Humility of science and the arrogance of religion

The science/relgion debate has exposed a disturbing tendency by some religious people to reject science. Not only scientific theories, such as evolution and the origins of the universe, but also the scientific method itself. Such people will often argue for faith as a better way of obtaining knowledge. Melanie Phillips, a daily Mail columnist, recently argued this way in her column: Arrogance, dogma and why science – not faith – is the new enemy of reason
Phillips’ claims that science has “descended into irrationality”, is arrogant and “As a result of such arrogance, the West – the crucible of reason – is turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts,” that “Far from upholding reason, science itself has become unreasonable.”

At a less aggressive level there are also attempts to redefine the scientific method to somehow include the supernatural. In essence, this is what the proponents of intelligent design are attempting. This was admitted in the Dover trial (Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict). Professor Behe, one of intelligent design gurus, admitted that such a change to the ground rules of science would also embrace astrology (Kitzmiller_decision, p 68). Just imagine a science which embraced superstition. Would you want to fly on a plane you knew was designed and built using superstitious or religious methodology?

Far from being arrogant the scientific method is one of humility. It acknowledges the limits of our current knowledge. It doesn’t provide explanations or answers from a position of ignorance, but investigates the unknown in an attempt to reach understanding based on empirical evidence. Surely it is the superstitious or religious approach which claims to know the answers without any evidence except “faith” that is the arrogant approach.

There is a timely posting entitled Atheist ‘Metaphysics’ and Religious Equivocation, in Black Sun Journal which goes into these issues. The whole article is well worth reading but the following extract gives some idea of the content:

1. Superstitions make unbounded and contradictory claims. Science tries to resolve conflicts and knows the boundaries of its knowledge.
2. Superstitions would like to crowd each other out of the picture. Science only sees one picture.
3. Superstitions make extremely specific claims about the nature of their gods (spirits, energy, law of attraction, etc.). Science does not claim anything about god or these other phenomena, other than to say it has failed to find evidence for their existence.
4. Superstitions make assertions about the nature of consciousness as spirit, and that it precedes (or creates, or can change) matter. Science investigates methods of information storage and how consciousness arises as an emergent property of matter.
5. Superstitions hold creation myths. Science pushes back the veil of time ever closer toward what seems like it might be the beginning (but we can’t be sure).
6. Superstitions promote dualism (mind/body, spirit/matter). Science sees the entire universe or multiverse as a natural, potentially explorable whole.
7. Superstitions deal in certainties. Science deals in probabilities, and aggressively pursues uncertainty.

Related Articles:
Questions science cannot answer?
Debating science and religion
Solution to climate change?
Faith and terrorism
“I’m an atheist, but ……”
Putting Dawkins in his place
Limits of science or religious “fog”?
Can science enrich faith?
Miracles and the supernatural?
Should we teach creationism?
Intelligent design/creationism I: What is scientific knowledge?
Intelligent design/creationism II: Is it scientific?
Intelligent design/creationism III: The religious agenda
Intelligent design/creationism IV: The religion – science conflict
Intelligent design/creationism: Postscript

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8 responses to “Humility of science and the arrogance of religion

  1. The fact of the matter is that the world is fundamentally indeterminate. However, God is behind the movement of the universe. My fundamental issue with evolution is that its evidence is so scant as to make its falsifiability a ridicule on science.
    There is simply not enough evidence to claim evolution as a theory and the proofs of cosmology cannot be lent to aid in supporting evolution. There are no evident links between the two.

    In the absence of human faith in God, there would be very little ethical proscriptions on the activity of scientists whose primary concern is methodology and pushing back the boundaries of what it calls superstition.

    Science acknowledges no higher power than technocratic ability. It is indeed arrogant.
    Faith acknowledges higher powers to create equality of respect between people.

    Science is dogmatic enough to believe that faith is primitive and linked to a desire to ameliorate worldly uncertainty.
    Faith is gracious enough to admit that in worldly uncertainty, we can be sure of power to act through Christ when science runs out of inspiring options, aside from its unassailable scientific evolution theory and weapons technology production.

    While science disenchants the world and removes man from his favoured status of cosmological responsibility, faith brings back the hope of responsibility for ourselves, the world and each other to everyone.

    While science suggests that the world belongs to those who control it through rationalism, Faith suggests that the world belongs to those who care for more than themselves.

    I am not anti-rationalism or anti-science but we should not pin our hopes on fallible people who are quick to claim infallibility in an effort to disavow and disprove the good and beneficial in ‘irrationality.’Any claim for knowledge is essentially an arrogant and irrational act; we merely observe shadows cast by the light of belief.

  2. Yes, the world is fundamentally indeterminate. That is, until science reaches a level where it can understand it, and then it is no longer indeterminate. To believe God is behind the movement of the universe is to throw up your hands and say there is no hope of ever understanding the world, so why bother trying.

    Why would you think the evidence for evolution is scant? It has been studied from a dozen different angles for 200 years, and the most telling angles are the genetic ones. Genetics has not only given supporting for evidence, but it has even helped define a *map* of the evolutionary paths from one species to another. To say the evidence is scant is to reveal that you have not bothered to go to any effort to understand the evidence there is and reveal that you don’t care about facts.

    This is the problem with those who religion as a weapon against science: facts just don’t seem to matter. It must be nice to live in your own little world where you can ignore inconvenient facts and you can believe anything you want to believe. It must also be nice to live in a world where you don’t have to think for yourself and justify your beliefs using publications of other people who think like you.

    Are you one of those who thinks that disease and infections are the result of evil in the body? Probably not, you probably go to the doctor to get medicines. Are you arguing that medical research should be halted because scientists are going against religion? A thousand years ago, when someone got an infection, they called the priests, who performed exorcisms and drained blood out of the patient (which usually did more damage than good). We no longer do that, and you can thank science for that.

    Do you think thunderstorms and tornados and hurricanes are the wrath of God unleashed upon the population for their indiscretions? Probably not. You probably watch the weather channel and recognize that weather is the result of evaporation and turbulence. Are you arguing that meterological research be halted because they should all just recognize that God is the source of all weather systems and there is therefore no point in trying to understand it? A thousand years ago, people used to gather in churches and ask God why He has forsaken them and pray for forgiveness when bad weather threatens their homes and lives. We no longer do that, and you can thank science for that.

    One by one, science is taking these things that used to be attributed to things we didn’t understand, and revealing them to be what they really are: the result of physical processes that we just weren’t previously ingenious enough to understand.

    Scientists are most definitely not infallible. Very much the opposite. Scientists have made a lot of mistakes. The use of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerants and aerosol propellants is a very notable one. Another one was the group a few years ago who claimed they had discovered cold fusion. They were discovered to be frauds, and have been discredited from the scientific community for life. So much for your claims of infallibility.

    I should mention that the theory of evolution is still not a done deal within the scientific community. Most scientists nowadays believe it has a lot of merit, and the evidence supporting it continues to grow. But suppose someone suddenly made a breakthrough that proved conclusively that humans were not evolved from apes and actually came about in some other way, while there would be resistance within the scientific community, the evidence would eventually turn the majority of scientists to recognize it. Such a revolution has happened numerous times throughout the history of science.

    So, how, exactly, is science arrogant and infallible?

    But even though there is so much evidence supporting it, even scientists concede that the sequence of evolutionary events which got us to this point is extraordinary. People like you think of evolution as a slap in the face. So here’s a novel idea. Why can’t you think of this extraordinary sequence of events to have been designed by God? Why can’t you think of the system of evolution as beautiful and intricate evidence of the existence of God? Why can’t you think that even though meterologists have come to some level of understanding about air currents and evaporation, that it is wonderfully and beautifully intricate and therefore further evidence of the existence of God? In the medical science world, the human circulatory system is amazingly intricate, the brain is magnificent in its capabilities, why can’t you take that as evidence of God?

    But you will not accept these arguments, because you accept only those arguments that have been drilled into you by your religious leaders. You have given up thinking for yourself and instead parrot the dogma that you are told, almost as if your religion has a handbook which tells you how to respond to all of these ideas, and you uphold your ideas as the absolute and immutable truth with no flexibility or possibility of ever being reversed through evidence.

    So, which one of us is the arrogant one?

  3. I can see some truths and falsehoods on both sides of this debate here:

    Yes, religion and superstition is not rational or factual.

    However,the arrogance of scientists these days has become an obstacle to science itself. Like all the closed-minded skeptics who argue that science does not have to be open-minded.Truth is, being open-minded enough to take an occasional leap of faith in new ideas and discoveries is just as crucial to the rational scientific method of logic and reason as skepticism is.

    There’s the old saying,”Seeing is believing”.

    However, the opposite of that is equally true: believing can be a way of seeing. After all, closed-minded means exactly what it means. People often stubbornly refuse to even think or see the reality of facts that exist if they already have their minds stubbornly made-up as to what the truth or facts are. Dogma puts the blinders on in science just as easily as religion.

    First of all,we need to distinguish the difference between science and scientists.While science and scientific logic in itself is absolute and certain; the closed-minded arrogance of scientists themselves are not always certain(as to what true science and logic is).This is because they are only human and are NOT infallible.Such arrogant scienists are similar to religious fanatics and their religious dogma in this regard.Therefore they do not always have an exclusive monopoly on all truth and logic.

    I have always been annoyed by an arrogant scientific mainstream that lays false claim to the phony bunch of B.S. that all the big discoveries have done already been made.If that be the case, then why waste billions on the atomic particle supercollider to learn more?

    Truth is, in spite of all our knowlege and arrogance, we still know absolutely nothing, the cosmos being far more queer and strange than we can ever imagine. I think Issac Newton summed it up best when he said that:

    “All our knowlege is but a tiny grain of sand on the shores of a vast sea of still undiscovered knowlege.”

    The natural world around us is full of strange and unexpected surprises. Every now and then we get a rude awakening when we find we still don’t know everything yet. Like the discovery of cold fusion by Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons in 1989. The closed-minded arrogance of mainstream science tried to discredit it as junk science. However, it has since then been replicated and thoroughly substantiated literally thousands of times in laboratories all over the world.

    Sometimes science does indeed require an open-minded leap of FAITH to progress. Truth is, stubborn closed-minded skepticism and false ASSUMPTIONS in the face of overwhelming FACTS and EVIDENCE to the contrary can be just as arrogant as too much faith in the absence of facts. How can anybody truly know what the real facts are…. and acknowlege them as being exactly such…. if they are closed-minded to them?

    Truth is, closed-minded people are some of the biggest hypocrites on the face of this earth. This is not a brand-new statement. I have always said it for years now. If you make false ASSUMPTIONS instead of being open-minded about real FACTS, then you are in no academically or intellectually superior position to be preaching to others about facts and logic.

    Ever wonder why ASS – U – ME is spelled the way it is spelled?

    Because to assume anything makes an ass out of both you and me ! ! ! lol :)

    This certainly holds true of the arrogance of those in the scientific community these days who presume their own academic and intellectual superiority over others. What do they really know? That ignorant crackpot they ridicule and scorn could have been the world’s next Thomas Edison, Henry Ford or Albert Einstien. And just because most stupid crank ideas when thinking outside the box are a complete flop, that’s no reason not to have an open-minded optimistic attitude and keep trying. If only one stupid crank idea out of a thousand is successful, then it is still well worth being a crackpot.

    The bottom line when it comes to closed-minded hypocrisy is this:

    No, the burden of proof does NOT rest upon EVERYBODY ELSE. But instead, the burden of proof rests upon EVERYBODY, the closed-minded skeptics themselves included.

  4. As a final note, I really admire Bill Maher as a comedian when roasting religious fanatics. I thoroughly enjoyed watching “Religulous”. However, there’s one thing he said near the end of this movie which I do not completely agree with. He said,” Skepticism is humble”. Oh really? ! ? ! It is ? ! ? ! Truth is, too much closed-minded skepticism ( in the face of overwhelming facts and evidence) can be just as arrogant as too much faith ( without evidence).

  5. Also, Phil uses the word “fraud” to describe Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons, which I think is far too harsh and improper a word to use. It almost implies that they had a deliberate conspiracy of some kind of unethical conduct, when in fact they were just as honest and sincere as can be when they made the original 1989 press release of their discovery. It’s not like they were deliberately trying to con and bilk Bill Gates, Saudi Arabia and the Queen of England out of all their fortunes or something to that effect.

  6. And the skepticism of Bill Maher places anthropogenic global warming in the same category as the talking snakes.

  7. Chris the burden of proof lies on the majority since youre the ones claiming that god exists yet have no proof to back up such a claim. dont be a fucking moron.

  8. I must admit, The comments here and the article (coming from a theist) were pretty reasonable. there was no “truther” talk and there was no “truther athiests” either. Just rational arguments from both sides. except for Sean of course.

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