Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Relation of Science and "Religion" in Popular Society

"What is the motivation for trying to take a religious philosophy and influence what goes on in science?"

Let's answer this question.  For one, I want to say I agree with quite a bit about what Neil Degrasse Tyson thinks about science education.  Science education should be well-funded for the public school system in order to have educated and literate generations.  This is the functional purpose for the common good that public schools offer us.  Now for a point of disagreement...yes, "even atheists" do what he said they don't, and a cursory examination of history will show that for being a non-religion, atheism can be violent, extreme, very ANTI-religion.  One popular example of organized atheism violently against Christianity in particular comes in the form of the Reign of Terror in France.


Where do I agree with Tyson?  Having been in the science classroom and dealt with science education, I would definitely say that while state standards are high, often it is individuals' standards which are low.  I made due with what I had during my brief stint as a long-term substitute and even had to rewrite a portion of the textbook on evolution and history of life because it was just so bad!  I also had high standards, helping Chemistry students move from balancing chemical equations (somehow they had been told to do so WITHOUT using ratios) to the Combined Gas Law.  I even had students in freshman biology understand Punnet Squares and genetics enough to do a 3 trait square.  Furthermore, I am not a happy camper when it has come to the defunding of space travel and the taking of resources from scientific research in that area.  I am also very interested not just in technology, but in the work being done in green technology and ways to make such moves sustainable.  So something needs to be gotten out of the way right now...I'm not suggesting any move in science curricula right now.  In fact, I'd say that the real issue here is metaphysics and its confusion with science and religion.  Let me explain.

Let's point out the elephant in the room (at least to me):  Other fields of study in science.  Clearly Tyson allows for his love of economic growth in this country (a form of Nationalism) drive why he believes science should be done properly.  Of course he believes in science for other reasons personally, but he conveys it pragmatically.  That's the first.  The other, he doesn't bring up how mad he is at math, English, and sociology in the science classroom.  Clearly these are not necessarily science proper and should be abandoned.  Of course, Tyson would never suggest that.  This actually makes science a sort of medieval philosophy stand-in, being as it were, the "Queen of the Sciences" in its own right.  The modern mythology is one of pure scientific progress (listen to how many scientists talk about the scientific endeavor) that operates only from reason and evidence.  But let's be real...it doesn't.  And on top of the fact that any progress in science is only particular for the given time period until it is shown to be false.  Surely evidence would tell the ancients that the earth was the geometric center of the universe...point of view, common experience of moving objects, etc.  Science of the day would clearly favor an Earth-centered system...period.  Hell, it matched the senses too!  But reality was, eventually it was overturned by further investigation...and here is where this idea of science as pure reason and evidence runs into problems.  What is evidence?  How much evidence do we have?  The main reason science can speak with such authority has to do with its privileged place (and not unjustly earned) in society.  Religion used to do this as well, then philosophy, and finally science.  All have had their time in the sun, and it would be foolish to not think that new discoveries will constantly overturn many things we have known.  Thought Absolute Zero was the lowest we could get things?  Sorry, wrong!  Thought human anatomy was most likely finished with its work?  Sorry, wrong again!  The list can truly go on and on.  But here is the problem...many people including Tyson are confused about what science does.

Does science tell us how the world works?  No...it tells us about an event being tested. Don't believe me?  Did you see the sun rise yesterday?  Ok, did you see the sun rise the day before?  Now, this doesn't seem too big of a deal until I get to before you were born.  Did you see the sun rise then?  No you didn't!  Aw snap!  How do you know it did?  You were told it by an authority and/or you took it for granted as happening in the past as it happened today.  Usually a good assumption.  How old is the world according to modern geology?  4.53 billion years you say!!!  Well I can safely say I've only been able to directly observe the sun rising 6.84 x 10^-9 of the time, or 0.000000684% of the life of the Earth.  Those aren't good odds to base a probability on...but we ALWAYS do.  But wait, you might say this is a reasonable assumption, but I want to ask why?  Why not think the earth has always existed and the sun always risen as happens even when we don't see it?  You postulate a beginning to our planet, but there are also different competing theories about that...and the fact is not one of them needs to be correct.  Think about that.  It's not just the nebular hypothesis vs some other theory of our planet's formation, it could be a ton of different hypotheses and yet there is only one reality.  And even if this is true that we know this in a progressive way, what is to stop us from having a different revolution in understanding?  Newton rocked the universe of physics, and was concurrently rocked by Einstein...who knows what rocking will be done in the future?  The truth of the matter is that science is an induction of particular events to a universal statement of the world, and it is never absolute.  This is why we need to put explanations derived from science into theories.  Theories are models to explain the different observations and experiments we have drawn from science.  This is awesome and needs to be done, but first and foremost, Dr. Tyson and many others who have this view of religion and science are absolutely in error about how science really works and its relation to the world.  At this point, atheistic apologists will add "but that's what makes science so much better than religion, it can change based on evidence."  Frankly, that just means science is eternally ignorant and this argument is arrogant about its ignorance.  And its willingness to change about certain things that touch on fundamental aspects of the methodological turned metaphysical naturalism of science leaves me in doubt.  

Moral superiority cannot be based on knowledge of ignorance alone.  Even the willingness to change means you'll change at the first hint of evidence or rather how strong it is based on your own idea of what is "strong."  The same can be said for many people and their belief or non-belief in God.  Whenever I hear an atheist or agnostic talk about "there's no evidence for God" I'm always taken aback at the statement...if I could put God into a test tube and show Him to you, you'd doubt His being truly God...same thing if I put God to another test...this would destroy His personhood and make Him just a natural law or something.  What evidence are you talking about?  Seriously, think about what evidence you are talking about.  If you are purely a materialist who uses materialistic methods of epistemology, you have de facto written out supernatural entities or causes...no amount of evidence can overthrow that starting point save direct address, and even this might lead you to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist first...maybe with good reason depending on how often that actually does NOT happen.  Although, perhaps it can be done, but the threshold at which this occurs is fuzzy.

Also, "religion" or even that "dead philosophy" can actually give grounding reason for the drive and study of the world with science.  I love science because I believe not only that a rational being designed and made the world, but that He made it intelligible and that my being the image of God involves the deification of nature by our rational investigation of it using our logos.  I also have a view to the future, both involving stewardship and a fuller vision of the world and its future, one based more solidly than on some ethical empathy for a person I don't know either across the world or in the future.  On top of that, the practical element still is at the forefront of this thought.  The idea of technological (not necessarily scientific) progress is integral to our being human beings who are told to be fruitful.  This is reason enough to not simply discard religious thought from the scientific enterprise...and if you're lucky, we could include math and linguistics in this discussion to.  But no history, oh God help you if I find history in my science class...DANGIT!  Geology!!!  

POSTSCRIPT:  In the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham a little while ago, Nye said there was no distinction between operational and historic science.  Please refer to ATHEIST Arthur Strahler's book Understanding Science from Prometheus Books for your thorough education about the philosophy of science and the necessity of the distinction.

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