Monday, June 27, 2011

The Republican war on science

Isn't this a failure of our system of education, that Americans are this ignorant? Or is it just that we're so faith-based that we regularly just believe whatever we want to believe, despite its having no connection whatsoever to reality?


Jim Harris said...

People who believe in life after death, salvation, God, and The Bible have instinctively realized that science, and not just evolution, undermines everything they believe. That have no choice but to attack it anyway they can.

We on the other hand believe they have a right to their religious beliefs, so we can't just say to them, "Your attacks on science are due to your irrational beliefs in your religion because you don't want to give up fantasies about life after death rather than accept facts about reality."

This weekend a news commentator asked Michelle Brockman if she was a flake, but later had to apologize for his question. But it was a fair question, but how do you officially prove someone is a flake? In our society you can belief all kinds of crazy ideas and get away with it - and even become the leader of the nation.

WCG said...

Michele Bachmann, I think you mean, Jim. But yes, you're right.

However, note that we can criticize them for their irrational beliefs. People have the right to believe whatever they want, but they do not have the right to be free from criticism or even ridicule.

I think that's an important point, because religious believers are always complaining about being "persecuted" whenever someone criticizes their thinking. That's not persecution, not even close.

You have the right to believe whatever you want. You do not have the right to not get your feelings hurt. I can - and do - stand up for a believer's rights, but I'm not about to give up my own rights to call things as I seem them.

Jim Harris said...

Thanks for the spelling, I've paid so little attention to her that I haven't learned how to spell her name yet. Maybe if she fades away quickly I won't have to.

Criticizing their thinking is not throwing them to the lions, but it is a kind of persecution, or I can imagine that it would feel that way. We're telling them they are wrong about their model of the universe and everything they believe - I'm sure that's hard to take.

I wish the faithful would just ignore science if they don't believe it. By trying to criticize science or even adapt it to their model of reality they bring on the persercution.

WCG said...

Words matter, Jim. If you call honest disagreement, peaceful expression of dissent, "persecution," then what are you going to call real persecution?

It is not persecution to disagree with someone. I'm disagreeing with you right now. Am I persecuting you then?

This is an important issue, not some picayune nit-picking. Some believers do try to claim that rational criticism is "persecution." Their goal is to make it improper, if not illegal, to publicly disagree with them.

Words matter. Peaceful criticism might be unwelcome, but it is not persecution.

Jim Harris said...

I agree with you Bill, it's not persecution to disagree with someone. But let's look at what I'm getting at from another angle. Let's say the Tea Party gets elected and says belief in evolution is outlawed. Wouldn't you feel that was persecution of your beliefs?

By teaching science and saying that science describes reality better than any other system, we're effectively telling the faithful their worldview is completely wrong. And I do believe their ideas about how reality works is wrong. This is more than disagreeing.

WCG said...

But you're comparing apples to oranges, Jim. No one is outlawing belief in creationism. That really would be persecution.

(And no one has taken prayer out of public schools, either, another way Christians claim to be persecuted.)

Re. teaching science, we don't preach religious beliefs in public schools - don't even mention them except in a history or comparative religion class - because your religious beliefs, if any, are none of the government's business. The government must remain neutral on the subject of religion, neither favoring nor opposing.

We do teach science in science classes, and if your religion teaches that the Earth is flat, there's going to be a conflict between what you hear in school and what you hear in church. But that's unavoidable. It's certainly not persecution!

Our schools teach the scientific consensus in science classes. What else would they teach? If there were a real controversy among scientists, most likely our schools wouldn't cover the matter at all, at least until graduate school. At lower levels, we simply teach established science.

But if you believe that the Earth is only 6000 years old, that's going to conflict with your beliefs. Again, that's not persecution. It's just not possible to teach every possible religious belief, as an alternative to the science, in our public schools. (And you can be certain that not every believer would be happy with how it was presented, even if we tried.)

Furthermore, science isn't just an alternate belief, no better and no worse than any other. There's a scientific consensus because there's evidence backing it up. Students need to be taught why scientists accept these things. That's the whole point of learning science.

You can teach whatever you want in your church. And you can teach your kids at home or in religious schools, if you're really afraid the public schools will brainwash them. But there's a reason - a good reason - why we don't teach religious beliefs in public schools - not in science class, certainly - and it has nothing to do with "persecution."

And Jim, note that we weren't even talking about what's taught in public schools. (Admittedly, we weren't talking about "persecution," either, until I brought it up.) Believers may well have a persecution complex, but it's mostly pure fantasy. Well, they find it easy to believe in fantasy, don't they?

Jim Harris said...

Of sure we imply they can believe what they want, like creationism, but that's bogus. What we're really saying science is right and if you disagree you're a moron. Oh, we're polite and we say you're entitled to your beliefs - but please don't try to challenge science, you don't have the neurons for the job.

You say they can teach whatever they want in their churches and homes, but that's bogus too. The intellectual climate seeps into their homes and churches. They can't escape from it.

Bill I know you want to be egalitarian, but such ideals do not work with faith versus science. One side has to be all right and the other side all wrong.

I would love to allow the faithful to keep their delusions, but that will only work if they agree to live like the Amish.

WCG said...

No, I completely disagree, Jim. There's nothing bogus about it. You're still comparing apples to oranges. They have the right to believe whatever they want, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with them. These are two separate issues.

I think they're wrong. So what? And so what if I even think they're morons? None of that has anything to do with their right to believe what they do.

I can criticize their beliefs, and their reasons for holding them, but none of that is persecution. After all, no one has the right to have other people agree with them. No one has the right not to get their feelings hurt.

Furthermore, I have no interest in keeping anyone in their cocoon, where outside influences can't affect them. Just the reverse, in fact. They can believe what they want, but you say that the intellectual climate seeps in? Good! I only wished it seeped in faster. Again, that's not persecution.

Yes, at least one side is wrong whenever there's a disagreement. Again, so what? People do believe wrong things sometimes. They have the right to do that, and I have a right to criticize them (just as they have the right to criticize me).

Personally, I have no interest in letting the faithful keep their delusions. However, they do have the right to cling to them. There's no contradiction here, Jim, none whatsoever.

I can believe someone is wrong, I can criticize them, and I can work to change their mind, while still agreeing that they have the right to believe what they believe. None of this is bogus and none of it is persecution.

Jim Harris said...

You're missing my point completely Bill. You are trying to be politically correct, ethical, and exact to the letter of the law and meaning of words. It does the faithful no emotional or philosophical good to be wrong and have the right to hang onto their beliefs. They don't want to be wrong. They want to believe what is true is false, and what is false is true. And the only way for the faithful to do that is for us to go away.

You are being too hung up on the fairness of politics and semantics, I'm just talking about how these people feel. They feel persecuted by intellectuals and liberals. They are feebly fighting back with pseudo-science and wacky politics, but that's the best they can do to defend their faith.

I'm not saying you are wrong either. You are being perfectly logical. We're not persecuting the faithful with slavery, torture or jail, but we are taking away their heart's desire, and that's got to hurt, and it can be felt as a kind of cruelty to them.

WCG said...

Well, true, maybe I don't understand you, Jim. You started out saying that, because we think they have a right to their beliefs, we can't tell them that they're wrong.

When I disagreed with that, you said that criticizing their thinking is a kind of persecution. (But I don't feel persecuted when someone disagrees with me.) Then, you said to look at it from the other side, how we'd feel if belief in evolution was outlawed. But that's not even close to what's going on here.

And finally, you claimed that it's bogus to suggest that they can believe what they want. But it's obvious that they do believe what they want, so how can that be bogus? Heck, half the country believes in creationism!

Now you say you're just talking about how these people feel? Frankly, Jim, you've got me really confused here. OK, if you mean that they've got a persecution complex, I agree. From what I can tell, they do feel victimized.

But it's not true that there's anything to that, and we have to be careful not to give that impression. Yes, reality has a notorious liberal bias, so maybe the real world is persecuting them, but we people who criticize their thinking are not.

And I really can't feel sorry for them. They may well be winning. And if not, they're certainly holding their own. I'm reserving my sympathy for us rational people!

Jim Harris said...

I didn't mean to imply that we can't criticize the faithful for their mistakes about science. In the first message I was trying to say we would be political incorrect for attacking their religion as the basis of their ignorance. When they talk science we have to talk science back, but that avoids the real issue. I doubt any journalist talking to Michele Bachmann can tell her that all her irrational thinking stems from her silly beliefs about God.

Sorry to be so confusing in my messages. Let's see if I can be clearer. I feel sorry for the faithful because for our side to win these arguments means they have to give up their cherished beliefs.

The reality is for us to have a rational society, one that's built on the discoveries of science, we must eliminate all superstitions. Religion is slowly fading in the west, but we've still got to deal with the Muslim world too. The trend is away from religion, but it's so slow it's hard to see, but it's there.

And it's a kind of intellectual imperialism. We feel justified because we're aligned with science. We feel siding with scientific truth justifies our war on religion. But we have to remember that the faithful will be losing everything they love. But it's like growing up and learning about Santa Claus. You can't maintain innocence forever. That's why the faithful compare the idea of God to the father. They want to be innocent children.

Chimeradave said...

There's a war on religion now? Conservatives would have fun with that comment.

The only way religion is going to survive long term is if it adapts with science rather than trying to fight it. There is a passage in the New Testament about God revealing his secrets to future generations. Those secrets are scientific discoveries.

That's how I look at it.

Jim Harris said...

Well John, I've always wondered if a religion could be developed that embraced science but still found room for God. Science can't disprove some concepts of God. I'm not even sure if science can disprove the concept of an afterlife. So, I think there's plenty of room for a religion to work with if they wanted to go that route.

I think science as been at war with religion since the Enlightenment.

WCG said...

OK, first of all, Jim, I don't feel sorry for the faithful. I feel sorry for the rest of us. I think rational people suffer because of religious believers, not so much the other way around.

Second, this is not intellectual imperialism. Not in the slightest. And using those kinds of terms just gives ammunition to our opponents, who really want to feel persecuted.

It is intellectual competition, yes. But that's a good thing. We can all use some disagreement from others, just to shake up our established patterns of thinking and keep our minds from moldering. Science and religion use two completely different ways of thinking, and there's a real competition between them. Which will people choose? It's a seriously important question.

And that fundamental difference is why religion just can't adapt to science. Science depends on evidence. Religion depends on faith. Their mindsets are completely different, and you really can't reconcile them.

Science attempts to discover the truth. Religion thinks that it already knows the truth. At best, it just looks for ways to convince others that it is right.

Science relishes disagreement. Science reserves its highest honors for those who overthrow established thinking. Those are the real heroes of science. Religion abhors heretics. Again, religion thinks that it already knows the truth, so heretics clearly must be wrong.

Scientists did not believe in those claims of cold fusion, but they looked at the evidence anyway, and they tried their own experiments. The Catholic Church refused to even look at Galileo's evidence. Since it went against church teachings it simply couldn't be right. Why look at the evidence when you already know that it must be wrong?

So we're talking about two completely different ways of thinking here. It's not what they think that's necessarily so different, but how they think. You can indeed have religious scientists, but only when they keep their skeptical thinking away from their religious beliefs. Well, people aren't always consistent, are they?

Finally, science isn't at war with religion, it's at war with fallacy, with falsehood, with untruth. Science thinks that there's nothing more important than the truth. Religion thinks that there's nothing more important than believing.

If religion adapted to science, it would be science. It would no longer be religion. It's not a matter of what religion believes, but of how religion determines what to believe. You either go where the evidence leads you, no matter what, or you have faith that you're right, regardless of the evidence.

(It's not a matter of "proof," either. Sometimes scientists casually use the word, but science is actually about evidence, not proof. There's a big difference between them.)