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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Why you must never trust a Scientist......

....when she talks philosophy, morality, ethics or God.....

The Altar of Science
In our Western culture we place scientists on a pedestal and nigh on worship at their altar. Why?

Reason One: we have benefitted from the great advances that scientific endeavours have bequeathed to us. I am glad to be in a modern hospital rather than a Victorian one. And should my last days be ridden with disease, I will thank God for the advances in drugs which will enable those days to be largely physical-pain free. (And I thank God for Dame Cicely Saunders for pioneering the new hospice movement).

Add to medicine the wonderful advances in communication and transport and all the other ways in which our lives have been enriched by scientific discoveries. Science is worshipped because it has made life more comfortable.

Reason Two: it is said that scientific knowledge is the most certain knowledge we possess.  What I think is meant is that ten different scientists working to verify a particular theory in different labs are likely to come up with the same answer. Compare that with ten ethicists working on a moral problem. But this is no credit to science, it is credit to the created world which works in an orderly way; gravity works in the same way in Germany as it does in Indonesia or England. And the kind of knowledge on which science can be so sure is almost irrelevant to our day to day community lives.

Reason Three: ever since the Enlightenment (the narrowing we should call it - and of course the Enlightenment is just proud human nature codified), knowledge has been prized in and of itself, and those who have lots of the stuff are honoured because of that. The high priests of a knowledge-based culture are those with knowledge. Who possesses lots of knowledge? Scientists.

Reason Four: loud high-priests. Amidst the scientific community are religious priests and philosophers who, to perpetuate their religion have put on the sheep's clothing of science. They use science as a weapon (thinly disguised) to propagate their religion, normally some form of atheism. We're thinking guys like Dawkins who are philosophers first (not good ones of course) and scientists second, but who parade as scientists claiming to have come to their religious views in the lab. Of course tis other way round.

Put all together these explain why many Westerners bow at the footstool of sacred science and listen to everything that scientists say.

Why you shouldn't listen to Scientists
When they talk about operational science we ought to listen and thank God for the remarkable discoveries they are making. We should be of course skeptical and questioning, but they are likely to be right on how cells work, new insights into matter and so on.

But when they talk about historical science (trying to work out what happened in the past) or ethics (how we should behave)  or God, we should stop our ears.


Reason One: Just read a little bit of the history of science or the philosophy of science. All the big stories change with time, so why hitch your wagon to a star that will most likely fall one day?

Reason Two: Big stories (e.g. evolution, cosmology) must start with presuppositions which no-one can prove, because (not rocket science, this) we weren't there. Anyone who has done mathematical modelling will know how sensitive outcome is to initial conditions. To put it bluntly, you can model anything perfectly if you tweak the initial conditions.

Reason Three: Big Stories not only start with scientific presuppositions, they also start with philosophical presuppositions. The notion that no intelligence was involved in the evolution of living things is a dogma asserted against all the evidence to the contrary!

Reason Four: When finitude faces infinity, all it can do is select. Human beings are simply incapable of assimilating all the data to hand. All they can do is pick a fraction of it. Result? What bits you pick will be shaped by your prejudices. We're into conspiracy theory territory. This is exactly why conspiracy theories work - from a massive bank of material you mine facts which suit your theory. President Bush, don't you know, blew up the twin towers. I'm serious it can be proven with many, many 'facts'. Evolution, didn't you know, is true. I'm serious, there are tons of facts supporting it (it's just that the ones that don't support it are left out in the cold). 

So thank God for the comforts science brings, but smile at the nice men and women in white coats when they tell you how to behave or what to believe. 

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