Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Worship of Science

A pseudo scientist called Richard Dawkins recently launched yet another crusade to blame all the evils of the world on the superstitious and the ignorant. Fair enough. The problem was that by his definition the superstitious and the ignorant are those who believe in stuff which he doesn’t believe in – in this case God; while the real problem is that one of the most dangerous single classes of superstitious and ignorant people throwing their overly pompous wieght around in modern world appear to be pseudo scientists – like Richard Dawkins. (The man was apparently once a respected real scientist, but has wandered both beyond his area of expertise, and beyond the correct application of scientific principles.)

There appears to be an increasing desperation to the athiests efforts to write off religion in the modern world. More and more efforts are being made by people like Richard Dawkins, who used to smugly assume that religion was a dying vestige of the past: to whip up some popular enthusiasm about what they describe as pointless, or even evil, superstition. Which is amusing, when you consider that atheism, and partcularly ‘scientific’ atheism, has all the attributes of the most fanatical of religious movements.

“Science’, and ‘scientific method’, are funny things in the modern world. They have been elevated in much of the popular imagination, and certainly amongst much of the unthinking press, to the status of unchallangeable truths. They have in fact supplanted religion in the minds of many, as the one true faith which must be defended against all comers. Which is ironic really, because much of what we hold as scientific truth is apparrently wrong, and rarely stacks up to scientific method.

Historically, it was scientitsts ‘defending’ the truth against heresy, who called for the burning at the stake of such dangerous radicals as Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei. The unthinking assumption applied by many modern people is that they fell foul of the church. But that is only a confusion with the concept of what was effectively a church based education system at the time. It was not the theologians who were calling for blood, but the self proclaimed ‘scientists’ who defended to the death the truths from antiquity as defined by the ‘Divine Galen’ amongst others. In fact if there has been a constant in the last thousand years of science, it has been the repeated enthusiasm by the majority of 'scientists' and scientific bodies to fight strenously against anything which challenges an accepted orthodoxy. They challenge assumptions, ridicule new theories, and usually attack proponents of new ideas. It often takes centuries for new concepts to establish dominance (by which time they are already out of date, but are being defended as the ‘new’ orthodoxy).

One of the problems is with how we interpret the concept of science. The traditional, and correct, name for Physics is ‘Natural Philosophy’, which is still carved on the sides of the older university physics buildings. A phrase coined at the time when scholars clearly recognised that all human understanding of the physical world is theoretical. Now that distinction has largely been lost, particularly in the minds of the so called scientists themselves.

There is a fervent belief in the modern world that scientific method establishes absolute truths. It is this pseudo religious rapture which propels men like Richard Dawkins into proclaiming that we can ‘prove’ his version of the world, because we cannot ‘prove’ God.

Which ignores the fact that we most certainly cannot prove Dawkins version either.

Let us run through a few holes in our science, and our scientific method. Bumble Bees can’t fly - according to my favourite myth of recent science. Moisture cannot be drawn more than ten feet up a tree trunk – according to fairly recent science. And gravity does not work – according to our science (see anomalies and discrepancies).

It is this last which fascinates most. The theory of gravity – and it is a theory not a ‘law’, in the oldest meaning of something unproven – was a nice working hypothesis to explain a few features of the observable world around us. Mind you, so was the theory that the world was in the centre of the universe, and it is marvellous to examine the complex and peculiar models made by the medieval scientitst to try and expalin the movements of the planets as they rotated around the earth. Enormous effort was made to defend the orthodox belief, even after Galileo’s telescopes had made such efforts pointless and ridiculous. The same thing appears to be happening with gravity today.

There have long been anomolies with gravity, such as the concept that something dropped hundreds of metres down a mineshaft appeared to fall faster than something dropped hundreds of metres up in the sky. None of which prevented gravity from becoming the foundation stone of modern physics. But the study of galaxies has disproved all this. There is simply not enough matter in the universe to make it work the way the Big Bang theorists think it should. In fact the total mater in the universe comes to only a fraction of what is needed to make it fit the models. As is usual, the scientists have concluded that it is not the models, but the galaxy, which is incorrect. Therefore the galaxy must have other bits in it to make their models correct!

The first component they theorised was Dark Matter. If there were several times the dark matter in the galaxy as there is the matter we recognise, then the model might work. Except it still doesn’t. The maximum conceivable dark matter for their models still didn’t work, so they had to invent Dark Energy to fill up even more spaces (starting to sound like one of those medieval spheres?). The problem being that the theoretical Dark Matter and Dark Energy apparently cannot be proved except by the theories themselves, and certainly cannot measured. (Oh they are trying. Billions is being spent. No conclusive results expected any time soon. And although those billions seem to be starting to deliver results which might demonstrate some ‘proof’, I suspect that any investment of billions might lead to finding something to justify such an investment... And if we ever do find something like dark matter, what’s the bet we also discover something else which makes new ‘adaptions’ to the models necessary?)

This then is the state of modern physics. Our scientific understanding of how everything works is based on a theoretical existence of something which we can neither find nor measure. And this from people who claim that a God can’t be real because we cannot prove or measure Her! Perhaps someone should suggest to our so called scientists that they find a definition of scientific method in a basic primary school textbook.

Another scientific assumption, is the theory of evolution. I say this not because I don’t accept that species evolve, they patently evolve (one could argue that humanity is evolving into illogical idiots as we speak). What is unproven is that man evolved fom an ape: though every few months we hear of yet another inconclusive excuse for a ‘missing link’ in the fractured inconsistencies of the archeological record. (The British Sci-Fi write Terry Pratchett posits that fossils are the result of a god with a sense of mischief, and writes a whole book around the premiss of the discovery of the skeleton of a dinosaur holding a placard demanding “end nuclear testing”.) The flaw with an argument like this is that it chases it’s own tail. In what way does evolution prove that God does not exist? In what way does our continued enrapture over an unproven dogma - evolution of the species – make our logic superior to religious ‘superstition’.

Take the issue of race. Much modern science declares, loudly and often, that there are no genetic markers for race. A statement which is obviously farcical. It must be something more than a coincidence that two back parents tend to have a black child; and two Asian parents an Asian one; and that when black and white twins are born in a family, there is usually a grandparent of the other race involved. Our alternatives here are somewhat limited. Either there are genetic markers, which we have not found yet (the more likely answer); or there are no genetic markers, and the whole massive coincidence is made statistically possible by some outside influence which we also cannot identify (score another point for those who believe in some sort of god).

The simple answer is not to loudly proclaim the scientific fact that there is no genetic basis for race – as they were doing on publicly funded television recently: but instead to admit the three hardest words that so called scientists can say… “we don’t know”.

‘Science’ is, and will always remain, a collection of theories to explain some observable facts about the world. Science has never been, and will never be, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Countless generations of bad scientists have defended, literally to the death, orthodoxies, against the assaults of new knowledge. The fact that some theories about observable facts allow us to achieve certain desirable results, does not mean that we know the truth about how things really work. It simply means that we have learned a little more about our ignorance.

Take the ‘scientific’ theory of the beginning of creation. The one which people like Dawkins think they can use to disprove the existence of God. The theory is that the whole of existence burst into being from a single point; expanded; formed matter; life came forth from the seas and evolved; all the way to ipods and shopping malls. The fascinating thing is that the book of Genesis also claims that the whole of existence came into being from a word – let there be light; that matter formed; that life came forth from the seas and developed; etc. Of course some extremists claim that God literally did the lot in seven days, which is a lot to load on a misunderstanding of a term for an undefined period of time, but then there are two dangerous types of fanatics in the world – those who believe the world was created as is in seven days and nothing has changed, and those who believe that the entire of reality is nothing but an accident with no rhyme or reason behind it. Both types should be carefully avoided.

The real problem with the scientific theory of the Big Bang, is not that it explains absolutely nothing about why or how such a thing could happen, but that it is in direct opposition to scientific method. If Big Bang’s are a natural phenomena, then we should be seeing Little Bangs all the time. The fact that we can’t find any means that either our theory of the Big Bang is incorrect, or, that a Big Bang could only have happened through direction by a conscious agency. Still struggling to see how any of this disproves the existence of God! In fact the more you look at it, the more the latest scientific theories seem to point to the impossibility that the universe is all an irrational fluke by an inconsistent reality. Or that God has a sense of humour.

Which is not to say that most of the Intelligent Design proponents aren’t as single minded and offensively inaccurate in their self proclaimed crusades as Dawkins and his co-religionists. Any of the extremists of either side should be judged as what they are… fanatics. The type of people who brook no argument, and accept no inconvenient perspective in their pursuit of what they believe. People who know they have the one real truth, handed down direct from their own version of on high. People who, like many generations before them, will protect their version of the truth to the death. In fact, it is people like Dawkins who give religion a bad name.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not religious myself but I recognise that that the religious impulse is an inescapable part of the human psyche. Dawkins doesn't seem to understand that this impulse isn't going to go away any time soon, and if he got his way and all organised religions were banned, then the impulse would take other forms - forms perhaps not as (relatively) harmless as Catholicism/Hinduism/etc. As G K Chesterton said 'When people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing, but in anything'.