What is Science?

Vincent has written an interesting OP about an essay that George Orwell wrote: what is science?

Orwell distinguishes between science as a method and science as a body of facts. I think most of us accept that. Both  Orwell and Vincent seem to be in favour of teaching the method but not the facts.

The demand for more science education, as Orwell astutely perceived, reflects an underlying political agenda, based on the naive belief – falsified by history –

Although what those facts are has changed. Vincent writes:

In Orwell’s day, it was seen as a Good Thing that students should learn about “radioactivity, or the stars, or the physiology or their own bodies”; nowadays, educating our young about Darwinian evolution, sexual health for kindergartners, and global warming is deemed to be the latest Good Thing. The focus has changed; but sadly, the paternalistic mindset of the “powers that be” hasn’t.

And the reason is we should avoid teaching scientific facts is because all science is political and the naive belief – falsified by history – that we’d all be better off if scientists ruled the world

The first thing to say is Orwell need not have worried. Our countries continue to be ruled by people with humanities degrees and lawyers. Most scientists seem to be happy not to be politicians. Western governments worry incessantly about the poor level of science education in the population. Science non-facts thrive from MMR to homeopathy to YEC. If someone has a political agenda that we’d all be better off if scientists ruled the world then they have been remarkably unsuccessful.

But I would also argue strongly that the population would benefit from knowing a good level of science fact. Governments often argue for it from an economic and practical point of view. We need basic science teaching to generate enough science and technology graduates for industry. But I think it goes deeper. Without understanding about  electromagnetics television becomes magic, without understanding about DNA and genetics the very discussions we have here and on UD would not be possible. We need to know science just as we need to know about arts and humanities and economics. It is part of our culture.

I suspect Orwell might well have changed his mind had he lived another 50 years. He was writing shortly after the first atomic bombs were dropped and he is quite open about his fear and disapproval of the project. This leads to him to write some things that by his standards are rather childish:

Just before writing this, I saw in an American magazine the statement that a number of British and American physicists refused from the start to do research on the atomic bomb, well knowing what use would be made of it. Here you have a group of sane men in the middle of a world of lunatics. And though no names were published, I think it would be a safe guess that all of them were people with some kind of general cultural background, some acquaintance with history or literature or the arts – in short, people whose interests were not, in the current sense of the word, purely scientific.

Actually Oppenheimer, for example, had an extraordinarily broad and deep education. And:

In England, a large proportion of our leading scientists accept the structure of capitalist society, as can be seen from the comparative freedom with which they are given knighthoods, baronetcies and even peerages. Since Tennyson, no English writer worth reading- one might, perhaps, make an exception of Sir Max Beerbohm – has been given a title.

Scientists do get titles but nowadays so do artists, sports stars, bankers, academics.

Had he lived through the next 50 years he would have seen first the rise of scientific and technological optimism in the 50s and 60s (still ruled by humanities graduates and lawyers) and then the disillusionment of the 70s and 80s and the subsequent rise of anti-science and pseudo-science.

Vincent is concerned about the teaching of evolution, climate-change and sexual health for kindergartners.  But does he oppose the teaching of radioactivity, or the stars, or the physiology of their own bodies i.e. the things which concerned Orwell? He seems  to muddling the case for teaching science facts from disputes about what are the  facts and when it is best to teach them. Yes some science has political implications. If climate change is true then there are political consequences. And faulty science has been taught for political reasons.  But the answer to this is not stop teaching science facts. We need both facts and method.

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122 thoughts on “What is Science?

  1. p.s. there seems to be some disorder in this thread, with some things at the bottom that should be at the top, isn’t it?

    That’s an artifact of how the WordPress software orders comments, together with the moving of some comments to a different topic.

    This reply is what some have called “an embedded reply”. It has a header which indicated to which post it is replying. If this reply is moved to a different thread, but the message to which the header refers is not also moved, the wordpress software is confused when sorting the comments for the destination thread. It sees references with no targets within the comments it is sorting.

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  2. “I have no idea where he gets his “insights” into the science community. These “isms” apparently come from his world; wherever that might be.” – Mike Elzinga

    I get them from studying ‘the scientific community,’ from speaking with scientists and scholars around the world. I’m a much more globally oriented thinker than Mike Elzinga is.

    The –isms are out there, folks, and easily distinguishable to those who have their eyes and ears open and are looking and listening with the right knowledge to help them. It is ideologues for a particular position who are out to pull the wool over your eyes and claim something is invisible which is readily visible, like ‘evolutionism.’

    The analogy works well: You don’t ask a fish about water and you don’t ask scientists about -isms. They don’t know about them; they just breathe them. Evolutionism is a dangerous ideology, in part for this very reason – it’s advocates pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Sure, natural scientists like Mike do their jobs, study their physical subjects/objects and take home their pay checks after however many hours of work per day, week, month and year. But the fact remains, that *they* are also fair ground as research subjects/objects. And when they are studied, the myth of the ‘priest-like’ status of modern scientists is easily debunked. Scientists are fallible people too!

    To the single and simple topic in this thread for which I have faced a considerable amount of abuse, most of it aggressive and rude, evidence has already been provided that the term and ideology ‘evolutionism’ are used by non-IDists and non-YECists. Does anyone seriously doubt this anymore? No.

    I provided 12 names and one link and could provide many, many more. But it’s simply not worth the time or effort if a person cannot and will not allow them-self to admit the simple truth that has already been shown in this thread. Indeed, certain evolutionists, usually radicals and extremists, believe it is in their best interest to argue against the reality that ‘evolutionism’ is an actual ideology held by a significant portion of people and not just an insult concocted by IDists and YECists, that evolutionists themselves deny exists, usually to protect their anti-theist worldview.

    cubist and Mike Elzinga are clear and easy examples of such de-ni-al in this thread. petrushka actually admitted to thinking ‘evolutionarily’ outside of NPS, so that’s a start. But I’m not going to take the time to address that here now. Enough has been said and shown already.

    I guess Neil and Mung will say this shows a lot about me, that I have a keen sensitivity for spotting the ideology of evolutionism. But it also shows a lot about others who deny, deny, deny the reality of evolutionistic ideology while themselves practising & advocating it.

    The only way to move beyond evolutionism, to overcome it with better, more appropriate ideas, is first to admit that there such an ideology and that there is a problem. It is those who deny both these things that are standing in the way.

    As Nietzsche said of him: “Darwin forgot the spirit.” Don’t others here at TSZ want to be inspired in a post-evolutionistic worldview?

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  3. RodW:
    Gregory

    I feel like I’ve walked into a room of people shouting at each other, so I’m surprised you even saw my post.
    I think the ‘evolutionism’ of your article would have to be analyzed on a case by case basis but many examples would be valid. For example who would argue that hunter-gatherer societies would eventually evolve agriculture and towns…or that money would eventually replace barter?
    This is very different than the evolutionism you’re arguing about – and I have heard nonIDists use the term to mean someone whose worldview is informed by the scientific theory. I think its a mistake though, if you’re using that for leverage against the scientific theory. Consider that snake-oil salesmen sometimes appeal to quantum mechanics to sell their crap but this doesn’t invalidate quantum mechanics.If you read the primary scientific literature you see immense amounts of work on evolutionary biology presented in a dispassionate and worldview-free way. I think spending too much time on these blogs tends to warp ones view of what science is. It has this effect on me and I used to be in science. I think very few people who are accused of being ‘evolutionists’ would agree with that label. Anyone who actually understands evolution would know its completely unsuitable for running your life or society. The label arises because people whose worldview is threatened by the science of evolution will naturally consider it a worldview as a result. I’ve seen many statements to that effect over at UD and ENV. A similar one is that saying humans evolved without purposeful direction is a religious statement.
    I’ll be shocked if anyone actually reads this post

    I just want to comment that I think this is a remarkably cogent post and I am pretty sure I agree entirely. Blogs like this haven’t warped my view of what science is but the tendency is definitely there. I tend to see it more as an expression of atheism which is mixed weirdly with some misappropriated idea that science replaces religion and I actually used to hold a similar view although I had a shockingly juvenile understanding of what ‘religion’ consists of considering I was into my 40’s before I changed my perspective. Still, I did understand the limitations of science and a lot of the philosophy behind it. It was my understanding of religion which was mixed up.

    This is perhaps the most blatant conflation of worldview and misunderstanding of science I have ever encountered:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/04/15/sunday-sacrilege-sacking-the-city-of-god/

    and it was written by a professor of developmental biology at a teaching university. (So, he isn’t a researcher but he is a ph.D. so it’s not like a high school science teacher in Mississippi)

    With rhetoric like this, no wonder there is a problem. Have you ever seen that particular example?

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  4. Gregory: I get them from studying ‘the scientific community,’ from speaking with scientists and scholars around the world. I’m a much more globally oriented thinker than Mike Elzinga is.

    The –isms are out there, folks, and easily distinguishable to those who have their eyes and ears open and are looking and listening with the right knowledge to help them. It is ideologues for a particular position who are out to pull the wool over your eyes and claim something is invisible which is readily visible, like ‘evolutionism.’

    The analogy works well: You don’t ask a fish about water and you don’t ask scientists about -isms. They don’t know about them; they just breathe them. Evolutionism is a dangerous ideology, in part for this very reason – it’s advocates pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Sure, natural scientists like Mike do their jobs, study their physical subjects/objects and take home their pay checks after however many hours of work per day, week, month and year. But the fact remains, that *they* are also fair ground as research subjects/objects. And when they are studied, the myth of the ‘priest-like’ status of modern scientists is easily debunked. Scientists are fallible people too!

    To the single and simple topic in this thread for which I have faced a considerable amount of abuse, most of it aggressive and rude, evidence has already been provided that the term and ideology ‘evolutionism’ are used by non-IDists and non-YECists. Does anyone seriously doubt this anymore? No.

    I provided 12 names and one link and could provide many, many more. But it’s simply not worth the time or effort if a person cannot and will not allow them-self to admit the simple truth that has already been shown in this thread. Indeed, certain evolutionists, usually radicals and extremists, believe it is in their best interest to argue against the reality that ‘evolutionism’ is an actual ideology held by a significant portion of people and not just an insult concocted by IDists and YECists, that evolutionists themselves deny exists, usually to protect their anti-theist worldview.

    cubist and Mike Elzinga are clear and easy examples of such de-ni-al in this thread. petrushka actually admitted to thinking ‘evolutionarily’ outside of NPS, so that’s a start. But I’m not going to take the time to address that here now. Enough has been said and shown already.

    I guess Neil and Mung will say this shows a lot about me, that I have a keen sensitivity for spotting the ideology of evolutionism. But it also shows a lot about others who deny, deny, deny the reality of evolutionistic ideology while themselves practising & advocating it.

    The only way to move beyond evolutionism, to overcome it with better, more appropriate ideas, is first to admit that there such an ideology and that there is a problem. It is those who deny both these things that are standing in the way.

    As Nietzsche said of him: “Darwin forgot the spirit.” Don’t others here at TSZ want to be inspired in a post-evolutionistic worldview?

    Yeah. Here I think you went off the rails a little. I know a lot of real working scientists and university faculty in a variety of fields and they are reasonably well versed in the subtleties of science. At the institution I attended, the masters program required a 2 part philosophy of science coursework unit and a one part ethics coursework unit. I assume the undergraduate science degrees required something similar. That is also pretty typical. Now, my sample size is not huge but it is significant especially when you take into account the networking at conferences and so on that really does bring disparate ideas into contact. Only one working scientist I know personally gets a simplistic materialistic paradigm into discussion. All of the others realize and state that science teaches us what we don’t know as much as what we do know. It makes us humble with regard to firm convictions rather than the opposite.

    You may have landed in the internet echo chamber and gotten a skewed sample. It is not really a myth that scientists are our modern day priests. They alone typically can master the incantations and flatteries necessary to make the universe bend to our will. As long as they can be humble in the dispensation of that power, there is no shame in being the modern day priests. Just that it’s important to remember that they only took over one aspect of the priest’s role. The rest of those roles we are trying to fill and that process is ongoing.

    None of that makes it any easier to see someone who obviously doesn’t understand ‘what science is’ trying to put disclaimers into textbooks that evolution is just a theory and that makes it suspect. All science is just theories or hypotheses and is suspect. But there is a procedure for weeding out those parts which fail to predict and account. That is what we need to be teaching IMO. A little bit of lab work and some of the foundational research – presented as research BTW – and a lot of process. How do we test hypotheses etc. Teach kids how to think critically and how to assess scientific claims or make them.

    Anyway, creationism is actually a problem sometimes because it seeks to suppress information and occasionally inspires violence against labels, translated to people. Gays for example. But that is fading because information can’t be suppressed forever. We weigh our models against each other whenever we get the chance and creationism is a scientific model and it utterly fails so it’s a fading phenomenon. But the death throes can be dangerous still.

    The real issue here is the spread of simplistic materialism, maybe scientific physicalism I guess and the bottom line is that frameworks compete in the population and in the long run, the better ones emerge the clear victor and it does little good to attach value to individuals who hold whatever frameworks. Disciplines evolve. What matters more is that we never allow an ism to justify dehumanizing the owner. What we believe is a matter of discussion, how we treat others is a matter of fact. We do not live in an idea, we live in the world in proximity and a variety of perspectives is usually a good thing as long as we don’t get hung up on needing to be right.

    Wow. I am filling these threads with unimportant rambling text. SOrry.

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  5. I see my name mentioned as an out of the closet evolutionist, but I haven’t seen any evidence thst my view of the
    World is wrong or counterproductive.

    I do see mean people and narrow minded people cloaking themselves in the jargon de jure, but that’s nothing new. It says nothing about science.

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  6. Other than the purple prose, what is the problem? I personally stopped reading pharyngula becaus I don’t like polemics, but I tend to agree with the underlying sentiment that faith is a dubious virtue.

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  7. petrushka:
    I see my name mentioned as an out of the closet evolutionist,but I haven’t seen any evidence thst my view of the
    World is wrong or counterproductive.

    I do see mean people and narrow minded people cloaking themselves in the jargon de jure, but that’s nothing new. It says nothing about science.

    If your view of the world is that evolution is a fact about the external, physical world and you are motivated to spread that truth and potentially suffer with even mild anger and frustration when others hold to different views even after you have explained their errors then I would at least wonder if your worldview might be counterproductive. Barring that, it seems to make sense to inform your actions with the best information possible.The best information is pretty much a black and white issue. It furnishes the best predictions.

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  8. petrushka:
    Other than the purple prose,what is the problem? I personally stopped reading pharyngula becaus I don’t like polemics,but I tend to agree with the underlying sentiment that faith is a dubious virtue.

    Well, other than absolutely blowing every analogy, getting the history woefully wrong, claiming authority in dispensing an orthodoxy of right thinking and using language of violence to describe how to judge and dehumanize those who won’t conform to that orthodoxy, and being a white dude in an elite job telling victims of racism and sexism and homophobia that their plight is subsumed within his “oppression” for starters. Then there is everything else I guess.

    I read that kind of language as simple fundamentalist logic and tactics. It serves only to marginalize any ideas he has which might actually be valuable no matter where those ideas are encountered. I fundamentally disagree with the entire worldview he presents in that speech therefore I am not a good atheist. Which is fine because I am not an atheist or a theist so I don’t particularly care but as a human being I reject hate speech and pure ideology which is all I can see in that whole diatribe.

    Judging people as lesser by labels which the privileged group defines and applies is simple bigotry and encouraging others to follow suit is hate speech. Other than that, I dunno.

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  9. I should add a disclaimer. That is only my opinion and if you wish to consider it, feel free but I make no claims of accuracy, authenticity or importance. If you like it, that’s cool with me too. Not any kind of judgment of anyone who agrees with it except to know that I don’t.

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  10. BWE: If your view of the world is that evolution is a fact about the external, physical world and you are motivated to spread that truth and potentially suffer with even mild anger and frustration when others hold to different views even after you have explained their errors then I wouldat least wonder if your worldview might be counterproductive. Barring that, it seems to make sense to inform your actions with the best information possible.The best information is pretty much a black and white issue. It furnishes the best predictions.

    I’m not sure what any of that means. I explained my view regarding evolution metaphors in this thread and don’t care to re-write them.

    I take part in these debates purely to test and improve my own understanding and my ability to express myself.

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  11. petrushka: I’m not sure what any of that means. I explained my view regarding evolution metaphors in this thread and don’t care to re-write them.

    I take part in these debates purely to test and improve my own understanding and my ability to express myself.

    Well then, sounds like there’s no downside. You asked. I just tried to help.
    🙂

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  12. Unless you take the time to cite a specific example, I have to conclude you are engaging in the same kind of overblown generalities that you are criticizing.

    As it stands, you are both engaging in name calling, and there’s not much to be learned.

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  13. I am failing to get your point.

    It was obvious from the title, that the blog post was intended to be a polemic and was intended to offend. And now you seem to complaining that it is offensive and polemical. If that bothers you, then you did not have to read it.

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  14. BWE: Yeah. Here I think you went off the rails a little. I know a lot of real working scientists and university faculty in a variety of fields and they are reasonably well versed in the subtleties of science. At the institution I attended, the masters program required a 2 part philosophy of science coursework unit and a one part ethics coursework unit. I assume the undergraduate science degrees required something similar. That is also pretty typical.

    Gregory is simply way off the rails in his caricatures of scientists. That is one of the clearest clues that his “scholarship” is verschlecht.

    He comes with a set of attitudes that are intended to demean and marginalize anyone who sees through the tactic. He makes his case “airtight” by accusing people who have spent their careers in science as being narrow minded and too narrowly trained. But he has absolutely no clue; I and anyone who has spent almost an entire lifetime involved in research can spot such a poseur a mile away.

    Gregory’s tactics are not what a scholar brings to any field of study. If he is even in such a field that studies the sociology of science – and I remain skeptical that he has any such training whatsoever – he is off to an extremely bad start.

    Almost all scientists work in groups. Most get public funding. Public funding means communicating the results of research to the public. It means competing with other political interests for limited money for research. It means dealing with crackpots and sectarians who push pseudoscience onto the public. It means advising public officials about matters involving science. It means getting involved in updating the science curriculum in public schools and universities. I know many people who do these things; I also do them. In our society it is virtually impossible for a scientist to exist in isolation and be successful.

    In addition, scientists are acutely aware of historical and philosophical issues. One simply cannot do research without being familiar with the history and the outstanding questions in research. One can’t even submit a research proposal for peer review and funding without demonstrating a deep understanding of the epistemological and ontological issues of detecting and characterizing a phenomenon.

    There are characteristics of scholarship that cut across all disciplines. Gregory doesn’t know that; and he doesn’t know anything about the epistemological and ontological issues involved in studying people. Even physicists and other physical scientists know these things far, FAR better than he does. The vast majority of experienced, working scientists recognize good and bad research protocols; it’s a routine part of the job.

    And with regard to Gregory’s deleting and modifying the posts of others; that is the kind of behavior that will get him kicked out of any field of research. The fact that he doesn’t even recognize this as unethical and unprofessional is highly revealing.

    Research is not about imposing one’s opinions by force, intimidation, and waving credentials; it is about reality and objective confirmation. Living inside one’s own head and believing one sees all and knows all is delusional thinking; and delusional thinkers can’t do research because they simply are not in touch with reality.

    So when I watch Gregory’s behavior on this site, I see a poseur. I see a self-absorbed kid who bluffs and blusters but has absolutely no idea about how to go about studying anything. His presence around any scientist or any groups of people he purports to study is so obnoxious that he wouldn’t get within a mile of a scientist after his first encounter with any. I see a troll posing inane questions and jerking people around. I see a person who doesn’t even know how to ask a research question.

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  15. Whose point? I can more or less agree with PZ while thinking his rhetorical style is counterproductive.

    I can think polemics is self-defeating while agreeing with the case being argued.

    I see nothing wrong with making a strong case against organized religion at the same time I think some advocates are not helpful.

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  16. Whose point?

    BWE’s. Apologies for the ambiguity.

    I can more or less agree with PZ while thinking his rhetorical style is counterproductive.

    I agree.

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  17. petrushka:
    Unless you take the time to cite a specific example, I have to conclude you are engaging in the same kind of overblown generalities that you are criticizing.

    As it stands, you are both engaging in name calling, and there’s not much to be learned.

    ok. Here ya go.

    I can think of no clearer example than a struggle that has riven the online atheist community for the last year or two, the effort to acknowledge the role of women in atheism. For years, the face of atheism has been white, male, and middle-aged, and a certain complacency had settled in — women by default had their role, as wives or organizers, and we had adopted a casually masculine expectation that all of our intellectual leaders would look like, well, me. Atheist meetings looked a lot like meetings of the Mormon leadership.

    That’s changing. We’re telling people to come out, join us, be free of the straitjacket of convention, and what’s happening is the discovery that women have even more reason to be pissed off at religion than men, and they are a fast-growing segment of our community. Some people resent that — I cannot and will not argue that being an atheist makes you free of irrationality — but I can say for myself and the majority of atheists that we are all overjoyed. Our ranks are swelling with fierce independent women who are changing us, making us stronger and louder, and standing up for their causes and making all of us fight for women’s rights, reproductive freedom, and equality of opportunity. This is atheism, too.

    Are you LGBT, wanting equality and social justice? You are atheism.

    Are you a member of a minority, seeking recognition for your rights as a human being and respect in a society you helped shape? You are atheism.

    If you are a human being with real world concerns, who wants to change the world, who wants to contribute in a unique way that encourages those diverse views, then you should be one of us.

    The club is only closed to people who fuss about an imaginary afterlife, getting right with an imaginary god, conforming to an arbitrary dogma, and who think the most useless act of all, prayer, is a contribution you deserve thanks for.

    Someone else commented the following which made me laugh.:

    i don’t really mind articulating the existence of religious privilege and its negative effects on out-groups of other faiths or no faiths, because that is real and it matters. the problem is that atheists make up all these victimization myths about how they are uniquely persecuted and fail to see how this struggle has so much in common with religious victims of religious persecution, and most critically, that the response of trying to destroy religion and convince everyone to be atheists makes as much sense as fighting antisemitism by converting people to judaism.

    The last line. But at any rate, if that quote doesn’t support my earlier statement then that’s fine. Consider it unsupported. I don’t personally support defining what beliefs should be used to label whole groups of people as inferior as a positive behavior and actually personally am mildly revolted by it. But then again, I don’t hate religion either. I also have an equally sophisticated view of the philosophy of science to PZ, perhaps more so, and I disagree with his entire conceptualization from the ground up. There’s room for disagreement I think.

    It’s called science.

    Science is our weapon, our god-killer. It’s the greatest tool humanity has ever invented — it’s taken us from a hodge-podge of bickering near-savages living in the mud and dying young of disease and childbirth and starvation and sword-pokes to a hodge-podge of bickering near-savages who sometimes walk on the moon, who sometimes cure diseases, who live twice as long as our predecessors, who can look deep into cells or far out to distant galaxies. It has given us great power to accomplish marvelous things or to screw up the whole planet.

    So, I read that as “science is our religion. Meet the new priest. Same as the old priest. We solve all your problems but you gotta worship at the altar. Convert now by choice or be converted by force. If you reas it differently I’m not arguing with you. But that’s how I read it. Moving on, we are getting to his definition in a minute.

    Science also has the power to transform our sense of identity. Some of us are no longer People of the Word, members of a special tribe bound together by the narratives and rules in quaint old books. We are instead the People of Reality: we are united by common knowledge, by a sense of universality, by our commitment to evidence. Personally, I find no sense of myself in the Judeo-Christian fairy tales I was brought up with–they are too narrow, too bigoted, too false. The words of my people are written in the strands of DNA I find in every cell of my body, and the story they tell is clear and inspiring. We are all products of the natural world; stars died to create the elements we are made of, and 4 billion years of churning life struggled and was born and died to shape us. We are close kin to every single human being on the planet, without exception — there is no tribe that is outside our family. And even deeper, we are related to every living thing on earth. You simply cannot get any more universal than the scientific story of life.

    Yes. Yes I believe it is possible to get more universal. But it was nice of him to tell his creation myths to inspire us about how much better they are because, because he has the ignorance to claim a monopoly on reality. And kin every single instance he uses, he directly points as the manifestly not real parts of our understanding of the universe and proudly claims to speak for reality. Every single thing he pointed at was a narrative drawn from a model of the evolution of the various systems he names, entirely divorced from the actual experience of reality, In no case was there an y way to ‘experience’ this reality other than thinking it. He only failed to point at reality if he wants to also consider reality physical I guess. If he is calling his deformed philosophical baby some indefensible sort of idealism then I suppose all I can say is that its a pretty pathetic effort and is to ignorant to warrant a rebuttal beyond what I wrote here.

    In my opinion. You are free to have your own opinion. We each have to interopret through our own lenses so I don’t expect agreement. I am simply explaining my reasoning for my earlier post. Moving on:

    I take far greater pride in the accomplishments of science than I do of my ethnic group, or my place in Western culture, or my particular ruling form of government, or least of all, the church I was brought up in. Science bridges differences: I can find common ground with American scientists, Canadian scientists, Mexican scientists, Chinese scientists, Iranian scientists, Australian scientists. Maybe you aren’t a scientist, strictly speaking, but you’ve read the latest book by Dawkins or Hawking, or you love David Attenborough’s TV shows, or you’re a bird watcher or like weekend hiking in the Mountains. You are my people! We are one, united in an appreciation of the natural world!

    He even goes so far as to put faith to his church above familial ties. If you don’t see that as the exact thing he claims to be attacking then that’s fine, but lots and lots of people do. Me included. And this is what he is calling “science”.

    There’s another reason I can take pride in science. Science has real power. Science actually works. But maybe I should actually take a moment to define what science is.

    One last reminder that his majick is strong. If you join his cult, you will be treated as a friend, but if you reject it beware. You will be the enemy of the cult. And here, the long overdue definition:

    Science is the process that does its damnedest to figure out how stuff actually works, rather than how we wished it worked.

    Um… that is so many levels of wrong. He teaches science and doesn’t give it the respect of honesty in service of a twisted and juvenile dogma about how science means that he is right and his detractors, whoever they are, are wrong. Pretending that there is even a minimal agreement with that screed across the various fields within the harder sciences is either dishonest or myopic.Unless you consider disapproval of fundamentalists and their whacky ideas automatically commits one to the rest of that dogma, there is no other point of agreement with the actual practice of science. And there is no reason whatsoever to privilege his “you must believe x, y, and z to be a good atheist and that is science” quackery with the consideration of a real definition. Itg is quite clearly telling the reader how to frame science, as the truth, the light and the way rather than a process which forces humility on its practitioners at least as far as the concreteness of claims is concerned. That is an embarrassment to science, not a definition.
    And last, he shows us proof of his majick that we may test it ourselves… or rather, let the priests with the authority test the majick. It knows how to root out weaker majick and destroy it.

    You know, I kinda wish peach pits actually cured cancer, but I think it’s more important to do the experiments and measure the results and see if they really do…because if they don’t, I think it would be a good idea for people to move on to more effective treatments.

    The problem isn’t his disapproval of fake science or inherently scientific claims held onto by various individuals and preached in the more fundy pulpits around the world. It’s that he uses agreement with those basic issues to try to con the listener into believing the rest goes right along with it. All the bigotry toward classes of people regardless of their action or qualities. All the unintentional simple materialist philosophy/assumptions fed to his audience as if they were natural facts and presented as the singular acceptable truth required for membership in the cult. Reinfiorced all over the place with direct threats to those who would oppose his dogma revealed to him no doubt during a monday session of his 10:00 MW Bio 210 class.

    Anyone who claims to have a monopoly on the truth is being pretty myopic or disingenuous, again IMO. YMMV: Also anyone who limits possible truth to their specific vision of it is being very narrow minded and basically reciting a dogma, in my opinion only. You are of course free to disagree, I;m just sharing. It’s not like there is a right answer to how to lens a speech. Anyway, by about the third line here I am actively opposed to this particular platform.

    Truth

    This one is so fundamental that it’s hard to say much about it. If you aren’t dedicated to learning and discovery, to finding out the factual truth of matters, then you can’t be a good atheist. Goodbye.

    You might be saying to yourself, but this isn’t a very good criterion, because doesn’t everyone seek the truth? Don’t Christians say they value truth, too?

    Unfortunately, they say it, but they don’t practice it. If that were true, all the major Christian denominations wouldn’t have denial of the mechanisms of evolution as core parts of their doctrine. Now I know right away that many of you will be protesting that the Catholic church nominally accepts that humans evolved over time; so does the church of latter day saints and many other denominations. But note that I said the mechanisms of evolution; we have a battery of well-supported, unambiguously factual mechanisms driving evolutionary change, and none of them involve fairies, aliens, angels or gods. The only process of evolution endorsed by any of these religious institutions is of god-guided, directed, teleological change, a mechanism completely unsupported by any evidence, in direct contradiction to known processes, and propped up only by an irrational need to make their holy dogma relevant to human origins.

    look. They say they think they value truth but since they hold false beliefs they are obviously lying and so are deserving of no human decency.

    So, that is how I read that speech. I understand that you read it differently and I am not arguing with your interpretation. But in the spirit of expanding our world views, I offer my interpretation so you can know how at least one person who took it badly framed the words.

    I don’t want to fight over PZ. He’s an entertainer with a gig and I disapprove of his behavior and disagree with his pronouncements. I think all kinds of negative things about the one dimensional edifice he has constructed. I was very disappointed when he directly lied to me about his academic credentials and misrepresented his accomplishments to claim an authority from which to dismiss criticisms without addressing them.

    But bygones. I don’t know the guy and I put him into a tizzy so he may have acted on impulse and felt guilty for it. I don’t know. I would like an apology to clear the air over that but otherwise I am a critic of his ideas but have no personal knowledge of PZ the man. I certainly don’t expect an apology although I would accept it.

    Here is the link.
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/05/24/there-is-no-blacklist/comment-page-2/#comment-345231

    Not a one of these are science related as he claims. instead they are talks on the evils of creationism and how to best combat it and part of the normal duties of a teacher in an undergraduate teaching college. And the keynote speaker claim is actually a flat out falsehood. He gave a minor talk on using the internet to reach students in the slot before lunch on the 3rd day. Note that I never asked him to post that list. He chose to do it only to make his own authority seem greater. There was no need at all to post it. It is his site and he had the ability to ignore my criticism, ban me, moderate my comment, or answer honestly, which there was no shame at all in. I was unaware that he taught at an undergraduate college where they don’t do research and I asked him if he still does research because he was using his position as a tenured professor to intimidate a grad student by publicly announcing he wouldn’t go to any conferences with her. The implication being that if he refused to go, the conference organizers would revoke her invitation to keep pz or something like that. Whatever. That’s just background because people always seem to get all weird when I say I don’t care for the message promoted by the guy. I really don’t care for it. I actively oppose it in most cases. But that is my own decision and is based on my own interpretation of a select few incidences so I am not urging anyone eklse to agree with me.

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  18. Let me just say that I am not a fan of PZ. I quit reading his blog a couple years ago.

    But I agree with him that science is the successor to religion in much the same way that chemistry supplants alchemy, and so forth. Science is simply a better way of acquiring knowledge.

    But I consider science a journey rather than a destination.

    And even as an agnostic I was for many years a church choir member. I am hostile to religion only when it injects itself into government policy.

    And while I have never been gassed or sent to the ovens, I have spent decades keeping quiet about my lack of faith at social gatherings, particularly among family. And when I started work, it was common for prospective employers to inquire about church attendance.

    Lack of religion can be fatal. During the Vietnam war I went to A Quaker college. It would have been easy to achieve a religious exemption to combat service, but I was unwilling falsely to profess a religion. So while religious objectors could be conscientious objectors, atheists and agnostics were drafted and sent to combat.

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  19. petrushka:
    Let me just say that I am not a fan of PZ. I quit reading his blog a couple years ago.

    But I agree with him that science is the successor to religion in much the same way that chemistry supplants alchemy, and so forth. Science is simply a better way of acquiring knowledge.

    But I consider science a journey rather than a destination.

    And even as an agnostic I was for many years a church choir member. I am hostile to religion only when it injects itself into government policy.

    And while I have never been gassed or sent to the ovens, I have spent decades keeping quiet about my lack of faith at social gatherings, particularly among family. And when I started work, it was common for prospective employers to inquire about church attendance.

    Lack of religion can be fatal. During the Vietnam war I went to A Quaker college. It would have been easy to achieve a religious exemption to combat service, but I was unwilling falsely to profess a religion. So while religious objectors could be conscientious objectors, atheists and agnostics were drafted and sent to combat.

    I too agree that science is the successor to the part of religion which makes scientific claims. Manipulating the physical world or even describing it is something that religion failed spectacularly to do. Science has replaced that function entirely. But the reason science did that is because it helps us avoids making unsupported claims. Claims like the nature of reality, whose philosophy is truth, etc. It is precisely the hamstringing of efforts to make unsupported claims which gives science that power.

    I am somewhat sympathetic to complaints about simple or naive materialism in discourse. I think it is actually less common in the sciences than in business or other professions, but it is often used as a tool to sort out the deserving from the undeserving based on ;pure assertion at its base. Yes the materialist paradigm is necessary for the practice of science. Science requires location information be collected from every data point in order that translating between landscapes or models has a point of comparison. That is simply the way science works. It limits the domain that science can inform us on to the physical but that does not mean that the physical domain is the only domain there is, just that it is the only domain science can investigate. Not that there are other obvious domains either. Just that science is constructed such that without physical measurement, there is no data. It maps the world as physical because that is how the model works. There is no evidence and can be none for any claims beyond that. Reality is strange enough even within the physical realm that it is basically always unwarranted to claim special privilege to reality. What can be claimed however is better medicine, lighter materials and faster transportation. Power to manipulate that physical domain is unquestionably a matter of science and not religion.

    I wrote a little ditty about why the word supernatural is simply erased from our paradigm. Wholly subsumed by the word natural. It has nothing to do with ideology. It has to do with the nature of science. I know a lot of people criticize gould’s non-overlapping magesteria idea but there is a good reason to work with the idea. It has to do with what science does not model, or at least models inefficiently enough to realize when it has reached a limit of structure rather than absence ofdata. (Elizabeth will argue with me on this one maybe but I am pretty sure we’d end up agreeing once she corrected my vocabulary to align with hers. I am rusty and out of date)

    That has to do with the mind brain models and the limitations of mapping mental states to physical systems. And it will have to wait until the topic comes up.

    BTW, I find it easier to write basically as one giant assertion. That should not be taken as a statement of hyper confidence or of lecturing. Assume I put conditionally and provisionally and ‘it seems to me’ all over the place in there.

    Here is my ditty on natural v supernatural:
    ==========================
    Me: Who said I was unattached and objective? Find me a single example of a supernatural event.
    Other guy: Jesus’ resurrection.
    Me: Perfect example. We’ll assume that Jesus’ resurrection was a real event, witnessed by millions. A team of doctors pronounce him dead as a doorknob. He turns blue, rigor mortis sets in, and the doctors take his liver and heart for transplant patients so we know he’s as dead as they come. No tricks.

    Now, the next morning, a team of scientists representing every known discipline with every possible piece of testing equipment starts monitoring the cadaver. They have EEG, MRI, CAT, mass spectrometers, chemical analysis teams, scales, x-ray machines, scopes up his ass and forced through his urethra, down his throat, in his ears and nose and around his eyes up his femoral artery, cloud chambers to measure the particle interactions, and a cop with the insta cocaine detector kit snipping bits of his hair at 2 second intervals to make sure his carcass doesn’t commit a crime. After watching the decaying flesh vigilantly all morning, suddenly the systems reanimate. Brain waves start registering, a heart regrows and starts pumping, the liver develops and the gall-bladder fills with bile. Jesus takes a breath. Witnessing the monitoring devices with a mix of awe, fascination and horror, the eyelids flicker and Jesus sits up. The cop’s test turns positive and Jesus nonchalantly waves his hand and the test turns negative.
    What do you think the scientists do?

    Being shocked at the resurrection, they may call it a miracle, but does that mean they just drop their equipment and regard the recording of the event as useless? Not if they are worth a shit as scientists. First, if they do their science well, they acknowledge that the scientific model which predicts that no person will ever rise from the dead failed to predict the event. Second, they begin to assemble the data of what happened to the body. The event happened. The data recorded every single change that swept through every single atom in his body at 2 million fps. The data was recorded at the atomic, molecular, organ/body component, and room levels of resolution.

    At that point, the model requires revision to accommodate the new forces and interactions the crowd witnessed. Suddenly, those events are possible in the universe. Some force exists which can do those things. That force was measured, even if indirectly through effect. As part of what is possible, it is natural. If it can happen, it is within the rules of existence. The word natural by definition includes it. The word miracle has been subsumed by a new paradigm. It has been emptied of use in language.

    I don’t have time to answer the likely objection of “But we use the word, therefore it has meaning!!! but to note that it is undone by its own argument.
    Words have meanings assigned to them. Words which simply mean “What just happened dude?” are of little use to people who can tell you what just happened. The latter simply overwrites the former. Just because an event is poorly understood or unexplained, doesn’t and actually can’t mean that the event is unexplainable. We don’t have any idea what gravity is but we don’t call it supernatural.

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  20. But I agree with him that science is the successor to religion in much the same way that chemistry supplants alchemy, and so forth. Science is simply a better way of acquiring knowledge.

    I’ll disagree with that point.

    What motivates people toward religion is not what motivates them toward science. So science cannot be the successor to religion. Perhaps religion will go away, and science might be partly why. But it won’t replace what religious people are looking for. They will have to find other ways of finding that.

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