Scopes, part ii

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The revenge of the anti-science movement

I'm chuffed to bits about the recent ruling in Pennsylvania in which a judge ruled that Intelligent Design isn't science but instead psuedoscience.

Intelligent Design theory and anything like it strikes at the very heart of science in a way that is easy to see but difficult against which to defend. Namely, it attempts to introduce into science the concept of the supernatural. Science is, has always been, and remains a study of natural phenomenon.

This is, in fact, the very essence of science.

To extend the concept of science to include the supernatural is as reactionary as it gets, taking us back to medieval times. We may just as well include in the curriculum that witchcraft can affect physical reality, that a bezoar neutralises poison, that our rulers have a divine right to rule and so on.

The argument that I hear most often from friends who support the idea of teaching Intelligent Design is that you can't prove a negative; i.e. that you can't prove that God doesn't exist, or that he wasn't involved in the creation of the universe. Actually, this is not true. The only things you can prove are negatives and the only way to prove them is using the scientific method.

The problem is that religious activists wish to include something which they claim cannot be subject to evidentiary rules in science. In other words, they want to include something which cannot be measured but instead requires faith.

This is damaging because it violates the entire principle of scientific endeavor. If any part of science can be ascribed to a cause that cannot be tested or measured in any way, then why not all of it? Why not argue that tiny, invisible fairies hold us to the ground rather than gravity or that instead of medecine we should rely on shamen?

The argument is the same and it's a sham.

The difficulty comes in that, if we cannot extend religion into science, then where does it fit? Many folks believe in some form of supernatural and rely on various teachings from someone they hold to be divinely inspired in their daily lives. The fact that science has won every single contest with religion has left a number of religious authorities concerned that God (or Yaweh or Allah or Vishnu or Ahura Mazda) are becoming metaphors for ignorance: God only rules in the ever narrowing gaps in scientific theory.

Their fears are well placed. Every advance that shines the light of evidence based study on an area hitherto the provence of religion has reduced religion's power and hold. For example, people are now permitted to put lightning rods on their homes and are not compelled to burn people claiming to be witches.

The role of God in Modern Society

Modern churches, in an attempt to find relevance, have targeted individuals using modern marketing methods, in an attempt to address those issues most relevant to them.

This has led to mega-churches, crusades, popular books, music and film.

Religion and God still has the power to do the things it has always done best: entertain and comfort. It has a place in the classroom - provided that you are studying entertainment or the business of providing comfort or, say, history, where religion has played a big role.

There is no room for the supernatural of any type in a biology class, a physics class, a chemistry class or anywhere that aims to improve our understanding of the natural world.

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Nathan, in general principle I agree with you. I do not feel that any attepmt to involve the supernatural in the study of sciences is necessarily going to advance that science. Especially when religious doctrine and dogmatism attempt to concern themselves wih physical phenomena. This is a classic case of literalists seeking affirmation across the curriculum. However, I would like to point out that your statement that "science has won every single contest with religion," is a statement of inclusivity that offers opponents more than ample opportunity to embarass you on your own blog. Also, your argument about the use of the scientific method wanders into the same murky swamps.

I'm not looking to refute you, point by point, on your blog but I do want to ask you some questions.
Coming from a Baha'i background, I guess that means that you were raised in a "creationist" household, I can only assume that you are not ignorant of the Baha'i stance that it is imperative that science and religion agree. And, that, in the event that they do not that religion should defer to science because religion often speaks in metaphors and science is meant to address the nature of the physical world. Mostly, I'm confused as to why this viewpoint doesn't get airtime on your blog. How do you reconcile this assertion with your above statements?

Also, earlier, you said refuted the statement that one cannot prove a negative. In that, you included "You can't prove that God doesn't exist." Your following statements implied that you could prove a negative and, thus, through the structure of your paragraph implied that one could prove that God does not exist. I'm pretty sure that there is no way to prove whether God exists or not unless you take a strict definition of exist. This is the case because the converse of your argument also happens to be true. There is no room for the physical sciences to investigate the happenings of the extraphysical. I'm not endorsing witchcraft or any positioin that remotely suggests that witchcraft or shamanism is real (again, witchcraft refutes itself under these auspices because the theory behind it is that the "supernatural" can be influenced by using the natural). To introduce intelligent design is to muddy the waters of science. To introduce evolutionary theory or big bang theory is to muddy the waters of theology.

Again, though, this is not a satisfying end. The field of psychology itself is growing into the mutual contribution of both science and religion. The most effective methodologies in psychology (a term which I use to subsume psychiatry and psychopharmacology) are frequently a combination of scientific and religious theory. How do you respond to the argument that psychology neither addresses comfort nor entertainment yet can (and often must) synthesize two theories, one involving God the other involving brain theory, to achieve its most effective results?

The fourth teaching of Bahá'u'lláh is the agreement of religion and science. God has endowed man with intelligence and reason whereby he is required to determine the verity of questions and propositions. If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.


Mendon, how do you get that we were raised in a "creationist" household?

Actually, I don't know what our parents beliefs on this are. I do know that Charlotte (Bahai and a bio-geneticist) has investigated a 'theory of evolution' that most have not considered. I don't know what it is, but she sure ain't creationist and that is definitely because she IS a Baha'i. And she is freaking brilliant to boot.

Hence the quotation marks surrounding the word, creationist. Consider it scathing sarcasm. What do we believe? Does it matter what we believe? How does believing one thing or another change anything? In either case there are no primary sources that are capable of divulging the exact information. Science, too, is limited in its scope of investigation. The Big Bang will never be fleshed out in the whole because that is the nature of the universe. Knowledge is infitely plumbable and, thus, all we can ever do is create a slightly better image of our understanding. Furthermore, for every scientific advancement a scientific blunder is uncovered (and overcome). The challenge with investigating the past is that evidence deteriorates over time in a random fashion such that accurate recreation of is overwhelmingly difficult at best.

i.e. Who cares how the universe started? What we believe doesn't change reality , only one's perceptions.


Feel free to point out the areas in which religion has proved science wrong.

I'm not going to be baited into the discussion of the existence of God, though. The point of that paragraph is that it is not sufficient to state that something is worth placing into the curriculum simply because it cannot be disproved. If you're going to teach it, it must be based on evidence.

Evolutionary theory and Big Bang theory have powerful implications for religious belief and should spark a reinterpretation of the religious doctrines they affect; religion is at its best when it doesn't trample on physical evidence. Abdu'l-Baha was right about this: unbelievable things are unbelievable.

Finally, I wouldn't say we were raised in a Creationist household at all. Maman bought me a boxed set of Ever Since Darwin, The Mismeasure of Man and The Panda's Thumb for Intercalary Days one year; I'd hardly consider the gift of two rigorous defences of Darwinism from the world's greatest opponent of Intelligent Design theory evidence that we were raised in a Creationist household. Would you?

Mey, Mendon!

You've asked: "Who cares how the universe started?" Good question.

I'd say just about every thinking person has some preconceived notion of how it started. None of them will be infinitely determinable, in part because Heisenberg Uncertainty limits how closely we can look and in part because of the entropic nature of information decay, as you have noted.

Nevertheless, some of those views about how the universe started are very, very precious to their adherents. A great many people care how the universe started.

Oddly, I'd say that most scientists don't actually care how the universe began, only that, however it did it, we figure out what we can about it. But the Christian right does care, very deeply, and they are attacking in whatever way they can those forces that would destroy their illusions with the harsh light of reason, as those illusions are the source of much of their power. After all, what good is Revealed Truth if it's actually a falsehood?

You also ask: "Does it matter what we believe?" and go on to state: "What we believe doesn't change reality , only one's perceptions."

These are a great question and a great statement, striking at the heart of philosophy and the theory of knowledge.

The Solipsist and the Nihilist in me agree that it doesn't matter what we believe. The former because it's all an illusion anyway and there are no other sources of information besides ourselves, the latter because beliefs are irrelevant and therefore we should believe in nothing.

The Rationalist, though, says that it matters what we believe and I'm inclined to lean in his direction. It matters because our beliefs inform our actions and reality is shared. We make our own realities only to a limited extent. We can deny the existence of some truths and create a series of complicated explanations - cf. retrograde planetary motion, which presages General Relativity quite cleverly but accidentally - or we can act on the shared reality to transform it. These are the only two ways that we can shape our personal realities.

But our beliefs and the beliefs of others are crucial. If Mohammed Atta & co. did not believe that there was a reward waiting for them in the afterlife, the twin towers would still stand. If the Zionists did not believe that a homeland with real land was necessary to end Jewish persecution, Israel would not exist.

Speaking of which, aren't you and Mara in the same room or something?

Also, sorry about misunderstanding the bit that "creationist" in quotes was sarcasm; I'll admit that looking over your previous post that it's still not clear to me that's what you meant, but you've clarified it in your later post and that's good enough for me.

This is going to be one of those long threads, isn't it?

Lakota prophecy pretty much states that a) heavy metals are poisonous and b) digging in the ground for metals will severely damage the earth. I refer to your previous post (though much of that is due to digging for precious hydrocarbons). Simply because science modifies itself more easily than rigidly thinking religious institutions in order to adopt the viewpoint with the strongest claim does not mean that it is now right and religion is wrong. I think that, in this specific case, it is clear that "science" was forced to recognize that it was ignorant and religion was informed. In fact, I've got a machine under my fingers right now that has all sorts of cancer causing agents in it, I think that not only is science still in its dark ages but so is contemporary awareness of science.

As for not advancing a viewpoint without evidence, what kind of evidence is necessary?
Also, we think of the persecution of scientists as terrible. How long until the attitudes in your post become so widespread that they evince violent persecution of the religious?
No, Mara and I are not in the same room.

"These are the only two ways that we can shape our personal realities."

Do you have any clear support for this statement? The topic that it addresses wanders into a field where you believe that the most appropriate way to deal with anything happens to be somewhat akin to using a shotgun in the dark.

Hi, Mensch!

How do you know that the Lakota claim about heavy metals is true?

Merry Christmas!

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This page contains a single entry by Nate published on December 22, 2005 10:00 AM.

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