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View Diary: Science Friday: Interview with a Mad Scientist (191 comments)

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  •  A couple problems with that critique (4.00)
    If the answer, of course, to "What caused the universe to be here?" is "God," um, "What caused God to be here?" Also, how would there be a "here" for the universe to be if the universe wasn't? Of course, many serious physicists are comfortable with the concept of a multiverse, in which many individual universes come into and go out of being. So maybe what caused the universe to be here was an event in the multiverse.

    On the arch thing, look at how a sea-shell can form: There's a tiny unshelled organism, and the shell forms around it. Similarly look at how natural arches form, say in Utah: Harder rock forms around softer rock, then erosion removes the softer rock. The harder rock could not have formed without the softer rock, but that doesn't make the softer rock more "intelligent" or "God-like" than the harder rock, now, does it?

    Look, I agree with you that there's still stuff that science deals with even worse than religion. My working premise is that someday the true religions and the true sciences will be the same things. Any religion which cannot accept the most confirmed findings of science will never reach that truth. So evangelical Christianity is hopeless, Catholicism is struggling and probably can't make it, but there's real hope for Buddhism, at least the Dali Lama's variety.

    There is plenty of totally weird stuff that's real and that science has not even the beginning of a good account for. Scientists mostly prefer to mock and ignore it. I feel really sorry for, for instance, people who've never experienced clear episodes of telepathy. Yet science has as yet nothing to say about how those ever happen, except to claim they're "impossible." Scientists are almost as stupid as the religious, almost as blinded by dogmas and habits. The difference is that, as the interviewee said, science is a process that over time transcends the biases of its practitioners to move towards truth. Religion contrariwise is a process that confirms the biases of its practitioners and so over time moves farther and farther from whatever truths may have been revealed to the founders of its different traditions — except for those traditions with highly-developed methods of meditative exploration, which renew and advance their truths in a way very close to science's own mentod of progress.

    •  Decent analysis (none)
      Except for the telepathy stuff, you have a pretty good epistomological explanation of the differences of science and religion:

      Scientists are almost as stupid as the religious, almost as blinded by dogmas and habits. The difference is that, as the interviewee said, science is a process that over time transcends the biases of its practitioners to move towards truth. Religion contrariwise is a process that confirms the biases of its practitioners and so over time moves farther and farther from whatever truths may have been revealed to the founders of its different traditions...

      Keep your constitution close my friends, and read it daily.

      by smokeymonkey on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 07:35:40 AM PST

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    •  huh? (none)
      except for those traditions with highly-developed methods of meditative exploration, which renew and advance their truths in a way very close to science's own mentod of progress.

      Wrong. Unless you can tell me what religious "proof" might look like, science and religion are absolutely antithetical ways of knowing.

      Until religion can make a plane fly or develop a cure for cancer or, hell, make an Ipod, I don't see how religion and science have anything to do with one another.

      Only the White Man can profit from pain -- Chris Rock

      by Karl the Idiot on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 07:43:37 AM PST

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      •  Until science can build a society (none)
        or keep people fighting and dying to save people who they don't know but still love, I'd say they are both different tools for different purposes.  Even if you don't believe in God, religion has made a stable society for science to progress.  Both have killed plenty of people and both have been misused, but they both have equal value in different realms.

        You're right that they are different ways of knowing, but you can't solve every problem with the same tool.

        A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

        by Webster on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 08:45:51 AM PST

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        •  sure (none)
          You're right that they are different ways of knowing, but you can't solve every problem with the same tool

          But why does building a better society or developing ethics depend upon belief in a transcendental being or in, say, human immortality?

          Only the White Man can profit from pain -- Chris Rock

          by Karl the Idiot on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:06:59 AM PST

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          •  I don't think it "depends" (none)
            on any one of these, but I think that even now, there are people who would otherwise destablize society were it not for the belief in God.  Meanwhile, the Bible is filled with things like don't sleep with your relatives and don't eat pork because they are sins and god will punish you.  Science is filled with things like don't sleep with your relatives and beware of trichinosis because bad things will happen to you (or to your "clan").  Same truth with different causes.

            Some people don't need a God to do the right thing.  These are the same people who return lost wallets with all the money in them.  Some people need to believe there is someone out there keeping score to keep them from creating chaos.  Since most people claim to be religious, you could say that if the tribes who believed vs. the tribes who didn't were in competition, the believers won.

            A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

            by Webster on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:36:24 AM PST

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            •  Religion as an evolutionary force in society (none)
              I've heard this comment about how religion may provide a society with an evolutionary advantage before, and I think it begs a further question. The assumed environment of the suggestion is always primitive societies, i.e. tribal groups. I don't really have an argument against that hypothesis, however I do have a problem with any assumption that such an evolutionary force extends to all types of societies at all levels of complexity. I would argue that during an initial development phase, say, to the feudal nation-state level, societies do gain a certain level of internal order from an overarching group of religious beliefs. These beliefs provide order and structure when the government is poorly developed. It's possible that religion, in early societies, functions much as the surrounding 'soft' rock does in the creation of natural arches (as discussed upthread.)

              However, I suspect that religion, if it hangs around, particularly in a monolithic form in an advanced society, ends up weakening the order and peacefulness of the culture. I guess I would argue that religion functions as an evolutionary force in all societies toward divine monarchy. No matter where a culture sits in the arc of complexity and rationality, religion will always tend to push it toward one which has a king who rules in the name of the god or gods of the dominant religion. In which case, I agree with Dr Myers from his blog, that religion is a mist that  will and probably should drift away as rational, secular culture emerges. The problem is, as I see it, that occasionally the fog returns, and we start to hear monsters in the murk, and we end up hurting each other as we flounder around.  

              -- I share no man's opinions; I have my own. -t -6.75 -3.79

              by tergenev on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 10:40:29 AM PST

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            •  good point (none)
              One of the most important functions of religion has been social hierarchy; a rigid belief structure that regulates the functions of a society.  Historically, without it, misdirected anarchy and chaos would have ruled not just a given society, but mental processes as well (not that these things haven't happened).  Religions impose(d) a discipline on social and cerebral order.
              That said, let's not forget the traumas and huge tragedies that religions have foisted on societies.  If you're ever in Prague, visit the Torture Museum there and you'll see what I mean.

              She was only a moonshiner's daughter, but she always made me liquer - Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

              by gatorcog on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 11:12:11 AM PST

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          •  Good question (none)
            Just looking at the correlations, which are NOT causations, just about any place in the world worth living is irreligious, or at least significantly more irreligious than the worst places in the world. I'm thinking of the blue states, Western Europe, Canada, Australia, or other secular, irreligious countries.

            The most religious countries in the world don't show any evidence that it's helping them to be more compassionate or humane.

            This is a perfect example of a difference between religion and science, and how science corrects itself. Religion claims that it causes something to happen, and the information that we have clearly indicates that the proposed effect isn't really there. Religion never changes their mind about it. 100 years from now, there will be religious people still making the claim which is not supported by anything we can measure. In science, a claim that religion causes certain specific positive benefits is a completely testable one. If that benefit is not there, then the that claim will be rejected.

        •  Please don't equate religion (4.00)
          with morality, which is exactly what you're doing when you give religion the credit for creating the desire to save people we don't know but still love.

          As for building society, economics and and the need for security has done more for the creation of societies than religion ever has.  British feudal societies, for example, didn't develop because everyone believed in god, they developed because peasant subsistence farmers needed the protection of a lord with a fortress and an army to defend them against invaders who would steal their land.

          Religion cannot explain why I, an atheist, will fight to save people I don't know but still love.  It's called common decency, which has no need of a god.  Are you saying we'd be savages if it weren't for religion?  That it is necessarily religion that makes people donate millions of dollars and hours to victims of tsunamis and earthquakes and wars?  That the word "humane" would not have entered our vocabulary were it not for religion?

          •  It's a fine line (none)
            I don't think religion = morality.  I think that religion can induce moral behavior in some that would otherwise not act that way.  As far as saying we'd be "savages" without religion, no one can answer that question unless there is a society that exists that doesn't have some form of religion.

            As far as "common decency" goes, what is that, some hippy-dippy, love your brother, new age stuff?  You believe in some sort of "right and wrong" without a scorekeeper or any possibility of reward or punishment? </snark>  You're not the reason we need religion.  I'm guessing you're also not the reason we need police.  You have empathy, but not everyone does.

            A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

            by Webster on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:58:54 AM PST

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        •  Religion has been a very useful tool (4.00)
          I am an atheist and agree that religion has been a very useful social tool.  There is a tremendous amount of scholarly work on the value of ritual in our lives, for example, in building community, and giving us the ability and motivation to act in various situations.  Claude Levi-Strauss and Joseph Campbell are some of the more well known people who have studied myth and ritual.

          Evolution is a messy process that creates all kinds of strange artifacts, so long as they are useful.  Evolution provided our brain structure a propensity toward creating structures of meaning based on our experiences.  These structures thrived or died off based partly on their utility, but also simply based on their ability to self-propagate.  These semiotic structures in early history were mostly based in religion and myth and were found to be useful tools in manipulating the environment, building community, and organizing society to compete against other societies.  A better model has emerged though, because the scientific method has given us an unprecedented ability to manipulate our environment and each other.  Many religions have even had to drop most of their mythological components in order to survive, thriving now only in the subjects that science has not yet adequately delved into (such as how consciousness works and social behavior - issues currently mostly handled only by the soft sciences).  Eventually these sanctuaries for religion will also be covered by hard science though and religion will be further diminished, or fight back, in response.

          I consider this from an anthropological perspective, however, so it does not mean that any of the ritual and myths that guide our lives are actually true regardless of their utility.  Rather, they are very similar to the scaffolding principle that explains how an arch can form or an elaborate system of interdependent biological parts can emerge.  Religion is a human created construct that has allowed certain higher human behavior to emerge, science being one of them.

          I view the study of religion as a subset of science.  It is an aspect of human behavior and history.

          Life is like love in autumn

          by kenjib on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:54:10 AM PST

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          •  Thoughtful response (none)
            I'm not sure I fully agree, but I do like your thinking. For now I'll only quibble with [emphasis mine] "creates all kinds of strange artifacts, so long as they are useful." I subscribe to the notion that we get to keep the strange stuff as long as it doesn't kill us before we successfully reproduce. Makes for a VERY intriguing collection of strange stuff...
    •  Prove it and it becomes science (3.66)

      There is plenty of totally weird stuff that's real and that science has not even the beginning of a good account for. Scientists mostly prefer to mock and ignore it. I feel really sorry for, for instance, people who've never experienced clear episodes of telepathy. Yet science has as yet nothing to say about how those ever happen, except to claim they're "impossible."

      The simple beauty of science is that if you prove it, it becomes science.  If someone shows that telepathy is real, then they will find out why:  Electromagnetic fields transmiting information between people in the way that neurotransmitters transmit between neurons*, for example, or some principle of quantum mechanics or n-dimensional math as of yet undiscovered.

      Science never needs to account for everything right now.  There is always time for that later.  It is an ever expanding process that will gradually explain more and more, but will never claim to explain everything.  I think that failure to understand this principle is one of the biggest causes of confusion about science and arguments against it.

      The key is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and topics such as telepathy and other things currently termed "paranormal" simply have not yet provided that evidence yet.

      * I have always found it quite remarkable that our neurons were probably once individual single celled organisms, spirochettes, and yet somehow our singular experience of consciousness has emerged through evolution resulting from these creatures living together symbiotically.

      Life is like love in autumn

      by kenjib on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 09:37:05 AM PST

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    •  Mockery is appropriate (none)
      for things that claim to have scientific footing and yet fail to provide evidence of such.  Scientists are outraged by the various conmen of the paranormal because these people make claims of fact that they cannot substantiate with scientific evidence.  Producing a repeatable demonstration of Psi is all parapschologists and psychics need to do.  They cannot do this.  Science doesn't try to "account" for telepathy because it can't be reproduced.  If you can't reproduce it, it is not a data point.  If it is not a data point I do not have anything to account for.  Simple as that.

      Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, "Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy."

      by Event Horizon on Fri Jan 06, 2006 at 10:44:00 AM PST

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