Friday, April 27, 2007

Science: Still the New Kid on the Block, But Scrappy

I know it's easy for people to get really . . . freaked out about how religion still struggles against science, and the fairly obvious inequality of the struggle. Science is so right, after all, in just about any way a person puts it. Science is demonstrable, makes accurate predictions, can be replicated by anyone, can be falsified, etc., etc. Even if science was “another religion” (it isn't, but even if it was) it would be an altogether better religion – because putting your faith in science generally works. Like I've said before, let a Christian try to miracle their way to LA and I'll take a plane and we'll see who gets there first. When a person gets cancer, let one group try prayer and the other try modern oncology and see which group survives longer. Or, in other words, “Science. It works, bitches.” Which is something that religious folks just can't say about religion.

Given this truth, I know that lots of atheists and the saner theists out there get are confused when science and religion collide that religious folks keep fighting the losing fight. Even while, at the same time, trying to curry the legitimacy of science with stuff like creation science, intelligent design and arguments about “the appearance of design”. Even as religious people criticize science, they seek it's legitimacy, because the legitimacy of science far exceeds that of religion for most people (when you get shot, you call the ambulance and then pray). The fight, like I said, is one-sided and it's confusing to a lot of people why religious folks keep trying to fight it at all, rather than admit that religion is mystical (a field outside of science's purview) and have their cake and eat it, too.

I will now veer to talk about the Enlightenment. For a lot of people, the Enlightenment was a time when people used “reason” and it is seen as the pinnacle of human intellectual achievement. People were obsessed with reason. And a lot of our hassles come from this period, I think.

To me, the Enlightenment used reason much in the same way that Star Trek's Spock used logic – that what people in the Enlightenment meant by “reason” wasn't really that reasonable at all.

For instance, most of the Principia Mathematica, Isaac Newton's ground-breaking tome about physics and mathematics was mostly about astrology. Newton was seeking more accurate measurements of the planets and stars in order to make more accurate astrological charts. Not precisely the poster child of scientific reason. Indeed, it's rather like “flood geologists” using modern geology to try to justify the Biblical flood – any advance in geology they make must be separated from their non-scientific hypotheses before it can be useful (tho', to my knowledge, no flood geologist has advanced the field of geology – science is not what it was in Newton's day, which is sort of my point).

Likewise, it was the general consensus of Enlightenment scientists (who were all white upper-class Christian men, I should point out – though right now I don't intend to talk about the racism, classism and sexism of Enlightenment thinking) was that study of Nature – invariably spelled with a capital N – would lead to a scientific proof for god's existence. The whole enterprise of science was built on finding their god.

Unfortunately for them, the evidence actually took them in a wholly different direction. And it wasn't until the Romantic Era that scientists faced that. It isn't really the Enlightenment (also known as the “Era of Religious Wars”, which is often forgotten by cheerleaders of the Enlightenment that the worst Christian-on-Christian violence was during the Enlightenment – the Thirty Year's War destroyed Germany, for instance, which in terms of relative death made WWII look like a border skirmish; the horror rivaled the Black Death) that the scientific method was developed. It was during the foofy Romantic Era that scientists really broke away from religion. Those Enlightenment scientists looked for god. The Romantic scientists? Nope. They're the people who stopped looking for evidence of the divine because, after centuries of looking for such evidence, it became obvious that the conclusions pointed in the other direction.

So, for my own part, I actually see the creation scientists, intelligent designers and their ilk as being the heirs to the Enlightenment, still engaged in the fool's errand of trying to prove the existence of their god with “science”. Unsurprisingly, then, that these same people would gleefully plunge our world into a new Age of Religious Wars – armed with the material certainty that their god is the right one, it would follow with the mindless mechanical precision of Newtonian physics that they would use violence to spread their faith. Give me the Romantic view of science any day, which is sprawling and brawling, and, yes, passionate – but entirely material, without the faintest whiff of the divine, and thus absent of religious certainty and the raw material of genocidal religious conflicts.

And . . . to try to get to my point, modern science, as a Romantic invention, is about 200 years old. Christianity is 2000 years old. Science is a mere tenth the age of Christianity and every day, almost every hour, the strength of science grows. Science is a new growth compared to the mighty oak of Christianity (and other religions, but I tend to focus on Christianity because I'm American and Christianity is very relevant). It is largely cultural inertia that prevents religion from being discarded – for thousands of years, for a hundred generations, people have been told the religious lies. So, charting the progress of science vs. religion, the destruction of religion is nigh. The last thing we scientific materialists need to overcome is the Enlightenment baggage that Christians keep trying to project into religion – which is inevitable, because the evidence still points away from a higher power.

So, despair not.

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Stew said...

A brilliant post Chris. Thanks for the reminder. Science works.

April 28, 2007 12:48 AM  
L>T said...

As I see the nature of Christianity, it HAS to gobble everything up in it's path to survive. First it gobbles up other religions,(ex. Judism) then it gobbles up philosophy(Aristotelian Scholasticism)now it's trying hard to gobble up Science with creation Science. Christianity in reality (IMO)has so little to do with faith & so much to do with Theology. (I know I'm not articulating this well, but it's just coming to me as I read your post.)

Also, I have never really criticized the Enlightenment period. (My understanding of it is rudimentry anyway)I've always seen it as a stepping stone & not a hindrence to our higher consciousness(don't freak out over that word, I mean it in a not so spiritual way) So this is a new twist for me... it will take a little thought.

April 28, 2007 7:41 AM  
L>T said...

Oh BTW I finished reading the screen play. I'll post my thoughts on the post of the same.

April 28, 2007 7:42 AM  
breakerslion said...

I begin to believe that Comfort and his kind are not the least concerned with the truth, accuracy, or scientific provability of their assertions. They merely sow dissention, then accumulate a choir of wishful thinking parrots to donate money in order to shore up "their" side of the "conflict". Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard are proof that some people will believe anything that a skilled mass-hypnotist programs them to believe. Compared to some of the drivel out there, Dr. Dino's crap is plausible. I prefer to believe in a giant, 5-foot tall talking white duck in a sailor suit with no pants. I've seen it! /sarcasm My point is, with all the goofy, acid-trip kind of garbage that we (some of us) assault our children with, is it any wonder that they grow up and have no trouble believing that they live in a cartoon universe?

One of the most telling proofs for me that prayer does not work, is the fact that deeply religious people receive no insurance discounts.

April 28, 2007 8:10 AM  
Chris Bradley said...


That science works is one of the key distinguishing features between it and all other forms of epistemology, with the exception of some philosophical studies . . . which generally become sciences. ;) Science DOES work. By design.

April 28, 2007 9:30 AM  
Chris Bradley said...


There's some truth to the notion, I think, that Christianity -- and other monotheistic religions -- gobble up everything, or try to. (For what it is worth, too, Hegel based his whole philosophy around this notion! He called it dialectical logic, but the heart of it was that Christianity as understood by him, was everything unified into one perfect godlike "thesis".) Christianity, by it's very nature is universal, thus it must take everything into account in some fashion or another.

I think that it's bitten off more than it can chew with this whole science thing. Christians, nowadays, like to brag that the age and extent of their religion means it's going to be eternal. The pagans that Christianity converted thought pretty much the same thing! Their religion was just as ancient and widespread. In many ways, Christianity was a more powerful idea than classical paganism, because, like you said, it swallowed classical paganism up -- so everything a person could get from classical paganism they could get from Christianity, and "redemption"!

Science? Better than that, even. Science doesn't offer redemption, and doesn't have a concept of sin, but . . . it works. Which makes it more like magic than religion, insofar as science, like magic, offers things like material wealth and comfort, longevity, and happiness in this world. How it differs from magic is that, y'know, it can give what it offers. ;)

April 28, 2007 9:36 AM  
Chris Bradley said...


I think that Comfort and his ilk are honest dealers. I think they're deluded and wrong, but I don't think it's largely about money or prestige. Like you said, folks like Hubbard and Smith demonstrate that people will buy -- really buy -- any snake oil if sold convincingly. (I think that, in time, they also start to believe their own rhetoric. Both Hubbard and Smith did. I believe both started off as pure snake oil salesmen, but over time they came to believe their own lies, to honestly think they had magical powers and the like.)

But I FULLY agree that after being told all their lives that a dull fantasy book is the source of all truth they've, in some ways, unable to tell reality from fantasy. It's why some of them get so riled up over Harry Potter, f'rex. To me, it's silly. Harry Potter novels are mediocre fantasy books. But when you've been trained all your life to think that the Bible is the highest truth, meaning that you've been trained all your life to think a bad fantasy book is real, the threat is substantial. Now you've got to find some way to tell your young kids why the outrageous miracles and magics of the Bible are real but the outrageous miracles and magics of Harry Potter aren't. They have to find a way to teach their children to distinguish between "true" and "false" fantasies, which must be rough. In short, people who believe in the "literal truth" of the Bible are reality impaired.

One of the most telling proofs for me that prayer does not work, is the fact that deeply religious people receive no insurance discounts.

LOL. No fucking kidding! If prayer studies had any real proof behind them, insurance companies WOULD be all over that, huh?

April 28, 2007 9:45 AM  
L>T said...

Oh, I just remembered a quote by Thomas Aquin...what ever his name is, about God being always the thing unseeable. Like ancient Quantum physics or somethings. The great unknowable? Basturds! they want to gobble up Quantum physics, too.
Ha! now I am really talking out my ass. :)

yES! Science is like magic. In a course I listened to, I think it was on Anthropology...the point was made that magical thinking was ancient mans science. a way to manipulate & understand the world.

How cool!

April 28, 2007 9:53 AM  
L>T said...

They have to find a way to teach their children to distinguish between "true" and "false" fantasies, which must be rough. Now that's an interesting idea. Emotion plays into it at this stage(because reason is a moot point). Fear mostly, I think is the emotion that works.

April 28, 2007 1:57 PM  
Santiago said...

Which makes it more like magic than religion, insofar as science, like magic, offers things like material wealth and comfort, longevity, and happiness in this world. How it differs from magic is that, y'know, it can give what it offers. ;)

Okay, you know I couldn't resist. Magic (for me) has been giving exactly what it offers!

Am I rich? No, but I'm not bad off either!

Longevity? Tell you what, we'll keep hanging out together and see how long it lasts!

Happiness? Absolutely! My magic has led to a great deal of happiness in my life, not the least of which is the amount of improviment from the understanding of how people are fooled into thinking things that can't be real!


April 28, 2007 3:01 PM  

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