A Conversation for Science as Religion

A secularist's critique

Post 1

Global Village Idiot

Hi, I know I'm coming late to the party but the joy of the Guide is that sometimes you come across interesting things just lying around asleep...

Anyway, I know that there's a disclaimer on this article labelling it a "personal perspective", but personal perspective is that such a disclaimer immediately casts doubt on its status as an Edited entry, and I'm surprised it ever made it.

It's also deeply logically flawed. You can't say that science *is* a religion just because it "displays many of the characteristics of religion". My dog displays many of the characteristics of a scientist - he has legs, he eats, drinks and breathes, they even contain much of the same DNA - but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for him to win a Nobel Prize or invent a new type of vacuum cleaner.

The problem with your argument is that religion is a *belief* system, while science is a *disbelief* system. Religion starts from an accepted "truth" and defends it; science starts from an accepted theory and attacks it. Theories may be "suppressed" temporarily due to human and political considerations, but in the end, if they are a better way of describing the world, they will be adopted. Religion is ultimately closed-ended; science is ultimately open-ended.

People might say they "believe in" science, or hold out beliefs about it no real scientist would be confident of - they might believe that it will cure all disease, or end poverty, or take us to the stars in big shiny ships - but the other key thing about science is that it works for you, without asking you to believe in it. The force of gravity keeps me stuck to the ground, whether I pray for it to or not; electromagnetic radiation from the sun warms creationists just as much as evolutionists; the square on the hypotenuse doesn't care if it's part of a temple carving or a diagram in Nature, it's still the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

Humans are very creative and can use all tools wisely or wickedly - science gives us the electric light and the electric chair; religion gives us Christian Aid and 9/11. We could debate social merit for years, but that's about pragmatics, not truth, and the problem with religion is that most of it is internally inconsistent, in that different faiths believe different and mutually exclusive things, and therefore much of it is - by pure logic - untrue.

Finally, I'd like to suggest the opposite to your premise: that religion is a primitive "science": that the best elements of religion - from the Ten Commandments to what foods to eat if you live in a hot country with no refrigeration - are in fact just pre-scientific codifications of useful theories. Game theory simulations give a logical basis to, for instance, "turning the other cheek". It wouldn't surprise me if studies showed that people who rest one day in seven are healthier and happier. But that's no reason to put the theory of relativity on a par with turning water into wine, or Maxwell's laws with the hope that a gruesome and murderous suicide can gain you admission to an eternal paradise surrounded by virgins.


A secularist's critique

Post 2

Mrs Zen

It's lovely when people find articles you've long-forgotten, and post something about them. smiley - magic

And you are right of course, this does sit oddly in the Edited Guide. This is becaue it didn't go through Peer Review but through the University, so it did not have the rigorous challenge of PR. On the other hand, it does sit reasonably well within the Project on Belief, which 'commissioned' it.

Religion as primitive science - yes, that makes sense. But there is is more to religion than that: subjective spiritual experience, for a start. So perhaps one should say 'theology as primitive science'.

But I do think that Pattern-Chaser has a point. There are people whose response to science is unthinking, subjective, faith-based and - well - superstitious. "9 out of 10 cats preferred it" "cleans with active oxygen" "now with ceramatides". C'mon. Those are not scientific claims, they are designed to foster faith not understanding. And yes, I know that these are not actually science, but the tautology "that which is not science is not science", isn't really very helpful, is it?

Another example: the patient who turns up at the doctor and asks for some medicine is putting their *faith* in science. They have not examined the evidence, which is fair enough - the patient is a lay person not an initiate.

On the other hand, doctor very probably hasn't examined the evidence either. Look at the resistance *within the medical establisment* to the finding that ulcers are caused by H.Pylori rather than stress. The medics who resisted that were defending an article of their faith, not examining the evidence in a scientific manner.

So I would suggest that the idea that 'science is scientific' is an oversimplified article of faith, not an observable fact.

'Some scientists practice good science' is on the other hand is sometimes true.

Ach, I've lost my thread, and I should be working.

Thanks for reading and thanks for writing. I expect Pattern Chaser'll be along in a minute.

B


A secularist's critique

Post 3

Gone again



Hi Ben!

And hello to you, GVI! smiley - biggrin

I have little to add to what Ben said. You still have a way with words, Ben! How's the poetry going? I will offer one comment:



My intention was to make clear that a view of Everest from a sattelite *complements* that seen from the himalayan foothills. I see a significant difference between this and a 'disclaimer', which sounds like an apology. Something like 'I'm about to say something contentious, maybe even offensive, and I'm adopting this artificial posture in order to get away with it.'

I agree with much of what you say, GVI, but I don't feel that this in any way invalidates the 'Church of Science' perspective. I believe that science is a tool whose worth has been demonstrated over centuries by its successful application. It works. It is also misapplied on occasion, and sometimes clung to blindly without justification. There are many ways of looking at science.... smiley - winkeye

Pattern-chaser

"Who cares, wins"


A secularist's critique

Post 4

Gone again

So is that it? You raised some quite serious issues, GVI, which Ben and I tried to answer. Will you not defend them, or are the answers you have received sufficient to address your concerns?

Pattern-chaser

"Who cares, wins"


A secularist's critique

Post 5

Mrs Zen

GVI is a long-term but very intermittent poster, PC, so he may well not pass through this way for some weeks or months. I expect if he does reply, then this'll pop up to the top of our convo lists some time next year.

In the meantime - season's greetings, and all that.

smiley - smooch

B


A secularist's critique

Post 6

Gone again

You too! smiley - hug

Pattern-chaser

"Who cares, wins"


A secularist's critique

Post 7

Global Village Idiot

Very intermittent, Ben. I really didn't expect a quick reply after all this time! In any case, I find that going away from the debate and then returning gives a useful perspective.

Here, I think it's convinced me that my disagreement is with your terminology, not your observation (all the effects you observe happen). It seems to me there are three classes of pseudoscientific belief system.

The first is those which (usually consciously) steal science's clothes. There are some for whom faith in coenzyme Q10 or food-combining borders appears almost religious: but I would contend that the claims for these come into the category of product marketing, not faith. But there are religions which try the same trick, dressing up the concepts they're trying to sell in terms that sound scientific in the hope of catching the gullible.

The second is what you yourself acknowledge as "human failings" within science - or rather which take scientists AWAY from science. Pride causing a scientist to defend a theory, not because it is correct, but because it is what (s)he believed yesterday, and nobody likes to think they were wrong. Greed causing a scientist to sway experimental results in favour of their sponsor's new drug. Fear for one's position causing a senior scientist to suppress the theories of a junior. These come from the way we are constructed and raised, not from within science, and are not usually conscious acts of belief.

And the third is the faith IN science you describe. But again that is people imposing their own need for something to believe in, especially in a crisis - it's not something that pure science invites. Science produces the medicine but, if you let yourself listen to it, it also tells you that it only works for seven patients in every ten (still a better success rate than prayer, in most cases). But the patient doesn't have to be a scientist. Even the GP doesn't have to be a scientist, any more than I need to understand the internal combustion engine to make my car move. What they are doing isn't science, it's life: life made better by the scientists who detected an effect, identified the active component, tested it, then refined it or synthesised it for mass consumption.

But none of those IS science. I stand by my contention that there are fundamental differences: that science feeds and grows on disbelief, on challenging the accepted truths, and on change - not on rigorously, slavishly defending what some prophet said one, or two, or six thousand years ago; and that it doesn't ask for adherence - it works from outside, objectively, regardless of what the user or anyone else believes, not from inside by producing a "subjective spiritual experience".

And that brings me finally to Pattern-chaser's objection. I didn't meant to offend you by using the term "disclaimer": I was just acknowledging that you had stated explicitly that you were expressing a personal opinion, and therefore that an attack based on the Edited Guide's normal rule demanding objectivity, the advice to "Write about subjects that can be verified", might not apply. But I'm sure you would never claim that such a statement gives you the right - the right religious leaders and politicians pursuing unpopular policies increasingly claim these days - to say, "This is what I believe: I don't have to justify it further, and you can't criticise it".

All meant in the spirit of lively, friendly discussion smiley - smiley

Gary


A secularist's critique

Post 8

Gone again



Oh, no offence taken! smiley - biggrin I hooked "disclaimer" to hang my point on, no more than that. smiley - winkeye



Indeed there are! There are similarities too, and I considered some of those in my guide entry. smiley - ok

Pattern-chaser

"Who cares, wins"


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