She Blinded Me With Science!

Once upon a time, I was a working scientist. I made discoveries; I published dozens of scientific papers; I managed a laboratory that was supported by Federal grant monies. I would approach elections with profoundly mixed emotions. For many years, the Republicans would run on platforms of reducing Federal spending, but the Republicans would always strongly support the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

On the Democratic side, there was plenty of lip service proclaiming the value of science, but when it came time to fund the relevant Federal agencies, Democratic Congresses generally had other priorities. Still, I voted (mostly) Democratic and my bosses lobbied (mostly) Republican congressmen, successfully, for increased Federal spending on non-defense R&D. Later I became the boss and did the lobbying, but that’s another story.

That is, up until 2000. That year the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting was in New Orleans. Before that, SfN meetings were deliberately held during the late fall but always avoided Election Day. That year, for perhaps the first time, scheduling the meeting (with over 30,000 attendees) had become so cumbersome that we had to take the week we could get, and that included Election Day.

I voted absentee (not easy to do in those days in Mississippi) and went off to the meeting to present my work. I stayed up late into the night watching election returns, and satisfied with the outcome, went to bed. The next morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, walked the several blocks from my hotel to the cavernous convention center in New Orleans, and to my surprise, there were literally hundreds of people crowded around a few TV sets mounted into the atrium ceiling.  I remember thinking, “What are these people doing? The election is over.” But of course, it wasn’t nearly over. There was plenty of election left, as I found out a few minutes into joining the group and staring at ‘The Morning After’.

Something else had changed. President George W. Bush and his buddies were no friends of science. I began to hear disturbing reports from my colleagues, especially those in the environmental sciences, of out-and-out fabrications and wholesale censoring of scientific research. I had dinner with a grants review panel in a Bethesda restaurant, and a program director for the National Institutes of Health who I had known for many years went nearly postal (I was happy he wasn’t packing heat) in his criticism of Bush Administration policies on stem cell research. “Grassroots” organizations such as

 Defend Science sprung up to, well, defend science, which had never needed defending before in my post-Sputnik lifetime.

It was a singular moment. So I thought.


But along with other scientists, I’ve been disappointed as the field is subjected to a blistering attack from the 
Know-Nothing right. At the same time as the Obama Administration, occupied with other battles, has offered only a weak defense, if any.


The Tea Party movement, in particular, has exhibited a strong anti-intellectual tendency which not only scares me (as it would, since I’m an unabashed egghead) but even scares commentators from the right such as
 Rod Dreher (then a Dallas Morning News columnist, now a blogger for Belief.Net)  and Kathleen Parker. 

It was Palin that sent the cat amongst the canaries. Sarah Palin (and her “intellectual” successor, Christine O’Donnell) are the embodiment of this epistemically-closed-and-proud-of-it New Politics. At least Reagan seemed to wink at the idea that he wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, and he knew it. These guys (and gals) are stupid, they’re proud of being stupid (“can I call you Joe”) and they’re appealing to all the stupid people out there that somehow feel that the childlike state of stupidity is something to be aspired to.

I will let Mr. Universe opine on the global warming aspect of this debate, but I will just drop a little factoid which I believe to be true but will leave for him to investigate: 
all 37 Republican candidates for the US Senate believe that global warming is a fallacy. 
As a scientist, I fought epistemic closure with everything I had. (Unsuccessfully, I might add. We’re all closed.) What scares me are the people running for state and national offices in 2010 who embrace it.

About Monotreme

Monotreme is an unabashedly liberal dog lover, writer, and former scientist who now teaches at a University in an almost-square state out West somewhere. http://www.logarchism.com | http://www.sevendeadlysynapses.com
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51 Responses to She Blinded Me With Science!

  1. dr_funguy says:

    Thanks for the link to the Nature Editorial. Being a scientist myself it is interesting to see an opinion from outside the US.

  2. shortchain says:

    Epistemological closure is a fancy way of referring to the belief that all the important stuff is settled beyond question.Which, for the right, is accepted (actually, received from the dead hand — and head — of Ronald Reagan).The opposite of such closure is to act as if everything, such as whether the sun will rise today, or Newt Gingrich will sink even further in self-refuting idiocy in his mad scramble to run for President, is uncertain.There’s a happy medium somewhere in there which will allow a person to accept certain premises as working hypotheses and try to make the world a better place.The hypocritical aspect of the situation is the rejection of AGW by the right while accepting as if it were a law of the universe that market capitalism and deregulation is, in all instances and all circumstances, the best way for all goals.

  3. filistro says:

    Wow, Monotreme really adds some class to the joint, doesn’t he? (Almost makes me think we should get rid of the lava lamp and hide the velvet Elvis behind the orange vinyl sofa…:-)Great, great post, Echidna. (We could use half a dozen more like this. Keep ’em coming.) And a great topic, too. Which raises the question… why exactly IS the right so anti-science, do you think? Maybe I’ll find an answer among your links, which I haven’t read as yet… c’mon, I haven’t even had my coffee yet!… but I surely will, because this topic has always been interesting to me. Reasons wingers may be anti-science: 1.) they feel science and religion are incompatible, and they’ve already picked sides2.) they’re afraid science might prove the Bible is not literal truth, and the world may really be more than 4,000 years old3.) they believe an ignorant electorate can be more easily fooled4.) They’re afraid if science is allowed to get out of hand, it could begin turning up problems that will cost real money to solve… and we all know money is best left in trust funds and numbered bank accountsI suspect #4.

  4. filistro says:

    BTW.. shortchain, we haven’t even formally met and I’m already extremely fond of you :-)Did you post at the old site under another username? This line:The hypocritical aspect of the situation is the rejection of AGW by the right while accepting as if it were a law of the universe that market capitalism and deregulation is, in all instances and all circumstances, the best way for all goals... that made me LOL (which is not easy to do before I’ve had my coffee.)

  5. Monotreme says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, filistro and shortchain.As far as your list, filistro, I accept them all as working hypotheses but I lean to the earlier numbered ones. One of my “favorite” bumper stickers from a Houston St Luke’s hospital parking lot: “God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it.”Let’s call it an experiment, because I’m patiently waiting for our resident “center right” commenters to take up the shibboleth and start beating me with it.And I’m sorry about the wackadoodle formatting and lost words. I thought the blogging software could handle HTML tags, but it can’t.

  6. shrinkers says:

    filistro: I suspect the answer is, All of the above. I think there is an additional factor. I must be cautious in my wording here to get this right. People of similar interests tend to flock together (as we are demonstrating right here!) Some people want to question how and why the world works. Others do not, and are content to accept received wisdom. Some are capable of asking tough questions and of seeking the answers to those questions. Not everyone has these skills.As a rule (not inviolable by any means, but as a general tendency), people who are not interested in a thing also can’t do it well, and vice versa. This makes simple sense; if you’re not interested, you don’t do it, and therefore do not develop the skills. Similarly, if you don’t have the innate whatever-it-takes for a given task or sport or intellectual pursuit, then chances are good you won’t develop an interest in it.This isn’t always true; lots of people who can’t play football still like to watch games on Sunday. But few people who don’t enjoy chess, say, will study Bobby Fisher’s games. And most scientists love what they do.This is the long way around to saying that people who are uninterested in science may not have the skills to understand it, and vice versa. Not comprehending it, they may hold it in contempt, and not see any use for anyone else pursuing it, either. Never mind the benefits reaped from communications satellites and even cheap toilet paper.So, a lack of intellectual curiosity breeds a contempt for science, and possibly also a view of them smart folk as being stuck-up elitists (putting aside that anti-intellectualism is just as much an elitist conceit). So in addition to all the factors you mentioned, there is a social element to it, an in-group thing. All the cool kids are dumb jocks, and proud of it. All the geeks are weak foureyes who deserve a beatdown just because they think they’re smart. That’s what they get for being smarter than me.The American political right wing has, I think, a strong strain of this thinking-is-bad attitude. That may be why there are so many right wing bullies in government. And it may be why they’re so good at intimidation and emotional manipulation, and so unreceptive — even antagonistic toward — logical and intellectual arguments.

  7. filistro says:

    shrinkers… in Treme’s penultimate link, the Rod Dreher one (I’m on my second cup so I’m more on top of things now 🙂 Dreher’s point is similar to yours:Here’s the nut of an exchange I’ve had many times over the past year with fellow conservatives:”Barack Obama is a Muslim.””No, he’s not.””You have your opinion; I have mine.” As if an “opinion” gathered from a listening to Rush Limbaugh is as valid as one based on ACTUAL FACTS AND RESEARCH.Jeff and Grog have an “opinion” that the Muslim community center has some connection to 9/11, and facts are powerless against that opinion. It’s like one side is debating with facts, research and elegant logic, and the other is responding with furious volleys of Super Slime and Silly String. All you wind up with is a big mess, and nobody ever gets convinced of anything.As we used to say in high school, “My mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”What I always wonder about is where (in the political hierarchy) wilful ignorance ends and calculated cynicism begins. I mean… do we think, say, Newt Gingrich and Mike Pense really believe, when they’re all alone with their private thoughts, that men lived with dinoaurs and AGW is a hoax?(Well, we know Newt doesn’t believe that, he did those commercials on the sofa with Nancy Pelosi, right? And the Freepers are never, NEVER going to forgive him for it, so he can just forget about any presidential run…)My point (and I do have one 🙂 is this:… maybe the rank and file righties are ignorant about science, but I don’t think the leaders are. I think they use the ignorance (and fear, which is always a by-product of ignorance) of the rabble to consolidate political power.Which means the rabble may be ignoarnt… but the leadership is EVIL.There. Whew ! I finally got to my point. What a journey.(Oh… and I loved your “bullies on the playground” analogy. I think it’s dead-on accurate, and I fully intend to steal it. Just sayin’ 🙂

  8. shrinkers says:

    “Which means the rabble may be ignorant… but the leadership is EVIL.”Dead. On. Accurate.Or, as they say in NASCAR, Top dead center.(I’ve always thought “Top Dead Center” would make a great name for a murder mystery set in the NASCAR circuit, but I’ve never been able to tack a plot on to the end of that title…)

  9. Bart DePalma says:

    Mono:Nothing from the government is free. If you take money from the government, then you should expect to subsume your objectives to those of your political patrons.Next, Dreher’s Dallas Morning News op-ed is more illustrative of the ignorance of pseudo-intellectuals criticizing the Tea Party movement than of any anti-intellectual characteristic of the Tea Party. Let’s take a look at some prime example of Dreher’s cluelessness:Deher: “Her mind isn’t geared toward resolving basic philosophical contradictions like her observation that corporations and politicians often collude against the common good, and her dogmatic belief in the sanctity of free enterprise.”Mr. Dreher might want to acquaint himself with the collusion of the Fed, HUD, Justice and the junk mortgage lenders and this collusion’s resulting home mortgage crash.Next, a collusion of government and business is the antithesis of a free market.Dreher: “You can’t hymn the majesties of capitalism’s “creative destruction” on one page, while proclaiming yourself a staunch defender of traditional families and institutions on another.”Precisely why can’t you maintain a traditional family while inefficient businesses are allowed to fail? The two are completely unrelated.Too many pseudo-intellectuals substitute credentialing and an arrogant turn of phrase for the search for truth which is supposed to be objective of all intellectual endeavor.When pseudo-intellectuals criticize the Tea Party for its “anti-intellectual tendencies,” they are primarily referring to the Tea Party rebellion against rule by government experts who do not appear to have any foundation for their views apart from credentialing from the right schools. The rejection of czars, auto task forces and economic teams without a single member who has run a business or turned a profit in the real economy, who then refuse to take responsibility for their epic failures with our tax money.

  10. shrinkers says:

    @BartDeher: “Her mind isn’t geared toward resolving basic philosophical contradictions like her observation that corporations and politicians often collude against the common good, and her dogmatic belief in the sanctity of free enterprise.”Mr. Dreher might want to acquaint himself with the collusion of the Fed, HUD, Justice and the junk mortgage lenders and this collusion’s resulting home mortgage crash.Typical. You didn’t actually address Deher’s point. In fact, you illustrated it. Deher underline the illogic of winger “thought.” You somehow seemed to defend that illogic by deflecting into attack mode, rather than by actually disputing the topic on the table. Defend this premise, Bart: that there is no contradiction between a blind faith in “free markets” on the one hand, and a conviction that corporations are often part of a collusion against the common good.Next, a collusion of government and business is the antithesis of a free market.Yet that is the essence of Republican domestic policy. Why do you not see the contradiction here? Thank you for illustrating Deher’s point.

  11. Bart DePalma says:

    BD: “Next, a collusion of government and business is the antithesis of a free market.”Shrinkers: “Defend this premise, Bart: that there is no contradiction between a blind faith in “free markets” on the one hand, and a conviction that corporations are often part of a collusion against the common good.”Which part of my quoted statement did you not comprehend?

  12. shrinkers says:

    Bart, the Republican idea of “free markets” is basically to let corporations do what they want. Often, that includes collusion of various sorts — often aided by the government, as when the government gives tax breaks for moving jobs overseas, or provides no-bid contracts to friends of Dick Cheney. Corporations are perfectly willing to not play fair. After all, their only goal — quite rightly — is to increase profits. Which means they are willing to screw consumers, competitors, and anyone else. Even the people Deher talked to admitted as much, and disliked corporations because of it.So: “free markets,” as defined by the right, lead almost inevitably to abuses by corporations — which even you agree are Bad Things. You are tasked therefore with condemning the right of corporations to screw the nation, while at the same time defending the right of corporations to screw the nation. Show why these two things are not in contradiction.And do so without deflecting into schoolyard “Well Billy does it too!!!!”I’ll collect your paper this afternoon.

  13. GROG says:

    shrinkers said:”Bart, the Republican idea of “free markets” is basically to let corporations do what they want.”You’re a simpleton. The simpleton rebuttal to that would be:And the Democratic idea of “free markets” is basically to regulate corporations so the government has control over every single aspect of business operations.

  14. shrinkers says:

    GROG, I guess you get a failing grade. You didn’t address the issue either, and resorted simply to desperate name calling. Thanks for playing, though.

  15. Monotreme says:

    Bart:First off, thanks for your thoughtful reply. This is why I’m here.As much as I like the “new” NYT version of 538, we can’t have these kind of discussions there.Bart said:Nothing from the government is free. If you take money from the government, then you should expect to subsume your objectives to those of your political patrons.I will grant you that (heh). There’s a social contract operating here. In return for gubbmint money, scientists should work on projects that have a reasonable expectation of success. Having said that, though, the history of science teaches us that practical solutions sometimes arise from the strangest corners of science. I don’t think anyone (including Einstein) could have predicted in the early 20th century that a new, non-Newtonian physics would lead to the atomic bomb.Closer to my field, all sorts of weird and disparate observations have led to incredible advances in cancer therapy.Or, DARPA → internet.Which is why governments (and not corporations) are the ideal sources for investment in research & development. A company is looking at a payoff (ROI) in the three-to-five-year timeframe, maximum. (And that would be an incredibly forward-looking company.) Governments can afford to, and I would argue should, fund and support research with a 50 or 100 year horizon.

  16. Bart DePalma says:

    Mono:Scientists have always been at the mercy of their patrons.While you might prefer a 50 to 100 year stream of funding without any strings attached (wouldn’t we all), that is simply unrealistic. Government and private patrons have their own often competing objectives. As you well know, selling your research against those competing objectives is a never ending process.What is concerning to me are scientists who sell their objectivity for government funding with overtly political goals discrediting science in general among the citizenry.For example, the UK Climate Research Unit at East Anglia produced an “adjusted” global temperature database claiming that the average global temperature increased exponentially through the 20th Century and into the new millennium. This was the temperature data used by the IPCC and nearly every government proposing enormous new carbon taxes and other economically harmful propositions. However, CRU would not share their methodology or data so it could be tested by other scientists and then claimed it was destroyed after the Climategate leaks. The UK investigation found that CRU had followed no scientific protocols and that their product was not statistically reliable. In reality, the leaked Climategate data appears to be arbitrarily gamed, suggesting fraud rather than incompetence.The academic community circled the wagons and launched a couple whitewash investigations purportedly exonerating the CRU scientists from most improper behavior.Forget for a moment your personal position on the manmade global warming theory. What is the average citizen supposed to make of claims allegedly based upon science after scandals like Climategate?This credibility problem extends into other fields like economics where government experts promise to hold unemployment under 8% if you let them spend nearly a trillion dollars on whatever the politicians want, only to have unemployment surge far higher while your money was being pissed away.As a trial attorney, I have a very jaundiced view of scientific or medical experts. You can find a scientist or doctor who will take a handsome fee to support nearly any position and claim his opinion is based in widely accepted science.If I were a scientist, I would be very concerned about how this trend of scientists for hire is harming the reputation of the entire profession.

  17. shrinkers says:

    Bart, Bart, Bart…”Science for hire” is clearly much more of a problem with the hired guns from corporations than it is with scientists operating with government grants. “Research” done by the tobacco companies and the oil companies is far more questionable than the work done at, say, CERN or Fermilab or CRU.”Climategate” was a pretend scandal created by right-wing muckrakers. There was no scientific wrong doing there whatever, and all independent analysis has shown the science behind Global Climate Disruption is 100% sound.What is “harming the reputation of the entire profession” are the lies from the right wing, attempting to stunt the impact of actual science in favor of their political objectives. Your baseless harping on global warming is one example.Meanwhile, the world is going through the first or second hottest year every. Keep your head in the sand, Bart. It may be cooler down there.

  18. shortchain says:

    Bart,So you resort now to outright lying?No report criticized the CRU for what you say. What they criticized them for was not using the absolute most modern statistical methods — not, please note, the results, which still hold.Also, nobody in science expects to get a 50-100 year grant without review, as anyone with any familiarity with the subject should know full well. You just expose your abysmal ignorance here.Scientists for hire? That’s just projection from someone on the right. AEI, Cato, etc, etc.filistro, thanks. I read 538.com for a couple of years, but never commented there. I use short names, and stick to one name on a given blog.

  19. shortchain says:

    Another thought on Bart’s distrust of scientists: it isn’t scientists that other scientists trust. Scientists, like all humans, are fairly easily fooled, although, if properly trained, they know enough not to trust their own untested beliefs.What scientists trust, and have good reason to trust, is science. Which is at work in the field of climate, and has decided that, for now, the best working hypothesis is that human generation of greenhouse gases is driving what we see.

  20. Bart DePalma says:

    Shortchain:Before you yank my chain, you might want to have your ducks in a row. Parliament just took the testimony of the head of its investigation, one Lord Oxburgh, and that testimony was devastating:http://citizen-pamphleteer.blogspot.com/2010/09/uk-parliament-investigation-of.htmlAt my blog, I have extensively documented the evidence in the Climategate leaks which strongly suggests fraud rather than mere incompetence. Go search for the term Climategate at my blog and educate yourself. The evidence is appalling.

  21. shrinkers says:

    Oh wait … okay, so there is one member of a British conservative think tank who is trying to create the meme that there was something wrong with the independent investigations into the leaked emails. Wow. I’m impressed (not).Talk about science for hire. There’s your example of it.It’s the same as Orly Taits continuing to push the birther nonsense. A right wing muckracker continues to rake muck.Not impressive, Bart. And you haven’t yet attempted your task of condemning the right of corporations to screw the nation, while at the same time defending the right of corporations to screw the nation.

  22. Monotreme says:

    Bart,Unfortunately, in the course of trying to make an indefensible argument, you stumbled into the same epistemic closure trap that you refuse to believe in.In short, “the East Anglia data is crap because I say it’s crap, so it’s crap, and this guy says so too!”That’s no more an argument than what I used to call the “some guy” defense in courtrooms.Attorney: “You have heard testimony that the police found 100 grams of cocaine sewn into the lining of your jacket.”Defendant: “Yes.”Attorney: “How did 100 grams of cocaine come to be in the lining of your jacket?”D: “I dunno. I loaned my jacket to some guy. He must’ve put it there.”A: “What is the name of the person you loaned your jacket to?”D: “Some guy. I didn’t get his name.”

  23. shortchain says:

    Bart,Your inability to grasp the concept of science is that you think it’s somehow adversarial in design, like law. This is fundamentally wrong. Sure, there can be adversaries in science, but not in the way you think. And sure, if you offer enough money to a scientist, they will very likely find some science to back up your dearly beloved beliefs. After all, scientists, on the whole, aren’t that much more honest than lawyers.Scratch that. Infinitely more honest than lawyers, but not, than, say, judges. The fact that you can hire one to say what you want has no more to do with the process of science than the fact that you can hire a lawyer to, say, beat a dead-certain rap on a technicality says that the law is often wrong.No, the reason the law is often wrong is because it insists on closing the debate after a certain number of arguments, and allowing a select group of people to decide, based on their individual understanding, to determine what the “truth” is, in a closed system, inviting epistemic closure.While it is quite possible (and the corporations have developed this to a fare-thee-well) to manufacture the appearance of doubt, it is fundamentally impossible, in science, to generate, long-term, a consensus. The truth will out.I expect your cherry-picked “scientist” to no more change the consensus of the scientific community than our discussion today to change the mind of Bart DePalma, Esquire.

  24. shrinkers says:

    @shortchain I think you’ve stumbled upon an important insight. I think many people are unable to really comprehend the purpose of science. It is not a contest. Nor is it an attempt to prove one’s political opinions. Nor is it just a bunch of people arguing.It’s a process. And it is a self-correcting process. It constantly tests and re-tests its previous findings. It may take a while for accepted theory to be overturned. But if the evidence is counter to current ideas, then the evidence will eventually carry the day.Cherry-picking status — which occurs all the time in political discourse — gets you no where in science. You do not get to hide your raw data, the way Rasmussen does. If there is a contest in science, it is in the constant desire to be better than everyone else, and perhaps to prove the other guy wrong. Which means shenanigans like Bart alludes to just can’t hold water for long. If anyone is falsifying data on such a massive scale, it would have been noticed long ago. Such a conspiracy simply cannot happen in the scientific community.Bart is used to trying to prove a point of view, trying to advance the cause of his client, regardless of the actual “truth”. He does the same thing in political discussions. Science isn’t like that. It isn’t about winning, or electing the most people who agree with you, or trying to make others agree with your opinion. It’s about seeking facts.That’s why Bart and other righties just don’t get science. It is fundamentally threatening to their worldview, because it requires them to be willing to consider if their cherished opinions are wrong. And they are utterly unwilling to do that.

  25. dr_funguy says:

    An alternative hypothesis.Opposition to science has historically come out of religious establishments, at least in the West, particularly Christianity. The best known cases are Gallileo and Darwin. In both cases the science dethroned humans from their pedestals at the center of the solar system (or galaxy or universe) or as the crown of creation. My hypothesis is that people who object to science are those who are uncomfortable with the messy realities of life in a universe vast beyond comprehension that has no greater respect for humans than for their intestinal bacteria. Those who are comfortable with uncertainty and not attached to their own self importance in the grand scheme are less likely to object to a scientific worldview. Those who can’t face the uncertainty and are so conceited as to beleive that nothing is more important than them, well they are likely to find comfort in religion and therefore deny the scientific method when it clashes with their sense of self-importance.

  26. Monotreme says:

    @dr_funguy:”Clinging to guns and religion”…is that what you mean? 😉

  27. Mainer says:

    So in some ways Atheists would and should make great scientists because in effect they already challenge every thing and in effect believe in nothing. While I have to believe that there are bornagains that are involved in science I would also think that they are not a high percentage because it would kind of work against their personality types and belief system.In literature out of the middleeast the ability of the people to become once again leaders in things like science and medicine has been noted as declining more rapidly as the Muslim religion has become more rigid. This in stark contrast to time periods when Muslims and Islam was far less rigid and the area was a leader in science, literature and other endeavours.So I guess it must follow that the more rigid one is in their belief mechanisms the less likely they are to ever be a scientist. Oh well and here I was waiting for Bart to make the next great break through to cure the common cold don’t laugh now as he has frequently proven that he does have some medical connection. How else could one explain his ability to aleviate pain in the posteria simply by taking his schtick some where else. Ah Bart how do we miss ye let me count the way.

  28. DC Petterson says:

    dr_funguy, your contrast of science with religion is well-taken, I think. It’s a topic that fascinates me.I wrote a new blog entry today, which should show up soon I think. It begins with a quote from the play “Inherit the Wind.” A vital aspect of that play is the contrast between science and religion. This contrast also figures importantly in my recent novel.I don’t think science and religion need to be in conflict. Unfortunately, in the west, they often are. It may be worth a thread to explore that, though if I kick off the thread, it may be more historical than political. The politics of the Middle Ages interest me, and these themes certainly figured heavily then. And many of the results of those conflicts are still shaping our politics today.

  29. shortchain says:

    DC,Until we can develop the science of applied theology (a fun concept of Vernor Vinge’s), the only religion that won’t be in conflict with science is one which is not based on faith, which is rather a contradiction in terms.If, on the other hand, you mean that scientists can be religious, well, sure, humans are quite capable of holding, simultaneously, opposing beliefs. But for each area of belief which is circumscribed by faith, that area becomes a “dead zone” for scientific inquiry, so it would be wise to limit that to those things we are sure cannot be decided by science.Conversely, as science gives us more and more explanations (“working hypotheses” anyway) to questions about the universe, there is less and less need for faith.

  30. konastephen says:

    Define science.

  31. shortchain says:

    konastephen,How someone gets to the point where they can use a computer without some understanding as to what science is — could, perhaps, be another question.Science is a process by which humanity, collectively (or at least that part of it capable of participating) observes reality, formulates hypotheses to explain observations, and publishes these in an open forum so that other people who understand the subject matter (AKA “scientists”) can verify and criticize the hypotheses. Hypotheses which actually work become “theories” (AKA “working hypotheses”) and are used for making things (“technology”).Observations can be as a result of experiments, or, in more passive mode, simple recordings of data.It often happens that theories explain some, but not all, observations, which requires modifications to the old theories or completely new theories, and science moves on.

  32. Jean says:

    shortchain,re: “Your inability to grasp the concept of science is that you think it’s somehow adversarial in design, like law. This is fundamentally wrong”…and … “While it is quite possible (and the corporations have developed this to a fare-thee-well) to manufacture the appearance of doubt, it is fundamentally impossible, in science, to generate, long-term, a consensus. The truth will out.” Thank you for this. It makes perfect sense!

  33. DC Petterson says:

    shortchain, Until we can develop the science of applied theology (a fun concept of Vernor Vinge’s), the only religion that won’t be in conflict with science is one which is not based on faith, which is rather a contradiction in terms.I think modern society fundamentally misunderstands both science and religion. The ways science is misunderstood are already being discussed here – too many Americans don’t comprehend how science works at all.As for religion, its true function is not to provide physical explanations. Religion should have nothing to do with, for example, questions of where the world came from. Religion should have to do with meaning, not with physics.At their base, science and religion ask (or should be asking) entirely different questions. Science descries the world as it is. Science is merely and extension of our eyes and ears. Religion has to do with what these things mean. It has to do with the why, not the what or the how. The scientific questions are not answerable by religion. Religious questions are not addressable by science. The conflict exists because both have been misapplied.

  34. Monotreme says:

    If you like this article, then you will almost certainly like DC Petterson’s new novel, “Still Life”.Besides, it allows me to sneak “epistemology” into this discussion.

  35. Jean says:

    My vote for the best line of the day:…I was waiting for Bart to make the next great break through to cure the common cold don’t laugh now as he has frequently proven that he does have some medical connection. How else could one explain his ability to aleviate pain in the posteria simply by taking his schtick some where else.

  36. Realist says:

    DC Petterson,While I agree that religion spends a lot of time on the “why,” there is an awful lot of “what” and “how” in there, too. Genesis spends a great deal of time in the “what” and “how,” with much less emphasis on “why.”Religion often spends an inordinate amount of time describing how the world as we know it came to be, without explaining why. It is in this space that religion is most in conflict with science. This is the source of the creationism/evolution battle.

  37. DC Petterson says:

    Monotreme — Thanks for the plug! 🙂

  38. DC Petterson says:

    Realist – I need to start a thread for this – far too complex to take over ‘Treme’s thread …But seeing “Genesis” or any other creation myth as an attempt to accurately or concretely describe the physical world is a mistake in reading the purpose of the tale. It’s the difference between poetry and prose. As one example: carefully read the first two chapters of Genesis. They tell two very different stories. There are two incompatible Creation myths there. The “Seven Days” story in Gen 1 is entirely incompatible with the Adam and Eve story in Gen 2. The Bible cannot be read literally, because it contradicts itself.These stories do not exist to tell us “how” or even “what.” They need to be read as poetry, not as history. Then they say things about “why.” When Shakespeare wrote “Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?” he did not mean to say his love was part of a 24-hour period lighted by the Sun, warmer than winter, and then gone forever. He was talking metaphor, not physics. Religious texts need to be read the same way.This is what I mean by saying religion is often misunderstood, misused, and misapplied in the West.

  39. shortchain says:

    DC,The religious people I know don’t do a lot of thinking about whether they’re getting answers to “why” as opposed to “how” or “what”. In fact, they don’t generally spend a lot of time thinking.All the religions I’m aware of are far more concerned with “what” — as in what you are supposed to do or not do, not with “why”, and what will happen if you don’t. Sure, the books tell you “why” — because the Bible tells us so, or the Koran, or the bhagavad gita, or … but all these explanations are no more believable than my mother’s answer as to why I had to eat my spinach, which, oddly enough, was exactly the same as the Bible’s, because some entity said so (in one case, my mother, in the other an invisible paternalistic loving being that had created Hell just for people who didn’t do what He wanted — I always found that part hard to understand).Besides, in the end, “why” is only useful if it gives us a way make happen “what” we want to happen.

  40. shiloh says:

    @konaDefine science.~~~~~~~~~~hmm, sounds like something homophobe Charles would say as he had an affinity for short, inane, nonsensical replies, eh.Just sayin’Any further question? ;)take care, blessings

  41. Realist says:

    @DCFrom your answer, I think we’re in agreement on the fundamental principles, though coming to them from different angles. I’m talking about how it is, and you’re talking about how it should be. And, from what you say, it sounds like you agree about how it is, and I can assure you that I agree with your observation of how it should be.So that’s probably enough hijacking of our dear platypus’s thread.

  42. DC Petterson says:

    shortchain,”The religious people I know don’t do a lot of thinking about whether they’re getting answers to “why” as opposed to “how” or “what”. In fact, they don’t generally spend a lot of time thinking.”Precisely. That is exactly what I mean when I say religious is usually misunderstood and misapplied.

  43. DC Petterson says:

    Realist Yes, I think we’re in tune there. Close enough for rock and roll, anyway.Thanks for the stimulating exchange!

  44. Mr Universe says:

    I don’t know if you guys caught Stephen Hawkings recent comments but I think it’s what the religeous fear most. That science makes God uneccessary. Personally, I don’t think science precludes the existence of God. There are plenty of scientific things that I find miraculous.

  45. Realist says:

    Mr. Universe,For those who believe that the Bible is meant to be taken literally in its entirety, science necessarily precludes the existence of God. To such people, anything that contradicts a literal statement of the Bible is inherently disproving the existence of God, since you cannot simultaneously literally take the Bible in its entirety and accept what science concludes.That’s a scary place to be.

  46. Monotreme says:

    Mainer wrote:Oh well and here I was waiting for Bart to make the next great break through to cure the common cold don’t laugh now as he has frequently proven that he does have some medical connection. How else could one explain his ability to aleviate pain in the posteria simply by taking his schtick some where else. Bart’s work written up here:http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2010/09/19/jennifer_ackerman_common_cold_interviewHe’s apparently using the pseudonym “Jennifer Ackerman”.

  47. DC Petterson says:

    Realist,”For those who believe that the Bible is meant to be taken literally in its entirety, science necessarily precludes the existence of God.”One difficulty here is that most people in the West have been conditioned to believe the word / name “God” belongs exclusively to one particular deity, to wit, the chief god of the early Hebrew peoples. Other cultures, other religions, have far different views of “god” and “gods.”I agree, people who take the Bible literally cannot also believe in science. However, one should be aware that the “god” described there is not the only god. Nor is a belief in any one of the plethora of other gods necessarily in conflict with an acceptance of science. It would go too far to say that the Zoroastrian / Judeo / Christian / Islamic / Marxist ideology is the only one that find a conflict between science and religion (and even then, not always). But certainly there are many, many other paths which do not.I’ll now get off my soapbox, and do my best to wait until I have a topic-appropriate thread in mind in which to have this conversation. 🙂

  48. Monotreme says:

    You’re not off-topic, Shrinkers. What I think you’re saying is that not all cultures celebrate epistemic closure the way Fundy-Christians do.For example, in the Episcopalian culture into which I was inculcated (!) and in the scientific culture which I joined later in life, epistemic closure was something to be avoided, not celebrated.My reading of the Dalai Lama’s popular works suggests to me, at least, that his version of Buddhism celebrates open epistemology as well. If I better understood more of the world’s religions, I suspect epistemic closure is more the exception than the rule, and where it exists, it sparks dissention and conflict as people argue over which Right is more Right.

  49. Celadrin says:

    Thanks for share good post….

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