That irreverent rapscallion Larry Moran suggested that I read this article by Natalie Angier. She begins by telling us that scientists are always asking her to help out in the fight against those loony creationists, but then she turns around and chews them out for their hypocrisy. I say, give ’em hell, Natalie.
No, most scientists are not interested in taking on any of the mighty cornerstones of Christianity. They complain about irrational thinking, they despise creationist “science,” they roll their eyes over America’s infatuation with astrology, telekinesis, spoon bending, reincarnation, and UFOs, but toward the bulk of the magic acts that have won the imprimatur of inclusion in the Bible, they are tolerant, respectful, big of tent. Indeed, many are quick to point out that the Catholic Church has endorsed the theory of evolution and that it sees no conflict between a belief in God and the divinity of Jesus and the notion of evolution by natural selection. If the pope is buying it, the reason for most Americans’ resistance to evolution must have less to do with religion than with a lousy advertising campaign.
So, on the issue of mainstream monotheistic religions and the irrationality behind many of religion’s core tenets, scientists often set aside their skewers, their snark, and their impatient demand for proof, and instead don the calming cardigan
of a a kiddie-show host on public television. They reassure the public that religion and science are not at odds with one another, but rather that they represent separate “magisteria,” in the words of the formerly alive and even more formerly scrappy Stephen Jay Gould. Nobody is going to ask people to give up their faith, their belief in an everlasting soul accompanied by an immortal memory of every soccer game their kids won, every moment they spent playing fetch with the dog. Nobody is going to mock you for your religious beliefs. Well, we might if you base your life decisions on the advice of a Ouija board; but if you want to believe that someday you’ll be seated at a celestial banquet with your long-dead father to your right and Jane Austen to your left-and that she’ll want to talk to you for another hundred million years or
more—that’s your private reliquary, and we’re not here to jimmy the lock.
Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” Web site. To the query, “Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?” the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, “modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God . . . places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions.” He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of “God intervening every time a measurement occurs” before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief
doesn’t—and shouldn’t— "have anything to do with scientific reasoning.”
How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology. “No, astronomers do not believe in astrology,” snarls Dave Kornreich. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Kornreich ends his dismissal with the assertion that in science “one does not need a reason not to believe in something.” Skepticism is “the default position” and “one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something’s existence.”
In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry. You, the religious believer, may well find subtle support for your faith in recent
discoveries—that is, if you’re willing to upgrade your metaphors and definitions as the latest data demand, seek out new niches of ignorance or ambiguity to fill with the goose down of faith, and accept that, certain passages of the Old Testament notwithstanding, the world is very old, not everything in nature was made in a week, and (can you turn up the mike here, please?) Evolution Happens.
Read the whole thing, as they say. It’ll bring a tear to the most curmudgeonly eye.
I had no idea spoon bending was one of the “cornerstones of Christianity”…
Scott Simmons says
Where does she say that, Greco?
Wow, this is a great article and cuts to the heart of it. Why does relgion get special dispensation from even polite investigation, never mind ridicule? I think the author gives a correct answer, because the religous have a lot of social and political clout and it is simple self preservation. I also think that many scientists at some level hope that there is truth in religion because they fail to see the greater and more wonderful truth in humanity that Darwinian thinking (like Dennett or Dawkins et al)espouse. S.J. Gould comes to mind, he aways seemed to stop short of saying it’s Darwin all the way down. The fight primarily revolves around evolution because the fight is still a defensive one. Science fights there because that’s where the irrational attack. The creationists remain on the attack and science acts like it on the defensive and seems unable to seize the initiative because of the special status that religion appears to have in society (particualrly US and Islamic society).
I don’t know what impact this article will have but it and books such as Dennett and Dawkins write and blogs like Pharyngula are the first signs that science can go on the offensive as it were.
Scott Hatfield says
Wow. That’s some pretty skillful writing, better than anything I throw up here. It makes a fellow want to bite the hand that feeds him.
However, returning to the real world, wherein scientists have to get grants, the Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives and everywhere science is under assault, I don’t see how this article helps, other than giving the skeptic a few warm fuzzies. She’s right, brilliantly right, wickedly funny right, but that doesn’t make this anything other a gripe. There’s no public policy recommendation, no manifesto: “scientists, unite! You have nothing to lose but your hypocritical double-standard toward organized religion, etc.”
Just venting, in other words. Look, I’m a believer but I would be willing to sign up for some kind of consistent mutual non-aggression pact toward the supernatural that doesn’t blast anyone who doesn’t transgress our turf. But that’s just not the way the world works.
"Q" the Enchanter says
My but that is outstanding snark. I’ve read Angier for a couple of years now and have never seen her cut loose like that.
Dr. Myers, do you feel that your outspoken atheistic views have ever resulted in you being deniend funding from the NSF?
Thanks for the link to that article – it was no only good, but rather funny.
I’ve recently become a regular reader of your blog, and have been trying to articulate my objections to your position. As a scientist, and as an atheist, I sympathize with your position, but I still think that tying science and atheism together is a mistake.
While I agree that the advent of modern science tends to steer people towards atheism, trying to use science as a *substitute* for religion is both bad science and bad religion. Science can help us understand the consequences of our action; it doesn’t tell us what ends to strive for, what means are acceptable towards those ends, or how to live our life in the meantime. These latter are the domain of moral philosophy, and (historically) of religion.
I have two concerns about this; one is that too many science-inspired atheists don’t understand this, and end up using a bastardized scientism in place of the religion it allowed them to escape. The other is that too many theists, in confusing science with religion, wrongly believe that when people like you and me try to defend science, we are actually trying to tell them how to live their lives.
It’s hard enough explaining any kind of science to the general public. So, if the scientists doing the explaining don’t have a clear view of the difference between science and atheism, how can we expect public policy to make the distinction?
The Commissar says
She’s conflating belief in God, any God, with Christian doctrine.
Steve LaBonne says
I see no place in that excellent article where Angier “confused” science with atheism or advocated any pseudo-religion of “scientism”. Nor have I seen any post on this blog in which PZ has done either of those things.
Human knowledge, like human morality, advances through time in more or less bell-shaped distribution. The advance wave comprises relatively few individuals, the bulk of humanity populates the normal middle (which is 50-200 years behind), and the tail end, really backward types are few again.
Though we who like to think ourselves in the van want to hurry the middle-ites along, they resist force, responding only to long-term gentle education. Ignorance and immorality are recalcitrant.
For their sake, we need to be subtle. For our serenity, we need to accept that this human experiment is ponderous and flawed.
drew hempel says
From John Brockman’s top 2006 scientists —
AUTHORITARIANISM COMES FROM SCIENCE ITSELF — not religion nor politics.
Applied mathematician, Cornell University; Author, Sync
The End of Insight
I worry that insight is becoming impossible, at least at the frontiers of mathematics. Even when we’re able to figure out what’s true or false, we’re less and less able to understand why.
An argument along these lines was recently given by Brian Davies in the “Notices of the American Mathematical Society”. He mentions, for example, that the four-color map theorem in topology was proven in 1976 with the help of computers, which exhaustively checked a huge but finite number of possibilities. No human mathematician could ever verify all the intermediate steps in this brutal proof, and even if someone claimed to, should we trust them? To this day, no one has come up with a more elegant, insightful proof. So we’re left in the unsettling position of knowing that the four-color theorem is true but still not knowing why.
Similarly important but unsatisfying proofs have appeared in group theory (in the classification of finite simple groups, roughly akin to the periodic table for chemical elements) and in geometry (in the problem of how to pack spheres so that they fill space most efficiently, a puzzle that goes back to Kepler in the 1500’s and that arises today in coding theory for telecommunications).
In my own field of complex systems theory, Stephen Wolfram has emphasized that there are simple computer programs, known as cellular automata, whose dynamics can be so inscrutable that there’s no way to predict how they’ll behave; the best you can do is simulate them on the computer, sit back, and watch how they unfold. Observation replaces insight. Mathematics becomes a spectator sport.
If this is happening in mathematics, the supposed pinnacle of human reasoning, it seems likely to afflict us in science too, first in physics and later in biology and the social sciences (where we’re not even sure what’s true, let alone why).
When the End of Insight comes, the nature of explanation in science will change forever. We’ll be stuck in an age of authoritarianism, except it’ll no longer be coming from politics or religious dogma, but from science itself.
Don’t forget Ms. Angier’s .
I wish that kind of stuff would appear in the NYT more often.
J. J. Ramsey says
While I don’t disagree with Angier entirely, I found this to be mindbogglingly stupid:
“Few scientists, for example, worry about the 77 percent of Americans who insist that Jesus was born to a virgin, an act of parthenogenesis that defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction. Nor do the researchers wring their hands over the 80 percent who believe in the resurrection of Jesus, the laws of thermodynamics be damned.”
Um, they’re called miracles for a reason. The whole point is that they are supposed to be exceptions to the way nature normally runs. It is fine if she wants to object to belief in miracles on the grounds that, given what we know of reports of the supernatural that have been investigated and debunked, miracle reports are overwhelmingly likely to be the product of misunderstanding and rumor. Saying that miracles can’t happen because they are contrary to natural law is simply begging the question of whether natural law has or could ever brook exceptions, and no thinking person should resort to such a sloppy rationale for disbelief.
Steve LaBonne says
J.J Ramsey, you are confused. The very sentence you quoted refers to “everything we know“, not to any tautology about violations of natural law being violations of natural law- that’s your own “contribution”. And I hereby sentence you to read Hume’s “On Miracles”, which is readily available on the Web.
Bronze Dog says
Sorry to feed the troll, folks, but I can’t resist:
Cellular automata are predictable. They’re predictable because they follow rules. We let the computers do it because it’s almost exactly the same as doing it on paper. They’re just faster and less likely to forget to carry the one. Just because we can’t predict the result right away with our squishy gray matter doesn’t mean that they’re unpredictable.
Insight isn’t dead. I just think you fail to recognize when it’s unnecessary (Evolution’s a good example) and when it really does show up.
Steve LaBonne says
Bronze Dog, I think that was simply yet another illustration of why one goes to mathematicans for discussions of math, but to scientists for discussions of science. The former often think they understand the latter but it is rarely so.
AJ Milne says
Ah yes. The old charge. If science chases out religion, this must be ‘scientism’. Science as religion… And no doubt, if we drive a pathogen out of a city by improving sanitation, this must be ‘sanitationism’. Presumably just as unpleasant as cholera.
This is one of two answers that occur to me to ridicule appropriately an incredibly contrived concern. The other is that all such rhetoric presumes too much. Namely that somehow we actually need religion, and that something must be replacing it, once it’s gone.
I see no reason to presume this. To adapt the phrase: I figure we need religion like a fish needs a bicycle. It doesn’t need replacing. It just needs ridicule. So here’s a virtual glass raised.
To Angiers. Like the man says, give ’em hell.
Ian Gibson says
Pass the bong – your time is up. And take your special pleading with you..
The article was about the hypocrisy of scientists who, though they have no problems picking on the small, weedy asthmatic kids in the pseudoscientific playground, studiously avoid risking even looking the wrong way at the abnormally large, slap-happy but intellectually-challenged boy with his huge retinue of sycophants in tow.
Hey, we understand evolution here; we can accept self-preservationary behaviour. That doesn’t mean we have to like or respect it.
Bronze Dog, I don’t understand your criticism. Yes, we can determine what the state of the celluar automata at time t will be if we run the program to time t, but the point of what Wolfram did (to my understanding) is that for a certain class of CA’s, running the program is the _only_ way of finding out. There is no simple formula that will simplify computation, or reduce it to acceptable computer run times.
On the other hand, one might well not care what the specific state of the celluar automata, anymore than one cares what a particular particle of gas is doing when one wishes to determine the gas’s temperature and pressure.
It’s not so much that insight is dead, its more a nagging worry that for some of the more intractable problems, there may be _NO_ insight. However, how prevalent, and crippling, such pathologies are is unknown. Its not too much unlike mathematicians saying “Goedel’s theorem. Huh. Whack. So?” And then CS people saying “Damn! No perfect debuggers!”.
I didn’t intend to suggest that Angier confused atheism and science; in fact, she seems admirably clear on that. I was addressing the question — as from the June 29 post “What should a scientist think about religion” — that can be stated broadly as: “Why shouldn’t we push science and atheism as a package deal?”.
The answer (and the point I was trying to make) is: when speaking on scientific issues, being clear that you’re speaking as a scientist, not as an atheist, is not a capitulation to the forces of repression and ignorance, it is a substantive and necessary distinction.
It’s also a matter of integrity and credibility; people should know when you’re speaking outside your realm of expertise. If you’re a developmental biologist, you are well-informed about evolution; but most biologists are not also philosophers or (fate forefend) theologians.
There’s no reason why you can’t talk about things you’re not expert on; the hazard is when your audience can’t tell you’re speaking outside your realm of expertise. So when Linus Pauling advocates megadose vitamin C, or when Stephen Hawking advocates interplanetary colonization, their scientific stature lends their perfectly mundane opinions an undeserved (and potentially embarassing) credibility.
To clarify my personal position, I find science more important to me than atheism. I don’t proselytize, except on request (or occasionally in self-defense). It might be flattering if everybody eventually came around to my view, but I don’t see it as inevitable, or even necessarily desirable. It would be nice if I had more company, and certainly I wish more atheists in my country would speak up for themselves, but that doesn’t have much to do with science.
Steve LaBonne says
“It would be nice if I had more company, and certainly I wish more atheists in my country would speak up for themselves, but that doesn’t have much to do with science.” Intellectual honesty has nothing to do with science? An interesting idea that. But not, I hope, one that will catch on.
The comparison of many scientists reactions to astrology vs. religion is a great example. This is exactly what made me stop believing in God. I realized I couldn’t see the difference between believing in, say, dowsing, and believing in God. They were both justified in basically the same way. And since I’d already been rational about everything else, I simply couldn’t continue my religious beliefs and still be able to look myself in the mirror.
I’d say it was the best decision I ever made, but by the time I got to that point, I couldn’t have chosen religion if I’d wanted to.
John Marley says
“She’s conflating belief in God, any God, with Christian doctrine.”
I don’t think so.
Belief in any god (or other supernatural entity) is irrational. “Christian doctrine” is just the most prevalent example here in the US.
drew hempel says
Steve LaBonne — ah — you’ve hit the nail on the head! Unfortunately you’re wrong MATH comes before science and LOGIC comes before math.
The logic comes from RELIGION — as UC Berkeley Math professor Abraham Seidenberg proved conclusively in his “ritual origins of geometry” articles.
So this whole science vs. religion blog needs to be considered as a math as religion argument.
Now let’s just consider just HOW CLOSE Steve LaBonne has come.
In a recent book devoted to cosmology and the work of John Wheeler —
David Deutsch no less (founder of quantum computing) takes Steve LaBonne’s position:
Deutsch argues that John Wheeler is WRONG because Wheeler puts math before physics.
Wheeler, it should be recalled, argued “It comes from Bit” and therefore black holes are governed by Natural, Discrete Numbers — not the real number continuum.
Of course we won’t mention the religious origins of the square root of two because that would just bring us right back to the cutting edge of quantum chaos!!
Now Paul Davies argues — against Deutsch — that John Wheeler is right.
Davies has published how if we constructed a random quantum number generator (the size of the universe) then presto! The universe would be created.
Well well, is a Random Quantum Number Generator God??
Or does macro quantum chaos prove that Random Numbers Do Not Exist?
If you read “Stalking the Riemann Hypothesis” you’ll find that the latter is true.
Quantum chaos proves that entropy is overcome and science is based on mysticism (or synchronized resonance if you prefer).
But hey that’s what Pythagoras said.
Anyway let’s take this back to another Math expert who happens to be in charge of the Hubble Telescope:
Dr. Mario Livio — he states pretty much the SAME THING AS STROGATZ:
“Thus, if the subjective [asymmetrical] arrow of time is indeed associated with the accumulation of memories, then this arrow points in the same direction as the thermodynamic arrow, since the increase in entropy and the gathering of memories go hand in hand.”
“I do not wish to elaborate any further on this topic here, except for noting that, as the above discussion shows, the increase in the messiness in the world [the ECOLOGICAL CRISIS], the appearance of the cosmic order [left-hand asymmetry of Nature], and even our own distinction between past and future may all at some level be related to the expansion of the universe and to the force that governs its behavior.”
(p. 80-1, “The Accelerating Universe” by Dr. Mario Livio, 2003ish)
OK — Mario Livio also happens to be author of “The Golden Ratio” in which he states that the golden ratio GOVERNS black holes.
Well Wheeler notes in his autobiography that Pythagorean Triangles govern black holes.
So you combine the two along with the primacy of Discrete Number logic and what do you get?! — THE LAW OF PYTHAGORAS as the resonance of right-brain religion creating left-brain math.
Don’t get me going on Dedekind’s right-brain “point” to solve the logical crisis of calculus.
Well I’ll give out the secret. See if Number is Inherently Asymmetric (in violation of the commutative principle) then Number as an equilateral triangle (the most symmetric form) NATURALLY RESONATES AS PRESSURE (anti-gravity) into the nonlocal consciousness beyond form.
Arthur Young and Bucky Fuller figured out this “inherent asymmetric Number as physics” secret but they couldn’t get past the i-1 Gauss grid paradox of irrational versus natural numbers.
Well they weren’t trained in musics.
There I said it — now you all can have a good night’s sleep.
drew hempel, MA
Drew, you forgot the “UN-authorized reproduction and DISSEMINATION of this IMPORTANT information is ENCOURAGED.”
Don Culberson says
“Arthur Young and Bucky Fuller figured out this “inherent asymmetric Number as physics” secret but they couldn’t get past the i-1 Gauss grid paradox of irrational versus natural numbers.
Well they weren’t trained in musics.
There I said it — now you all can have a good night’s sleep.” … and similar stuff…
Drew is SOOOO intentionally fucking with us. That or he is the Michaelangelo of demented fuckwits… which may be pretty much the same thing… if you guys would only read the BEST SELLER by…
And so then next we get a business startup advertisement? Why not? Anything goes!
Gerard Harbison says
Who is likely to give you a better evaluation of the reliability of an astrological predicition: an astrologer, or a scientist?
Jonathan Badger says
Well, I’d argue that the reluctance of the scientific community to attack religion isn’t *just* cynical “self-preservation” (although I agree that it would be suicide to attack religion, at least in the US), but a realization that religion isn’t the only form of “magical thinking” out there; it’s not coincidence that the most vocally atheistic scientists like Haldane and Bernal were also Marxists; they rejected one form of magical thinking only to embrace another.
And while in the post-Cold War climate Marxism may be an easy target to attack as nearly everyone has left that boat, one would have to be naiive to fail to realize that even modern political worldviews on both the left and right often take on the dogmatic characteristics of religion and are quite often in conflict with accepted scientific (generally economic) theory. And just like religion, politics can cause bad science. I suppose ideally, the most unbiased scientists would be people raised in isolation from both religious and political views, but I don’t see how that’s possible.
B. B.Breece says
What a great article by Natalie Angier. Just to set the record straight, I believe it was first published in The American Scholar in the spring of 2004 and re-published in Free Inquiry magazine. Keep up the fine work Professor. By the way can you explain what “personal immortality” is?
Current science doesn’t tell us what do strive for and so on, but who says it won’t be able to later on? I see no reason to presume that those issues are beyond the reach of science, and setting part of reality outside of the scientific domain arbitrarily is bad science and bad philosophy.
1. it seems when most are referring to religion it’s to christianity. catholisism is the basis of christianity but was created by roman emperor constantine as a political tool. he never became catholic himself. the new testament was written after christ’s death. ‘the bible as we know it’ is interpretation upon interpretation. mr. christ probably would have had a very short version more inline with the gnostic scriptures unearthed in 1948, which are a more holistic approach. the old testament is judaism.
2. astronomy was well advanaced in chinese, mayan and other cultures before western science took it on. these cultures had no problem with what would be akin to astology (the mayan calendar and your birth/destiny being charted by the stars etc., or the i-ching. the methology for these various forms of how to guide oneself goes a lot deeper then the daily horoscope reading in the paper. to just knock them aside (even though i don’t follow any of them), is like the scientist being irritated at non-scientists who quote ‘the popular line’ of a theory without knowing the theory.
3. there has always been power struggle between both science and religion. it’s a bit disconcerting to see considering power struggles have a lot to do with the mess the world’s in.
4. relax. in the end, does it really matter? science has always been used as a political tool, politics as a religious tool, vice-versa, verse-visa, good grief!
5. a woman who watched yuri geller bend a spoon tried to sue him, saying her iud bent and she got pregnant.
in other words, no one REALLY knows much of anything, we’re all in kindergarden when it comes to life, and if you think you’ve graduated your ego needs to be dealt with. LIFE and how we treat each other is what it’s all about, n’est pas?
Who is likely to give you a better evaluation of the reliability of an astrological predicition: an astrologer, or a scientist?
Had to say………….
You leave me wondering if you are the originator of that thought. I stand in awe.
With luck you might be able to find “Free Inquiry” at your local bookstore, or I should say chain. As I reported some days ago, Borders and Waldenbooks have both censured “Free Inquiry” in the past by not carrying it in their outlets.
If you are in Canada, the distributor Indigo, has done the same thing.
Another thing, why do some bozos insist on using bad French to try to make a point? Latest “n’est pas”.
I can’t remember ever seeing correct French by an American blogger.
David Hume said pretty much that it won’t, and I don’t think he’s been refuted. “What to strive for” is shorthand for “What one ought to strive for”, and this is not a scientific concept. You might be thinking of it as “what one ought to strive for to satisfy your goals of (being happy, passing on your genes, etc), but how do you justify those goals? If you try to justify your goals and desires you eventually hit some bedrock (generally, the desire for continued existence for you and your offspring) that is supposed to go without justification. But then science has ceased to play a role.
Of course, nothing else can honestly play that role either, least of all religion.
G. Tingey says
This is a wondeful article – I wonder if I can contact her …..
Loren Petrich says
On the subject of astrology, I think that psychologists are better people to consult on astrology than astronomers. Astrologers could say that they have observed some effects with unknown causes, thus getting around the causation problem. But testing for the existence of those effects requires psychological testing and similar techniques.
Astrologers sometimes claim that the stars incline but do not compel, but if astrological effects are real, then they ought to be statistically significant — that’s the sort of thing that statistical-significance tests are designed to test for. And psychological testing and similar techniques ought to be able to reveal such effects — if they exist.
But astrology fails even there.
Now to the original subject. I think that Natalie Angier is right about that, and I’m sure that many believers in some form of religion will agree that she’s right — about religions other than theirs. But there seems to be some “gentleman’s agreement” not to be too public about how one things that other religions are pure nonsense.
Well said, Pete.
I can’t entirely agree with you; I think you’re forgetting something that is often forgoteen in these Science Vs. Religion discussions: Religion is a composite of several discrete ideas/systems.
Well, at least we tend to think of them as discrete when they aren’t wrapped up in religion.
For example, I can think of three services provided by religion:
1. Explanation of how the world works.
2. A system of morality
3. A social safety net
Now, as far as I can tell, any one of those services can be provided better via secular means. But the thing is, the secular disciplines that would replace religion only tend to replace one part of it. Science is MUCH better than religion at providing us with no. 1, but pretty much useless at providing 2. and 3 (It can aid in them, but you probably don’t go to your local science museum when you need moral advice or when you can’t afford baby clothes).
In a way, both the proponents AND opponents of the non-overlapping magisteria theory are right; Religion certainly serves purposes that science doesn’t, but parts of it are definately in conflict with science.
The main problem is that the various astrological systems don’t link up in any meaningful way. In the western system, a person born in February is always an Aquarius. The Mesoamerican system, meanwhile, doesn’t use the lunar calendar, (Actually, it doesn’t use the stars either, so “Astrology” is a bit of a misnomer), so a group of people born in February will all have different day signs.
More then that, since the Mesoamerican system uses a 260-day calendar, people born on the same day of the same western month, but in different years will have different day signs.
Anyway, this is why scientists discount astrology; it provides a morass of conflicting and useless data.
If some visionary comes up with evidence that it works, that’s another story. But there’s no reason to assume it’ll start working in the future when it never really has before.
Actually Christopher, you forgot at least one, and it’s not a pretty one:
#4. An authority figure.
At my relatively young age (I’m still under 40 thank you very much), I’ve only seen a couple of my friends turn toward religion. In both cases they became less concerned about their future (which supports your #3) but also started to accept their church of choice teachings as (dare I say it) gospel.
I suspect that many people are relieved by giving up some of the decision making requirements in their lives to an authority. If for no other reason than our society demands a great many decisions from us.
It’s this #4 reason which leaves science open to the charge of ‘science as religion’. Many people trust in the authority of science, with good reason for the foundation of science is testable (and retestable) results. Religious authority is untestable (or in some cases has been tested and failed) which justifies rejecting all but the vague, untestable portions of religion. (And for many of us, the untestable portions of religion are rejected simply because they are untestable.)
However, just because you can verify scientific claims through testing doesn’t mean that the default condition for many of us who trust in science isn’t a trust in the scientists themselves. Or, in other words, an appeal to an authority figure.
Now, I think there is a discernable difference between trusting in the authority of a scientist and a priest. Primarily, the scientist is supposed to be only making scientific claims which can be tested. And these claims can theoretically be tested by each and every one of us.
We may lack the knowledge and equipment, but there is no reason why, with application, we cannot evaluate any scientific claim ourselves.
Religion, on the other hand, typically makes claims that the tester has a special relationship to the test. If you aren’t an initiate in the mysteries, the test will fail for you.
But back to my original point. People seem to be willing to relinquish their thinking to an authority, and there are probably many reasons for it. Trusting a perceived infallible authority removes a great deal of worry from a person’s life.
As many writers have indicated;
Religion provides solace,
Science requires thought.
J. J. Ramsey says
“The very sentence you quoted refers to “everything we know”, not to any tautology about violations of natural law being violations of natural law- that’s your own “contribution”.”
Let me requote Angier: “Few scientists, for example, worry about the 77 percent of Americans who insist that Jesus was born to a virgin, an act of parthenogenesis that defies everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction.”
It is rather strained to interpret “everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction” as anything but a statement about how things naturally work–tantamount to saying that “everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction” is part of natural law. She effectively is saying that a virgin birth contradicts natural law–which is pretty much correct–and then objects to it merely on those grounds. If everyone followed Angier’s line of thinking, the statement “Miracles don’t happen” would be unfalsifiable. When faced with a report of a miracle relating to fill-in-the-blank, one would simply say that it couldn’t happen because “everything we know about” fill-in-the-blank contradicts it. This is a wrong approach, since it precludes ever finding out if part of everything we know about fill-in-the-blank isn’t quite correct.
If I read Fogelin’s interpretation of Hume correctly, Hume did not quite adopt this approach. Rather, though Hume pointed out the uniformity of natural law, he also pointed out the problems of human testimony regarding miracles, noting, for example, that miracle reports tended to ebb as societies become less “barbarous.” Angier’s approach is a misinterpretation of Hume, albeit a common one.
Steve LaBonne says
You’re still extremely confused, and Angier is not misinterpreting anything. What “evidence” for the virgin birth do we have to offset its extreme implausibility, other than exceedingly unreliable human testimony? (If a misinterpretation of a “prophetic” text of a previous millenium, applied to the historical Jesus many years after his life, can even be called testimony at all- where I come from that’s called “making shit up”.) There is no possible excuse for any sceintist with a shred of intellectual integirty to believe in such nonsense, and those who do, or calim to, are simply indulging in massive cognitive dissonance. You’re a nice exhibit for the kind of wishful thinking and extreme intellectual confusion required to pull that off.
Ron Tolle says
I’m no scientist, but I am an atheist and fully accept both that evolutionary theory is the cornerstone of biology and that intelligent design is religiously inspired horseshit (an industry term, BTW). I admire PZ greatly and applaud his efforts to deflate the pompous gasbags of the Discovery Institute. Still, I simply can’t understand why it is that spokesmen for mainstream science such as Richard Dawkins and Dr. Myers insist on tying evolutionary theory to atheism. The fact that creationist groups are spending lots of time and resources doing that very thing should tell you that–for our side anyway–convincing people that evolution is a threat to their religious beliefs may not be the smartest marketing move in a country where the vast majority of people are religious. From my vantage point, to vigorously pursue this avenue–as PZ and Dr. Dawkins call for–will not lead to a new renaissance of enlightenment. It will lead to a backlash in which all 50 states have Boards of Education that look just like the one in Kansas.
It may be true that the best way for the violence in Iraq to end would be if the 80% of the country that are Shia convert to Sunni Islam. But somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I also don’t see the 80% or so of Americans who are religious dropping their beliefs anytime soon either, so let’s hope there is a more practical way to advance scientific literacy than by converting them all to glorious atheism.
drew hempel says
Uncle Don and the rest of you solipistic retards:
Here’s a term for you BIODEFENSE SHIELD
That should be appropriate to Professor Myers Evo Devo Schtick.
For we are not men. We are biochips to be protected from terrorism.
Again read “Nanotechnology and Homeland Security” (2004) by the top nanotech scientists.
The HOMELAND SECURITY supervises all science.
The HOMELAND SECURITY plan is to have ALL “citizens” hooked up to the ionosphere so that
DNA-biochips will instaneously transform our blood in lieu of a biological warfare attack.
Now — Uncle Don (et al.) isn’t that just breezy keen?
just search “biodefense shield” and biochips — or head for that underground city IF you’re on the survivor’s list.
drew hempel, MA
May I suggest that drew be banned now? He’s not contributing, he’s not addressing any points relevant to the posts, he’s not even composing internally consistent sentences. It’s not that he’s being contrary, it’s that he’s making absolutely no sense whatsoever.
What’s in your tea?
One too many dead shows?
Let’s play mock the kook!
Keith Douglas says
J. J. Ramsey: The problem is once you “permit” miracles, there is no reason whatsoever that you’ve successfully investigated the “normal course of the world”, whatever that is on this conception. Miraculous intervention could confound your data or even your every day life and you’d have no reason to rule it out, ever. Whence science becomes impossible. In science, we cannot control every variable, but at least we have some idea of what the unknowns are – and further research can uncover more and we can improve. In the anti-lawful case, we can’t. This is one of the fundamental reasons science and religion are at odds. A religious believer can compartmentalize and assert that “it won’t happen when it would screw up our lives”, but that’s male fide ad hoc to say the least.
archgoon: Wolfram is sort of correct. Figuring out what the sum 897543892374853749583457098347593245732498572394582347058+29483572398457239485723945827345984327594328572349853724095823074593285325798457 comes to is also difficult to do (by hand) without tediously working it out, but ultimately the (idealized) results of the automata are also representable by stupendously collosal arithmetic operations. The sum I suggest above is absolutely puny compared to these. (“Proof”: GÃ¶del number a suitable universal Turing machine and the “program” in question that represents the automata “enviroment.”)
Paul Prefect says
Drew, I think you need to take your tin-foil hat in for some readjustments. It seems to be on a little too tight. I would keep an eye out for those black helicopters, too, you insane asshat.
Regarding Drew Hempel:
*twirling finger near temple* ….”Wooo-hooo!”
J. J. Ramsey says
“You’re still extremely confused, and Angier is not misinterpreting anything. What ‘evidence’ for the virgin birth do we have to offset its extreme implausibility, other than exceedingly unreliable human testimony?”
None. But that’s not my point. Your question, slightly rephrased, is the right one to ask: What evidence is there that would offset the usual notorious unreliability of miracle reports? Angier and you may have gotten the same right answer, but Angier got hers in the wrong way. She simply asserted that the virgin birth contradicted the way nature was known to work, and therefore couldn’t have happened, end of story. Her line of argument doesn’t even allow for the kind of evidence that you asked for. Her position, as she stated it, is unfalsifiable.
Steve LaBonne says
No, it’s the same question Angier asks. All she’s saying is what Hume says- that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don’t know what you’re trying to drive at with your bizarre attempts at hairsplitting, but Angier is quite correct to claim that nobody with any scientific training should be able to take utter rubbish like the Virign Birth with an ounce of seriousness.
OK, I was unfair. More seriously for Drew:
The entropic anthropic prinicple of random quantum chaos numbers theory and quantum equation hypothesis reveals the vast randomness paradox proving the interstellar impulse has far too little quantum objectivity to stand on it’s own thus disproving Kovolevskaia’s silly theory regarding partial differential equations and Abelian integrals, which, in and of themselves really rely too heavily on Crutzen’s work in atmosphric chemistry and the decomposition of ozone. In the end the limiting factor of your argument is it’s reliance on the adverse effects of quantum grey matter destruction due to the quantum reading of quantum poopy research being propagated by the theorhetical quantum promoters of quantum bullshit.
J. J. Ramsey says
“All she’s saying is what Hume says- that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Maybe that’s what she’s thinking, but that’s not what she said.
AJ Milne says
First, I see a pretty clear contradiction in what you’re saying. Which is: if parts of religion are ‘definitely in conflict with science’, as you say, the domains are not ‘non-overlapping’. The fact that there are parts of religion that don’t overlap has no bearing on the question. Set theory thing. Set Q has members in set P. P and Q are thus said to overlap, whether or not set Q also has members which are not in set P.
In fairness, though, I could also clarify my point. I guess you could argue I left some ambiguities above, I can cop to that.
My point is, again: you can’t assume science becomes a religion just because it drives it out. I think a lot of the the people who assume this do so because they assume humans must have a religion. I don’t see why this must be assumed.
Having a cosmology is nice, yes. But I’d say you can have one that isn’t religious in character, and thus it’s absurd to say, merely from the fact that you base yours on the results of scientific research, that somehow you’ve made science your ‘religion’. Same, in fact, for your source of a system of ethics, and the insitution (more trivially and more obviously) that provides social supports in your society. You can construct either without relying upon received wisdom or arbitrary authority. I’d say, more clearly, you should.
Again, therefore: it is in this sense that I say that we need religion like a fish needs a bicycle.
Oh, and evolvealready, I like your thesis. But as a member of the illuminati world conspiracy, I’m afraid I have one quibble with this, too. Our secret society is privy to the fact that there’s no such thing as an ‘Abelian integral’. See, Abel was one of us, and the register clearly states he had an outegral.
I love that there is a commenter here named Comstock. Unless you’re just some guy named Comstock and you’re not referencing J.H. Comstock, entomologist from the 1800s.
And drew, take off that tinfoil hat.
Funny, I liked the Comstock name too, but I thought it was referring ironically to the Comstock Law of 1873, Which made it illegal to send pornography through the U.S. mail.
Funny how different educational backgrounds lead to completely different connections being made. What a lovely thing it is to be human.
I whole heartedly second the motion that we award Drew a banned-troll status. At first it was comical and mildly entertaining, but now its just distracting and moronic. It just shows that there are Demented Fuckwits on all sides of the political spectrum.
Oh wait, I just realized that I’ve become a blogofascist. To all, I apologize for this purely ad hominem dalliance.
It could also refer to H.T.P. Comstock, blowhard, lousy businessman and donator of his name to the biggest silver strike in the history of North America.
Many Americans seem unaware that there are parts of the world that don’t fall under American jurisdiction. Do you mean “all science in America” or “all science in the world”?
If the former, why is American science in such close agreement with that elsewhere? If the latter, how do they manage to convince French (for example) universities to cooperate with them?
Did they supervise the Qi Gong studies you quoted before?
I’m going to assume that you used at least two wrong words, unless you meant:
The HOMELAND SECURITY plan is to have ALL “citizens” hooked up to [the part of the atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation] so that DNA-biochips will instaneously transform our blood [as a substitute for] a biological warfare attack.
1) what does it mean to be hooked up to the ionosphere? Does it require long tubes?
2) What will our blood be transformed into? I’d like to think you mean “in response to” rather than “in lieu of”, but I an’t think that instantly transforming someone’s blood into anything would be anything less than immediately fatal. I expect we’ll have to wait a century or so before this kind of idea becomes possible, let alone practical on a mass scale.
3) Why the quotes around “citizen”? Are you using the word differently from its normal usage? If so, what does it mean in this case?
TIMECUBE disproves SCIENCE!
drew hempel says
You ask some interesting questions.
Well the top science regulatory bodies well supposedly “democratized” after WWII — hence the NSF — but in reality (if you study the issue) VANNEVAR BUSH kept science under
ELITE ARISTOCRATIC SECRET SOCIETY CONTROL.
Now that sounds conspiratorial I’m sure.
France, unfortunately, has “fallen behind” because traditionally France has emphasized “pure” or “basic” research but they definitely tried to catch up after WWI with the whole nuclear escapade.
The CIA’s main use now, after it incorporated hundreds of Nazis as scientists and hundreds more as spies, is to oversee the lofty industry espionage scene —
OF WHICH FRANCE HAS PLAYED A HUGE ROLE.
Cyberterrorism is greatly conducted by industrial spies.
Anyway science is really for industrial purposes and all these “state secrets” are really stupid considering
that Nuclear Radiation Knows No Boundaries
Global Climate Destablization Knows No Boundaries, etc.
So to what extend does the U.S. oversee other countries science research?
Well the really large projects — top secret — are through the Pentagon — for example the huge
large, equilateral, flat black triangle “flap” in Belgium.
Flap meaning observation of many sightings in a wave.
I, as I stated, had a very close encounter with one of these “top secret” crafts.
But the fact that they’re in Europe obviously means they’re an extention of U.S. NATO in Europe.
Other examples of Military Science Research controlled by the Pentagon and supervised in Europe:
Now you ask what about China and qigong research?
Well the top “national treasure” of China — Qigong Master Yan Xin —
“national treasure” means the government of China controls all movement of the “treasure” and who they can “heal.” etc.
That Master Yan Xin made 8 separate trips to the White House to personally charge up George Bush Sr. will qigong energy.
Never mind that several years later, in his mid-80s, Bush Sr does a sky dive!
So who cares right? Just those wacky Bush dudes.
If you read “American Dynasty” – a NY Times bestseller — it’s documented how
The Bush Dynasty got its go through Skull and Bones — the top Yale secret society which created the CIA and the top Wall Street firms which funded the Nazis.
I think it’s safe to say that Germany science and U.S. science are vastly integrated.
Skull and Bones has had its hand in the elite of China eversince Henry Luce trained the Soong Dynasty sisters to marry into both Chairman Mao and Sun-yat Sen (sorry about the spelling on that one).
Anyway Sterling Seagrave’s amazing expose book “The Soong Dynasty” is better than Tolstoy for it’s epic family dynasty elite rule stuff (and it’s nonfiction)!
Professor David F. Noble’s book “America By Design” (published by Oxford and written while he was at MIT) details the elite secret society control of U.S. science.
As Kevin Phillips documents in his recent “American Dynasty” the global monetary investment bankers supervised the industrial science research of Germany, Russia and the U.S.
Again why do you think that David Rockefeller’s godson — George Gilder — is promoting this I.D. stuff?
Because, as Professor David F. Noble details, science is controlled by Freemasonry.
You don’t have to be an evangelical (although it helps) just as Platonist.
Science is really Alchemy and the plan is to convert the whole planet into a plasma holograph to survive comet destruction.
That sounds crazy but I unearthed the detailed plan published by a think tank created by the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton — just read my blog for details or I’ll post the link.
More updated versions of this “technospiritual” Freemason agenda (coming out of Los Alamos, the Santa Fe Institute, Institute for Advanced Study, etc.) is found by reading the recent science books:
John Casti’s “One True Platonic Heaven” (integrating A.I. with superstring technology)
George Johnson’s “Fire in the Mind” (how quantum chaos is really a shamanism).
Both those writers are stationed in Santa Fe and work closely with Los Alamos and the Santa Fe Institute.
Anyway the way the “Nanotechnology and Homeland Security” plan works is that
we all get silica DNA biochips which work through macro quantum properties —
this is revealed in the new bioluminesence photon technology that changes colors as a signal of quantum properties.
Those chips are activated by laser from satellites in the ionosphere.
So one dude (“citizen”) gets contaminated by a “terrorist” and then that automatically sends a signal to which then activates everyone elses DNA biochip
then the molecular structure of our blood is reconfigured.
This technology is based on prototypes already being used in the field — it’s not Star Trek.
drew hempel says
on the whole “citizen” question I recommend Professor Christopher Simpson’s amazing expose of international “law” and genocide — “The Splendid Blond Beast” (mid1990s)
So the genocide of the Armenians? It was really done through the slave labor regime that Turks instituted on behalf of the GERMANS to build a railroad.
But after it happened? The U.S. State Dept (aka Skull and Bones) arranged for international human rights law to NOT APPLY TO THE ARMENIANS.
Thus the U.S. paved the wave for the Nazis BEFORE WWII — in Europe.
Now the U.S. had interlocking board of directors with some 525 firms in Nazi Germany — this is detailed by Professor Christopher Simpson’s amazing research.
His work is too radical and therefore gets ignore in all the “pop science” establishment journals.
drew hempel, MA
Thank you. I just wish I knew if you’d answered them.
Can you try answering the following questions in no more than a single sentance. Bonus points if that sentance can be parsed as English.
I’ve tried to keep the questions as simple as possible. Many only require a single word answer.
1) Does the Department of Homeland Security oversee all science performed anywhere in the world?
2) If so, how do they enforce compliance with scientists in non-friendly countries?
3) Why do you put “citizen” in scare quotes?
4) When you say “everyone will be connected to the ionosphere”, do you actually mean “the upper atmosphere”, or something else? If something else, what?
5) When you say “satelites in the ionosphere”, what will prevent them from burning up due to friction, or from falling to Earth due to gravity? These are the principle reasons why all satelites intended to remain in space for more than a couple of orbits are far higher than the ionoshpere.
6) Why do you continue to refer to “silica biochips” when a dozen people have pointed out that silica is very different from silicon, and is no more useful for making chips (bio or otherwise) than wood?
7) Is the plan to turn everyone’s blood to some unspecified substance meant to kill them or save them?
Larry Moran says
Some countries, like Sweden, are essentially secular already [Atheist Countries].
Imagine some point in the not-to-distant future when only a small percentage of Swedes belong to a religion. Do you think that “morality” will break down everywhere in the land? Do you think the poor will have to go without baby clothes?
The usefullness of religion as a purveyor of morality and concern for the poor is much exaggerated. The United States is an excellent example.
Larry Moran says
This is, indeed, a problem. I know from personal experience that audiences can get very confused.
When I’m attacking Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism the audience is with me. They recognize that I’m knowledgeable about science and I can distinguish science from stupidity. I’m introduced as a scientist and the audience respects the fact that I’m speaking as a scientist.
The minute I start to raise questions about miracles I lose the support of the audience. All of a sudden I’ve crossed over some invisible line and they’ve decided that I’m speaking outside of my area of expertise.
It’s very strange.
Can anyone help me figure this out? How come intelligent design conflicts with science but miracles don’t? Inquiring minds want to know.
Steve LaBonne says
I would say it’s because those audience members can give up ID and still keep their delusions, simply because they still don’t understand the full implications of evolution even after you’ve convinced them ID is not on. But they understand very well indeed that if miracles go out the window so does their religion. So they just can’t let you intrude on that territory, and will go straight into cognitive dissonance mode instead.
drew hempel says
Wintermute — The CIA is current kidnapping and torturing people throughout Europe, with the secret collusion of European governments. The CIA promoted the European Union as a means to stop communism. The CIA did so in league with the secret societies of Europe.
As far as the technicalities — well do the “smart missiles” of the Gulf War work? NO.
So your questions are moot because scientists are destroying the planet — yet doing so with lots of errors.
If you support their efforts all I can say is good luck but I tend to think that Nature will be victorious.
Ummm… did you remove your implant and tracking device yet drew?
Why do scientists sneer openly at astrology but not at religion?
Easy. Astrologers will not kill you if you question them.
Religious people will. They do all the time.
Drew mentions as a secret Pentagon project:
‘large, equilateral, flat black triangle “flap” in Belgium.’
Those of us at level 4 know that that flap is the place where the intelligent Belgian beer is biobrewed; innocuous bottles are mixed in with the normal batches but they contain a viral computer-nano-bio virus. American drinkers of Belgian beers are disproportionately upper-class and educated . . . the virus will use a genetic tesseract decomposition algorithm to reconstruct the drinkers’ brains so as to form an Overmind under the direct control of Donald Rumsfeld. It’s [sic] psionic powers will be used to reconfigure teh internet so as to provide reeducation programming while simultaneously destroying any space larvae masquerading as meteorites.
Admittedly I could have hit the black triangle with a rock — it was slow right over the trees and it happened right after the X-files.
For all the details about Flat, Equilateral, Black Triangles in Europe:
we all know that black triangles are evil.
pink ones however are FAAABULOUS!!
This Drew Hempel fellow… What a genuinely interesting anthropological study!
OK, I am now officially, genuinely spooked….This from a comment on a daily kos post (click here for the diary):
I had a neighbor across the street who was an Air Force major (now Lt. Col.) who was, to put it kindly, glassily in love with Jesus. She and her husband did things like have their answering machine message end “Have a Blessed Day, the Second Coming is upon us”, and explained to me they didn’t have life insurance or college savings for their four kids because the rapture would have come by then. They were very nice people who just happened to mention their church and the rapture every third sentence. Yes, they were scary apocalyptics. But what was even scarier was when I found out her job in the Air Force: strategic weapons operations. This is what scares the shit out of me especially about the Air Force people who seem busily intent on weeding out any non-believers from their ranks. If they believe they’re the instrument of the apocalypse, they’re serious dangers to us all, with their hands on the button. Who’s to say there isn’t the possibility of a coup if the “wrong” people take control of the executive branch? There are people in the armed forces who genuinely think that the US role in the biblical apocalypse is to participate in the endtimes and bring about the end of the world. And some of these people are in a position to make this happen. Oh, but if you’re gay and say so aloud, you can’t be in the military.
The rest of the post about Pat Tillman (Mom’s an atheist!!!! Hide the kiddies!!!) just freaks me out…
There seems to be a lot of posturing with strawmen here; please think before you jerk that knee…
I figured morality to be largely off-topic here, as it has nothing to do with either science or atheism. As far as I can tell, everyone here recognizes that atheists learn their morality the same way theists and apatheists do, and there’s no need to make a point of it.
The signature of the kind of scientism I’m worried about is the overexcited fanboy attitude that “I’ve got my science, don’t need nothin’ else”. Because, if you try to derive all matters of political, social, moral, and personal principle solely from Science with a capital S, you will fail for the simple reason that science is not the appropriate tool for the job.
As for atheism, it is not a philosophy, it is a category. In my experience there is the same proportion of atheist assholes as the general population; there’s no atheist police to say, “you’re too embarassing to be an atheist, you can’t join our club”.
Larry Moran says
Science is a way of knowing. The method is evidence-based and rational. I use this tool all the time and it works for me.
Do you have any examples of non-evidence-based, irrational reasoning that gives better results? Do you really use that kind of tool to make political, moral, and social decisions? How’s it working so far? :-)
There’s even moderate assholes. ;)
Perhaps I should’ve used bold print:
Now, as far as I can tell, any one of those services can be provided better via secular means.
My point is not that religion is the only or best provider of these services, but that it provides a series of services that science does not.
To say science can replace religion is like saying that a transmission can replace a car.
Science, as a disrete discipline, can replace part of religion, but not the whole shebang.
We don’t need religion, but in order to actually replace it you have to recognize that it’s more then simply a series of empirical statements about the world.
drew hempel says
All these smug rationalists appear to be totally oblivious of astronomy professor Seymour Percy’s very fine evidence for why astrology is really (although he’s science goes against almost all mainstream astrology).
You guys better read his stuff if you don’t want to be in the dark about the truth:
drew hempel says
The Scientific Basis of Astrology: Tuning to the Music of the Planets (Hardcover) (1994, St. Martin’s Press)
Science is rational empiricism, agreed. My point is, you can’t derive your operating principles *solely* from science; reason and evidence are certainly useful, but they are not sufficient for the job.
And, even if you could, nobody actually does. E.g., you start learning right from wrong long before you learn to reason, and in practice, morality is a social skill, not an axiomatic exercise in philosophy. People are not solely rational, and trying to label all your motivations as evolutionary artifacts may be entertaining, but it is also a copout.
So, if you engage (as Descartes did) to reevaluate all your principles on the sole basis of pure science, two things are likely to happen: first is, for the most part, you end up trying to justify your acculturated beliefs as a foregone conclusion; second is that you end up hanging enough extra axioms onto your science, that it isn’t really science any more, it’s Science plus your own personal philosophy, which (if you’re unlucky) you’ve convinced yourself is the same as the science you’ve started out with.
Trying to replace all aspects of religion with science is trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. And concluding that you can’t find anything else to replace religion shows a lack of imagination.
Jonathan Badger says
No, you use this tool *some* of the time. Science is a great method for figuring out the product of an unknown gene or the age of the Earth, but it isn’t particularly useful for most of the tasks people do on a day to day basis such as dealing with coworkers. Instead, scientists rely the same irrationally emotional methods that everybody else uses.
Political, moral, and social decisions are inherently irrational and emotional; that’s why people who disagree on these issues often raise their voices and even get in fistfights. History is full of deluded people like Spinoza, who tried to put ethics on an equal footing with geometry, or Engels who claimed that his form of socialism was “scientific”. It’s no worse that claiming knowledge of the will of a celestial bogeyman, but also not really any better.
PZ Myers says
Umm, what? I do use that method for dealing with coworkers. I know that if I push that one, he’ll push back harder, and that other one will just get the job done quicker if you leave him alone, and that one can be trusted to volunteer for this kind of job. It’s not emotional or irrational at all. I learn how to deal with people empirically.
I think a lot of political/moral/social decisions are inherently rational: follow the pattern of self-interest, and you’ll get the right answer most of the time.
AJ Milne says
May I suggest, ‘comingstorm’, that before you attempt to move beyond reason and evidence, you at least master those first?
Because that last post demonstrated a marked paucity of both.
You’ve said a mouthful, really. ‘Reason and evidence aren’t sufficent for the job’… apparently because you say so. What else you’ve got, however, isn’t real clear yet. ‘You start learning right from wrong long before you learn to reason’… a nebulous claim, profoundly poorly defined, and highly debatable: children clearly learn simple principles of cause and effect very young–I’d say well before they develop much in the way that’s obviously an internalized moral principle. ‘Trying to label all your motivations as evolutionary artifacts’ is apparently a ‘copout’ (as opposed to a perfectly reasonable approach to their study) again, just because you say so. And again, as usual, you haven’t quite suggested what else they might be.
You use Descartes, point out that people have tended to fail to apply reason terribly systematically, approaching the study of their own principles. True, I’d expect. But it poses the same question again: what have you got that’s better? Can you bottle it? Send me some, if you would.
I think that last point bears expansion: it’s perfectly clear that human reason is a pretty dodgy instrument, sure. But it’s also clear to me that every single claim that’s ever been made in the past to ways of knowing that somehow transcend it have been considerably worse than dodgy. They’ve been, rather, empty delusion at best, conscious fraud at worst.
As to ‘trying to replace all aspects of religion with science’, well, I’ve already said pretty clearly I’m not much interested in doing that. Lots of aspects of religion, we can do without anyway. But as to providing the frameworks of ethical codes, and instituting social services, I’m pretty sure you’re going to find, eventually, human reason will have to do (as I suspect it generally does, in lots of people, already). It’s not that I think it’s so great. It’s just that I think we’ve nothing better.
You may, of course, propose, at some point, what it is, exactly, you think you do have that we need to add to it–and this something which somehow makes it ‘scientism’–a baseless religion–to rely so naively upon reason and evidence . Come now, bring it in the ring, and let’s have a real discussion. ‘Cause right now all we’ve got is your disjointed, tedious repetition of the fashionable nonsense that presumes it’s somehow gauche to rely upon what we observe, and what we can deduce from it. And I have to say it’s wearing rather thin.
J. J. Ramsey says
“Can anyone help me figure this out? How come intelligent design conflicts with science but miracles don’t? Inquiring minds want to know.”
ID conflicts with science because, when it makes coherent claims at all, it makes claims that are contradicted by the evidence. Miracles are trickier. The mere concept of a miracle isn’t a problem. If someone were to verifiably document a miracle, that would be yet another brute fact for scientists to study, debate, and explain, and it could hardly be said that believing this miracle happened would be unscientific because there was good evidence for it. Miracles in practice are unscientific simply because the evidence for them is poor, while the evidence of miracle reports being a product of misunderstanding or even a scam is much better. The Uncredible Hallq blog put it well, so I’ll just quote him:
First, an observation about the nature of historical research: everything that happens today is better documented than similar events in the past. Therefore, if miracles happen today, there should be miracles far better documented than the resurrection. But if so, why don’t Christian apologists use these as proof of Christianity rather than focusing on the resurrection? Gary Habermas has specifically said that if miracles do happen today, they are not as well documented as the resurrection (1), but this is the opposite of what we should expect. I take this as sufficient evidence that miracles do not happen today.
This should cast some doubt on whether miracles happen at all. The situation is made worse by the fact that hoaxes and delusions (such as alien abduction claims) happen today, and are sometimes pitched to and believed by the general public. However, in the modern world such things are fairly easy to scrutinize and expose (2). This creates a strong suspicion that ancient miracle claims (Jewish, Christian, and pagan), which we cannot look at as closely, are of the same origin.
Normal events are also often defined as “miracles”, which makes them even harder (impossible) to actually study or treat as miracles, because the semantic confusion makes it all hard to sort out.. For example, a pastor I know just told me a story about last week. A woman came to him, upset, because her doctor had run some tests, said she might have cancer, and did a biopsy. She and the pastor prayed heavily over this. She went to the doctor a few days later, and lo and behold she did not have cancer! It was a miracle!
I didn’t ask how the prayer worked not only on her body, but also on the excised biopsied tissue that had been removed before the prayer (and possibly even analyzed before the prayer).
Jonathan Badger says
Sure, but then you’ve just shifted the problem to deciding what’s in your best self-interest, which isn’t always clear. Anyway, I’m not saying that no political/moral/social decisions have any rational or empirical element, only that it’s bullshit to pretend that anybody makes them on a strictly rational basis like Mr. Spock.
Steve LaBonne says
J.J. Ramsey, you seem to me to hold a very strange version of scientific epistemology- some implausibly extreme variety of empiricism, perhaps. A singular unexplained event, no matter how well attested, couldn’t and shouldn’t overturn a large body of well-tested scientific knowledge. It’s overwhelmingly more probable that there’s a non-miraculous explanation for the supposed miracle that you just haven’t thought of yet. If you’re a betting man, that’s definitely how you should bet.
Everybody uses reason and experience when making decisions and evaluating principles, whether child or an adult, religious or not. If you want to be more scientific than the average bear, aren’t you talking about formal logic of some sort? And, formal logic requires axioms, in this case assumptions about what your motives ought to be. Science itself doesn’t provide these; congratulations, you are now squarely in the realm of philosophy.
Labelling motivations is a copout because it is, at best, an unfalsifiable parlor game. You aren’t actually doing evolutionary psychology, you’re abusing it to justify a foregone conclusion. “Why do I want to do X?” “Well, it might be it could improve my evolutionary fitness through mechanism Y.” “Well, there you go; stands to reason.”
On the other hand, if you turn it around and say, “What can I do to improve my evolutionary fitness?” “Well, maybe Z could help” “Great, I’ll do that, then.”, you’re making the same mistake as the Social Darwinists. That’s not science either, it’s scientism.
As for what have I got that’s better — don’t ask me, do your own research. Read some philosophy! Think! Interact with other people and draw your own conclusions! That’s what you were going to do anyway, right?
Mr. Milne, you seem to be under the misapprehension that I’m trying to tell you how to live your life. If so, it is understandable that you have a visceral reaction to it. Let me point out that this is the same reaction that religous people have when they believe (rightly or wrongly) that those eeevil scientists are trying to push atheism on them…
I’m not trying to sell you something better, I’m saying that you can’t escape the responsibility of finding it yourself. You can’t shove science into the gap, without imposing your own assumptions on it and changing it into something that’s not really science any more. You have to substitute your own living judgement for the dead constraints of whatever religion you have left behind. That’s not so bad, is it?
(clap, clap) for Natalie Angier. We need more Pulitzer Prize winning heretics like her.
AJ Milne says
‘comingstorm’, to your credit, I believe I do at least see now what you’re driving at, and where your charge of ‘scientism’ comes from. Which is, at least, something we can discuss. Thanks for clarifying.
And, in fairness to you, I’d previously labelled concerns about ‘scientism’ as being ‘contrived’. In retrospect, I’m not sure that’s fair in your case. Seems to me your concerns could easily be genuine.
I think it’s pretty clear you’ve made several extremely odd and dodgy assumptions in there, in reaching them, though.
So you feel that (i) if someone were to claim all their motivations were evolutionary byproducts, and (ii) use these as the axioms in a system of formal logic and (iii) use the conclusions that follow to dictate their actions, that (iv) this would be ‘scientism’ because, apparently (v) they’d be ‘evading responsibility’ by so justifying their behaviour. Shoving science into some gap, apparently.
I suspect, perhaps, you’ve noticed some pretty unpleasant behaviour could plausibly be justified this way. Regardless, you note, that if you did this, you feel you’d be playing a parlour game–just saying ‘my motivations are justified because they evolved to ensure my survival’… and apparently the concern is, this is what someone practising ‘scientism’ would do. So your conclusion is, well, reason and evidence can’t be enough. Thus, there must be something else out there we could use. And thus, you would cheerfully send us all off to find it. Apparently, this is what would be responsible: to say ‘I will go beyond reason and evidence and seek out this Something Else… whatever it is.’
Two comments on the side of this: if you cannot yourself identify this Something Else, there’s no reason to assume it’s anything other than reason and logic, but applied differently, so your assumption that it must exist gives you no brief on its own to criticise them as being inadequate on their own. Second: justifying one’s actions by stating the evidence they’ve gathered and the method by which they applied them is taking responsibility, by my lights, not evading it.
These, however, are mere quibbles. The critical thing, by my lights, is you’ve made an enormous and unjustified assumption, here.
Specifically: the process you’ve outlined by which you assume anyone using reason (or hey, I’ll give you formal logic, if you insist) and evidence to arrive at ethical principles isn’t by any means the only one they could use. They could just as easily say: (i) my preference is for a society that runs as follows, (ii) my observation is that such societies are to some degree stable, practical constructs, so this is at least feasible, (iii) living by the following principles seems, in the past, to have encouraged societies of similar character, and (iv) it seems logically that they should lead to a society of that character, so (v) I will attempt to live by those principles.
No, they haven’t analyzed in doing so why their preference is what it is. They could, if they wished–it might be an interesting question–but they don’t have to do so to arrive at their system of ethics.
And note also: they’ve still used reason and evidence to get where they got. No appeal to ‘Something Else’, no need, again, for received wisdom or arbitrary authority. No transcendant states, nothing, in fact, particularly mystifying. Formal logic informed by observation. You could protest there’s some applied science to it as well as pure science. It wouldn’t upset me. There’s clearly plenty of the latter, in any case.
Honestly, I was wondering why on Earth you brought in that concern about labelling motivations. Now I know. I have to say I still find it beyond bizarre, now that I do. Perhaps I missed a part of an earlier discussion? Because why on Earth you’d assume you may freely assume someone who attempts to arrive at ethics by reason and observation must do it the way you outline is still quite beyond me.
Thus: if this is all you have to justify your charge of ‘scientism’, you have exactly nothing. Move along.
As to my alleged visceral reaction: my reaction is just to an unjustified, unconsidered playground taunt. ‘Scientism’ indeed. If you use it on such narrow and absurd assumptions to tarnish those who would be so bold as to attempt to live their lives by reason, it deserves a firm response.
AJ Milne says
… minor addendum: “reason and logic, but applied differently” should read “reason and evidence, but applied differently”.
J. J. Ramsey says
“J.J. Ramsey, you seem to me to hold a very strange version of scientific epistemology- some implausibly extreme variety of empiricism, perhaps. A singular unexplained event, no matter how well attested, couldn’t and shouldn’t overturn a large body of well-tested scientific knowledge.”
But it wouldn’t do that. All that well-tested scientific knowledge does is say what would normally have happened if whatever caused the miracle hadn’t intervened. This is the problem with Natalie Angier saying that a virgin birth contradicts “everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction.” The obvious response to Angier is, “Duh! If a virgin birth didn’t contradict that stuff, it wouldn’t be a miracle. What part of ‘miracle’ do you not understand?” All “everything we know about mammalian genetics and reproduction” tells us is what should normally happen, not what would happen in the odd case of blatant divine or miraculous intervention.
“It’s overwhelmingly more probable that there’s a non-miraculous explanation for the supposed miracle that you just haven’t thought of yet.”
That would depend on the particulars of the miraculous event in question, now, wouldn’t it? Richard Packham’s hypothetical example of “The Man with No Heart” would be a good example of such a case:
Steve LaBonne says
Peckham has the same problem as you: he’s thinking in terms of a court of law, not in terms of science. (As a forensic scientist I am all too aware of the gulf between these ways of thinking). This citation confirms to me that you are an extreme empiricist. Science does not work that way; whatever scientists think they think about epistemology (more often than not, a bit of half-digested Popper), in practice they employ a mixture of empiricism and rationalism (or if your prefer, foundationalism and coherence- cf. Susan Haack’s “foundherentism” as laid out in Evidence and Inquiry). There is an enormous, thoroughly tested body of knowledge that tells me a man living with no heart is impossible (more preciesly, so very imporobable that it would never occur in an interval vastly longer than the age of the universe). Any “evidence” of such a thing, no matter how apparentl;y convicing, would turn out to have been faked in one way or another. Perhaps it would take James Randi, rather than a scientist, to figure out exactly how. After all, many of the “psychic” frauds he exposed had convinced a lot of actual physicists, who lacked the magician’s eye for clever manipulation.
Keith Douglas says
Larry Moran: It is always easier to hear criticism of someone else. Criticizing you requires either changing your mind or engaging in cognitive dissonance; either way, the effort is larger.
Human reason may be dodgy, but (paraphrasing Einstein) it is the a precious thing we have. (The lack of grammar here is deliberate – I think there is actually another equally precious thing, but for lack of relevance I’m omitting here.)
Steve LaBonne: Mario Bunge suggested once the other thing that Randi doesn’t have that many scientists do is a tacit assumption that the other guy is a genuine inquirer (think of Merton’s characterization of the scientific ethos). Since many of the paranormalists are frauds (even to the point of self delusion in soem cases), this assumption sometimes trips them up.
Steve LaBonne says
Keith- Bunge is someone I’ve been meaning to read for years (we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads…). Can you suggest a good starting place in his oeuvre?
J. J. Ramsey says
“There is an enormous, thoroughly tested body of knowledge that tells me a man living with no heart is impossible (more preciesly, so very imporobable that it would never occur in an interval vastly longer than the age of the universe).”
Indeed, and formally speaking, that thoroughly tested body of knowledge is still tentative and subject to revision based on new evidence. It is not likely to change in the near future, or even the far future, but the potential for change based on new evidence is there nonetheless. That is what makes it science, not dogma.
Steve LaBonne says
True as far as it goes. But in science, it takes a good deal more than a singular observation statement to constitute evidence. That’s also what makes it science.
J. J. Ramsey says
“True as far as it goes. But in science, it takes a good deal more than a singular observation statement to constitute evidence. That’s also what makes it science.”
It’s hard to say what you mean by “singular” here. I gather that you do not mean just a single observation, since Packham certainly wasn’t talking about a single observation of the hypothetical man with no heart, and even my more vague talk of a verifiable documentation of a miracle would suggest more than a single observation, or else how would one verify? If you mean that the event is singular in the sense of being one of a kind and unrepeated, then I find it hard to see why it would not constitute evidence if it was ensured that the event did in fact happen.
AJ Milne, looks like I need to clarify a bit more:
I brought up evolutionary psychology as a specific example of the general problem. I honestly expected you to generalize from the specific, since every other way of deriving motivation solely from science has exactly the same problem.
In your example, you say, “no, they haven’t analyzed [,,,] why their preference is what it is”. Well, that’s your axiom, the motivating axiom that is based neither on empiricism nor on logic. That’s my Something Else; please tell me where I have said anything to suggest that it involves received wisdom, arbitrary authority, or transcendant states.
And, I have no problem with having unanalyzed assumptions, as long as you don’t ascribe them to science.
Is that clear enough?