Monday, October 12, 2009

Science or Faith?

Posted by James Spurgeon.

In keeping with the theme on this blog, I thought I would start my first post with an interesting quotation from Tom's favorite band Rush and their song "Natural Science."

Science, like nature
Must also be tamed
With a view towards its preservation
Given the same
State of integrity
It will surely serve us well . . .

. . . The most endangered species ---
The honest man
Will still survive annihilation
Forming a world ---
State of integrity
Sensitive, open, and strong

--Neil Peart
And now a quotation from MIT professor Richard Lindzen:
"With respect to science, the assumption behind consensus is that science is a source of authority. Rather, it is a particularly effective approach to inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science; consensus is foreign. When in 1988 Newsweek announced that all scientists agreed about global warming, this should have been a red flag of warning. Among other things, global warming is such a multifaceted issue that agreement on all or many aspects would be unreasonable."--Richard Lindzen, "Global Warming Debate Is More Politics Than Science, According to Climate Expert," Environment and Climate News (Heartland Institute), Nov. 1, 2004, http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=15893. (emphasis mine)
I love science. Not enough to have actually chosen it for a career, but I do find it fascinating and Discovery Science is one of my favorite channels. I could easily make some aspects of science a major hobby in my life. Of particular interest are physics, cosmology, paleobiology, astronomy, . . . I could go on.

While I find science intensely interesting I find the psychology of the scientific "community" and of some people regarding science to be even more interesting. The scientific "community," if I may refer to such as an entity, is unquestionably arrogant. The latest theories are so certain in their minds that they are often presented as fact. In order to do so they must ignore literally thousands of revisions each theory has undergone and the hordes of changes which will take place to it in the future. Here is another quotation, this time from scientist and theologian Alister McGrath:
When I was learning physics at school, I gradually became aware of an awkward contradiction within what I was being taught. On the one hand, I was being assured that the theories of modern physics were completely reliable, the most secure form of knowledge that humanity could ever hope to possess. Yet every now and then, we would venture into a strange, twilight region in which it would be explained to us, in hushed, conspiratorial tones, that "physicists once used to believe this, but don't now." . . . At first, I thought that these old-fashioned views dated back to the sixteenth century. But the awful truth soon became clear. The acceptance of these new ideas dated from about forty years earlier. "Once" turned out to mean "quite recently."--Alister McGrath, Dawkins' God, Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life, p.102, paperback, Blackwell Publishing.
Arrogance probably comes easily to those who are undeniably more intelligent than most and have been told so their whole lives. While that is a reasonable statement, it is not really an excuse. Individuals intelligent enough to be scientists should also be able to see their own flaws and capability of error. A simple perusal of scientific history is enough to make the assessment that science is often wrong, has often been wrong, and is likely to be wrong in much of what it believes now.

Let me say that again:

A simple perusal of scientific history is enough to make the assessment that science is often wrong, has often been wrong, and is likely to be wrong in much of what it believes now.

Now look at the last part of my statement above because I think it is very important. The word choice was a natural one and I doubt if it sounded strange to anyone's ears, yet it states something that is obvious and often overlooked by even scientists themselves. I used the word "believes" in conjunction with the latest scientific theories. It was undeniably the right word to use in this context because theories are, by nature, unproven and thus subject to such concepts as doubt, skepticism, and faith.

Much of the scientific community looks with disdain on the religious community because, according to popular thinking, science deals in facts while religion deals in speculation. Science deals in reason while religion deals in faith. In that sense, the scientific community collectively rolls its eyes at religion and believes itself to be above those aspects of primitive human thinking which religion supposedly represents. This kind of thinking is not thinking at all, it is arrogant bigotry.

Science utilizes faith as much as does religion, in that scientists often choose to believe things that are, as yet, unproven. In fact, science has much faith in any and/or all of its latest, greatest theories. That is why they present these theories so often as fact. But understand that to believe something that is as yet unproven involves faith.

Here is a question/trap which is often posed to people on the right whether it be the religious right or the political right.

"Do you believe in evolution?"

If the answer is "yes" then the individual is considered to be enlightened while if the answer is "no" the individual is deemed a toothless caveman or worse, a "religious fundamentalist."

Yet, the question is a faith question. Do you believe . . .

Thus, the scientist poses a faith question and then ridicules those who lack the faith they have as being ignorant or unscientific. Does anyone else see the irony in that?

This brings us full circle to our quotation from that MIT professor, Richard Lindzen, concerning global warming. Heed his words well.
"With respect to science, the assumption behind consensus is that science is a source of authority. Rather, it is a particularly effective approach to inquiry and analysis. Skepticism is essential to science; consensus is foreign. When in 1988 Newsweek announced that all scientists agreed about global warming, this should have been a red flag of warning. Among other things, global warming is such a multifaceted issue that agreement on all or many aspects would be unreasonable." (emphasis mine)
So I ask the scientific community now, should I rely on facts or should I take the leap of faith and believe in global warming? And if I choose not to believe, who comes off as the reasoned thinker and who the religious zealot?

1 comment:

Allen Lewis said...

James, this is good stuff. I think the bottom line is that advocates of the state would rather you place your faith in the government and in the political class. "Science" is a tool to be used to enhance the people's faith in the state.