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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