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    Science As Rationalization And Ultimate Religion
    By Sascha Vongehr | December 26th 2011 03:42 AM | 89 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    The main observation here is that rationalization on the social level is rationalization on the personal level performed by macro-systems (social systems from our point of view). Scientism is the ultimate religion. Calling this a dangerous anti-science position is natural and expected at this point in evolution.

    Every adaptive system has what can be called a perception apparatus and information processing structures and so forth. Science is part of the perception/thinking of social systems. All perception has its “blind spot”. Perception is ignorant of everything except for a tiny slice that it evolved to select and focus attention on. Thinking is there to interpret in a certain evolved way. Humans, being parts as well as environment of social systems, cannot grasp the perceived world of social systems, let alone map out their blind spots. Scientists are especially suspect when it comes to judging the blind spots of science.

    We witness science evolving. Evolution is not development toward something better, somehow improved, but the mere fact of systems and their environment coevolving in a “red-queen race” that moves nowhere (except if there are entirely novel ingredients to the general theory of evolution, especially Global Suicide). Complexity is produced, but there is no monotone development of any other parameter.


    So Science evolves. What can we expect?

    Science in its beginnings can fruitfully compare with primate perception and thinking in its beginnings. Starting to be able to think systematically is helpful to single animals as well as groups. So is communication of threats, language helping to organize foraging and all that. What developed out of these beginnings is far removed from what one could have naively expected: A rational agent knowing itself. Such has an evolutionary disadvantage; it does not procreate efficiently.


    Instead, language culminated soon in “holy books”. Human thinking is almost entirely rationalization of irrational and largely unconscious processes. Many scientists believe that science is the very means around this problem, but evolution does not stop to act on the biological level. Science itself is part of the perception and “thinking” of social systems, and absent any fundamentally new ingredient against usual development, these beginnings of social rationality must be expected to develop into the rationalization of irrationality of those systems.


    Science is highly biased by establishment dogma, confirmation bias, publishing bias, and other specific forms of biases. The scientific method is already on the level of the human scientists mainly rationalization of scientists’ belief systems. The history of science shows that the established consensus at any time is based on fundamentally false beliefs. Not news any of this, but what is news: This will likely become progressively worse rather than better, plainly because evolution generally works like this! You would not even exist if evolution were not evolution, and that means that perception/thinking turns into rationalization of the irrational quite generally.


    Naïve scientism subscribes to the expectation that this vaguely defined thing called science is somewhat above all else and inherently good as long as it is good science, which is circular of course, like all good rationalization. Especially, the almost dogmatic belief inside science is that it throughout improves. It supposedly asymptotically closes in on the truth and also in ethical dimensions becomes better all the time. And this it will simply via science, like any proper religion, defining “good” and “truth” itself, namely scientifically. All this is consistent, circular, tautological, like all fundamental theory must be, so science should be expected to deliver exactly this, even by its most enthusiastic supporters.


    Science today is shaped mainly by selection pressures that emerge on the social level. Scientists do not do science anymore, science does them. Science is now shaped by adaptation inside macro evolution and it has in this sense decoupled from human influence, while of course still be emergent inside the human substrate. Scientists, once a tiny number of the brightest individual humans, are now an army of ants that are selected by proper mechanisms, and the bias is not against left or right, male or female, religion or secularism. The bias is whatever it happens to be; think peacock feathers and spastic mating dances.


    This is Religion?

    Belief systems with totalitarian ambitions are often compared or identified with religions. All these start in well meaning beginnings, with Jesus and Buddha and Pythagoras and suchlike. After becoming a threat to whatever went before, they are persecuted, fed to wild animals in Rome or silenced like Galileo. When they become successful and share power, the persecution is still remembered, and so the Jesuits, like the skeptics movement, come to defend, never tired to point out how persecuted they are, how very important it is that others agree and support their efforts lest we want to be all burned alive again. Criticism is heresy. The dark ages thereby arrive. The religion starts to make us suffer and at the same time blinds us away from that truth, but even as you have your doubts, you fear: What if this is the best there is because all alternatives are worse? And what can I do? I will be alone, an outcast.


    We escape into irrational hope: The catholic church will reform under the next pope, science and technology will turn us from stressed out cog-wheels chained to computers into modern bonobos roaming enlightened through bonobo paradise in just about a few years time. None of this can possibly ever happen, because such systems emerged via coevolution. They would die trying.


    - Cults may not allow you to call them cults. Primitively oppressive countries may not allow you to talk about freedom.

    - Usual religions allow you to call them religions, though they all push you to give them special status among other religions. Countries that are relatively free allow you to discuss the internal power structures and oppression.

    - But there is another, more sinister level. Only those countries that are advanced and that have effectively removed most freedom work like this: You must explicitly call them "free", perhaps even “the land of the free” or even the defender of freedom in the whole world. If you do not, you are quietly removed from the discourse, labeled as an enemy of freedom.


    Science is the most advanced and in a sense most dangerous religion of all. It has successfully done what no other religion achieved: You must pledge allegiance to science as the very opposite of religion or you will be removed from the discourse.


    The true dark ages are upon us humans. These dark ages are the ones that will turn whatever remains of us into mere functioning parts of monsters. The old dark ages were primitive and a few could light their secret candles and thus discern some shadows. The new dark ages you cannot enlighten, because these dark ages are brightly lit. Blinded by lasers glued to our retinas, there is nothing you can hope to see but the light of science.


    Outlook

    I put the victory of science into scientific terms rather than jubilant enthusiasm. Such is lamented as neo-luddism, which serves to prove the main point: not rationality, but rationalization of irrationality is our main role, not just inside our own heads. This must be kept in mind while entertaining future scenarios.

    --------------------------------------------

    The 2 definitions of social and personal rationalization in Wikipedia linked to:

    Rationalization (or rationalisation) is a term used in sociology to refer to a process in which an increasing number of social actions become based on considerations of teleological efficiency or calculation rather than on motivations derived from morality, emotion, custom, or tradition. Many sociologists regard it as a central aspect of modernity, manifested especially in Western society; as a behaviour of the capitalist market; of rational administration in the state and bureaucracy; of the extension of modern science; and of the expansion of modern technology. Many sociologists, critical theorists and contemporary philosophers have argued that rationalization, as falsely assumed progress, has a negative and dehumanizing effect on society, moving modernity away from the central tenets of enlightenment.The founders of sociology were acting as a critical reaction to rationalization:
    In psychology and logic, rationalization (also known as making excuses) is an unconscious defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable-- or even admirable and superior-- by plausible means. Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly subconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt). People rationalize for various reasons. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question. Sometimes rationalization occurs when we think we know ourselves better than we do. It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.
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    Comments

    Holy Hyperbole!!!! This dark view is hardly justified.

    When looking at how scientific theories have evolved, it has been primarily through better technology. In Astronomy, better telescopes allowed the development of the Copernican model, with corrections by Kepler, and proof by Galileo. Radio telescopes and spectroscopy in the 20th century took astronomy from a visually perceptive science to a measured theory, and so on. In chemistry, the addition of x-ray crystallography and spectroscopy revolutionized man's understanding of everything from salt crystals to DNA. In the last thirty years, DNA mapping has gone from labor intensive electrophoresis to DNA mapping chips. What do these advances in technology have in common? They all broke past limits of human perception and allowed scientific disciplines to advance in new directions.

    Human cognitive biases are well-known, and yet we continue to fall for them. Does this mean all science is bad, irrational, self-confirmatory? This is where I believe the author's hyperbole is at its worst. Progress occurs, technologies improve, science advances, and old models come crashing down. Just recently decades of hypotheses regarding microscopic fossils were destroyed through the use of better technology (google this). We see similar breakthroughs frequently. What hampers man's progress is the piles of mediocre science that occurs between breakthroughs.

    After reading this post, I am left with these questions for the author:

    * When I read that you believe science is pushing the world into a brightly lit dark ages, you are implying that science is obscuring something. What are we hiding or obscuring by continuing to advance science?

    * It seems that you are crying out for a shift that improves creativity in science, or are you anti-science pursuing the spiritual instead? I can't really tell what you are proposing or if you are only trying to tear things down.

    * Given the dark picture you have laid out, then what do we do differently? How do we fix things?

    vongehr
    Sorry everyone - I got a high fever after posting this and am still not able to even read all the comments. Let me try to answer your questions somewhat:

    First off: The darkness is your interpretation. Sure - I say dark ages - but it is a certain darkness (that of the blind spot) and perhaps not necessarily any suffering (say in case conscious systems become outdated).
    *  you are implying that science is obscuring something. What are we hiding or obscuring by continuing to advance science?
    What we are blind(ed) to, we mostly cannot even know. We are possibly as cognitively closed to the world of the higher strata as a single cell in your gut is toward whether you like the color red. Science belongs to the perception apparatus of social systems. Perception focuses attention in evolved ways. Science is not mean and dark and obscures something the republicans or democrats do; it simply looks somewhere and helps to construct whatever interpretation (also on the higher level) it does.
    * It seems that you are crying out for a shift that improves creativity in science, or are you anti-science pursuing the spiritual instead? I can't really tell what you are proposing or if you are only trying to tear things down.
    None of these. I analyze. If it helps you to come to a different conclusion, so be it, then perhaps you can decide to act in some way or another.
    * Given the dark picture you have laid out, then what do we do differently? How do we fix things?
    Much like an ant that wants to steer the ant-colony's evolution. I am more and more unsure about whether or not there is a truly relevant (in the sense of algorithmic evolution) difference between humans and ants. If there is some sort of fundamental difference (like my suggestion of global suicide), it will be due to silicone/glass fiber based information processing systems or whatever comes next and only involve mere remnants of us anyway.
    Dear Sir,

    It sure would help if you were a bit more specific. What science are you talking about? Chemistry? Biology? Physics? HEP? Theoretical physics? String Theory? Special Relativity? Quantum mechanics? QFT? Science as elaboration of well established theories? Science as discovery? Science as confirmation? Collider physics? Solid State physics? Descriptive linguistics? Theoretical linguistics?

    "You must pledge allegiance to science as the very opposite of religion or you will be removed from the discourse."

    Where did you get that? Do you have prove for this rather stark statement? None of the scientist I know have pledged anything in that direction.

    "Especially, the almost dogmatic belief inside science is that it throughout improves."

    Do you have arguments that it "troughout gets worse", i.e. that it is currently getter us farther from true statements about objective reality?

    I'm not claiming that you're wrong. I'm just asking for clarification.

    vongehr
    "You must pledge allegiance to science as the very opposite of religion or you will be removed from the discourse." Where did you get that? Do you have prove for this rather stark statement? None of the scientist I know have pledged anything in that direction.
    "will be removed from the discourse" is the vital part. The scientists you are talking about have long abdicated from most such discourses. Say we talk about "democratic discourse" - just for example. How many US scientists living well fed and having a good time care about thus supporting the one country that is known like no other for internal mass incarceration, basing democracy on biased information for the almost consciously held stupid masses, and world wide mayhem through direct and indirect wars (e.g. war on drugs etc)? I am not calling for a revolution. All I am saying is: These scientists, via the evolution of social systems, have already been successfully removed! And see - they did not notice. This is the blind spot.
    Did you ever try to argue something that really counts? Did you not notice that you are not getting beat down by better arguments but plainly end up not being heard at all? This is how super structures evolve. It is evolution; it made such marvelous things like penguins walking 70 miles on the southpole to balance an egg on their feet for three months. Nothing we humans can imagine can compare to its power.
    "Especially, the almost dogmatic belief inside science is that it throughout improves." Do you have arguments that it "troughout gets worse", i.e. that it is currently getter us farther from true statements about objective reality?
    It defines "true statements" and "objective reality". It can only get closer by definition.
    "The scientists you are talking about have long abdicated from most such discourses."

    There a very simple explanation for this phenomenon: scientists aren't very different from other people, except for the fact that they're good a science. Most people don't hold "such discourses", most scientists don't hold them.

    "How many US scientists living well fed and having a good time care about thus supporting the one country that is known like no other for internal mass incarceration, basing democracy on biased information for the almost consciously held stupid masses ..." etc.

    As I already said, scientist are good at science, but not necessarily good at thinking about these things. When the subject is "mass incarceration", "the stupid masses" etc. their judgements aren't better (or worse) than the judgement of Otto Normalverbraucher. I suspect that most scientist at heart know this. I'm not saying that they therefore are morally entitled to keep quiet about "mass incarceration"; I'm only saying I need better arguments before I'm going to accept that scientist have a special "blind spot".

    "It defines "true statements" and "objective reality". It can only get closer by definition."

    That's another sweeping statement, isn't it? Humans walk upright on their legs, not on legs & hands. As far as I know science cannot completely explain why we walk upright, but it still is a true statement about objective reality.

    This statement also suggests that another approach would give other true statements about objective reality. That may be true. But it only gets interesting when two statements aren't compatible or contradict each other. How would you find out which one is correct? Don't you think you'll end up with a decision procedure that's very close if not identical to modern science? Unless you think that incompatible statements about the same objective reality can be both true at the same moment ... But then I wonder what your definition of objective reality is.

    vongehr
    scientists aren't very different from other people
    Scientists are not different from other evolved systems caught up in co-evolution, period. I hope my misleading (because of the political edge) example for being effectively removed from a discourse that one pretends to be heavily involved in (science blogging for example is supposedly enlightenment, democratic values blah blah) did not get us further from the topic.
    Don't you think you'll end up with a decision procedure that's very close if not identical to modern science?
    Yes, that is why I am a scientist. There is no better terminology than that of modern science. Calling something "objective reality" does not add anything. Equally, evolution has many times independently made eyes, and they all do similar things. It does not however remove the fact that all visual systems are blind toward almost everything and are all in service of something that makes use of them without the eyes having any understanding about what they are being used for. My eyes are just as happy to help me find a baby to eat as anything else I like to do. We are at the beginning of the evolution of science.
    "Yes, that is why I am a scientist. There is no better terminology than that of modern science. Calling something "objective reality" does not add anything."

    Thanks for the clarification. I just had the feeling that you weren't making the fundamental difference between "science lets us know some aspects of objective reality" and "science defines objective reality".

    Thor Russell

    Yes a good contrarian piece as usual.

    When you say:

    "The history of science shows that the established consensus at any time is based on fundamentally false believes." (should be "beliefs" I think)


    But these beliefs have been shown to be false by science sois that not progress? When you say "false" are you claiming thatscience can only show for certain that older beliefs are false, not that thepresent ones are better?

    Is the consensus worse than before even though we knowprevious things are false, or are you claiming that our knowledge is better thanit was 100 years ago, but will get worse again?


    I am a bit confused about your major concern, there seem tobe two of them.

    1: That science does not work as fast as it could i.e.holding back fundamental physics, if so why is that so much a problem, if adiscovery takes 100 years instead of 50?

    2: The second one seems to be what science/tech is doing to our society.


    I have to ask if I may dare without irony, how are these claims scientific?

    There are so many people that make social predictions and always get everything completely wrong that I am of the opinion that all predictions, including the ones you make (if you are indeed making predictions) need to be taken with a pretty big dose of scepticism.

    Can you make more specific predictions otherwise how isanyone to distinguish this from the many predictions that say society is falling apart and will come to some terrible end at some date in the moderate future?

    Finally can you give some more detail on your beloved Global Suicide hypothesis as the piece you have written here seems to contradict it. (not that its easy for me to see if you have contradicted something that isn't written down) If we become cogs in a machine, why would that machine then terminate itself? Why would it care about our suffering? 

     Anyway don't rush to respond, I am not going to be chained to my computer, but instead blindly off in a temporary mass migration to the beach in a strange primate tradition called a holiday.


    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    I could write so much here, but basically, I wrote it already. So I will just take up on one thing, because it struck me as something that allows me to write something I have not written already (and also I am getting stronger fever chills now again):
    are you claiming that our knowledge is better than it was 100 years ago, but will get worse again?
    This asks for some sort of measure, and that measure may be absolute or relative. In absolute terms, I am not sure, but in relative terms, there is of course the fact that the complexity to be described is still growing. Given that the systems that now evolve have not even been around before, one could certainly claim that yes, our knowledge becomes worse and worse even on the level that we are not anyway cognitively closed toward.
    Thor Russell
    OK I have been doing some more thinking and have at some stage read most of what you have written on this site, and everything I can find that appears to relate to this. I agree somewhat with your point about rationalization but I don't find your evolutionary argument so compelling.Firstly for there to be an adaptive system (genes, individuals, religions) it needs to have a clearly defined boundary, how do you separate science and society? Peer reviewed science done in academia blurs and mixes a lot with various levels of science done in industry all the way to the hypothesis testing kind of science method that a mechanic may use to fix your car.
    Secondly even if you do accept science as a separate entity then evolution still happens on multiple levels. For example genetics, epi-genetics, inherited and learnt behaviors. In evolution all three can interact in a complex and unpredictable manner. For example a theory of how behaviors become inherited is that an animal first learns it, then teaches its offspring. The ones that learn fastest survive better until in later generations the ability to learn the new behavior happens so quickly and at the slightest trigger that it is pretty much genetic. This process is also expected to happen in reverse if a constantly changing environment selects for learnt rather than genetic behavior. 
    My point here is that even if it may seem to have a life of itself, perhaps what we see it just a result of how society is evolving. E.g. science is like a branch on a tree, its appearance and behavior at least as much determined by the nutrients coming from the roots (public funding and expectations) as any apparent defense mechanism. 


    Thirdly if such systems have so much power, then why does it change often. How do religions lose power, surely a dictatorship is a better example of a clearly defined system that defends itself than science, but many of them have not been doing so well lately.
    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    to be an adaptive system (genes, individuals, religions) it needs to have a clearly defined boundary, ... evolution still happens on multiple levels.
    Is this not contradictory? The boundaries outside of biology where many systems are bags of skin are very fuzzy. And even in biology, it is after all the gene pool that evolution acts on, and not so much the individual "skin-bags".
    My point here is that even if it may seem to have a life of itself, perhaps what we see it just a result of how society is evolving.
    ??? How is this not the same?
    E.g. science is like a branch on a tree
    I take science here as an important part of the perception/"thinking" apparatus of modern social systems, as well as important for defense etc.
    Thirdly if such systems have so much power, then why does it change often. How do religions lose power, surely a dictatorship is a better example of a clearly defined system that defends itself than science, but many of them have not been doing so well lately.
    Apart from the clearly biased point of view about what a dictatorship is (i.e. primitive and initially by western imperialism supported rogue states, but not international corporate power), I think something here is badly misinterpreted. I have no idea what you mean by "have so much power" and what such means in evolution. Do big dinosaurs have more power than a virus? I think "power" is not a useful distinction. Maybe, since you mention again "clearly defined system", this is the core problem. Surely, systems that are clearly defined for us are also easier to attack. No surprise then that evolution favors less visible boundaries where ever such can evolve.

    Thor Russell
    Well its clear that we don't understand each other. I will try to make things clearer.
    to be an adaptive system (genes, individuals, religions) it needs to have a clearly defined boundary, ... evolution still happens on multiple levels.
    Genes are clearly defined, evolution acts on them, organisms are clearly defined, thinking about how evolution acts on them is useful according to biologists as far as I am aware. Two levels, two clearly defined boundaries. Not sure if this is so relevant to the rest of the discussion however.
    "I take science here as an important part of the perception/"thinking" apparatus of modern social systems, as well as important for defense etc."
    I think I understand this but I still don't understand what you mean by science evolving. On one hand you seem to be saying that its part of the system, then on the other it makes sense to think of it evolving somehow separately? 

    I see there is a major issue here to do with applying and thinking about evolution outside of biology. People who I have spoken to who accept biological evolution don't at all accept that evolution applies to things like religion (even if the subject is not controversial) and don't even argue, but just laugh at the idea. Many havn't even heard of it before, they think evolution only applies to biology. I havn't studied social sciences much but is the belief that you can apply evolutionary principles the same way central to it? If so then the general public appear to me to reject this aspect of science more so than the politicized topics (AGW/biological evolution etc). I am of course also less convinced/used to applying these principles in the way you do too.

    "primitive and initially by western imperialism supported rogue states, but not international corporate power" - never said I didn't agree with this and wasn't trying to bring up politics, just give an example. Any example to do with social systems is going to be open to political bias.

    I will try to define what I mean by power as possessed by a social organisation in evolutionary terms. Before the renaissance I would consider the church to be powerful in terms of evolution because of its wide influence, the ability to suppress dissent (persecute scientists/witches) and the fact that it had stayed in power for a considerable time. If this isn't clear then I don't know how to make it so.
    What I am asking is why did the "old religion" get squashed by the church, but science not so? 







    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    People who I have spoken to who accept biological evolution don't at all accept that evolution applies to things like religion (even if the subject is not controversial) and don't even argue, but just laugh at the idea.
    They need to stop laughing and pay attention.  Evolution is change.  Biology uses the point of evolution by natural selection as its basis for change occurring.  Clearly biology also has artificial selection which is how domesticated animals change.

    Anything which changes, evolves.  In many cases, you can see basic products evolve as consumer choices are made, which provides the feedback to determine what the next generation product will look like.  There's nothing inherently biological about evolution.

    Social institutions evolves based on changes in people themselves, regarding their beliefs, influences, etc.  As each changes, it in turn influences other behaviors, which influence changes back, etc.  It would be surprising if such things didn't evolve.  Just considering religion, it certainly wouldn't surprise you to recognize how the church has evolved, simply because its members can now read the bible for themselves, they are literate.  The bible is readily printed and available.  Do you not think that such changes wouldn't also shape the originating religion? 
    Genes are clearly defined, evolution acts on them, organisms are clearly defined, thinking about how evolution acts on them is useful according to biologists as far as I am aware.
    No they aren't.  Most traits involve several genes, and even the simple sequence of a particular gene doesn't indicate what trait will result.  This will be governed by switches that will determine how long and/or intensely a gene is "turned on", so it isn't at all true that genes are clearly defined.  {NOTE:  Consider that the differences in Darwin's finches' beaks are all the result of the same genes being "turned on" for different periods, intensities, and times].

    Despite much of the rhetoric surrounding selection, genes cannot be selected.  Only the traits that they express can be selected for.  If a gene doesn't express, then it can't be selected for by any criteria.  Genetic factors can also be influenced by epigenetics, learned, behavioral, and cultural events. 

    In short, science will evolve based on people's attitude and expectations towards it, as well as those same attitudes in people that "practice" science.  As a result, it shouldn't be surprising in the least, that the scientist of today may have a completely different attitude towards science that an Isaac Newton.  While they may both share a view of how science should be objective, I seriously doubt that Isaac Newton would recognize much in our modern practice of science that would correspond to his own values.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    Genes are clearly defined, evolution acts on them, organisms are clearly defined,
    This sounds like a very gene centric viewpoint. In the wider picture, narrow definitions of these leave always much to be desired.
    I still don't understand what you mean by science evolving. On one hand you seem to be saying that its part of the system, then on the other it makes sense to think of it evolving somehow separately?
    It is part of the perception apparatus. Perception apparatuses evolve. Where is the news in this? Nothing evolves completely separately.
    I havn't studied social sciences much but is the belief that you can apply evolutionary principles the same way central to it?
    Not yet, but ever more. As far as I am concerned, evolution is central to almost everything. Biology also started without it, but now as we understand more, nothing anymore makes sense without evolution. Sure, people do not like it - hell people do not even like it in biology if you just ask a random person somewhere in Alabama.
    powerful in terms of evolution because of its wide influence, the ability to suppress dissent (persecute scientists/witches) and the fact that it had stayed in power for a considerable time. If this isn't clear
    Oh it is perfectly clear - just not very useful "in terms of evolution" I think. A lion is in a certain sense more powerful than a zebra, still you will not see the term "power" popping up much when describing the co-evolution of the two. In terms of evolution, they are co-dependent and the zebras have just as much influence over the lions as the other way around.
    why did the "old religion" get squashed by the church, but science not so?
    Not sure what you mean by "old religion" here, nor by "squashed by the church", but I think it is not helpful to think in such ways. Stuff adapts in a co-evolution and gets slowly transformed into quite different shapes. Even the dinos are still with us, chirping outside my window as I write this. Science transformed a lot. It is in a sense your own choice to call Newton and some particle collider statistics dude by the same term "scientist", though neither would have had a chance in the science system of the other.
    Thor Russell
    Thanks, that makes more sense now then. Can you recommend a good book or series of articles that show evolution being applied to social sciences?
    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    No, sorry. I have not read a book in perhaps twenty years either. Life is too short. ;-)
    Oh wait - I read Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics half through and a book on general relativity. But that is about it. Somehow it was always clear to me, maybe since reading about the young Marx and some structualism (Claude Levy Strauss), that evolution needs to take center stage in these topics, and this is what indeed now slowly happens.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think the arguments advanced are missing the point and trying to defend an abstract idea rather than what exists.

    Without attempting to speak for Sascha, it is safe to say that science is in serious trouble when it becomes a life-choice that someone makes in order to make a living.  Which takes precedence?  The science or the career?  At what point do we cease the pursuit of knowledge and simply continue looking for opportunities to exploit?  Is it proper to question whether something should NOT be done?  We seem to be quite content to believe that whatever technology is available is arbitrarily good.  We preach visions of the future without regard for the horror they might product (i.e. immortality, human/machine brain interfaces, etc.).  These are all prophetic visions and have no place in science.

    More to the point, the utter naivete in believing that a world full of 7 billion people will somehow manage to achieve parity with technologies that would create such tremendous advantages for those with the financial means to exploit them.  We are facing the most serious challenge to freedom, so that perhaps for the first time, those in power may become capable of retaining indefinitely.

    We are on a collision course with reality that science refuses to recognize.  How much research is occurring because we refuse to acknowledge over-population? 

    I'm only mentioning a few of my own particular points and not attempting to represent what Sascha is writing about, but it is difficult to argue that the future is an optimistic one.  This doesn't mean individuals are malicious, but rather it is the unalterable force of evolution that will drive us forward, whether we want to go or not.  So, I don't want anyone reading this post to think I'm arguing Sascha's perspective.  He can do that quite well on his own, but I'm simply adding my own perspective to it, to suggest that the blind optimism being shown in some of the comments fits precisely into the notion that science is the new religion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    the blind optimism being shown in some of the comments fits precisely into the notion that science is the new religion.
    Precisely. ;-)
    Does Science Progress through our intentions or our accidents? Laplace once commented that we arrive at the truth by counting our errors(Bell Curve etc). I often wonder if the success of modern technology and science is because of mass effort. It is not because we're getting smarter, the data suggests points to increasingly stupidity: Flynn Effect is reversed and academic standards falling. It is that there is now just so many people involved in science and technology. Remember, even up to World War 2 precious few people finished high school, now most are expected to get a tertiary degree. Prior to WW2 being a scientist was being in a rather small group of people who did mysterious stuff in dark, drab buildings. Now, with so many people doing science as a career, and the increased numbers meaning the overall pool of talent is diluted, we see higher error rates and the perpetuation of falsehoods. Should I then be surprised that a recent meta analysis of Nature Neuroscience papers found an extraordinarily large % of statistical errors, or other analyses in biomedicine suggesting the use of statistical analysis in biomedicine is fraught with error. Deirdre McCloskey has written on this: http://www.deirdremccloskey.org/docs/fisherian.pdf. So why then are so many people frustrated about health advice that turns on its head every decade or so? What the hell is going on? For example, only a few days ago a friend of mine pointed me to an article on the original studies suggesting saturated fat was bad.
    ...
    However, this was a perfect case of statistical cherry-picking to support a position.

    Statistics were actually available for 22 countries, and when all 22 were analyzed and included, the link between fat consumption and heart disease was nonexistent.

    From ...
    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/12/24/cbs-sings-...

    Given the obvious cherry picking, how did the issue even gain currency? Where were the relevant professionals screaming at the top of their lungs about this grievous abuse of statistics? If this was an isolated example I wouldn't care but the error rate is far too high. I don't even know why people rely solely on epidemiological studies to draw conclusions about diet and health. Insufficient information, yet a great deal of health advice is often based solely on that. For myself that reliance indicates a basic failure to appreciate the complexity of the problem.

    There is a tribe mentality in science. As an old Russian friend recently emailed to me: You can take the Russian out of the village but not the village out of the Russian. Some invoke group think as some type of cognitive pathology. Group think is integral to our cognition, it is often our primary frame of reference. That perhaps throws some light on why outsiders can so often make valuable contributions, that creative types are more likely to experiment with drugs, be eccentric, and consciously separate themselves from the greater mass. If you want to think differently, live differently. But of course being an outsider is no way to advance a career. So over the long term science becomes dominated by careerists. We may like to entertain the idea that science is a rational enterprise. Well you might but I have blanket prohibition on the use of the concept "rationality". We may like to think we're in control of the ship(read some history!), just as in the good ol' days it was the shamans and priests who would protect us from the capricious world, we now think the Great Rational Science will be our saviour. As Supertramp sings, "Dreamer" ... Dreamer, silly little dreamer, can you put your hands in your head oh no ... .

    "Science is highly biased by establishment dogma, confirmation bias, publishing bias, and other specific forms of biases. The scientific method is already on the level of the human scientists mainly rationalization of scientists’ belief systems."

    Gobbledegook. Sorry, but when someone compares science to religion my mind shuts down. Due, no doubt, to my own confirmation bias. This guy could write a learned essay on flatulence and astound the world with his erudition!

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but when someone compares science to religion my mind shuts down.
    Why would it do that?  It's becoming increasingly clear that this is precisely the direction it is taking in many instances.  All one has to do is measure the level of public expectation and how willing scientists are to meet it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    When you equate science with religion, you equate something that's evidence-based with something that's faith-based. But as Gould wrote, science and religion are nonoverlapping Magisteria. As a matter of fact, Creationists, in order to muddy the discourse, use the argument all the time that evolution is just another religion. Moreover, the definition you seem willing to bring to the table would equate the belief of a child in Santa Claus to a religion –– it has all the aspects of child expectation and how willing mom and pop are to meet it. If I have faith that I'll be alive tomorrow, or that a cure for cancer will one day be found, does that mean that either is a religious faith? People who talk that way only succeed in an Orwellian debasing of the English language.

    Gerhard Adam
    Not at all.  Simply listen to the rhetoric regarding transhumanism.  It is impossible for anyone to follow-up and verify all the data that is available, so overwhelmingly we take it on "faith" that the scientists have done their due diligence and that there is evidence backing up claims.

    The difficulty is when this doesn't occur and when scientists engage in public policy and when the public discourse is being directed according to "scientific discoveries" which are either vastly overstated, or simply wrong. 

    Science, is supposed to be evidence based, however it isn't difficult to see that with the rush to form public policy, introduce technology, and improve profitability, this is often sacrificed.  In addition, where do concepts like the anti-vaccine crowd come from ??  The climate skeptics?  The intelligent-design crowd?  Not to mention the plethora of "experts" that represent everything from the paranormal, to psychics, to ghost-hunters.  These are also clothed in an aura of authenticity and promoted in the media as if they were equal with any prevailing scientific practice. 

    I'm not faulting science alone, but there is little doubt that scientists have not been as adamant in ensuring that their respective disciplines stick to science and not simply in career-advancement.  This has been amply demonstrated by some of the posters that want to insist that only arguments from authority should count, and that common words somehow acquire special meaning when used in some "scientific" discussions (despite the fact that they aren't being used in any special way). 

    In the same way that religion presumes that the ordinary person can't have a relationship with God without the interpretation of those "initiated" in the practices, so often is science being presented in a similar fashion.  I'm not arguing that ALL science is in this category, nor that there isn't often specialization required that may render some science beyond the reach of "ordinary" individuals.  However, I think you understand the distinction between someone arguing about superluminal neutrinos isn't in the same realm as someone arguing about how the Mayan predictions have a scientific basis.
    Mundus vult decipi
    You are proposing a level of governance the does not exist.

    As funding for basic research begins to become results oriented we have swung too far the other way toward profit and economic impact. However, there are millions of pages of junk studies funded in the name of basic research.

    How do we establish balance so that basic research continues but truly junk research is prevented from moving forward?

    I have to call this out as disingenuous. At any given time, scientific data can be validated by an independent source. No such level of validation exists with religion. Even Einstein's theory of relativity has been verified empirically, with the first major result demonstrating that the gravity of the sun can bend distant starlight. When you use the word "faith" you are playing an invalid word game creating an equivalency that does not exist.

    Empirical "belief" can be validated with evidence or discredited with evidence. Religious "belief" is not empirical.

    When scientist pump out crap data and faulty conclusions, they can be invalidated. The fact that so many lay members of the general citizenry accept the results of scientific news stories uncritically is not an issue with science but an issue with the lack of numeracy and scientific literacy in society as a whole. How often have we heard of bogus studies that make false inferences that are then used as policy? The problem is that people with vested interests will fund studies expecting particular results. This is certainly where confirmation bias is introduced. Does this make "science" bad or "scientists" or the people funding the research with a particular agenda in mind?

    Anyone with the aptitude and the time can build a competent background in a particular area of science. The same cannot said of religion. Unless you accept the dogmatic tenets of a religion and interpret the words in their respective holy book, you cannot possibly be initiated in the faith. There are thousands of books still in print on genetics, biochemistry, quantum mechanics, etc., which modulo some errors are considered to contain correct scientific information.

    The difference between religion and science is the ability to verify results. You are correct that too much bad science has escaped into the body politic without the rigor needed for it to be considered verified, but it can be and frequently is verfied. The problem in particular areas of science such as climate change and evolution, science is conflated with politics, policy and religion.

    As far as scientists being a "priesthood," again you are using a metaphor to make a strong conclusion. This is faulty logic at its worst.

    Gerhard Adam
    The fact that so many lay members of the general citizenry accept the results of scientific news stories uncritically is not an issue with science but an issue with the lack of numeracy and scientific literacy in society as a whole.
    ...and there you have it.  Do you think religion exists because of people that studied theology?  It is precisely what the public believes and perceives that renders it what it is.  
    The difference between religion and science is the ability to verify results.
    Yes and no.  The point being that since it impossible for you personally to verify results, the presumption is that SOMEONE is verifying results.  This is an act of "faith".  In short, you have to trust someone.

    I understand the distinction you're making with religion and it's not my intent to argue that they are exactly the same thing.  However, religion becomes problematic because the public is expected to take the "leaders" word for how things work.  If science and public policy play the same role, then they represent the same thing.  It isn't a question of how/where they obtained their data.  It's a matter of their behavior that will render them a "religion".
    As far as scientists being a "priesthood," again you are using a metaphor to make a strong conclusion. This is faulty logic at its worst.
    That's easy enough to resolve.  Define for me who is a scientist?  Define for me who cannot be considered a scientist? 
    Does this make "science" bad or "scientists" or the people funding the research with a particular agenda in mind?
    Not bad.  Just more likely to be focused on career and agendas rather than science.  I'm not naive enough to believe that scientists are altruistic.  However, it's the nature of this "evolution" that is compromising science, not the intention of those that choose to practice it. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    When you equate science with religion, you equate something that's evidence-based with something that's faith-based.
    That is what scientists keep repeating, but the basis for this is getting thinner every day. Anyway, it is beside the point.
    the definition you seem willing to bring to the table would equate the belief of a child in Santa Claus to a religion
    It is proper to make the definitions one brings to the table an issue, of course. Not sure though how you got to this interpretation. My "definition" is based on the similarity of the evolved structure (for example how it defends itself). I do not see Santa coming in directly.
    Yes Sascha can still write through a the XMAS 2011 Kettle blog operation. Pity its not on subject, and doesn't mean much to me, but god help us if top scientist lose the will to write.

    "Do you think religion exists because of people that studied theology? It is precisely what the public believes and perceives that renders it what it is."

    Are you saying that religious Faith is ultimately based on the theology, as faith in science is based on the "theology" of scientific thought and experimentation? Just how do they equate?

    Gerhard Adam
    All "faith" is ultimately based on trusting someone else to provide you with information you are unable (or unwilling) to attain for yourself.  Whether that information comes from a book, or an individual is of little consequence.
    ...faith in science is based on the "theology" of scientific thought...
    "Faith" in science is often based on an unbridled optimism or a willingness to suspend belief simply because one presumes that progress is never-ending.  This is precisely why I brought up the point about "transhumanism".  In the same way that we believed that we conquered diseases with antibiotics, those types of statements are acts of "faith" and not science.  It is no different, today when people talk about achieving immortality (using just one example).

    Mundus vult decipi

    Ultimately the problem is the same - the evolution of a monied power structure while "the public" are unwilling or unable to get involved. Instead they sit like little baby birds with their beaks open and have mumbo-jumbo rammed down their willing throats. 
      Lost the archaic dawn wherein we started,
      The appetite for wholeness: Now we prize 
      Half-loaves, half-truths - enough for the half-hearted,
      The gleam snatched from corruption satisfies.
    MikeCrow
    Not all of the public though. And to Gerhard's point about not being able to validate the data, that's not always true either.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...that's not always true either.
    Actually it is.  It is physically impossible to verify all the information and data that is collected and provided today.  While you may elect to inform yourself about some aspect of science, you can't possibly verify everything (nor are you even aware of everything that is being said).
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    That's why the "not always" was included.
    I guess strictly speaking, you're right that no one can examine all of the data, but I believe it's possible(in some cases) to examine enough to make up your mind whether to have faith in the rest.

    The follow up question is what do you do when you do examine the data, and you come to a different conclusion than the majority does?
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    The follow up question is what do you do when you do examine the data, and you come to a different conclusion than the majority does?
    True enough, and whether you have the qualifications to have a "different conclusion".  I saw a program the other night where a couple did some "research" and concluded that the Mayan prediction for 2012 was accurate, so they were spending all their time in disaster preparation and survival skills.

    How does one counter that?  On the one hand, they seemed to be interested in gathering information, but they lacked the necessary discrimination filters (and expertise) to recognize when they were being lead down the primrose path.

    In my view, this is one of the primary problems today, since everyone can indulge their own confirmation bias to whatever degree they choose.  The question of "verification" becomes a very real and significant issue.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    whether you have the qualifications to have a "different conclusion".

    Doesn't that just take you back to faith then?

    I agree about verification, and I think it explains why so many disagree with scientists, they feel validation is lacking.
    Never is a long time.
    Gerhard Adam
    Doesn't that just take you back to faith then?
    Ironically this problem isn't different from what religions also have to deal with.   Despite their teachings, there is no end to the wide range of disparate beliefs and contradictory positions that people will adopt.          
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    whether you have the qualifications to have a "different conclusion"
    I was wondering, in your mind, what qualifies as qualifications?
    Never is a long time.
    Yes. One needs at the bottom level science, religion, playing computer games and getting married, etc. If someone wants to categorize those within their own terms that's fine too - authoritarian vs experiential vs free-think religion; direct vs modal realism *in science* to name two examples. Lot's of, hopefully, non-overlapping expertise. Next level up needs to be able to weigh different approaches and already most people fall out, the ones who remain are generally addicted to their own favourite paradigm and can't see that they are basically being religious about non-religious matters or scientific about non-scientific matters. But we move up and try to unify our philosophy of science with our philosophy of religion and our philosophy of computer games and getting married - and most us fail at this point, using the appearence of heirarchical unification as an excuse to justify our low-level prejudices. I plead guilty to this though on a good day I try to be impartial. I don't know if there's another level to go, though I suspect it's a sort of half-level, the non-negotiable bare necessities for dialogue: agreement that you're both speaking English and that logic is universal (or any exceptions are shielded from discussion). But anyway, somewhere in there, Gerhard has qualifications you have qualifications, and you probably don't have any agreement on the next level of unification. So the best thing to do would be to meet at the top.
     
    No need to quibble about arithmetic taking a zillion steps of formal logic to justify, let's start simply:

    Do you and Gerhard agree that 1 + 1 = 2 ?

    You do? Oh well, the rest should be easy.



    Gerhard Adam
    Well, in my mind, "qualifications" suggests that you've made some effort to understand the topic under consideration.  It doesn't mean that you are necessarily correct, but it does mean that you're capable of forming a rational argument for your position.

    It also suggests that you don't hijack a particular philosophy to perform such rationalization that it isn't equipped to do.  Using the Bible to disprove evolution is just as misplaced as attempting to use physics to prove there is no God.  In both cases, we would be taking something in which we presumably have some "qualification" and applying it to an area where we don't.
    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    I think there is much to this article.  I have noticed the tendency towards “Scientarianism” in the output of the BBC.

    However, I do not like to think too much about it, lest I knock myself off balance.  I take warning from the following, an excerpt from G.K.Chesterton » Alarms and Discursions » Ch. 5: A Drama of Dolls

    In a small grey town of stone in one of the great Yorkshire dales, which is full of history, I entered a hall and saw an old puppet-play exactly as our fathers saw it five hundred years ago. It was admirably translated from the old German, and was the original tale of Faust. The dolls were at once comic and convincing; but if you cannot at once laugh at a thing and believe in it, you have no business in the Middle Ages. Or in the world, for that matter.

     . . . . . . . . . . . .

    One of the best points in the play as performed in this Yorkshire town was that the servant Caspar was made to talk Yorkshire, instead of the German rustic dialect which he talked in the original. That also smacks of the good air of that epoch. In those old pictures and poems they always made things living by making them local. Thus, queerly enough, the one touch that was not in the old mediaeval version was the most mediaeval touch of all.

     . . . . . . . . . . . .  in the last scene, where the doctor (who wears a fur coat throughout, to make him seem more offensively rich and refined) is attempting to escape from the avenging demons, and meets his old servant in the street. The servant obligingly points out a house with a blue door, and strongly recommends Dr. Faustus to take refuge in it. "My old woman lives there," he says, "and the devils are more afraid of her than you are of them." Faustus does not take this advice, but goes on meditating and reflecting (which had been his mistake all along) until the clock strikes twelve, and dreadful voices talk Latin in heaven. So Faustus, in his fur coat, is carried away by little black imps; and serve him right for being an Intellectual.

    Complete text: http://www.online-literature.com/chesterton/alarms-and-discursions/5/
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    UvaE
    What's very unusual is the way Sascha is either away somewhere or uncharacteristically and simply sitting back without commenting on reader responses.
    I am not a fan of organised religion at all. While there is usually some degree of faith with science, I see science as better, and fundamentally different, for a few reasons:

    1. Science can adapt and change. While interpretations of religion, and religious behaviour, can change a bit, it is still usually bound to a religious text which is seen as unchanging/perfect/the word of god or some other such nonsense. In the early days of mankind, this actually made it better than the previous schemas it took over from, as it gave it a degree of permanency. Nowdays, it is a disadvantage as record-keeping is extremely commonplace.

    2. Science knows it is wrong. Religion knows it is right. This makes science better as it should not create any fanatics. However, people can still have gut feeling about theories with insufficient data, and people also still have emotions so can become attached to theories they have believed to be right for a long time, just like a religious person would to their beliefs. Note though that this is a flaw in the person and is not written into the dogma of science, unlike in the case of religion where in Christianity for example it is written as a good thing and an example to follow.

    3. The teachings of science are created from and can be verified by observation. While in reality it has already been said above that most people take the teachings on faith rather than doing their own experiments (which is a shame), this is a massive advantage over religion, where the teachings are simply invented by a small number of people (often one!), without any evidence other than the teachings themselves.

    4. Unlike religion, science results in real miracles. From the early days of religion, where a shaman would attempt to correlate dancing with rainfall, or herb use with disease cure, with limited success, both religion and science have really been about results. Once religion became large scale, it could no longer hope to fool people that it had any results. That is why there have been no accepted miracles for a very long time. However, I can type here in my room and communicate across the world. I can have a real-time conversation with people hundreds of miles away. I can fly across the planet in a day. I can accurately simulate changes to my chemical plant with a few key strokes, in seconds. A thousand years ago, that would have made me a god. Today, anyone can do it if they can get to a phone, computer, or airport. That is the result of just two hundred years of science. All the main religions have had thousands, and the religion itself hasn't accomplished a small fraction of the results of science.

    Hank
    2. Science knows it is wrong. Religion knows it is right. 
    I don't think this is correct.  Hubris and certainty are human conditions and plenty of scientists cannot fathom they might be wrong.   They cannot even fathom their whole discipline might be made up.   Lots of religious people know they might be wrong; belief in defiance of rationality or data is the foundation of faith.
    Most of us certainly do know we might be wrong.  So thanks for saying so. 

    However this:
     belief in defiance of rationality or data is the foundation of faith
    is dubious. For example, there's no religious merit in believing in the Invisible Pink Unicorn and her squishy friend the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And it wouldn't take faith to do so, it would take stupidity since such are nonsensical and arbitrary entities - strawmen invented by atheists of course. Most of us think we have good reason to believe the subjective data that we experience and metaphysical arguments and, in many cases, historical data and above all that it makes sense. Some even believe in authority. Oh well.

    We may be wrong about having good reason but if we are - and manage to see that we are - we should - and many of us do - reconsider our beliefs rather than hang onto them. Not everyone, of course.

    I deeply regret the schism being driven between science and religion - I have no doubt at all that a lot of it is due to creationism which, not content with alienating most biologists on the planet has now got its filthy paws onto physics.  But scientism (in the normal sense of the word, I don't understand Sascha's) does even more violence to common-sense by claiming that science can settle questions that it cannot even ask.
     
    Ach! A plague on both their houses!
    Gerhard Adam
    Actually what I find interesting is this irrational desire of people to make everything "real" before it has validity.

    I watched the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and thought it was a great movie, and it generated many feelings and thoughts.  However, in my view, it doesn't have to be "true" to be effective.  Similarly, I can gain important lessons from "Star Trek" just as readily as I can from the Brother's Grimm fairy tales  That's the point of many such stories; to convey deeper insight into the human condition and the events that affect our lives.

    It isn't necessary for such things to be "real" to be valid, and yet it seems that this is the issue that too many people want to make regarding religion.  Most of the tenets of religion are valid regardless of whether the "entities" involves are real or not.  So it is in that light, that I criticize religion (with plenty left over for science) in attempting to argue that their philosophy isn't simply appropriate, but to leverage it with a kind of "scientific realism" to bludgeon unbelievers with.

    NOTE:  Similar arguments can be made regarding how science treats religion, so I don't want this to sound completely one-sided.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Completely agree. Whether it happened or not is irrelevant to the message of religion. If religion kept the philosophy and discussion about how people should treat each other, and left out the heaven/hell/god/reward/punishment stuff, it would be a good thing, although it would still have the flaw of inflexibility inherent with an inviolable holy book. And also, it would cease to be religion and start to be philosophy and humanitarianism. Not science, but it would still be useful and have results.

    If religion...it would be a good thing... And also it would cease to be religion.
    That is gloriously surreal...
     


     
    Most of the tenets of religion are valid regardless of whether the "entities" involves are real or not.
    It all depends what you mean by "tenet" and "valid".
     
    Everything we think or believe gets filtered by our personal philosophy but to assert that it does not matter whether the entities are real or not is pure Humpty Dumpty.
    "There's a valid tenet for you!"
    "I don't know what you mean by 'valid tenet' " Derek said.
    Humpty Gerhard smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant  'fits my preconceived philosophy' !' "
    "But 'valid' doesn't mean 'fits my preconceived philosophy' " Derek objected.
    "When I use a word," Gerhard said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
    "The question is, " said Derek, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
    "The question is," said Gerhard. "which is to be master—that's all."
    Perhaps the essence of some religions can survive with fictitious entitities. The ancient Romans seem to have been closer to doing so than we give them credit for, at least according to Cicero (my only source of information apart  from Wikipedia) and I dare say Don Cupitt's radical a-theology would qualify with distinction. Some strands of modern Buddhism seem to be unconcerned about reality at all. And the last Hindu I spoke to told me "Oh yes, you can be a good Hindu and Christian as well". But as for Christianity, according St Paul himself:
    And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins.
    You commended _The Passion of The Christ_ and I'm sure you took away something of value, but the literal, physical resurrection of Christ is a tenet of every stream of Christianity - except perhaps Cupitt who again stretches the concensus meaning beyond breaking point.

    Of course a militant atheist would now be winding back his crossbow to fire "No True Scotsman" but I invented [bows] the No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy back in 1998/99, pointing out that Flew's original argument is shaky and that to misapply it is a fallacy in itself. It gets rediscovered every couple of years :)  At last count we'd reached the No True Scotsman Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy Fallacy. It needs to be put back on the web at some point.

    The creeds too are strongly worded as fact. 
    I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
    How can you retain a valid tenet from that if the very existence of the God entity is optional? Mind you I'm not sure what most church-goers get from it either :)
     
    I'll leave you with "one of me pomes"
    There was a young man named Nietzsche
    Who applied for a job as a preacher
    But he went off his head
    And declared "God is dead!"
    So they made him Divinity Teacher.
     
    Gerhard Adam
    Perhaps the essence of some religions can survive with fictitious entitities.
    Since you can't ever "prove" the existence of these "entities", then it simply becomes an article of faith and personal belief.   Therefore in the absence of such proof, then whether they are fictitious or not is largely a matter of personal perspective.  So, religions survive quite well with such ambiguity.              
    Mundus vult decipi
    You stated:
    Most of the tenets of religion are valid regardless of whether the "entities" involves are real or not.
     That is not the same thing as saying:
     So, religions survive quite well with such ambiguity.
    You were talking about their validity not their survival.
    rholley
    “one of me pomes”
    Is that taken from the Blessed Pam Ayres, author of “Nowadays we worship at St Tesco”?
     
     
     
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    The same. Bless!
    The phrase "one of me pomes", that is. The limerick is mine.
    Gerhard Adam
    I think your fourth point is probably the most "dangerous" since it creates a kind of competition with religion which is inappropriate for both.  Science isn't about performing miracles, but rather about understanding the world around us and being able to exploit that knowledge.  However, to many people science has become ABOUT miracles, to satisfy all manner of quirky requirements and personal agendas.

    In the same way, religion is not about miracles, it is about philosophy.  While many want to use the existence of miracles as a means of proving God, it really has little to do with the overall objective of religion. 

    Some people just want to be capable of exploiting power, whether it be by maintaining a direct line to a diety, or controlling technology.  In fact, almost every pseudoscience that exists can invariably be traced to someone's desire to have more power than others. 

    Unfortunately the biggest difference between science and religion is that in the latter case, one could always argue that whatever event occurred, that it was God's will.  We are rapidly approaching a time (if not already there in many cases) of where it is OUR will that is being exercised, and we are ill-equipped to step up and accept such responsibility.  In this way, science becomes religion, because it is no longer about knowledge, but how that knowledge is to be used and that can only be addressed by philosophy .... so we're back to religion.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Ultimately, it is only through objective results that something can be evaluated - perhaps the use of the word 'miracles' was inappropriate, but the point stands and I disagree about it's 'danger'. The real competition is about evidence-based rationality versus faith, and I think we can all agree that the first one provides more useful results. How else can something's worth be established? Perhaps in this regard, science is the ultimate religion, as it can actually do what religion has always wanted to do (heal the sick etc). It has a further advantage that it improves as time goes on.

    In the same way, religion is not about miracles, it is about philosophy. While many want to use the existence of miracles as a means of proving God, it really has little to do with the overall objective of religion.

    That is a very charitable viewpoint. There has only ever been one 'objective' of organised religion (note I refer to the religion here rather than it's followers), that is to attempt to maintain power for the leaders of that religion. Even buddists, who are probably least guilty and most philosophical of all here, are extremely wealthy and powerful in Japan and India for those in charge. Mega-churches in the US are even worse. I think you may be referring to at-home philosophy rather than religion, which is of course just an individual's attempt to understand more about things, which is generally regarded to be a good thing.

    If you want to study philosophy, that is laudable, but it is distinct from religion. The anglican church in the UK has recently (well, recently for Christianity) become far more tolerant and less 'preachy', this has lead to it's decline. It will probably die over the next hundred years. Religions without absolute certainty tend to die out. The big growth for religion has been through evangelicalism and extremism - these are the sects that see the largest year on year growth. I think it's becoming more and more apparent to the developed world, that unless you embrace religion utterly - leading to extremism - then it's shortcomings become ever more evident. And the extremism only survives through tunnel vision of the followers.

    In this way, science becomes religion, because it is no longer about knowledge, but how that knowledge is to be used and that can only be addressed by philosophy .... so we're back to religion.

    I have to admit I don't like it when religions get all the credit for morality. Lets take some examples:

    1. Abolition of legal slavery. This was a significant moral step forward, and it was achieved not because of religion but despite of it. Mohammad even has two whole suras (33 and 66 - read them) expressedly allowing him to bed as many of his slaves as he wished! In Christianity, the old testament allows and encourages slavery, even providing a framework of rules for it, much like the quran. As far as I know the new testament doesn't mention it explicitly but has mentions of it being normal/acceptable. Corrections here would be gratefully received.

    2. Universal human rights. These were spelt out through discussion among learned men, again moving actively against typical religious views which encourage separation of groups based on their religion.

    3. Womens rights. No explanation needed.

    Today we live in a world morally far more pleasant than probably any other time in history. Human rationality (or philosophy, if you like) did this, not religion. You talk about exercising our will - we have always done that (at what point did god stop and man take over?) and while we are not perfect, we are getting better mostly despite religion rather than because of it. The difference in the past is that people exercised their (selfish) will and claimed it to be god's.

    Gerhard Adam
    Part of the reason you may interpret my view of religion as "charitable" is because I want to provide the same leeway there, as is expected when people assume that science is an atheistic pursuit.

    One of the problems in religion is that its history has been one of conflict and competition with politics, and consequently we find much of what is called "religion" is actually residual politics from a period when it held more influence in that quarter.  However, once we eliminate the trappings of the church (and its political implications), we are only left with philosophy.

    We have to be very careful to not simply portray our personal positions more favorably simply because we agree with them.  In the same way the Inquisition doesn't represent religion (although it was carried out by religion), neither does the Nazi eugenics program represent science (although it was carried out by scientists).  Whenever people are involved, we will find all manner of bias and abuse involved in whatever idealized doctrine we follow, but let's not assume that the underlying doctrine is flawed because of the people that practice it.

    Most of the advances (including scientific) have been conducted by religious and non-religious people alike.  Pointing to any particular group is more appropriate when considering the politics of that group rather than the belief it supposedly represents.  One can argue that religious missionaries have had negative impacts on native peoples, but equally they haven't fared any better under the influence of science and technology (consider those tribes displaced by development).

    Science policies can be just as dictatorial in their pursuits as any other endeavor and its only because many of us agree with them, then they aren't viewed as more onerous than they are. 

    If we confine ourselves to the idealized views of both, then science is about the acquisition of knowledge regarding the world we live in, while religion is about how we view ourselves in that world and how we should interact with it.  They are two entirely separate perspectives.

    Because of its history, religion has learned some of its limitations, while science still needs to learn that lesson.  At present, most people would argue that there is no down-side to scientific advancement, but I fear that we will learn that lesson the hard way.  Knowledge is power, and power is political.   Consequently we aren't mature enough (as a species) to intelligently ask whether some things are better left alone.

    If we don't do more to address that issue, we will discover that the success experienced by science can just as readily be turned into tyranny which will be significantly more difficult to undo.
    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley

    1. Abolition of legal slavery. This was a significant moral step forward, and it was achieved not because of religion but despite of it.

    I’m not going to discuss Islam here, so I’ll skip the next sentence.

    In Christianity, the old testament allows

    Certainly, it doesn’t prohibit it, but that’s not quite the same.

    and encourages slavery,

    Where does it say, in effect, that slavery is a “damgudthyng”?

    even providing a framework of rules for it,

    Taking into account that at that time slavery was simply taken for granted by everybody, of whatever degree of civilization, one must ask “what sort of rules?”  Some of them are certainly property rules, but

    Exodus 21:27 – “If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let the slave go free because of his tooth”

    may have been quite progressive for the time.

    much like the quran.

    Have you compared them carefully?

    Certainly, in Judah, it appears that misgivings about slavery were arising:

    Jeremiah 34:8-12, 16
    The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them, that everyone should set free his Hebrew slaves, male and female, so that no one should enslave a Jew, his brother.  And they obeyed, all the officials and all the people who had entered into the covenant that everyone would set free his slave, male or female, so that they would not be enslaved again. They obeyed and set them free.  But afterwards they turned round and took back the male and female slaves they had set free, and brought them into subjection as slaves. . . . but then you turned round and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves.

    As far as I know the new testament doesn't mention it explicitly but has mentions of it being normal/acceptable.

    At first glance, the following (Colossians 3:22 – 4:1) might appear to bear that out.

    “Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.  Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

    However, we were in the Roman world, where slavery had become an industry.  The last sentence would have been perhaps shocking to your average Ancient Roman.

    From the following list of “baddies”, one can see that St. Paul did not approve of the slave trade

    1 Timothy 1:9-11 –
    “understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

    G.K.Chesterton, in The Everlasting Man, says the following:

    “Aristotle was perhaps the wisest and most wide-minded man who ever lived. He founded himself entirely upon fundamentals, which have been generally found to remain rational and solid through all social and historical changes. Still, he lived in a world in which it was thought as natural to have slaves as to have children. And therefore he did permit himself a serious recognition of a difference between slaves and free men. Christ as much as Aristotle lived in a world that took slavery for granted. He did not particularly denounce slavery. He started a movement that could exist in a world with slavery. But he started a movement that could exist in a world without slavery. He never used a phrase that made his philosophy depend even upon the very existence of the social order in which he lived.”


    History has shown, alas, that things were not plain sailing from then on.  One would have to read the Abolitionists themselves to find out how much their struggle went with or against the grain of whatever degree of Christianity they may have had.  If one is to believe Hollywood, there were those who put forward Biblical-sounding arguments in favour of slavery, provided those slaves were black.  However, I might put forward that much “scientific”-sounding racism, much of it coming from people who ridiculed Christianity, arose as a sort of “energy-minimizing” solution to the problem of keeping what commerce asked for while squaring it with a public conscience which could not otherwise accept chattel slavery.

    And I always found essay writing difficult at school!

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    "all the past we leave behind we take up the task eternal and the burden and the lesson,conquering holding daring venturing so we go the unknown ways ,pioneers oh pioneers",so the chorus of my school hymn went.As Hank once said,science is about laws,conquering and holding what we know,but to stay in this and not to "dare and venture" is certainly to make a religion out of science,mindlessly hanging on to the little truth we have when everything around us is yelling"EVOLVE",like for instance climate change.Faith by the way the bible says is the evidence of things not yet seen which is the same in science as using the laws that we do know as a springboard to understand new things that we don't yet know.My greatest problem with scientists is they can't see the truth sometimes when it's simple,they tend to look for complex solutions that will show off their knowledge.The symbol for infinity is a circle with one half turned upside down and inside out to the other half,no ending and no beginning,but all kinds of new and wonderfull things can happen within that circle.How many scientists can see this simple truth?

    Woo-hoo! I wish I'd noticed that bit about enslavers being contrary to sound doctrine before. Thanks.
     
    blue-green

    Concerning verification in science (religion and philosophy) …. The common man and even scientists working under different managements, do not have the training, funds, time, tools, passwords or keys to verify much of what is reported in cutting edge science. Trust is paramount, and trust, is in part dependent on one's social conditioning. 

    The shaky overlord for scientists is the larger framework of universities …. the whole sorry business of education …. job placement and security…. which is being retooled before our very eyes.

    When Gerhard claims that “Most of the tenets of religion are valid regardless of whether the"entities" involves are real or not”, I too wonder what examples he has in mind in his non-overlapping spheres of religion, science and philosophy.

    Perhaps he means no more than the following paraphrased: “One of the problems in religion/science is that its history has been one of conflict and competition with politics/funding, and consequently we find much of what is called religion or science is actually residual politics from a period when it held more influence in that quarter. However, once we eliminate the trappings of the institutions (and its political implications), we are only left with philosophy/Socrates.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, I obviously haven't said it very well.

    My only point was that the fundamental "teachings" of religion could "stand alone" regardless of whether the "mystical" elements of the religion existed or not.  In other words, I don't need to have God or Jesus be "real" in order for their "teachings" to be considered philosophy.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, I obviously haven't said it very well.
    <pounce> I think you said it only too well. It's what you're saying that's at fault , not the way you say it :) </>
    My only point was that the fundamental "teachings" of religion could "stand alone" regardless of whether the "mystical" elements of the religion existed or not. In other words, I don't need to have God or Jesus be "real" in order for their "teachings" to be considered philosophy.
    That was why I listed so many examples of Christian teachings which become, frankly, ridiculous superstitions, if God and Jesus are not (absolutely) real.

    Where does that leave:
    I criticize religion ... in attempting to argue that their philosophy isn't simply appropriate, but to leverage it with a kind of "scientific realism"
    I can't see how you can separate out the philosophy from the reality claims - if the religion itself declares them to be essential.
    to bludgeon unbelievers with. 
    Well, it bludgeons itself even more then. 
    Gerhard Adam
    That was why I listed so many examples of Christian teachings which become, frankly, ridiculous superstitions, if God and Jesus are not (absolutely) real.
    Which is precisely what they are to an unbeliever.

    If the requirement is that they are "real", then the entire enterprise is doomed to perpetual conflict (with other equally "true" religions) over something that can never be proven.  Seems like a phenomenal waste of time.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Christian teachings which become, frankly, ridiculous superstitions, if God and Jesus are not (absolutely) real.
    Which is precisely what they are to an unbeliever.
    Which is precisely why it is nonsense to say:
    the fundamental "teachings" of religion could "stand alone" regardless of whether the "mystical" elements of the religion existed or not.
    You can clear this up very quickly. Just give us an example of a fundamental teaching (of Christianity) which can "stand alone" if (God) does not exist.
     


    Gerhard Adam
    How about:

    "Love your neighbor as yourself"

    "Thou shalt not murder"

    "Thou shalt not steal"

    "Thou shalt not bear false witness"

    Why does it have to be assumed that such "teachings" can only be derived from a divine origin?  Does the story of Noah and flood have to have literally happened for the story to make sense?  Did Jonah actually have to be swallowed by a fish?  or Daniel in the lion's den?

    Do all of these stories have to have a "real" existence before any lessons can be imparted?

    How do we differentiate between what MUST be "real" versus those items that can serve as metaphor?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Oh come off it, Gerhard. I know you like to fight your corner, but you don't really think those OT commandments and stories are "fundamental teachings (of Christianity) which can "stand alone" if (God) does not exist."  Do you?
     
    You were, of course selective in your choice of commandments: i.e. the "thou shalt not's" are taken from the second group in the ten commandments, the ones which relate to one's fellow man (or one's fellow Israelite) and not the ones that relate to God which come top of the list. The first (of the ten) is "Thou shalt have no other gods before me". How can that "stand alone" without the presupposition that God exists?

    Ditto "love your neighbour as yourself".
    On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
    As for the stories - most people except fundamentalists agree they are just that, instructive stories. 
    How do we differentiate between what MUST be "real" versus those items that can serve as metaphor?
    Pardon me if I sound paranoid but this isn't a "No True Scotsman" gambit by any chance, is it? See earlier post and be afraid. Be very afraid.

    The answer is just use your common sense. If you seriously believe that Jonah and the Whale has to be real for Christianity to make sense or that the Easter story can be metaphorical without destroying the heart of Christianity, then I can't really (be bothered to) argue about it.
     
    I don't want to waste any more time on this.

    Gerhard Adam
    You're absolutely right that I specifically chose the commandments from the latter grouping, precisely because of the "lessons" for people.  The first three commandments would be irrelevant in the absence of a God.

    However, if you're saying that the latter commandments aren't fundamental, then the question that is raised is why a belief in God should be fundamental?  In other words, what purpose is served or value imparted?

    Even the first commandment is problematic since, if taken literally, suggests that there may be more than one God.  I realize it is often interpreted that these other entities are "false", but what would be the basis for that assertion?  I also realize that at the time the commandments were issued, the point was that God had chosen a people to represent, so it was an admonishment to them to be "loyal" to the God that had chosen them for his attention.

    Once again, how can this be interpreted if one is not a member of such a "chosen" group?  After all, it is clear that Gentiles weren't considered eligible for Christianity until Paul advanced that idea.

    So while such a belief may be considered to be fundamental to the tenets of Christianity, where is the explanation or rationale that explains that it has broadened its influence beyond the "chosen" group for whom the Bible was written?

    Even the death/resurrection is problematic, since it isn't particularly significant if one recognizes that the events happened to a "god" or immortal being.  After all, death is relevant to us because it is a permanent state.  If you knew that it wasn't and that you would be resurrected, then it can't be considered much of a sacrifice.  These are the problems that surface when we begin considering what it means for these events to be "real".

    Mundus vult decipi
    You're absolutely right that I specifically chose the commandments from the latter grouping, precisely because of the "lessons" for people.
    And that makes such universal platitudes fundamental to Christianity?
    The first three commandments would be irrelevant in the absence of a God.
    Correct. Therefore their relevancy does depend on the reality of God. 
    However, if you're saying that the latter commandments aren't fundamental, then the question that is raised is why a belief in God should be fundamental? In other words, what purpose is served or value imparted? 
    Yes, I kind of got that a few cycles ago.  You think the fundamental teachings of a theistic religion are not predicated on God's existence. Ok. End of subject.
    Even the first commandment is problematic ... These are the problems that surface when we begin considering what it means for these events to be "real".
    What you call problems are the very heart of Christianity. And, since you appear to be immune to considerations of common courtesy, I had better spell it out. If you continue to troll for a theological debate I shall ignore you. 
    Gerhard Adam
    There's no theological debate involved.  If your point is simply that Christians are differentiated solely by their belief in Christ, as well as however other religions choose to differentiate themselves, then so be it.  There is nothing to debate, since it is purely a matter of personal belief.

    Many religious people like to attach terms such as calling someone a Darwinist, because it seems that they can't understand that someone can accept ideas without being a "follower" of the individual.  My point is to try and understand what "ideas" are being expressed here that render it worthwhile to follow an individual.  If there is no point, beyond following the individual, then so be it.

    I'm not interested in debating theology, because it doesn't matter what either of us thinks regarding divinity.  What I was interested in was simply what "value" or "ideas" were involved that would make being a follower of some type attractive.  If there is nothing like that involved, then there's nothing further to discuss.  They are just arbitrary beliefs and I won't presume on you to explain it any more than I would feel compelled to explain my lack of it.
    Mundus vult decipi
    1   If your point is simply that Christians are differentiated solely by their belief in Christ, as well as however other religions choose to differentiate themselves, then so be it. 
    I would hardly call it a point. More like a tautology.
    2   My point is to try and understand what "ideas" are being expressed here that render it worthwhile to follow an individual. 
    Very sensible.
    3   What I was interested in was simply what "value" or "ideas" were involved that would make being a follower of some type attractive.
    Actually you made no mention at all of following anyone. Still, if you want to re-cast it in those terms I can hardly object - this is your polemic not mine. Two of the better-known "ideas" in Christianity are that Jesus was God and that he said "Follow me". Whether they make it attractive to follow him I'll leave you to figure out. Personally I still say it's the wrong question but that's just me.
     
    Now, are we done with this? I'm sure Sascha will rise from his sick bed any moment and delete the entire thread. I would.

    Gerhard Adam
    Pardon me if I sound paranoid but this isn't a "No True Scotsman" gambit by any chance, is it? See earlier post and be afraid. Be very afraid.
    No, it has nothing to do with this, since I'm not trying to apply some definition to Christianity or Christians.  I'm intrigued by the idea that you seem to be suggesting that it is the specific belief in the divine that is a necessary condition regarding religious teachings.  On one hand, it certainly makes sense, but it also changes the nature of the debate [to a degree].

    In my view, I was granting religion the point that they represented a philosophical position and consequently their "special attachments" weren't particularly necessary to make their point or to convey some value regarding the philosophies of living.  If that is a false assumption, then it changes how much credence I would give to the religious position.
    Mundus vult decipi
    I don't suppose it is true for all religions. However Christianity is theistic through and through. Just as a rough indicator, I doubt you could find a page of the Bible that doesn't depend on God being real - except, of course, the very last book.
     

    No, not Revelation, Silly! I meant Maps.

    blue-green

    The shaky overlord for scientists is the larger framework of universities …. whose shaky overlord is the state ….. and on up to a central command which is illusory and sophistical, although it can beat you and send you to its version of hell.

    However, if your will and immune systems are strong, you as a lowly individual can expose the hypocrisy and achieve personal redemption rallying the tropes and fables that are valid from Scots to Jews.

    The spiritual world is by universal witness,the real world .The material world even without the Higgs is the virtual.If i was to say some kind words to you Gerhard in an unkind malicious way{spirit} i'm sure you would think "this person is saying kind words but REALLY he has malice towards me"proving the truth of that old song"it's not what you say it's the way that you say it,that's what gets results".The bible says,"God is a spirit"and"God is love"and this was in the beginning also provable by the universal witness that love by it's very nature can only grow in an environment of freedom which must allow also the possibility of malice to form hence evil came into the world.If malice had been there at the beginning it would not have allowed love to form.All the ten commandments are there to describe a loving person,not to make that person loving hence we need a reconciliation with this spirit of love that was at the beginning of all things,hence the cross of christ.You can know the ten commandments but you can't become a real loving person without the spirit of love hence the need for a reconciliation.

    Thor Russell
    Oh dear, these guys sure know how to make your case:
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328460.300-science-needs-a-universal-symbol.html 
    Thor Russell
    vongehr
    Ha ha - that is indeed funny. Should we suggest a cross like thingy with a triangle on top?
    Halliday

    Thor:

    I'm not sure I like the idea of trying to reduce science to a symbol.  I'm certain I don't like the idea of trying to make science into some form of religion (even though there are obviously those that already treat it so—and I don't mean Sascha, by any means—I mean others I've seen).

    However, if one was to use some symbol for science I think it should symbolize the actual scientific method/process.  In this regard, the best I have seen is illustrated in the upper left-hand corner of the Understanding Science website (at http://undsci.berkeley.edu/).

    A highly detailed version is:Science FlowchartJust my two cents.

    David



      
    I decide to Google "science" images for inspiration but first I had a look at "mystic". Almost without exception the images were eerie, beautiful and haunting.

           

    The science images were similarly inspiring.

              
     
    Maybe a simple slogan would be best. As on the tee-shirt:


    SCIENCE WORKS, BITCH
     
     

    Gerhard Adam
    I don't know ... I think this captures it quite well.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    hmm, I think the article here is sarcastic, and I was reluctantly agreeing with it in light of that ridiculous New Scientist article. Of course science shouldn't have a symbol. And of course scientists don't like to think that science has many things in common with religion but perhaps it does. You can interpret it that way, for example consider these statements:
    1. I believe that in spite of science appearing to become less impartial and more politicized that scientific method will still both continue to benefit society and converge on the "truth". This is because scientific method as shown above by you is so special and powerful that it can overcome our many human biases such as confirmation bias and reputation bias and eventually triumph no matter what the circumstances.
    2. Even if peer reviewed science or industrial science or both become more self protecting then something will stop this becoming a vicious cycle and pull them back in line. 
    3. Because of science or human nature it is the destiny of mankind to prosper and spread thought the cosmos. This is a good thing as lifeless planets/moons will be blessed by our presence and if we discover alien life it would be wonderful for us to interact with it. It is unpatriotic to suggest otherwise.
    4. Mankind is essentially good in spite of the harm that we cause to other species etc. Any powerful animal behaves in this way so we can't be blamed for the nature that evolution has given us. However we recognize this harm and are trying to stop it, so that makes us better than any other animal on earth. 
    5. Technology will eventually solve most of the worlds problems and make everyone happy. The earth will benefit from our presence in the end. 
    6. The continued existence of Mankind is the most important thing imaginable. If we had the choice between letting the human race become extinct or activating a device that had a 50% chance of destroying the entire known universe, then we should activate that device if it would give us a 50% chance to survive. Existence is meaningless without humans around.
    7. Human nature is getting better. In the first half of the 20th century we killed millions of people in wars, but in the second half we refrained from destroying most of the world with nuclear weapons, proving our progress.
    8. When I was young not only was I exposed to much scientific dogma (science fiction) but in fact I did more than just listen to it once a week, I actively sought it out and it has forever influenced how I think.

    How many of these apply to you, or many of the scientists you know? Are they not faith based? I won't deny that many certainly apply to me to varying degrees.
    Thor Russell
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.  Obviously science as anything else is a belief system, but that doesn't make it religious.  The "belief system" of science is based on a few axioms, and then the general belief that the universe is understandable.  In addition, science also attempts to use a methodology to eliminate or reduce the bias' of human mental processes.

    The remaining points have nothing to do with science and everything to do with the personal philosophy or views that individuals may hold, regardless of whether they pertain to science or not.  In short, asking whether they apply to scientists is misleading, since they would apply to any human being that has an opinion about the world and how it operates. 

    Since religion is a uniquely human experience and development, it wouldn't be surprising that anything that involves human thoughts regarding our existence in the world wouldn't have "religious" like overtones.  The question isn't whether humans have religious like experiences or interpretations, but rather whether science is at risk of becoming another version of that kind of religious experience.  The net result would be whether science can become compromised in its ability to maintain any kind of objective knowledge gain once it becomes subverted to the role of "religion".
    Mundus vult decipi
    Thor Russell
    Just trying to be Devils Advocate as to how people may see science that way. It may be true that science correlates or leads to some of the beliefs listed though through no fault of science itself.
    Thor Russell
    Although I understand that this little list was only offered up to make some interesting points about scientists, there are several areas of potential concern may be worth mentioning, if only for intellectual entertainment value!
    The most alarming is probably Number 6: it is predicated (I earnestly hope!) on the confident belief that we are the only sentient species in the "entire known universe". Most scientists agree that, whilst we do not yet possess a single piece of evidence that other such species exist, it is statistically overwhelmingly probable that they do. I would not countenance activating the doomsday device. Also, I can imagine something more important than mankind. Easily.
    Number 1 assumes that we may eventually have sufficient access to a view of the universe that will enable us to answer fundamental questions about our origins. Assuming that is what you mean by 'truth'. I'd rather bunk out and ask Pilate's question; "What is truth?" (John 18:38).
    Number 2: what charming optimism! Alas, a long-term view of history does not support your analysis.
    Number 3: I actually like this one. But then, I watch Star Trek and have been willingly brainwashed from childhood by the Roddenberry Doctrine in which wiser species judge us and decide that, basically, we are "good".
    Number 4: Actually, I do, really, after careful consideration, agree with this. But then, I'm a humanistic person-centred therapist, and we all do, don't we?
    Number 5: Alas, this in direct opposition to my humanistic person-centred bit. You see, it is not technology that will make us happy. It may feed us and shelter us, and I've seen enough real poverty not to dismiss that. But happy? I think you may be looking in the wrong place. Unless science is a religion, that is!
    Number 7: Too soon to tell. Hope you're right. The failure to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons may be evidence more of the deterrent effect of total annihilation than of an improvement in human nature. Or just good luck.
    Number 8: Me too. We'd probably get on quite well. I think we already do!

    It's probably too late to comment on this interesting article, but heck, I've had a few thoughts while reading it, might as well post them.

    I speak from a soft-science/humanities background, but my studies often require my digging up information from the hard sciences. Finding reliable research written for us laypeople in math and the hard sciences is always challenging; I very much appreciate the "smart people" here who write easy-to-understand didactic articles on difficult subjects.

    A couple of observations/questions from my perspective:
    1) It seems to me that in all the sciences, hard and soft, research based on selective data has become a real annoyance. Even in my relatively simple research projects I believe in the necessity of pedantic fact-checking, and it galls me no end to spend hours on what SHOULD be reliable research, based on the reputation of the source, only to discover that the researchers omitted some clearly relevant data, counter-evidence, opposing theories, and significant evidential anomalies.

    Now, my being an old person with an old-fashioned naive reverence for the REALLY hard sciences, like astrophysics, I'm appalled to find such sloppiness in these fields nowadays. Has something happened to you guys, or was my early admiration misplaced naivety? (When I was a child, some of my friends' parents worked at the Redstone Arsenal on the Saturn moon rocket; their parents were close friends of Werner Von Braun. I even kind-of met him once -- I worshipped him like a god.)

    2) An example of the kind of research a "semi-layman" like myself deeply appreciates and respects from the hard sciences. In my studies of ancient civilization and agriculture, I've come to rely on a group of researchers whom I refer to as the "plant, pollen, aggie and critter guys". Not only have I found most of their published research reliable, it's also proven extremely interesting and useful for my purposes. For instance, take their careful tracking of probable origins, horticulture and transport of the ancient Mesopotamian date palm -- seeds and pollen found outside of Mesopotamia, and at least one hybrid variety which could not have occurred naturally. I worship them like gods.

    Or how about historical mathematician Otto Neugebaurer's pioneering analysis of old cuneiform number and math tablets? 4000 year old sexagesimal fractals, squares, cubes, algebraic equations and problems, even quadratic equations. God, can you imagine what it would have been like to be standing next to him when he looked at some 4000 year old dusty clay tablet with weathered cuneiform chicken scratches on it, and observed, "You know, this just might be a table of sexagesimal secant squares." (Although that particular interpretation of the tablet in question remains controversial, most of Neugebauer's findings have been confirmed and have held firm as the foundation of understanding Sumero-Babylonian math. I worship him like a god.)

    3) ON THE OTHER HAND, there are some fields of science and humanities, both soft and hard, which I don't have the time or patience to bother with anymore. Sure, these subjects might hold useful information for me, but I just can't endure sifting through libraries of obtuse misinformation, selective data, hundreds of competing theories (many of them clearly based on a lack of foundational knowledge), leaps of logic and patent pseudo-science (and when someone like me, naive and uninformed in many fields, calls something "pseudo-science garbage", it has to be seriously flawed). I know there are credible researchers in these fields, but I don't think they're the ones getting most of the attention and publication anymore.

    Another major dead end I've run into in the soft sciences: it seems that once a politically powerful group not only gains absolute control of extant copies of their ancient historical and religious texts, but also manages to gain a reputation as having a closed group of premier elite scholars whose interpretations, transmissions, translations, etc, are the truly reliable ones, and these scholars become the sole accepted scholars considered qualified to research, teach, and publish about their history and traditions... Well, it's a mess, that's what it is, a great big politically motivated, convoluted, edited, revised, redacted mess. Frustrating. Hopeless.

    My best idea -- again speaking from the soft sciences and humanities -- avoid popular topics, stay with less popular and less corrupted areas of research, like the "plant, pollen, aggie and critter guys" and you might just be able to produce useful research.

    My conclusion -- I can't really think of one because right now I'm too upset remembering weeks and weeks of intense research, stacks and stacks of notes, an entire room covered with lexicons and language texts and historical works, all WORTHLESS as it had come from what I discovered was politically protected pseudo-scholarship.... (If any of you ever have research requiring reference to the *Masoretic Scribal Tradition*, run away. Just run away. You might as well rely on the information provided by campaign year political advertisements!)

    Anyone else here with similar woes?

    rebecca

    vongehr
    It's probably too late to comment on this interesting article
    Never too late to comment on any of my articles.
    Has something happened to you guys, or was my early admiration misplaced naivety?
    Naivety is part of it (I was naive when I started as an undergrad), but something did happen: Publish-or-perish has over the last 30 years corrupted science from the inside. Older papers are quite reliable. What is published in high impact factor journals today is rubbish compared to that.
    I know there are credible researchers in these fields, but I don't think they're the ones getting most of the attention and publication anymore.
    Conscientious scientists do not have the time to play the fame game and politics all day.
    avoid popular topics, stay with less popular and less corrupted areas of research, like the "plant, pollen, aggie and critter guys" and you might just be able to produce useful research.
    This can be good advice, because often the popularity of a topic is artificially created via polarizing a pointless "debate", for example that between gradualism and punctuated equilibrium (which are basically the same thing described with different time resolutions). Polarization helps established camps to publish more (e.g. replying back and forth). You must root for a team, else your publications will be rejected by both camps, game over! However, even in unpopular fields there are established in-crowds that got there via compromising on the scientific method. I went into Helium cluster physics at some point, not a popular topic, yet it became clear that the big guys there are doing seriously shoddy work and suppress criticism. Moreover, I for example am actually interested in fundamental quantum stuff, and that is popular, nothing I can do about it!
    rholley


    This, I think, is the cuneiform tablet you are referring to.  The Wikipedia article, Plimpton 322, discusses how interpretations of its function have developed over the years.

    Thinking of the Masoretic text, and your “god-like beings”:

     אֲנִי-אָמַרְתִּי, אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם;    וּבְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כֻּלְּכֶם.



    But perhaps Asaph is thinking more of the people like those that control access to material you require.


    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    This is Samm Dickens posting this on behalf of my wife, Rebecca, whose dictation I have taken. She makes an excellent Dictator. Believe me. I know. :-) And so we begin...

    "Now where were we?" she asks. I read your posts and was getting ready to post a response to you guys but I took the time to steady that last boulder I had rolled to the hilltop and of course, Avalanche! As Yogi Berra is noted for saying, "Seems like deja vu all over again!" :-)

    Sascha, what are helium clusters? The up side of being drawn to an over-crowded and competitive discipline where your chances of recognition are nil is that you are completely free to pursue research in whatever study to which the gods may lead you, using any methodology you choose. Having no established reputation to protect and defend, and no external expectations to meet, you are free to enjoy the journey and even have a little fun along the way. For example you might enjoy making a cheeky little YouTube video featuring quantum particles. The creative possibilities are limitless. For example, here's a link to a short video loop I put together. Now, just substitute some cute little quantum particles and particle movements for the bouncy thingies in this loop and we could be talking viral video. :-)

    http://vimeo.com/37623011

    ***(Samm note: Sure you could use quarks or leptons, but I recommend what I call "FIPs", [fundamental indivisible particles]. We don't know what or where they are, but we know they've gotta be there. :-)***

    Robert, regarding Plimpton 322, sure I'd recognize it anywhere?!?!?! :-)

    Wouldn't we both agree that the "elohim" and “sons of god”, to which the Old Testament alludes, refer to what the Sumerian Atrahasis for example calls the Annunaki? Personally, I don't see any more reasonable interpretation for those Biblical terms, but I wonder what your ideas are concerning the nature and identity of the Annunaki? While it seems pretty clear to me that some manner of "unnatural event", in the broadest sense of that term, must have been associated with the nearly inexplicable “leap of civilization” in ancient Sumer. Beyond that, we enter into the realm of unsupported speculation and pet theory—kind of like some modern theoretical physicists, eh? (“To infinity and beyond!”)

    I've been homesteading beneath the umbrella of “not enough data” (“haven't got a clue!”) regarding my studies of ancient Mesopotamia for decades. However, recently I've been leaning toward one particular category of speculation. Nothing grand or earth-shaking, but I'm ready to make a speculative “leap of faith” to the next step in that direction and see how it pans out. At least, I'm focusing my studies in a direction of interest. After all, I'm too old to continue sitting in limbo, patiently awaiting more credible data.

    Rebecca (as dictated to and edited by Samm) Dickens

    I find this article interesting on so many levels. Most especially, I found it encouraging to read a scientist conceding that science can contain more than a little of the irrationality of the cult. This is always true when, despite all evidence to the contrary, a system is judged by its adherents to be flawless and without alternatives. I particularly enjoyed the use of the two definitions of “rationalisation”!
    Of course, the scientific method is remarkably elegant and effective for increasing our understanding of so many things. It has brought enormous benefits to mankind. However, the problem arises when a scientist, in his or her enthusiasm, labours under the delusion that its effectiveness is equal when applied to all the problems that people face and that it is always the best method to employ when facing any of the situations of life. When this happens several things may be observed to be going wrong:
    Firstly, scientists can be found talking about scientific 'proof', an oxymoron if ever there was one - this surely contributes to the sort of misunderstanding of the scientific method that leads to the utter rejectionism of a large swathe of the religious right in America. Even where words like 'proof' are not used, how often are they implied or believed by scientists?
    Secondly, it contributes the "either-or", "them-us" situation that creates enemies and sets groups against one-another. Dawkins’ pronouncements on religion, interesting and entertaining though they are, are often slyly unreasonable and unfair, in that they do not clearly distinguish between religious feeling and experience (common to most human beings) and the more 'difficult to believe' tenets of the major religions which require a leap of faith too wide for many.
    Thirdly, it makes difficult the advancement of science that experience suggests could be made possible by the exploration of new methodologies within science. The disdain that I have heard expressed by those in the 'hard' sciences of, for example, qualitative methods often reveals a lack of understanding and even interest in what other methodologies even within science may help us to learn.
    Fourthly, it rests on the delusion that the scientific method, for all its power, is always the most effective way to learn or to solve human problems. Maslow, one of the most cited psychologists of the twentieth century, in his lecture at Brandeis, famously railed against this error: http://www.ahpweb.org/articles/brandeis_talk.html Maslow pointed out that the scientific method had, at least so far, contributed less to the understanding and development of the person as a full human being than had other methods, such as just talking to people, and philosophical work but that many scientists had an unreasonable certainty that it could solve all human problems.
    Much of the difficulty, in my opinion, arises from a lack of clarity about the definition of the "rational person". If we were more philosophically clear on this matter, then many of the problems within science, and between science and other disciplines, could be avoided. This is a question that has exercised me for some time, since I consider myself to be a “rational person”, with a good understanding of the scientific method, and yet my work is not easy to evaluate scientifically. I have written a short article about some possible definitions of the “rational person” here, in which I call for a broader definition of the term that includes relatively intangible concepts such as values, and which directly addresses the subject of this article: http://blochhealing.co.uk/the-rational-person. The truly ‘rational” person uses more aspects of their humanity than just conscious cognitive reasoning in order to make decisions, and for very good reasons. Our intuition often gives us information that simple reasoning cannot offer us or can even make more difficult to access. Only the coldest of fishes would choose a mate, career or lunch based on a score sheet analysis alone, and those who did would almost certainly make very poor choices indeed. People who rely on a two-dimensional definition of “rational”, it could be argued, are probably not really able to function rationally at all, except for simple tasks, like doing maths! Scientists would do well to remember that even Einstein said that he relied heavily on intuition and what “felt right”.