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View Diary: Atheist Digest '10: Glossary (80 comments)

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  •  Superstition is the broth that religious soup is (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, RandomActsOfReason

    made in.  I personally try to identify and avoid any kind of superstition, as it can usually only get you into trouble.

    "Religion allows people by the millions to believe things, that only a crazy person could believe on their own." -Sam Harris

    by XNeeOhCon on Thu Aug 05, 2010 at 12:22:26 PM PDT

    [ Parent ]

    •  Same here... (3+ / 0-)

      ...I won't let myself "knock on wood" or be afraid to walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside, etc.  All of those things are perfectly ridiculous.  

      I'm routinely blown away when I see adults doing avoiding these things as if they would ruin their day.  And the whole thing where buildings don't have a 13th floor?  Ludicrous.

    •  Just being logical about it (0+ / 0-)

      All other people, in all other cultures, at all other times, religious and non-religious, can now be seen as being possessed by what can be considered as silly superstitions. They very often thought others had superstitions, and that they didn't.

      It's easy imply that we are exactly the same; it's hard to hold that we aren't.

      •  "Exactly"? (3+ / 0-)

        C'mon--that way lies absolutist postmodernism.

        Some of the things we think we know we really do know. Not everything is an arbitrary Kuhnian paradigm.

        [Thomas] Kuhn did not deny that there is progress in science, but he denied that it is progress toward anything. He often used the metaphor of biological evolution: scientific progress for him was like evolution as described by Darwin, a process driven from behind, rather than pulled toward some fixed goal to which it grows ever closer. For him, the natural selection of scientific theories is driven by problem solving. When, during a period of normal science, it turns out that some problems can't be solved using existing theories, then new ideas proliferate, and the ideas that survive are those that do best at solving these problems. But according to Kuhn, just as there was nothing inevitable about mammals appearing in the Cretaceous period and out-surviving the dinosaurs when a comet hit the earth, so also there's nothing built into nature that made it inevitable that our science would evolve in the direction of Maxwell's equations or general relativity. Kuhn recognizes that Maxwell's and Einstein's theories are better than those that preceded them, in the same way that mammals turned out to be better than dinosaurs at surviving the effects of comet impacts, but when new problems arise they will be replaced by new theories that are better at solving those problems, and so on, with no overall improvement.

        All this is wormwood to scientists like myself, who think the task of science is to bring us closer and closer to objective truth. But Kuhn's conclusions are delicious to those who take a more skeptical view of the pretensions of science. If scientific theories can only be judged within the context of a particular paradigm, then in this respect the scientific theories of any one paradigm are not privileged over other ways of looking at the world, such as shamanism or astrology or creationism. If the transition from one paradigm to another cannot be judged by any external standard, then perhaps it is culture rather than nature that dictates the content of scientific theories.


        But even when we put aside the excesses of Kuhn's admirers, the radical part of Kuhn's theory of scientific revolutions is radical enough. And I think it is quite wrong.


        I would like to describe my own idea of scientific progress. As I said, Kuhn uses the metaphor of Darwinian evolution: undirected improvement, but not improvement toward anything. Kuhn's metaphor is not bad, if we make one change in it: the progress of physical science looks like evolution running backward. Just as humans and other mammal species can trace their origins back to some kind of furry creature hiding from the dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period, and that furry creature and the dinosaurs and all life on Earth presumably can be traced back to what Pooh-Bah in The Mikado called "a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule," in the same way we have seen the science of optics and the science of electricity and magnetism merge together in Maxwell's time into what we now call electrodynamics, and in recent years we have seen electrodynamics and the theories of other forces in nature merge into the modern Standard Model of elementary particles. We hope that in the next great step forward in physics we shall see the theory of gravitation and all of the different branches of elementary particle physics flow together into a single unified theory. This is what we are working for and what we spend the taxpayers' money for. And when we have discovered this theory, it will be part of a true description of reality.

        - Physicist (and atheist) Steven Weinberg, "The Revolution That Didn't Happen"

        RTWT, of course.

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