Friday, 23 November 2012

Faith Vs. Science

Science and rational thought erodes faith.

I need to be clear here, it is not the scientists that erode faith, but science itself, because faith claims never stand up to independent tests. Religious faith and science are simply incompatible, and while people may choose faith over science, nobody develops vaccines by faith, prayer does not create new cancer drugs, and the quantum physics that makes modern electronics possible was not found in a holy book.

People can argue non-overlapping magisteria till the cows come home but they have already relegated religion to a combination of metaphor parable and personal revelation. While comforting, personal revelation is just that, personal, it will never be a compelling argument for the masses. metaphor and parable suffer similar inadequacies.

In short, any attempt to combine current science and true rationality with religion, removes the absolute nature of gods word. It becomes an idea that can be compared and evaluated against other (more useful) ideas.

So we have a population whose fundamental beliefs are under threat, not a directed intentional threat (although some anti-theists may have that intent) but a threat that is intrinsic in science to all unsupported, contradictory, unprovable, or generally untrue claims.

When people feel threatened, they run, hide, or attack. Anyone looking at the creationist movement flowing out of America or the fundamentalist Islamic teachings flowing out of the middle east can see all these strategies in combination.

The so called "War of Faith" has started as religionists fight to defend their beliefs. The problem is that in order to defend their beliefs they must hide from and attack science and rationality.

Rationality has been the cornerstone of human society and progress, the so called "dark ages" began when the philosophies of the ancient greeks and the east were removed from western europe in favor of a single bible in latin read and dispensed only by the anointed. That same dark age broke with the enlightenment as we re-discovered the philosophies and rationality that had been buried in the past.

We have seen what happens when rationality is denied in favor of dogma.

But rationality and logic are not enough, because they are entirely conceptual. They must be checked against reality, assumptions verified, conclusions confirmed and results shared and replicated to eliminate bias or dishonesty. This is the role of science.

Science is useful, it tells us which plants grow best in which environments. Science lets us know how much a drug is good, and how much is harmful. Science tells us if the faith healer is really pulling out cancer from a persons stomach without breaking the skin or if the bowl is full of chicken giblets and pigs blood.

But science, like justice, is blind, it has no intention, it has no agenda, the weight of evidence determines which direction the needle will point. So science when pointed at the age of the earth disagrees with the bible and religious texts. Science tells us that mankind evolved and shares a genetic heritage with all life on this planet. Science tells us that there was no global flood, Science tells us the that the creation stories of the bible are not supported by the evidence.

Science is not being mean or agressive, it judges these claims on evidence, not on the source of the claims. Science does not know or care that they came from the bible or any other holy book. It cares only if the claims are true, if the evidence supports or refutes. Science is the method not the motivation.

Because science tells them things they do not want to hear, people run away. People will proudly proclaim they do not know any science. They will revel in their ignorance and crow about their lack of education. They portray themselves as rejecting an academic elitism, but this is claim is false because more people have better access to science in their education now, than at any time in history.

Science and rationality are not the exclusive realm of any elite. Science and rationality are the great equalisers, they allow a man with little education from a poor family like Michael Faraday to teach himself and become one of the great scientists of his time. This is possible because he could experiment, test and prove his claims to others.

Hiding from or rejecting science has left many people without the ability to assess the veracity of claims for themselves, all these people are able to do it trust to their intuition to tell them fact from fiction.

An example of the failure of intuitively evaluating ideas is our historic understanding of gravity. The accepted intuitive belief for thousands of years was that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. This reasoning is so "intuitive" that people can be found who still make the same mistake today.

It took Galileo to prove this was wrong, first in a thought experiment where he proved it rationally then by physical experimentation that could be repeated by others.

The claim that something is intuitively true is basically saying that it "sounds right", "looks right", or fits with our other assumptions but we know it can still be wrong. Stars were intuitively pin holes in the curtain of night, the moon and the sun intuitively circled around the earth. We know these things are wrong. Yet people still want to trust intuition in the face of verifiable fact.

Hiding also means that one can only get new information from trusted sources, this is the idea of information from authority.

In science even people who are considered authorities on particular topics are open to question, claims must be verified, a claim that is consistent with all other knowledge may have more weight initially but it still requires verification.

In religion information flows from trusted authority, from the bible, from a preacher, from god.

This leads to the assumption by religious people that science works the same way. Religious people without any understanding of science claim darwinism is a religion, or assume that people take the works of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein as gospels.

And they look shocked and disbelieving when you attempt to correct this assumption.

Much of Darwins work has been revised, the concept remains constant but the details have changed incredibly. Newtons works are used even today, and it would be possible with nothing more than newtonian laws to navigate our solar system with amazing accuracy. But newtons ideas of gravity and time have bee almost completely superseded.

Einsteins ideas were being dismantled even during his own lifetime, and lived long enough to see new models for the nature of the universe evolve in quantum physics. Today we know these models are not perfect and the search is on for what physicists call the unified theory.

As a matter of convenience scientists give each other a certain level of trust, but the right to check and challenge is always there. Nothing in science exists purely because an authority has decreed it so. And in fact one only has to look at Darwins work to see that many of the greatest leaps of science suffered the greatest critical analysis because they challenged the standing knowledge of the day.

In fact the controversy of new scientific ideas is being exploited by religionists.

The attacks on science are best seen in the creationist movement in the US which constantly produces "scientific papers" to support their positions, they cherry pick and misinterpret evidence in their favor.

When religious supporters are unable to get their papers published and peer reviewed by real scientists they claim discrimination, then they create their own peer review panels and journals in order to give the appearance of respectability to their flawed work.

The failure of their claims to pass scientific rigor, the failure to be reproducible, the failure of them to find new evidence that has not already been debunked, discarded and disproved is the worst kind of dishonestly.

Religion fights dirty when it attacks too, It uses its position of trust to spread inaccuracies to those whose faith blinds them to critically evaluating information from such a source. Christians are told there is evidence for Noah and the great flood, islamists are told that all science flows from the Qur'an. Both groups will routinely claim that Hitler was an atheist, that Darwin had a death bed conversion back to faith, and that man is above all animals because we alone are capable of morality.

All these statements are verifiably false, but they are repeated in debates, they are repeated in halls of worship, they are repeated by church and religious leaders who know the weight their position of authority gives to their claims.

In America the attacks on truth and rationality are worse with people redefining history to support their beliefs. People believe that the country was founded as a christian nation and that the founding fathers were all christian. The nation was founded to escape religious persecution, many of the founding fathers were not christians at all but open deists and Thomas Jefferson even created an edited version of the bible without miracles or any discussion of the devine.

Perhaps most disturbing is that people believe "In god we trust" has always been the US motto and in the pledge of allegiance, but it's only so since 1956 and 1954 respectively both changes within living memory. In fact it was changed only because the McCarthyism of the era decided that the previous de facto motto "E Pluribus Unum" (latin for "out of many: one") sounded too much like an endorsement of communism.

The creationist movement is perhaps the the most guilty of all faiths movement it its perpetuation of actual mistruths. They attack carbon darting, sedimentation, tree rings, ice cores, and anything else that points to the age of the earth older than 10 thousand years.

They deny evolution, demanding to see fossil evidence but refusing to look. They claim a controversy where none exists, and they do so out of christian dogma not scientific evidence.

We come then to the most important question: "What harm is being done?"

The inability of so called "creation science" to explain human genetic diversity has forced the adoption of ideas from the middle ages to explain the existence of people with different skin colours - specifically claiming african people as being descended from Noahs cursed grandson and the colour of their skin marks them as slaves. This argument is not only utterly false scientifically, it is morally reprehensible and repugnant.

Worse still people are actually beginning to mistrust science in general, and I dont mean the general populous but the actual people responsible for making decision in the US government. The people supposedly governing the largest economic and military power int he world today.

When children are taught that evidence does not matter and that all points of view are equally valid regardless of how illogical they are you create a population of people who cannot be trusted to make rational decisions, and whose higher education will suffer in any area that requires critical thinking skills.

Taken to it's logical extreme we have a systems that allows a professor to be sued for refusing to recommend students to study medicine if they deny evolution, one of the basic tenants of biological science required to study in any medical field.

Science is a tool, a method, a safeguard against believing what we want to believe. Religious faith is it's antithesis, faith declares the truth in the face of evidence the contrary. Faith tells us that what we believe is more important, more truthful, and more trustworthy than anything you can test or prove. These two principles are not compatible, religion will fail in the light of rational evaluation unless it takes a step back and presents as a philosophy rather than an explanation of the universe.

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