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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

False Gods II -"Science" (?)

To the reader:  This a primarily "political" blog.  I don't get to the political point of the following until the end of the Post.

Again, let me start off by being defensive.  I am a great believer in science.  Indeed, as I will discuss more later, I believe science (and especially the scientific method) to be the absolutely best method we humans have for determining "truth".  However, "science" is not a God.  What it appears to tell us is not necessarily always the truth, or, even more so, the whole truth.

Some personal  disclosure is probably appropriate here.  I consider myself Jewish, by background and by religion.  However, most days I could also be accurately described as an Agnostic.  I'm generally not sure whether there is or is not a God.  I have neither scientific evidence or strong faith, one way or the other.  I do believe in something - in the existence of "good" and "evil" and not just "right" and "wrong", but as to its form or nature?  Ask someone else.  Politically, I firmly believe in the separation of Church and State.  I am a real live member of the ACLU.

My first problem with science as a False God is with those who believe that science is the only method for discerning truth.  One obvious example of such a person would be a"militant' Atheist, who maintains that because there is no "scientific" evidence of a God, He or She does not exist.  I would agree that, at least at this point, there is no scientific proof of the existence of a God.  However, I would argue that the non-existence of God does not necessarily follow unless one requires not only "proof", but "scientific" proof.

To create such a requirement is to say that the only valid means of acquiring knowledge is somehow "scientific" (in a very broad sense).   There is no logical reason that such a statement should be true.  Throughout history, including today, large numbers of people believe that things are true because of "natural law" or things written in their respective Holy Books or simply because they exist in their hearts or minds.  Who are we liberal secular elitists to say that they are wrong? [Please note that where there is strong scientific evidence to the contrary, I believe we can and should say that they are wrong; but what I am talking about here is an absence of scientific proof.  And, more importantly, so what if they are wrong?]. 

Moreover,  the scientists themselves,  or at least the mathematicians, seem to have reached a different conclusion as to whether everything is subject to scientific proof.

Years ago, a famous mathematician named Gödel proved fundamental results about axiomatic systems.  He mathematically proved that in any axiomatic mathematical system there are propositions that cannot be proved or disproved within the axioms of the system.  In about 1975, my wife, who is, among other things, a mathematician, when listening to a discussion of Godel's theory, scratched her head, and said something to the effect of:  "If we can prove that there are things that are not susceptible to proof, does this not allow for and perhaps even suggest the existence of an "unprovable" God?  [My wife is scarily smart, but don't tell her I said so.]

My Brother (like me, very pro-science) took a different approach.  He said that the purpose of science was to explain the "natural" world, and that God, by definition, was "Supernatural", and therefore outside the parameters of science.

The second problem with science as a God is that scientific knowledge, by its very nature is uncertain-that is, it does not contain immutable truths.  The great strength of science is that it largely a methodology of acquiring additional knowledge, and carries with it the presumption that additional knowledge can or will be obtained.  Do the laws of Newtonian physics work?  Do they reflect reality?  Well, yes, but not necessarily (as demonstrated by Einstein's theories of relativity) at very high speeds.  Did Einstein himself get it completely right?  I have heard people talk about String Theory and how it may refute some of Einstein's ideas.  [the reason I favor Einstein rather than religious fundamentalists is that I think he would have no problem with his ideas being supplanted-more on that in a later planned Post on religious fundamentalism].  Be that as it may, scientific knowledge, by its nature, is always incomplete and subject to correction.  It is also subject to uncertainty in areas where it is used to explain things which cannot be closely observed and tested.  Is Evolution a "theory"?  Sure, none of us has a time machine.  Is it a theory supported by all of the available scientific evidence?  Yep.  Could new evidence come in that casts doubt on it?  Why not?  Should it still be taught as the best science we know at this time?  Certainly.  However, I, at least emotionally, expect more definitive knowledge if something comes directly from God.

My third problem with science as a God is the immense amount of garbage being passed off as "scientific" (because it involves data or quantities), and therefore true.  Another good quote from my wife (then girlfriend) is that the phrase "Social Science" is an oxymoron.  The most common silliness is the frequent confusion of correlation with causation, and often sloppy use of statistics in general.  My problem here is not with "science"; it's with stuff pretending to be science or even "scientific", and it's all over the place.

Now, the "political" part.  My initial Post was about the need to really listen to people who seemed crazy.  Part of the idea is that if we can do so, we may both understand them and cause them to really listen to us.  I someone approaches me with a starting strong belief that the story of creation in Genesis is literally true,  I would certainly disagree with that view.  I think it is contrary to historical and scientific evidence, and I do not see any evidence that God is telling the story.  However, that does not make the viewpoint or the "truth" automatically  invalid.  Nor should it be an object of disdain or mockery.  I don't believe it; someone else might. Do I believe that religion and/or spiritualism is a valid means of searching for truth?  Yes, I do.  You may not.  The question is where do we go in the very likely event we will continue to disagree. 

If we want religious fundamentalists (or religious people at all) to be tolerant of our right to believe differently from them, we must be prepared to be tolerant of their right to believe differently from us.  If we are ever to convince them, it will not be by bludgeoning them or treating them with scorn and disdain.  This does not mean we need be tolerant of those who would do us harm or force their own views on us.  I will respect your right to hold different views (if not the views themselves), but I will not put up with your attempts to impose your views on me or my children or my Government.  A lot of people seem to think it's important that we agree on "truth"; it's not. (Maybe each of us will find out something after we die.  Or not.) What is important is that at least most of us agree on what we, collectively, should do next.  Enough.

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