Science and religion

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Jebediah
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 03:07 pm
@Huxley,
Quote:
It isn't? I thought it was, actually. What do you think the argument is actually about?
I think it is about the different ways of approaching knowledge...I've been considering starting a thread on it actually, but haven't gotten my thoughts in order.

The stem cell research debate is an example of a science vs religion debate. The religious position is that is simply morally wrong to do stem cell research. But notice that the claim that it is ok to do stem cell research is not a scientific claim--it is argued for philosophically, when you get down to the bottom of it.

Quote:
Questions of this sort, in a rule-of-thumb approach, would be along the lines of "What makes a play great?", "How can I properly express love?", or "What is the best of all possible worlds?". I find speculative questions of this sort to be interesting and worthwhile to try and answer, even if science can't approach them. So, even if un-answerable, I would feel that I would be neglecting a part of my life if I didn't try to answer them. Therefore it follows that, as science can't address all questions, and I think it important to attempt answering questions even if they are unanswerable, that I should still look at other possible ways of answering questions. So, in some sense, I am sympathetic to the view -- if not because of religion as much, but because of the importance I attach to art.
I'm not sure though, that you can't approach the question "what makes a play great?" analytically (scientifically implies in a laboratory, growing different kinds of plays in petri dishes, or something like that). I think this is good critics do, and what the study of art does. One of the greek guys (possibly aristotle) spent some time talking about what made a play great--something about the three unities (time, place, and another one).

But clearly, when we watch a play, we can feel the greatness directly, without having to do any kind of reflective analysis. Simple intuition and experience tell us a lot. But they are flawed in systematic, predictable ways. Good thinking acknowledges that, and realizes that it takes hard work, poor thinking just sticks with intuition and says "I can't analyze this, so intuition is superior to analysis in this area".

And it's true that our ability to analyze often lags behind our intuition. But if we have a problem that doesn't have an intuitive answer, we can't "become more intuitive" and answer it. We have to analyze it. Much of religion, when faced with that problem, appeals to authority rather than trying to analyze it.
 
Huxley
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 04:39 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;174818 wrote:
I think it is about the different ways of approaching knowledge...I've been considering starting a thread on it actually, but haven't gotten my thoughts in order.

The stem cell research debate is an example of a science vs religion debate. The religious position is that is simply morally wrong to do stem cell research. But notice that the claim that it is ok to do stem cell research is not a scientific claim--it is argued for philosophically, when you get down to the bottom of it.


Gotcha. I can see this.

Quote:

I'm not sure though, that you can't approach the question "what makes a play great?" analytically (scientifically implies in a laboratory, growing different kinds of plays in petri dishes, or something like that).
I think this is good critics do, and what the study of art does. One of the greek guys (possibly aristotle) spent some time talking about what made a play great--something about the three unities (time, place, and another one).

But clearly, when we watch a play, we can feel the greatness directly, without having to do any kind of reflective analysis. Simple intuition and experience tell us a lot. But they are flawed in systematic, predictable ways. Good thinking acknowledges that, and realizes that it takes hard work, poor thinking just sticks with intuition and says "I can't analyze this, so intuition is superior to analysis in this area".

And it's true that our ability to analyze often lags behind our intuition. But if we have a problem that doesn't have an intuitive answer, we can't "become more intuitive" and answer it. We have to analyze it. Much of religion, when faced with that problem, appeals to authority rather than trying to analyze it.


What you're describing sounds like Aristotle to me.

I have nothing against an analytic approach, though I would argue that the analytic approach is not a scientific approach.

However interesting a scientific explication of art may be, as an appreciator of art I could care less what the results are. I think a philosophic discussion is faster, and likely yields a better approximation which covers more possibilites through dialectic -- in discussing art, I think the loss of precision is worth the accuracy and breadth gained.

There is also pleasure in the discussion itself, so while the scientific work would satisfy my curiosity about humans, it wouldn't satisfy my desire to engage in discussions about art.


As for the religious: Much, perhaps, but not all. If we are interested in the truth of things I think that fraction worthwhile to investigate.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 04:52 pm
@Jebediah,
Krumple;174717 wrote:
Why don't you ask jeeprs he's the one who insists that science is flawed.


I didn't say it was flawed, I said there are myths in science. I think I will try and elaborate in response to the questions below.

Jebediah;174681 wrote:
But many do believe in myths. Can myths ascertain them for certain? Which ascertains them better?


I have said in another thread that I don't believe in, and am not defending, conventional religion, or myths, per se. I don't believe in religious myths any more than I believe in Santa Claus. But I think they are meaningful. Whereas Krumple, and others, not only don't believe in them, but they also think they are meaningless.

I have studied religions and I think they have layers of meaning. They contain, if you like, symbolic truths about the human situation. Now the fundamentalists, on one side, are not able to really deal with that idea, because their job is just to believe what they are told. And the atheists, on the other side, also can't deal with it, because their job is to believe the opposite of what the fundamentalists believe, in other words, to dis-believe it.

So as for the different 'domains of truth' for religion and science, let me put it in the form of a question which I think is addressed by religion, which is not addressed by science: do you think the myth of the fall has any existential meaning? In the context of the myth of the fall, what is the symbolic role of 'the Saviour'?

Jebediah;174681 wrote:
No they don't. Why do you think that? That seems out of left field for me, sorry. If it was true, then you would be fully in favor of science because it could play the spiritual role of religion. But you often argue the opposite.


I think Darwinism provides a mythical narrative for the modern world, which manifests as 'social darwinism', the ideas of survival of the fittest and so on. Actually a good deal of Thatcherite-style economic theory is underpinned by an implicitly Darwinian view of life. Darwin provides you with a 'meta-narrative' insofar as it claims to provide a complete account of your being-in-the-world as a material phenomenon. I have no doubt at all that Richard Dawkins, for one, has put the theory of evolution in place of God in his view of life; he literally 'worships Darwin'. It explains everything about human nature, biology, the universe at large, and whatever can't be accommodated by this explanation is to be rejected. It is a very religious view, in my opinion.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 04:56 pm
@jack phil,
jeeprs wrote:
Whereas Krumple, and others, not only don't believe in them, but they also think they are meaningless.


It would seem odd to me if someone claimed that.
 
Krumple
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 05:16 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;174858 wrote:
I didn't say it was flawed, I said there are myths in science. I think I will try and elaborate in response to the questions below.


Okay, corrected. I'll retract the comment I made about you thinking science is flawed. I acknowledge your claim that science has myths. Can you give me three examples of myths in science?

jeeprs;174858 wrote:

I have said in another thread that I don't believe in, and am not defending, conventional religion, or myths, per se. I don't believe in religious myths any more than I believe in Santa Claus. But I think they are meaningful. Whereas Krumple, and others, not only don't believe in them, but they also think they are meaningless.


I don't think I ever said that these beliefs are meaningless. I acknowledge that some religious myths can exhibit a placebo effect on the individual. But also I think that a person can be handed lies as a way to motivate their behavior which I wouldn't find meaningless but instead morally wrong even if it is beneficial to the individual.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 05:41 pm
@Krumple,
Krumple;174864 wrote:
Can you give me three examples of myths in science?

I don't think I ever said that these beliefs are meaningless. I acknowledge that some religious myths can exhibit a placebo effect on the individual. But also I think that a person can be handed lies as a way to motivate their behavior which I wouldn't find meaningless but instead morally wrong even if it is beneficial to the individual.


You are saying here, if I read you right, the religious belief is morally wrong, and I do think that is your view. You often express it.

Myths in science. Apart from the Dawkins one I referred to, I think that 'the universe is made of atoms' is a myth. In fact Paul Davies wrote a book with the very title of The Matter Myth, in 1986, about this very point.

But on a much smaller scale, and a lot less sensationalist, I think you could argue that all of science is myth-busting, and many of the myths it busts are its own. In other words, science will form an opinion that such-and-such works like this, or is like this, and then some discovery will come along, and we will realize that this previous view was wrong, and the old view then becomes 'mythical'.

Isn't this what Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is about?
 
Huxley
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 07:09 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;174876 wrote:

Isn't this what Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is about?


I don't think so. He certainly divorces the idea of capital T truth from the scientific endeavor, but he also has philosophic problems with capital T truth, in general.

SSR, from what I understand of it thus far, is a posited mechanism for scientific discovery. It's not that previous beliefs become "mythical", at least not from how I gather you are using the term "myth" here, but rather that previous paradigms are incommensurable with new paradigms. What a paradigm actually is is difficult to pin down in a very definitive way, and Kuhn spent the rest of his career developing his thesis of incommensurability rather than on defining a paradigm.

Incommensurability between paradigms states that there are fundamental/drastic differences between scientific world-views: The Ptolemaic system of astronomy vs. copernican system, or Newton's conceptions of space/matter/energy vs. Einstein's conceptions of space/matter/energy are common examples in SSR.

If paradigms exist, and incommensurability holds, then the understanding that Science is constantly improving and refining its models towards truth does not hold. So, to use a convoluted term that I feel uncomfortable using but seems to fit in discussions on Kuhn, the Positivist conception of science doesn't hold water if Kuhn's theory does.(This doesn't indicate that science holds no truth, however)

The mechanism of change between paradigms states that changes between paradigms occur because a problem presents itself as difficult to many of the considered greatest scientific minds. If the problem is solved with a new paradigm, then a new paradigm is adopted by the scientific community.


So, it's not about turning previous understandings into myth, but rather why revolutions occur in the scientific community in the first place, and what those revolutions are. Kuhn divorces "T"-truth from the scientific enterprise, but Kuhn doesn't like "T"-truth as a concept to begin with. Further, Paradigm continues to remain a poorly defined concept, and incommensurability may hold, but I think it holds better as a sociological concept of the scientific community more than it does as a theoretical description of the scientific process. I think Kuhn is more descriptive of the social life of scientists than prescriptive towards the logical explication of scientific discovery (ala Popper).

SSR is a pretty difficult book, if you ask me, and I can't say I've had a class or that I'm what one may call an "expert" -- I just bought the book and read it.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 07:12 pm
@jack phil,
thanks, you are probably correct. I was attempting to argue that a paradigm is in some sense of the word, also a myth, in that it provides a kind of narrative framework within which particular facts are interpreted. But it was a stretch.

Meanwhile, I really think SSR would be a great topic for the Philosophy of Science forum.
 
Huxley
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 07:16 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;174914 wrote:

Meanwhile, I really think SSR would be a great topic for the Philosophy of Science forum.


I agree in entirety.


Very Happy
 
Krumple
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 07:25 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;174876 wrote:
You are saying here, if I read you right, the religious belief is morally wrong, and I do think that is your view. You often express it.

Myths in science. Apart from the Dawkins one I referred to, I think that 'the universe is made of atoms' is a myth. In fact Paul Davies wrote a book with the very title of The Matter Myth, in 1986, about this very point.


I have read this book. It is a good read however; while I was reading it, it seemed more to be about semantics than actual flawed reasoning. He is a physicist and mathematician himself so applied theory have weak points if they are weakly defined. We see this a lot when trying to teach theoretical physics to people with little or no education in physics. Mistakes will happen on those levels because of the way in which the definitions are applied. There is no myth here, it is just a problem of definition.

jeeprs;174876 wrote:

But on a much smaller scale, and a lot less sensationalist, I think you could argue that all of science is myth-busting, and many of the myths it busts are its own. In other words, science will form an opinion that such-and-such works like this, or is like this, and then some discovery will come along, and we will realize that this previous view was wrong, and the old view then becomes 'mythical'.


This does occasionally happen but it is rare and not only that but science is built upon this fact. That if new information contradicts a previously held theory then it must be taken into consideration. Science is rarely dogmatic that it will refuse to accept new information in the form of an observable data set.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Tue 8 Jun, 2010 07:55 pm
@Krumple,
Krumple;174916 wrote:
Science is rarely dogmatic that it will refuse to accept new information in the form of an observable data set.


Beg to differ, actually. Science, or should I say scientists, will often refuse to consider certain types of phenomena, because they contradict the worldview within which science has grown up. A classic case in point is the controversy, of which I won't go into in all the detail, concerning the existence of parapsychological phenomena. There are research units all over the place that claim to have found statistical evidence for the existence of telepathic communication. All such research is vigourously disputed as a matter of principle, mainly on the grounds that if it were shown to be true, it would undermine the generally materialist paradigm within which modern science currently operates.

This type of scientific dogmatism is called scientism, and there is plenty of it about, even here on the forum. :perplexed:

Perfect illustration of this: interview between Richard Dawkins and Rupert Sheldrake. Sheldrake had sent Dawkins some data about telepathic communication prior to the interview, and commenced it with the assumption that Dawkins would have looked at this evidence prior to commencing. But then the interview started:

Quote:
The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, "But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs."

I agreed that we had a lot in common, "But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science."

He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn't any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echo-location system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but skeptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echo-location. He said that if it really occurred, it would "turn the laws of physics upside down," and added, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

"This depends on what you regard as extraordinary", I replied. "Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?"

He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in "the paranormal" because of wishful thinking.

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, "I don't want to discuss evidence". "Why not?" I asked. "There isn't time. It's too complicated. And that's not what this programme is about." The camera stopped.

The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.

I said to Russell, "If you're treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it's not irrational to believe in it. I thought that's what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn't interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise."

Richard said, "It's not a low grade debunking exercise; it's a high grade debunking exercise."

In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.


Perfect illustration of dogmatic scientism, I would have thought.

---------- Post added 06-09-2010 at 01:02 PM ----------

Other examples of scientifically-conditioned dogmatism:

Quote:
Certain invitees to a workshop on the Foundations of Physics received from the organisers letters withdrawing their invitations. The letter to Brian Josephson asserted:
[INDENT]"It has come to my attention that one of your principal research interests is the paranormal ... in my view, it would not be appropriate for someone with such research interests to attend a scientific conference."
[/INDENT]while a similar letter to David Peat asserted:
[INDENT]"It has come to my attention that you are the author of books on Jungian synchronicity and quantum physics, and on connections between Native American Indian thought and modern physics ... in my view, it is not appropriate for an author of such books to attend a scientific conference."
[/INDENT]These letters illustrate well the defensive, paranoid attitudes of members of the scientific community such as those who pressed for this action to be taken; for such people, science equates to 'closed minded enquiry', in the light of which their action is in no way surprising.

Concerning the addressees, Brian Josephson is a Nobel Laureate in Physics, and has in the past year given invited special lectures on his work at Freiburg University's Institute of Advanced Studies (the Hermann Staudinger Lecture), and Loughborough University (the Sir Nevill Mott lecture). In neither talk was there more than casual reference to the paranormal.

David Peat has a Ph.D. in physics from Liverpool University. He has collaborated with David Bohm with whose work the workshop is concerned, and lectured on the subtleties of Bohm's ideas. He coauthored with Bohm the book Science, Order and Creativity.

update of April 23 2010: A correspondent notes that this kind of thing, the 'exclusion of undesirables', happens routinely, but usually covertly. One suspects that the organisers, under pressure, sent out these strangely worded emails precisely in order that this unfortunate practice might come out into the open. The above extracts, relating specifically to individuals as such rather than simply imposing conditions upon their attendance, demonstrate clearly that certain scientists regard themselves as members of an exclusive club, not open-minded seekers after truth.


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