Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I like Science

Posted by Kirk

I like science. I always have. I dug Don Herbert a.k.a. Mr. Wizard. While my brother's childhood birthday gifts consisted of books on greek mythology I was always delighted to receive books such as, How things Work, Why Clocks Run Clockwise, and Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science.

These two realms, mythology and science are both ontological and epistemological in nature. They seek to discover or reveal both the nature of existence and the nature of how we know what we know. Humans are fascinated with these questions.

Both science and religion/mythology seek to help us understand. Some people chose to have both science and religion in their lives, while other people, like me, find them incompatible. If people want to believe in something fundamentally unverifiable, they have every right to do so. This is what faith is all about.

What frightens me is that religion, specifically Christianity in America, is having a crisis of faith. The consequence of this crisis of faith is lashing out at science. When science brings forth good evidence that contradicts what a religion has taught, the religious should, in my humble opinion, take one of two courses of action.

1. They can adapt their beliefs to fit in with the new understanding. or
2. They can rely on faith and remain unchanged in their beliefs.

When it became clear that the Earth went around the Sun (not the other way around,) religious people realized that they needed to change their view. This really didn't hurt their core religious beliefs since there is no chapter in the Bible that says, "I am your Lord God, I made the Earth go around the Sun." In fact, the realization that the Earth goes around the Sun strengthened many people religious convictions since, as it didn't require epicycles it made more sense and is, in many ways more "perfect" than the Sun going around the Earth.

Option 2: Relying on Faith comes into play when we examine stories such as Jesus walking on water. This flies in the face of science but most Christians would simply say they believe the story as a matter of faith. Enough said. They don't need science to prove how he did it.

The problem is that there is an increasing number of religious people, and not just fundies and zealots anymore, who want a third option. When science challenges them they do not want to change their beliefs or simply rely on their faith, they want to change science. There have always been those who want this option but it is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of science in the first place. Just ask Giordano Bruno.

A strange email came my way though that gave me pause for several reasons. It referenced an article titled, "No NASA Millions for Irate Russian Astrologer."

Astrology, that kookie cousin to the real science Astronomy is a religion. Here is a case of a religion trying to stop science because of a conflict in belief. The astrologer claimed that NASA's Deep Impact mission, crashing a probe into a comet, was upsetting the balance of the universe. Okay, okay so it's probably just a case of a scam artist trying to make money but follow me here.

I find this reprehensible. The idea that a faith based belief system could even try to hold sway over science makes my skin crawl. Then again, science does not occur in a vacuum. Yes, it does in space but let's regress. Science is done by humans for the benefit of humans. As such, the values of humans must come into play. Science can allow us to do many things that we as humans find undesirable. I have argued against the destruction of the environment or the use of bioengeneering but are those just personal values getting in the way of the progress of science?


Values can be informed in two ways. One is belief and the other is science.

It is easy for people to assume that the environmental movement is based on the belief that things are better a certain way but this is not the case. Environmental education and environmental action are based on science.

I can, and should, use beliefs informed by science to question both the assumed knowledge of science and the practical application thereof. Religion, strictly speaking a belief system, will always be of use to question the application of science in a society dominated by people with religious beliefs. However, religion should not be used to challenge the basis of science.

The Russian astrologer is challenging the application of science not the basis of science and for that I'm relieved.

She's still a nut.

The funny thing is, there are Christians who look at her and think she's crazy for believing things we can can see and measure affect our lives but they think nothing of citing the will of an invisible god when some madman enters a church and kills people.

I'll end this huge post with a quote from Stephen F. Roberts.

"I contend we are both Atheists - I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you reject all other gods, you will understand why I reject yours."