demolition (the antithesis of ‘conservationism’ which ironically shares the common root…which is tellingly despised by ‘conservatives’ as much as they despise ‘environmentalism’). And it somehow represents a very energetic and fanatic allegiance to personal ‘liberties’ on peculiarly selective issues, like the right to bear lethal weaponry (you know, like little pistols that shoot metallic projectiles at hypersonic speed, not to mention the automatic devices which spray them out at prodigious rates, presumably, just in case the aim of the wielder is faulty or is blind) and the ‘freedom of religious conviction’ and a host of other nasty imagined intrusions on their turf (like the War on Christmas). ‘Liberal’, by the authority spontaneously invested in what an appalling proportion of the electorate are willing to swallow as dispensing expertise, called ‘pundits’ (the most influential being of the purchased stripe) is considered to represent persons who are alleged to impair, degrade, or otherwise constipate the freedoms and liberties of others – particularly, those of conservatives.

    Yet, while one sees plenty of people who recognize this ridiculous circus for what it is, one is hard pressed to see any effort whatsoever on the part of either ‘party’ through their political campaigning to scream out the fact that this emperor of the public consciousness not only has no clothes, but is a pathetic fleshless ghost with no material or rational substance.

    And that’s how they get away with it. Politics and religion are in this respect identical: Propaganda – we’re soaking in it.

    Yeah, language is slippery and malleable and the meaning assigned to words is evolving all the time. That’s obvious. The point is that too few realize that they can take the words by the damned horns and own them if they wanted to and give them the meaning they think they ought to have, by profuse habitual exercise of their desired context, instead of complaining incessantly about how others choose to use them by their own, oft Bizzaro World, definitions. Standards are not established through relinquishing advantage to users of words by abstaining from their use, but by grabbing them up (the worthwhile good ones anyway) and MAKING them mean what one wants them to mean. All words belong to all of us to do with as we see fit. They’re meant to be exploited. What we SAY with them is where one may gain ground, but they need to be used, not necessarily rejected just because they are used by a competing interest.

    /End of rant

  45. 45
    brucegorton

    Why I oppose religion
    There is a bit of a constant in religious apologetics that highlights exactly what is wrong with religion.
    That is the tendency to try and claim things for religion, or even one specific religion, which are essentially just being alive and sentient.
    Religious apologists will try and do this with essentially the concept of awe, wonder, and beauty – attempting to co-opt what are very common responses to the world in order to bolster their ideology.
    Ironically those apologists have a significantly lesser degree of awe, wonder and beauty to how they see the world than those who do not find religious relevance in nature.
    Scientists find genuine wonder in the universe where the apologist only finds dull confirmation. It is not the apologists who genuinely asks why, but the scientist or philosopher who then seeks out answers that go beyond simply saying God did it.
    Religion is not about wonder as it is not about wondering, it is about supplying pat, easy answers to difficult questions even if those answers are wrong. That is why Abrahamic religion for example puts such a high value on faith, while genuine methods of inquiry treat faith with such discomfort.
    Science may not answer every question, there is room for ‘other ways of knowing’, however these other ways of knowing have to first pass the hurdle of whether they even qualify as ways of inquiring rather than ways of answering, or ways of expressing.
    For example auditing is a way of knowing. It is generally not included in the sciences, yet it shares a major feature with science.
    It is not enough for an auditor to express an opinion, the auditor has to be able to justify it on the basis of the evidence provided. The accounts have to provide that evidence, there has to be a means of inquiry, otherwise the accounts are essentially worthless bits of dirty paper.
    Accounting is a way of knowing because it includes a means of inquiry into it, it is not taken on faith. Religion is not a way of knowing, because it does not include that means of inquiry, you have to accept the words of the holy men, sometimes codified into holy books. It provides no real means of checking whether it is true.
    Wonder is about inquiry, it is not something that encourages you as Tim Minchin put it, to sit around saying ooh isn’t the world so mysterious. Wonder by its nature is questioning.
    Awe is similarly devalued by religion, because awe is a matter of being overwhelmed by the grandeur of something and religion cannot accept grandeur, it has to tame it to very human ideas reducing the universe to a watch found the beach, a watch that needs a watchmaker. It cannot accept that the universe is truly beyond us in scale, seeking to instead reduce it to very human gods that place humanity so far above all of it.
    Scientists the more they study animals the less unique they find humans, finding that our greatness is mostly a myth or a matter of scale. Other animals love, other animals sing, other animals farm and use tools – but religion cannot view this but to say things like ‘And God gave man dominion’.
    Where is the awe in such a denigration of reality, that simple appreciation for what is, is proclaimed brute ‘materialism’?
    Religion tries to turn to art and beauty for its defence, yet what of groups like Boko Haram, or the American fundamentalists who seek to ban art and learning for the sake of their gods? Religion so loves the arts that it seeks blasphemy laws to throw artists in prison for expressing that which their religion disagrees with, while religious art itself is at its best tortured, at worst empty.
    The same Catholic Church which views the bling bling culture of today as decadent and evil, will turn to its own cathedrals and declare the very expensive, very shiny ornamentation and architecture of them a testament to the good of their religion. Even the bland prettiness of stained glass is tainted with hypocrisy.

  46. 46
    auditorydamage

    But it’s too easy for the meekness we feel in the face of extraordinary facts to blur into deference towards popular scientists themselves, with their public profile and their privileged access to those facts

    It always rots my ass when someone treats scientifically-derived knowledge as some kind of occult codex, as if scientists are no different from 14th-century Catholic priests holding a monopoly on access to their version of the alleged Truth. One consequence of the very existence of science is that anyone can learn and observe how the reality we live within seems to operate, given enough time and effort. While it’s true that much of our current body of theory and knowledge is built upon decades-to-centuries of observations and experiments that would be practically impossible for a single person to replicate from scratch, theoretically it could be done. Knowledge isn’t, in and of itself, something limited to the Elect; anyone can learn to rationally observe and analyze what’s happening around them if they want to. That science is treated as some closed, elitist secret society seems to be a symptom of a wider problem; the false idea that some people are inherently better than others, and the resulting struggle over who gets to be that privileged, doninant group that tells everyone else how they shall think and live. By making the very idea of learning into just another series of rituals performed by wannabe-prophets, charlatans and sociopathic authoritarians simultaneously convince their followers that scientists are just false prophets of a competing belief system and seek to convince them that knowledge is something handed down by superior authorities. rather than something they can find through mental methods that anyone can learn to conduct by themselves. Being able to observe, compare, and analyze ideas is an inherently liberating concept, one that directly threatens people who benefit from authoritarian ideologies.

  47. 47
    Jafafa Hots

    Religious people liked religion long before scientists were around to like science.

    Science totally stole liking things from religion.

  48. 48
    Ganner

    Damned if you do damned if you don’t. They’ll tell us how atheism is a bleak, joyless worldview and that the cold reason of science can’t make a life fulfilled. And when we demonstrate that we have just as much joy, just as much awe for the universe, they criticise us for not having given them up. People are sold on the idea that not believing in god MUST mean that we should be depressed and bleak and amoral, and that we’re intellectually dishonest if we’re not.

  49. 49
    David Marjanović

    Strangely enough, I spend a lot of time thinking about how generally stupid human beings are, as evinced by this comment. Q.E.D.

    …where QeD is the Klingon word for science.

    People are sold on the idea that not believing in god MUST mean that we should be depressed and bleak and amoral, and that we’re intellectually dishonest if we’re not.

    This misconception is exactly what PZ’s book is about. It once had a subtitle: “Dancing on the Graves of the Gods”.

  50. 50
    anchor

    “Religious people liked religion long before scientists were around to like science. Science totally stole liking things from religion.”

    Sorry, I don’t buy that for an instant.

    I can’t tell if your being facetious. But if you’re serious, you’re wrong.

    Evidently you think that single-celled phototropic organisms (for example) don’t move in response to any real-world light stimulus they are curiously equipped to sense, but rather because they like following a crowd which they can’t detect remotely unless they happen to sense bunches out there chemotropically…crowds which coincidentally happen to be more populous and healthier in places where sunlight presides, thereby supplying a ready-made but wrong mechanism as the explanation for the behavior, to which crowd-loving adherents will inextricably weld themselves despite all the replicable evidence to the contrary.

  51. 51
    Calilasseia

    I’ve repeatedly pointed out, to anyone who will listen, that as Carl Sagan presciently observed, science has presented us with a far grander vision of the universe than any of the authors of mythology have managed. Indeed, scientists have not only alighted upon entities and phenomena that the authors of mythology were incapable of even fantasising about, but have harnessed the knowledge of several of these entities and phenomena, integrating those entities and phenomena within precise quantitative frameworks of understanding that are in accord with observational reality to 15 decimal places. Mythology,on the other hand, has nothing of this sort to offer. All mythology has ever had to offer is “treat my fabricated assertions as fact, regardless of whether or not reality agrees with this”.

    To take a favourite example of mine, which illustrates perfectly Dawkins’ comment about unweaving the rainbow adding to, not subtracting from, its power to elicit powerful emotions, I give you Morpho rhetenor, a butterfly from Suriname and Peru,. The female has wings with an apricot base colour, overlaid with a russet-coloured necklace-like pattern, but the male is totally different in appearance, a truly stunning example of sexual dimorphism (or should that be,more rigorously, sexual dichroism?) to behold. The male’s wings are a scintillating, iridescent sapphire blue. and the iridescence is so intense, that you can fly over the rainforest canopy in a light aircraft, and see the flashes of blue light emanating from the wings of the male butterflies.

    How does the butterfly produce this stunning display of iridescence? Electron micrographs of the wing scales reveal the story. The scales have vanes projecting from central rod-like structures, which in cross section have a “Christmas tree” appearance. The vanes happen to be spaced apart at around 450 nanometres or thereabouts – the wavelength of blue light. Consequently, the vanes act as constructive interference light amplifiers for light of that wavelength. More remarkably still, whilst an individual set of vanes may direct the amplified light in a narrow cone, each scale has thousands of sets of vanes, oriented at different angles, allowing the butterfly to spread its iridescent reflections over a wide solid angle. There’s a paper devoted to this, namely:

    Quantified Interference And Diffraction In Single Morpho Butterfly Scales by P. Vukusic, J., R. Sambles, C. R. Lawrence & R. J. Wootton, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Part B, 266: 1403-1411

    The paper in question can be downloaded for free from here, for those who wish to read it in full.

    I suspect PZ could probably find papers informing us all how those scales are the product of the intricate interaction of a range of signalling genes (of which the bmp, wnt and <fgf families are simply the ones I know a little about), and take us on a grand tour of the process of scale formation, if he had the time, as I gather signalling genes are something of a passion of his.

    Knowing how the butterfly produces its blue iridescence, or how the scales are constructed during the pupal rearrangement of cells, does not diminish the spectacle, it adds to it. How much more wonderful does it become, when one can understand how the effect is achieved? This is far more glorious and majestic than “Magic Man did it”, offered up as a bare assertion without a shred of evidence for this entity.

    PS: any chance of making the tags work properly on this blog? This is the second time I’ve posted here, and found the tags to be bug-ridden.

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