Friday, May 24, 2013

Science ≠ Superstition ≠ Religion

If I see one more 'respectable' web site or blogger posting something like this:
It was the first really large conflict between science and religion, where religion made one prediction, and science made a different one. 
Science -- and the prostitutes who believed in it -- won.
I will…well… make this annoying post.
Please just stop. . . . Everyone. It's just stupid. Granted, your intentions may be good. There is no end to bad science, just as there is no end to bad religion. However…

If you wish to report about science, consult scientists, not someone who took eighth grade science.
If you wish to report about religion, consult theologians, not someone who took eighth grade religion.
And the scientists and theologians should probably have lived after 1900 or the chances are great that their knowledge is outdated.

Just because someone thinks they know about science or religion without studying it, does not make it so. That is called superstition. Science ≠ superstition ≠ religion although both science and religion may have grown out of superstition. We should rather say science = ignorance = religion.


Peter H of Lebo said...
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Peter H of Lebo said...
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Peter H of Lebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter H of Lebo said...

Go to a Sunni, Haredi, Wicca, Scientologist, Catholic theologian and the only thing they'll agree is that the other groups are wrong, while talk to any scientist on germ theory...

So while each of those theologians, regardless of their beliefs in God, will get penicillin for their syphilis from any doctor in the world (unless allergic) they'll never agree on whether a dude walked on water, (science can never rule one way or the other. Its not a testable hypothesis, at least not until the second coming. But science can say No, with an error margin smaller than the hypothesis the world is flat -sorry for the tangent).

An eighth grade science education will reassure a kid that they will not go blind from masturbation (any science knowledge is good knowledge so teach'em young) but not the same depth as the phd student's thesis on the mechanisms of why feels awesome. An eighth grade Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) graduate will have the same knowledge as chief Theologian on whether masturbation and brimstone's correlation implies causation.

In summary, you sure as hell ain't going to a med student for a gallbladder removal over a 30 plus year veteran gallbladder surgeon. But those who study religion a year or 30 are on the exact same playing field, who is more knowledgeable is only proven in death. For instance, when you die and the Catholics turn out right about Jesus' divinity, the 30 year study of the Rabbi is as correct as the 8th grade Jewish kid knowledge. Or if G(g)od(s) turns out only a word on a computer screen (sometimes with 10 different definition born from a mammalian blogger's brain) who cares how long you have study any theology, the study of God- or the study of non-existent. I personally am putting my money on early Roman theologians and Zeus.

So in defence of the bloggers. There is striking differences between theologically and scientific education. One has proven applicability within a lifetime, the other only after death and its not provable. And before you start saying it helps in arguing skills, different thought, helps maintain culture like genital mutilation etc. any education gives you that basic skillset, so study philosophy or the cultural/historic impact of religion instead of memorizing of the names of flying monsters that go around killing the first born sons.

In a long winded way, I am disagreeing with your terminology. If you are going to report on religion go to a historian/political scientist/professor of cultural studies. Not theologians, they all have confirmation bias based on made-up facts only provable (or provable to ghosts only if a deity exists) in death.

James R said...

What does death have to do with it? Any theologian I have ever read would say that, like a scientist, you should learn about meaning, and reality, and personal response while you are alive. It doesn't help much when you're dead. I think we can agree that we have read very different authors and have very different views on what constitutes religion, and possibly, science.

James R said...

I'm finding it hard to respond seriously here as I suspect your comment is tongue-in-cheek and, as I recently accused Myk, was principally for baiting. My point was that religion is broad and varied and those who have neither, practiced, nor studied, nor read widely, typically have a narrow focus. Christopher Hitchens, though no theologian, studied religion enough to understand this. He would sometimes even debate those who did not regard any dude who walked on water, or brimstone, or Jesus' divinity, or Zeus, or flying monsters, or life after death as part of religion. He acknowledged this was not part of their religion. His response was not to deny their religion, but to deny it had any benefit. Perhaps he was right, perhaps not.

Your name sake has written about the benefits of a couples' religious group he and Lisa participate in, that meets and discusses difficulties that arise in marriage. I know others, (Myk, of course) whose lives are greatly enriched. I'm personally fascinated by the depth of religion. I acknowledge that it's not everyone's cup of tea. We only have so much time with so much to learn. It just bothers me when someone with a very limited and narrow view tries to definitively describe religion from what they learned as a child. I should be more accepting. Perhaps religion is not helping me, or that I should practice it more.

Big Myk said...

Pete, I think, has a point. These seems to be a fundamental difference between medicine and the sciences and things like art, religion, philosophy and literature. While we are all devotees of Thomas Kuhn and recognize that scientific progress is not linear, I don't think we can deny that science involves the accumulation of knowledge that happens over time. Francis Bacon knew a few things, but Galileo knew more .

Art, literature, philosophy and religion (and I daresay the social sciences, history, political science and sociology) don't "progress" in the same way that science does.

For example let's take take two great theologians who live about a millenium apart.

Ibn Arabi, perhas the greatest Islamic philosopher of the 12th century, had this to say: "Do not praise your own faith exclusively so that you disbelieve all the rest. If you do this you will miss much good. Nay, you will miss the whole truth of the matter. God, the omniscient and the omnipresent, cannot be confined to any one creed, for he says in the Koran, wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah. Everybody praises what he knows. His God is his own creature, and in praising it, he praises himself. Which he would not do if he were just, for his dislike of other religions is based on ignorance."

Now let's turn to the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th and 21st centuries (unfortunately recently deceased), Edward Schillebeeckx: “No religion can exhaust the truth.... Through God’s disclosure in Jesus we learn that no historical particularism can be called absolute ... every human can meet God without Jesus ... as a God of man, of all humans. God is absolute, but no religion is absolute... God is too glorious and too much to be exhausted by one specific and thus limited religious experienced tradition... As a consequence we can and must say that there is more (religious) truth present in all religions together then in one separate religion."

So, we must ask ourselves, have we made any progress in the study of religion in the last millenium?

Similarly, we have made great strides in medicine since Elizabethan times when barbers were also surgeons, but have we made any progress in literature since then?

And, yes, in these areas, age and training seem to be of little benefit. On May 29th we celebrated the 100th aniversary of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. It was first performed when he was 31. He continued to compose up into the 1960's, but his tastes turned conservative. His pieces were conventional and ultimately dwarfed by the Rite of Spring. So, while you might want to have an experienced doctor take out your gallbladder, you might also want a fresh young composer for your ballet.

But, having said all this, does that negate the value of art, literature and religion?

Believe me, especially since I am now attaining that certain age, I fully appreciate the advances of medicine. But, it still seems to me that art, religion, philosophy and literature add a dimension to life that you cannot find elsewhere. Like Scrooge's nephew Fed said of Christmas (note, a religious holiday), "And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'' If medicine adds years to our lives, these other things add quality.

Plus, these areas are more egalitarian. Anyone can be a great artist or theologian without a lot of formal training (although this helps). After all, Mozart began composing music at age 8 with only his father's training. With the exception of perhaps Dougie Howser, you will not find eight year olds performing gall bladder surgery. So, while we cannot all be skilled doctors or great scientists, we can think about our lives and put those thoughts into some kind of expression, even if its just a comment to a blog post.