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Abolish Science?
Posted: 27 February 2007 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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Science - friend or foe?

People don’t build atomic bombs in church, but they do talk about the coming of doomsday, or Armageddon.  Does this suggest a correlation between science and religion?

Several thousand years ago a Chinese sage said, “The intelligent man knows when to stop.”  We all know that science isn’t going to stop unless some disaster throws the whole world back into the stone age.  A doomsday weapon that can split the world asunder is probably less than a few hundred years away.  Then, how long will it be after that before a David Koresh type, who believes himself to be the instrument of the end of the world, gets his hands on it?

If some religions see the West as the Great Satan, is it possible that, at some conscious or unconscious level, they see that science (Western Civilization) is rushing (albeit unintentionally) toward the destruction of the world, and they want to stamp it out and return to memorizing the Koran as our sole study? 

Scientists like Einstein or Openheimer had their regrets, but the cat is out of the bag.  As optimists, shall we say that their invention will enable us to destroy an asteroid before it destroys us?

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“The simple fables of the religious of the world have come to seem like tales told to children.”  - Nobel Prize recipient - Francis Crick

“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 27 February 2007 06:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“burt”]. . . yes, science is a formalization of validity-seeking for statements about the world.  And yes, I am working on a book about this, which seems to be dragging on forever.  But I will post something when (if?) it ever gets published.

Thanks for clarifying, Burt. You seem to have rightly detected my tongue nudging slightly against my cheek.

Would you agree with me that science would become less dogmatic if science instructors and school teachers improved their precision when considering how they approach and lecture about theory? That is, some theories are more obviously valid than others. But since we’re sort of stuck with a word that has a variety of shades of meaning (“theory”), great care and thought needs to go into how basic scientific principles are explained. I could get more detailed, but I suspect you know what I’m saying. Is discussion of the use of “theory” something that will be included in your book?

As for seeking validity by way of spiritual or religious avenues, I guess I’m just strongly biased in favor of recognizing the enormous degree of ignorance our ancient ancestors were forced to shape and base their ideas on. For instance, Plato was obviously a profoundly powerful thinker, but have you read Popper’s 2-volume blast, The Open Society and Its Enemies? And Plato’s apparently sincere pronouncements about forms is today pretty much universally scoffed at other than by devout Christians.

Can’t we just appreciate the ancients for the poetic attempts they made at understanding the universe rather than constantly attempting to rehabilitate their ignorance-based, wildly concocted guesses?

I agree about the need for much better science education, including the elimination of the word “true” or “false” when talking about theories.  What needs to be understood by the general public is that a current scientific theory is just the best we can do at the present time, and it will certainly change, develop, and very likely be eventually replaced. 

Am currently reading a book of Popper’s essays on Parmenides and the pre-Socratics.  But I’ll have to say that I’ve never been tremendously impressed by Popper, I think he has too narrow a focus.  That said, reading him is always informative and thought provoking.  What I think is important in reading ancient philosophers is to realize that they are very constricted in the linguistic/conceptual sphere, but at the same time realize that our minds themselves have not really changed so it becomes necessary to read through the fog, as it were, and at the same time take into account their socio-cultural context, but at the same time recognizing that their metaphysics has much to offer.  With Plato, for example, we can follow the doctrine of the Forms through the Intelligible Cosmos of the middle Platonists to the One of Plotinus and the development of the idea of the Great Chain of Being.  (Arthur Lovejoy showed how the 18th century temporalized this idea, giving us the idea of progress toward the ideal society in the future.)  But we do, of course, have to develop our ideas in the context of the present day, preserving the gains of the past and eliminating (to the extent possible) the errors.

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Posted: 27 February 2007 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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[quote author=“unsmoked”]
Scientists like Einstein or Openheimer had their regrets, but the cat is out of the bag.  As optimists, shall we say that their invention will enable us to destroy an asteroid before it destroys us?

Isn’t that Schrodinger’s cat?

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Posted: 28 February 2007 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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[quote author=“Jefe”][quote author=“burt”][I agree about the need for much better science education, including the elimination of the word “true” or “false” when talking about theories.  What needs to be understood by the general public is that a current scientific theory is just the best we can do at the present time, and it will certainly change, develop, and very likely be eventually replaced.

So you want “SCIENCE” to be taught within parenthetical disclaimer that state “This is the best answer we have right now, but it could be wrong.  ‘We don’t know for sure’”?

Where is the reciprocity that suggests that religions offer up the very same parenthetical disclaimer “We don’t really know at all, but the story we believe says this.”?

Why not.  When talking creationism or ID with fundamentalists I tell them that I am perfectly willing to include this in a science biology course, so long as they reciprocate by including evolution by natural selection in their Sunday school lessons.  LOL

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Posted: 28 February 2007 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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[quote author=“burt”]What needs to be understood by the general public is that a current scientific theory is just the best we can do at the present time, and it will certainly change, develop, and very likely be eventually replaced.


Absolutely.

With a solid grasp and emphasis on intellectual integrity this would go without saying, but would be said anyway, just to be sure. It’ll never happen in terms of national or likely even state policy though, because those pushing for disclaimers in textbooks and such aren’t even in the ballpark of the slightest hint of an inkling of any semblance of interest in promoting genuine intellectual integrity, otherwise they’d recognize that while all conclusions in science are tentative to some degree or another (sometimes meaning “practically not tentative at all, but theoretically so”), religion is pure, epistemologically bankrupt fabrication. They won’t go there to be sure, which makes it clear they’re not really at all interested in intellectual integrity.

Byron

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Posted: 28 February 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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[quote author=“SkepticX”][quote author=“burt”]What needs to be understood by the general public is that a current scientific theory is just the best we can do at the present time, and it will certainly change, develop, and very likely be eventually replaced.


Absolutely.

With a solid grasp and emphasis on intellectual integrity this would go without saying, but would be said anyway, just to be sure. It’ll never happen in terms of national or likely even state policy though, because those pushing for disclaimers in textbooks and such aren’t even in the ballpark of the slightest hint of an inkling of any semblance of interest in promoting genuine intellectual integrity, otherwise they’d recognize that while all conclusions in science are tentative to some degree or another (sometimes meaning “practically not tentative at all, but theoretically so”), religion is pure, epistemologically bankrupt fabrication. They won’t go there to be sure, which makes it clear they’re not really at all interested in intellectual integrity.
Byron

For somebody who signs themself as Skeptic, there is a bit of judgment here.  Whatever happened to suspension of judgement with regard to any assertion?

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Posted: 28 February 2007 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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Hacking in its pure original form is driven by the attitude that it doesn’t matter what lay behind the firewall, what matters is getting in. It’s a puzzle and as Captain Picard said on an episode of TNG, humans can’t resist a puzzle. The challenge of defeating the security is what drives the hacker to refine the techniques that get around the password, decode the encryption, find the backdoor or, as a programmer, to hide the embedded joke in the operating system.

Scientists do to nature what hackers to do computer networks.  They probe and test until they find something to follow.  As for engineers, if science merely discovers what is, then engineers build what never was.  In either case, the people involved seem compelled to follow the clues whereever they may lead, or to build the mountain because it demands to be built.  Therein lies the danger.  Even with a reliable ethical value system in place, many scientists and engineers divorce themselves from eithical responsibility for what they do by saying the morality comes from how other people use their discovery or invention.  In a sense, they’re right, in the same way a criminal is responsible for their crime, but we also hold that accessory is a crime just as serious.

A perfect case in point, well articulated by Sam Harris, is the fact religious extremists now have access to the worst weapons in the history of the planet.  Those weapons came from the minds of scientists and engineers. Consider this analogy.  A parent leaves a toddler in the house alone with a lighter.  When the house burns down, who is responsible?  Yes, the child was the physical cause, but the parent is responsible for the child and the lighter.  Bringing a nuclear weapon into the world is like leaving the lighter on the coffee table.  Yes, I know all the rational justifications for making the bomb, but if anything, these patterns of thinking only add to the compelling nature of burt’s proposition. Drastic situations call for drastic measures and science ironically provides both.

This is not to say that science and engineering have not done much good, but without a moral compass to guide what should and should not be done, science, engineering and technology are indeed morally neutral, implying equal likelihood of producing blessing or curse.  With odds like that, with forces so compelling and potentially destructive, we cannot afford to be morally neutral or ethically passive.  We must pursue only the beneficial, and even with the best intent, we often have no idea how one seemingly benign discovery may eventually lead to the next catastrophe.

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Posted: 28 February 2007 04:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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[quote author=“Parable”]
This is not to say that science and engineering have not done much good, but without a moral compass to guide what should and should not be done, science, engineering and technology are indeed morally neutral, implying equal likelihood of producing blessing or curse.  With odds like that, with forces so compelling and potentially destructive, we cannot afford to be morally neutral or ethically passive.  We must pursue only the beneficial, and even with the best intent, we often have no idea how one seemingly benign discovery may eventually lead to the next catastrophe.

 

There is another way of looking at this.  Jacob Bronowski (Science and Human Values) argues that science can only function in cultures that promote certain values—tolerance, freedom of dissent, respect for individuals.  There are also values internal to science (the ethics of science).  These last are necessary for science to exist but do not necessarily reflect into the wider social world.  On the other hand, C.P. Snow argued that there is a gap between “the two cultures”, science and the humanities that was damaging to both, and that could lead to misuse of scientific findings.  I’ll suggest that there are actually 3 cultures that have to be considered in this: science, the humanities (including religion), and commerce.  And commerce, with only a profit motive, appropriates the products of both science and the humanities without any “moral compass” to guide its actions.  So, it seems to me that what is required is the development of a general conception of morality that is coherent with the highest moral teachings of the major world religions but at the same time is not dependent on them for its justification.  Followed, of course, by more serious moral education. 

But there is always the law of unintended consequences…

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Posted: 28 February 2007 05:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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And if the religious parent pushes the scientist to build the lighter because the parent wants to smoke, who is more dangerous… the person who knows how to make a lighter or the person who desperately wants one?

Perhaps this is where commerce comes in.  Commerce drives the production of the lighter in response to the economic demand for lighters.  Perhaps commerce is the medium of exchange between dissimilar value systems.

Another angle….I use a lighter to light my grill, but I don’t smoke.  Again, it is how the technology is to be used that seems to influence our perceptions of its morality.  Yet if I leave my kid alone with the lighter, it doesn’t matter why I bought it. (the lighter, not the kid….that would be an entirely different topic…or would it?)

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Posted: 28 February 2007 07:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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burt wrote:

So, it seems to me that what is required is the development of a general conception of morality that is coherent with the highest moral teachings of the major world religions but at the same time is not dependent on them for its justification.


Given the ABSOLUTE condemnation of all humanity, - past, present and future-, how can religion provide anything resembling a moral code? All religion does is provide a set of harsh measures for restraining a murderous beast.

If the Christian view of humans is correct, then the only moral position would be to encourage us to be the murderous beasts they claim is our true nature.

We cannot create a morality for dogs which compels them to fly. Or a morality for fish that compels them to climb trees. So, if we are SINNERS, it would be absurd to compel us not to sin.

There can be no moral code as long as religion denies we are moral creatures.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 01:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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Burt, based on your professional backgrounds, you and Parable seem to be the most qualified contributors this forum has ever seen to be discussing this topic. The questions you are delving into are of course crucial to any hope of longevity for humanity. But education, work experience, intelligence, wisdom and knowledge aside, you two lack one component that, it seems obvious to me, trumps all the rest, as you still seem to cling to theistically superstitious delusion. I say “seem” only because I have no way of knowing if it’s a pretended adherence out of a mistaken sense of duty/fear, or real, live ignorance. And of course you’re (presumably) two different individuals, so one of you may be more real about reality than the other.

I don’t have much to say about the subject, and I’ve already said it in response to a past contributor named Peter Corless. For what it’s worth, here was my take on his brilliant yet lacking loquacity:
http://www.samharris.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1098&highlight=petercorless

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
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Posted: 01 March 2007 02:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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[quote author=“Jefe”]
I wouldn’t be able to agree with ...Jacob Bronowski (Science and Human Values).  The high point of the Soviet Technological Power belies this position to a large degree.  Competition and political motivation without regard to tolerance, freedom of dissent and respect for individuals has, in the past, produced scientific leaps.

That a common misconception and a good example of cognitive disonance. State organizations can make great strides in the harvesting of technology from science. That’s is, yesterday’s science. While the state may enable those who discover tomorrow’s science, it is usually the biggest obstacle. I think Dr. Bronowski said as much in “Knowledge or Certainty”.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 02:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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If the Christian view of humans is correct, then the only moral position would be to encourage us to be the murderous beasts they claim is our true nature.

This is not the Christian view of humanity.  That is, according to the faith, our true nature is good, i.e. blessedness.  This is not unlike what other religions hold to be true.  The difference is, in the Christian view, while the current “fallen” condition is not permanent, it is not something we can overcome on our own.  Some religions say all we need do is realize our true nature, e.g. wake up, while others say we can achieve spiritual growth, or somehow earn a reward and be brought to that true nature through doing good things, e.g. works.

The moral position, from the Christian view, is to act according to our true nature, i.e. the likeness of God, which is modelled for us by Jesus and described on the sermon on the mount as “blessedness”.  All this would be fine if it were not for the very offensive idea that this cannot be done outside of surrenderning one’s life to Christ and having it redeemed by him through what he did on the cross on our behalf.  The concept that we owe a debt for our sins is the real rub for most people, yet its strange to me that we don’t seem to have a problem with this kind of responsibility for the things we do that are wrong, no matter what your definition of “right” or “wrong”.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 03:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”]Burt, based on your professional backgrounds, you and Parable seem to be the most qualified contributors this forum has ever seen to be discussing this topic. The questions you are delving into are of course crucial to any hope of longevity for humanity. But education, work experience, intelligence, wisdom and knowledge aside, you two lack one component that, it seems obvious to me, trumps all the rest, as you still seem to cling to theistically superstitious delusion. I say “seem” only because I have no way of knowing if it’s a pretended adherence out of a mistaken sense of duty/fear, or real, live ignorance. And of course you’re (presumably) two different individuals, so one of you may be more real about reality than the other.

I can’t speak for Parable, although he has given good descriptions of his own religions beliefs.  I think I’ve given some idea of my own position as well, and can’t really see how you can characterize it as you do.  Basically, I accept the idea that there is another aspect of reality than the material but take almost no position as to its nature—neither a dogmatist not an academic, I but a skeptic (in the ancient sense).  As for the established religions I like a quote (which, unfortunately I lost the reference for years ago, it was in a book by Idries Shah, the prime western exponent of sufism, quoting one of the medieval sufi teachers Faridduin Attar): (in a semi-accurate paraphrase) “Religion, as the term is commonly used, both by the theologians and by their opponents, is not what it seems.  Religion is a vehicle and its rites, practices, and moral teachings are intended to have a certain uplifting effect on certain communities at certain times.  Because of difficulties in maintaining the Science of Man, religion was chosen as the vehicle for human development.  This fact has always been misunderstood by the shallow, for whom the vehicle has become the idol.”  The religious impulse is a natural part of being human, but religions are contextual conceptual formulations of particular times and places.  They need to be adapted to current conditions, just as do other belief systems.  As I see it, there is much of value in the existing religions and the problem is that people become dogmatic about the formulations of these systems given in the past to the point where the idea of adapting them to present necessities is heresy. 

Given the instrumental view above, there is also another aspect: spiritual transcendence (however one might take that, e.g., buddhist enlightenment) and religions also provide pointers in that direction.  There, however, the Buddhist story of the phantom city is relevent: A group of treasure seekers were being led by a guide through the jungle.  They had been traveling many days and were tired and hungry.  The guide told them that that evening they would reach a city where they could rest, refresh themselves, and prepare for the rest of the journey.  That evening they did reach this city and the next morning found themselves re-energized for their travels.  As they walked away, the city vanished behind them.  The guide said that now they were fit, the treasure was very near.  The explanation of the story then says that the phantom city is buddhism.  (An interesting similarity there to the final sentences in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.)  In this regard, then, I see religions as providing vehicles for individual spiritual development to the point that the religion is no longer necessary.

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Posted: 01 March 2007 03:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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[quote author=“Jefe”][quote author=“Nhoj Morley”]That a common misconception and a good example of cognitive disonance. State organizations can make great strides in the harvesting of technology from science. That’s is, yesterday’s science. While the state may enable those who discover tomorrow’s science, it is usually the biggest obstacle. I think Dr. Bronowski said as much in “Knowledge or Certainty”.

Perhaps he did.  I personally can think of several examples of rapid leaps of scientific and technological advance that specifically did not take place within cultures of tolerance, freedom of dissent, and respect for the individual.

The point, as I see it, is not that such cultures can produce leaps of scientific and technological advance, rather that this happens inspite of the culture and that the long term effect is deadening.  Science may still trudge on, but it is hampered.

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