Regarding Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science
A recent New York Times article, Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science
, basically portrays non-religious scientists as a group without any answers to "life’s really big questions."
Little else can be expected from a popular commercial periodical I suppose. Indeed media that is market driven by consumer choice does not challenge those consumers on the part of their beliefs, it instead seeks to cater to the beliefs of the consumers and reinforce the notions that make the broadest part of the consumer base comfortable.
It is for this reason that we can never really expect a market driven system to impose reality upon a public that does not want it. In the market system the public gets what the public wants, and so when the public wants belief, belief they will get, regardless of the facts.
The most pernicious statement in this article, in good literary form, was saved for the last. The article offers as its parting shot the claim that science will never answer "the big questions."
But he said he believed that some scientists were simply unwilling to confront the big questions religion tried to answer. "You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," he said. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions - and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"
This statement is particularly galling perhaps because it is so widely believed, and so fundamentally wrong.
Over the centuries many different claims have been made by a variety of different religions. Time and time again these claims have been proven false. There is not any religion on this planet that has a track record for "being right" about anything.
At this point religions have been able to cling on to things which have not yet been proven, or which can never be proven because they are not testable claims.
The only real questions that people claim remain "unanswered by science" are what people call "the big questions."
The real question is, however, why would a system that has proven incapable of answering even the smallest of questions be trusted to answer the biggest of questions?
Yes, there are "big questions", that people have been asking for a long time. The "faith based" approach to answering these questions has been simply to shoot straight for the final answer, i.e. the ultimate prize. Its an undisciplined approach that basically tries to bypass all the intermediate steps and go straight for the "top".
What we have learned over the centuries, however, is that this approach fails to produce answers that can be validated as true.
Religion holds the false promise that you can answer a question without actually doing any work to discover information, but rather that you can just automatically know the right answer, or that the answer will be provided to you "supernaturally."
Hey, it takes a long time to answer "the big questions" right, and that may take many generations to do, so who wants to wait around on that? Religion provides instant gratification.
Science, on the other hand, has taken the opposite approach. Science has taken the often slow, tedious, and hard work approach to answering questions, but the results are astonishing. Science has been finding answers to questions that no religion has even asked, much less answered.
In every case that science has come up with a different answer to a question than religion, science has been proven correct.
Is the earth round or flat?
Well, it took thousands of years to prove the answer beyond the shadow of any doubt, but when it was finally proven the answer was provided through naturalistic observation. Of course the Egyptians knew that the earth was round through naturalistic observation thousands of years ago, but this wasn't known by everyone, and they could only prove it indirectly, through measurements and mathematics, but when we made it into space and took pictures of the round earth, that was definitely the ultimate proof.
The Bible claims that the earth has four corners.
What is the nature of the universe?
Virtually all religions have claimed that "the Earth" is the center of the universe. Many religions have even claimed that the homeland of a specific people is the center of the universe. The vastness of the universe has been understated by practically every religion, because, of course, people were basing their religions on what they could readily observe at the time through careless observation. If they actually had divine wisdom they would have known better.
How can we cure disease?
Practically all religions, including Christianity, have claimed that disease and sickness are the result of evil spirits or are punishments sent from God to afflict the wicked. For this reason, as recently as 300 years ago, the Puritans and Pilgrims of the American colonies believed that sickness was a sign of immorality and indicated that someone has sinned. People were blamed for getting sick, as if it was something that they brought upon themselves. This was bolstered also by the fact that almost all of the Native Americans died of diseases so the Pilgrims and Puritans saw this as proof that they were vile heathens and that their death by disease was the work of God, killing the unrighteous.
"For the natives, they are near all dead of the smallpox, so as the Lord hath cleared our title to what we possess."
- John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
Likewise, Christians who believed in a world created for people, could not imagine that their God would create organisms that would plague and devastate humanity to such a degree.
Through naturalistic observation, though, we have learned that the religious beliefs about disease and sickness have all been fundamentally wrong. We have answered the question of why people get sick through science, and learned how to prevent it. Something that religion, in thousands of years of practice, never achieved.
What is the cause of hallucinations and strange behavior, such as uncontrolled spasms?
The "answers" provided by religions have generally been that this is caused by evil spirits or possession by "The Devil".
People who had problems like schizophrenia or Turret's syndrome were often killed or tortured by religious people in attempts to drive out the evil spirits or to simply to get rid of the evil host. Just recently a nun in Romania that had schizophrenia was crucified by priests after repeated attempts to drive the evil spirits out of her through years of torture.
Religions have taken hallucinations as "real" and meaningful. People with hallucinations have believed that they were ghosts or visions of God or visions of angels, or whatever for centuries. We now know how the brain works, and that what we perceive is really just a model of reality "inside our brain", and that this model of reality can be corrupted, i.e. it can include images that are not a product of the senses, like the images we see during dreams, except this can also happen while awake as well.
Religions used to tell us that people's behavior was governed by their soul. We now know that people's behavior is governed by the physical processes of the brain. If you introduce chemicals into people's brain it changes their behavior.
We have answered all of these questions through naturalistic observation, and debunked the beliefs provided by religion.
There may be some questions that cannot be answered through naturalistic observation, but why would anyone put faith in an ideology that has proven incapable of answering any questions at all?
The idea that the "religious approach" to answering questions is going to be right about "the big issues", when it has proven to be wrong about lesser issues, defies even the most basic reason.
Furthermore, no new answers are going to come from religion. Religion is what it is - it has made its claims. The only way that any "new answers" can be provided by religion is if there are "new" supernatural events, i.e. if God comes down to Earth and gives out some new wisdom. The basic premise of religion is that people can't figure anything out, we have to be told by God. So, in terms of answering questions, either they have already been answered by religion, or we are waiting until the next message from God.
The only other option that we have is naturalistic observation. Even the use of science to try to verify religious claims is still the use of science.
To say that naturalistic observation isn't going to provide anwsers means that the only way these anwsers could be provide is either by existing religious texts, which one would assume are based on "divine wisdom" imparted by God (meaning that we already have the anwsers), or by some new supernatural events.
Religious leaders have opposed the major achievements of science since the beginning, and claimed that anything that contradicts a claim made by religion will undermine the social order. When it was discovered that the Earth revolved around the Sun, instead of the other way around, the Church opposed this teaching, and claimed that it would make morality obsolete by "contradicting God."
Nevertheless, morality has actually improved since that time. We no longer deem is acceptable to torture and kill people because of their beliefs. We no longer strip women of equal rights. We no long deem slavery acceptable, and the humanity with which we treat people has increased, and we now think that everyone should be given an education and the opportunity to succeed (not just the priests and nobility).
Posted by rationalrevolution.net
at 10:57 PM EDT
Updated: Monday, August 29, 2005 11:11 PM EDT