The alternative to science?

A couple of recent popular science articles really seem to have got the creationists going.

mancannotknowFirst there was the New Scientist article Creationists declare war over the brain describing the attacks made by people like Jeffrey Schwartz and  Mario Beauregard on current research into the human brain and consciousness. These people are upset by what they perceive as a “materialistic” approach and wish to impose a “non-materialist causation” on science. The commonalty of their arguments with those of the intelligent design/creationist proponents and the Wedge strategists organised around the Discovery Institute identify this research area as another battleground in the “culture wars.”

The other was the Nature article by Pascal Boyer (Religion: Bound to Believe?). One might have thought that creationists would have welcomed this because he suggested that humans are predisposed to religious and superstitious beliefs because of cognitive traits acquired during our evolution. But no, they seem to be insulted by the very idea that the origins of such beliefs could be investigated scientifically. The Discovery Institute even demanded that “religious disbelief” should be investigated “in terms of cognitive malfunction.” I guess that is the sort of interpretation we should expect from people who try to force evidence into a pre-conceived conclusion.

(By the way – I highly recommend Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained for an extensive coverage of this area)

What is the alternative to science?

These sort of people rave on about the evils of the “materialist paradigm” and claim that it “is breaking down.” Of course, “materialism” is never defined (except that it is somehow evil) and whenever these people are seriously confronted with designing scientific research into their ideas they are inevitably forced to apply the very “scientific materialism” they hate. This is because the essence of science is evidence and that any scientific idea or theory must be tested against reality.

So, no – there is no evidence of breakdown of the scientific method. Nor has any other method been suggested which is more capable of investigating the brain, mind and consciousness. Or better able to investigate the evolutionary origins of belief and superstition.

On the other hand, words like “materialism” and “paradigm” are useful in discrediting science to the scientifically illiterate. It is a simple destructive strategy because no alternative is seriously offered. Well, none that I think could really appeal to an honest and sane person. However, what about this alternative demanded by “Creation-Evolution Headlines” in their article “Minding the Brain, or Braining the Mind?”

“What it boils down to is this: naturalism is anything and everything that allows a scientist (or a party animal on drugs) to avoid responsibility to their Maker.  That’s the real argument from ignorance.  They can believe in space aliens or unobservable multiverses – anything, no matter how crazy, as long as they never have to bow the knee and confess, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power, for Thou hast created all things, and by Thy will they exist, and were created” (Revelation 4:11).”

So is this what these opponents of science are seriously suggesting as an alternative? That we should bow our knees and confess? Ignore reality? Refuse to test ideas against reality and just accept the story that they, and only they, have been privileged to receive in their discussion with their god?

*Cartoon from Atheist Cartoons.

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22 responses to “The alternative to science?

  1. Love the cartoon.
    Very funny.

    Of course, I only have a subjective morality so…

    😉

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  2. The other was the Nature article by Pascal Boyer (Religion: Bound to Believe?). One might have thought that creationists would have welcomed this because he suggested that humans are predisposed to religious and superstitious beliefs because of cognitive traits acquired during our evolution. But no, they seem to be insulted by the very idea that the origins of such beliefs could be investigated scientifically. The Discovery Institute even demanded that “religious disbelief” should be investigated “in terms of cognitive malfunction.” I guess that is the sort of interpretation we should expect from people who try to force evidence into a pre-conceived conclusion.

    No Ken, it’s not that anyone is upset because Boyer or others investigate these things scientifically, it the false conclusion that some may draw. That because humans may be predisposed to religion, that it follows that genuine encounters with God are not factual. That is an unfounded assumption – it is not “science.” And yes, I will repeat, it is clearly bias that prevents the atheists from turning the microscope on thier own beliefs. This is becoming more and more obvious to all.

    And no, no one is arguing with the scientific method, they are arguing with scientific materialism, which is not a claim that can be proved by the scientific method, it is an unfounded assumption.

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  3. I have a question about this whole field Evolutionary Psychology. Is there any human behavior that could falsify these conclusions? I mean Evolutionary Psychology explains why a woman loves and protects her child and it also explain why a mother throws her child in a dumpster. If a scientific theory explains completey contrary acts or events how is anything falsified? And if it is not open to falsification then how is it science?

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  4. 2:

    Boyer doesn’t just point out factors that make some people inclined towards religious-type behaviour: his work also points out what religious-type “systems” are. (I’m writing as I am, as his observations apply also to organisations that might not be religious in the sense of having g-d, but operating in a religious manner.)

    3:

    Laughably pathetic, but what I’ve come expect from your trolling 🙂

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  5. Laughably pathetic, but what I’ve come expect from your trolling

    Really? Then tell me what behavior or trait can falsify this theory. And if it can’t be falisfied is it scientific? And of course you are being a hypocrite again – you just chided me for using a personal attack and here you turn around use a personal attack against me. Have you no shame man…

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  6. On a slightly different ‘culture war’ (& apologies if this is too far off-topic, Ken) – this came in today in my RSNZ news feed: Traditional medicine passes WHO health checks: Health representatives from more than 70 countries gathered in Beijing on Friday to swap ideas on how to make traditional medicine, ranging from acupuncture to leech treatment, more widely available

    Now, I wouldn’t be too concerned if this was restricted to herbal treatments & the like, but it seems (from my reading around the subject) that this umbrella includes acupuncture (mentioned in the feed – yet does no better than placebo), homeopathy, & various other things that make me think of ducks. Given that there are already homeopathic practitioners in the UK who have advocated homeopathic remedies for malaria, this to me really is going too far.

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  7. 6:

    This general sort of thing has been a bother to me for a while. Its amazing what people will buy into. It might be interesting to compare the sort of thing that Boyer is referring to and how these treatments are, erm, “marketed”.

    Are the WHO allowing them to “be considered”, but on the condition that they demonstrate effectiveness, etc. first? If so, it might be a strategy to make them demonstrate their claims with evidence, or put up with being told they have nothing to base their claims on. (Have to admit I’d apply the same to some of the arguments I see from religious people too!)

    FWIW, my own view is that while to some extent if you know the disease is something you’re going to get over anyway, and you know that the treatment can cause no harm, and you know that the treatment is likely doing not much, then, as a practical matter, if others want to waste their money, I guess I can’t argue. I still think that feeding the ducks isn’t a good idea: best that they learn how to earn an honest meal and I still think a danger lies in people thinking that “treatments” for minor issues can “do good” is dangerous in a similar way that taking “mild” drugs can lead to users later taking more serious ones.

    On a related note (and taking this further off-topic, sorry), the Nats are apparently indicating that they will give the go ahead for longer-term Herceptin treatment regime despite advise from Pharmac to the contrary (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4756259a11.html). While this might be a popularist move, it seems to me that governments shouldn’t push medical treatments in contradiction to medical advice, or am I missing something? I would have thought that the call for this sort of thing lines in the hands of those with the relevant expertise.

    5: Viewed as either “logic” or a straight-out troll attempt its pathetic 😉

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  8. Yes, that herceptin thing worries me. The number of women likely to benefit from it is apparently very small. So – spending a large amount (millions) to benefit very few, with presumed flow-on effects on the rest of the health budget, AND holding out hope that may turn out to be unjustified, to people who desperately want it…

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  9. 7:Viewed as either “logic” or a straight-out troll attempt its pathetic..

    Another personal attack, with no answer the the question: what behavior or trait can falsify this theory. And if it can’t be falsified is it science?

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  10. Alison said…”Given that there are already homeopathic practitioners in the UK who have advocated homeopathic remedies for malaria, this to me really is going too far.”

    I find it staggering that homeopathy makes the money that it does. It’s pure rubbish.

    For those who are unfamiliar with just how dopey homeopathy is, here’s a BBC video with one of my most favourite people, James Randi.

    The Homeopathy Test BBC 1/5
    http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=Ozfio_e1Xj0

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  11. 10:

    Claims that homeopathy works are bizarre, alright! (Using homeopathy in the proper sense of what homeopathy means.) On that note, I liked the basic idea that the (Labour) government tried to bring in of ensuring that “health” products could not make claims that they couldn’t substantiate.

    9:

    Read my posts, they very clearly refer to what you wrote, not to you yourself. adding your trademark “close with an unrelated question” troll doesn’t makes you look even more of a troll 😉 It would seem that all you want is to mess up other’s conversations with your constant trolling and sniping.

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  12. I think this whole question of support for alternative medicines, homoeopathy, etc., and the way politicians go along with it is an indication that irrational attitudes in society are not limited to the creationists and religious extremists.

    Obviously, their influence in the health area is worrying because people’s lives are involved. But we also see it in many consumer decisions (magnetic mattresses??). I suspect there are a lot of hoaxes in the field of cosmetics and exercise machines. Personally I came across it a lot in the agricultural area. It’s amazing that so many farmers get caught up in using and supporting silly products. Its rife with fertilisers where it’s easy to use anecdotal “evidence” to promote products. And scientists working in this area often get attacked in the same way that evolutionary biologists are attacked by the creationists.

    I did quite a bit of research in commercial contracts and found that small companies were often so committed to their product that they would avoid any scientific testing, or were very scared of our findings when they did allow it.

    This was a lesson for me in retirement because I can see how easily retired scientists get caught up in preparing reports for commercial clients. They are in positions of no peer review, no laboratory or field experimentation, and therefore providing endorsements based only on their personal reputations. I think this situation is rife in the climate change denial industry.

    I sometimes feel the effort placed in countering the creationists is misplaced – because really they do not have any real support. In NZ only about 20% of the population deny evolution. There just seems to be a bigger section of the population who gullibly accept other irrational messages. Perhaps we should be paying more attention to those areas.

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  13. @ 12 – Doug Edmeandes springs to mind. You might be interested in reading Phillipa Stevenson’s blog http://www.ruralnetwork.co.nz – she is very forthright in her opinions on this stuff.

    The magnet one alternately amuses & bugs me. I’m always surprised (NOT!) at the level of investigative journalism in this country (& elsewhere – but at least the UK has Ben Goldacre!) that sees all this stuff left alone. It’s like chondroitin for arthritis – I don’t know how many people have recommended it to me for my aging knees, yet there’s no evidence at all that it actually works (& if memory serves me, there was something published recently that said it doesn’t). Might have a go at the magnets one day…

    On your last para – I think we need to pay attention to the lot; please don’t let’s leave creationism out. That 20% seems low but it’s vocal!

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  14. The magnet stuff is ridiculous. I’ve never run into the chondroitin story before, but then I’m not arthritic. Yet 🙂 I’d like to think I have some way to go before I get there…

    Ken, I have some idea of what you mean about companies responses to testing. I’m in a quite different area, but one contract I had was essentially quality control on / assessment of a large project. I’m a bit of fan of seeing quality control and testing done as the work is done, partly as its good science anyway, but also in part as it shows up any silliness before people have invested too much in the thing (which can result in them feeling obligated to keep going).

    Wayyyy, off topic, this item in the RSNZ newsletter had me mentally juxtaposing religious figures of 2000 years ago and transvestites (The Rocky Horror Shop screened on TV recently, I didn’t watch it, though): “Jerusalem dig unearths 2,000-year-old earring. Made of gold, pearls and emeralds and found in pristine condition.” Weird mental association game going on there, but I couldn’t tell think that…!

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  15. Rat, try to stop the message from going out to correct an error, but I was too slow. ‘not’ for ‘tell’ in the last sentence.

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  16. Heraclides said… “it shows up any silliness before people have invested too much in the thing (which can result in them feeling obligated to keep going).”

    Ego often gets in the way of critical thinking.
    It can happen to anybody.

    The emotional investment that one can have in an idea can build up over time and become a force so strong that it’s almost impossible to shift.
    As the great man himself said…”The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”

    Dowsing, for example, has a very special hold over people.
    Doesn’t matter if you have an engineering degree or if you work for a big company or government department, dowsing can getcha!

    Here’s another Randi video.
    It’s a little dated but it gives a wonderful blow-by-blow account of a large-scale scientific experiment on dowsing.
    The participants are very “interesting” and their comments at the end are really worth waiting for.
    Enjoy.

    James Randi in Australia. (43min)
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7461912885649996034

    ……………………………………………..
    Heraclides said..”The Rocky Horror Shop screened on TV recently, I didn’t watch it, though”

    (audience gets nervous)

    Um, but you have watched it before? Right?

    (silence)

    Right???

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  17. 16:

    Regards quality control / testing, I was thinking more of conventional businesses. Having external QA/testing can be a useful (if painful!) thing. Reading between the lines, I suspect Ken agrees with me on this. As an external agent, I’m not tied to the product in the same way as those trying to build a business off it are. Not enough NZ businesses do external QA/testing in my opinion.

    I’ve read a transcript of Feynman’s Cargo Cult lecture, btw. (Where your quote comes from.)

    Weird that you should imply that because someone has watched the R.H.P. that says something about them. For what its worth, I’ve never seen the original R.H.P. show. Every man and his dog knows of it, of course, and has seen snippets of it on TV, etc. I thought maybe I should watch it to see what the fuss was about, but read a review saying that the original isn’t so great, the modern fun in it is the “participatory night out a bunch of friends for a lark” thing (like some of the people who watch re-runs of The Sound of Music and dress for the part), which made me think watching the movie wasn’t worth the effort. Besides, I had work to do (sigh.) And, no, I haven’t watched The Sound of Music since I was a little kid.

    In some ways the jewellery thing would better fit one of the more recent Aussie “drag queen” movies.

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  18. A few years back Hamilton ‘dedicated’ (if that’s the right word) a statue of Riff-Raff on Victoria St. A huge street party was planned – & took place. Not being RHS fans (sorry, Cedric!) we were blissfully unaware of this as we rocked on down for a dinner in our favourite main-street restaurant (Scotts Epicurean, Ken, in case you wondered) – only to be asked why we weren’t in costume before being ushered to the back seats by staff in short – very short – black gear & fishnet stockings. The night’s in-house entertainment consisted of the obligatory viewing of the film, plus a most entertaining transvestite called Miss Ribena (all 2m & 100+ kg of him/her). The husband can attest to Miss R’s weight as his knee was sat on more than once. Those of us safely on the other side of the table thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle 🙂

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  19. I dicovered Feynman while being a regular lurker at the pandasthumb.org

    A contributor there had the quotation as his sig and it captured my attention.
    Whenever I look at the layout of an experiment, I always bear the advice in mind.

    Heraclides said..”For what its worth, I’ve never seen the original R.H.P. show.”

    Stop pulling my leg. EVERYBODY’S seen R.H.P.
    You can’t fool me with a tall story like that!

    Alison said…”Not being RHS fans…”

    Oh don’t be redicul..
    I mean, you can’t poss..
    What?
    😦

    SERIOUSLY?!?!
    😮

    But…but…but even you admit that it’s got very short black gear & fishnet stockings and transvestites!

    How can you NOT be a fan?
    😦

    I need to lie down now. I’m feeling rather upset.

    (dry heaving sobs echo from down the hall)

    Like

  20. 18:

    Sounds like it was a great night to be on town 😉 I wonder what the local trannies, cross-dressers and whatnot thought of it!

    I’d guess Miss Ribena was all in purple, too?

    I recall once being on a bus where after a few stops a cross-dresser got on board. “She” seemed very well known to the old white-haired ladies on board and they chatted away happily with the latest gossip. It was an intriguing sight and rather sweet in its own odd-ball sort of way.

    One of the more interesting experiences I’ve had was to take the last bus out of Hollywood, having missed the earlier one. That place turns very strange after dark. I felt quite happy to leave 🙂

    (I should have written RHPS earlier, not RHP. )

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  21. I enjoyed the RHS but aren’t cultish about it. However, I can appreciate why some people are and can just picture the dressing up, etc., that goes with public performances.

    The RifRaff statue in Hamilton was opposed by some religious spoil sports but welcomed by most. It seemed very appropriate because the writer was a Hamiltonian. And it demonstrates that Hamiltonians are perhaps a bit more mature than some people have portrayed them.

    Yes, Alison, Doug Edmeades is an old colleague of mine. Thanks for the link to Phillipa Stevenson’s blog. I see Doug has a subsidiary blog there. It’s a bit along the line of what I have been suggesting for blogging by scientists working in CRIs and I was sort of thinking of Doug seeing he has the independence of his own business now. Doug’s blog does seem to get quite a few comments and questions which is good. It seems rather “buried” to me but Phillipa Stevenson’s “Rural Network” probably ensures that it gets the right sort of exposure.

    Could be a model for institutional-based science blogs.

    Like

  22. There, there, Cedric (hug) – here, have a sherry (Darwin’s anodyne & general pick-me-up). Are we still friends? The show is OK but, like Ken, I’m not cultish about it – & the husband would run a mile rather than sit & watch it. Unfortunately, with Miss Ribena on his knee, he didn’t have much choice 😉

    @ Heraclides: s/he wore a rather fetching purple & yellow ensemble, complete with a tall hat that added considerably to the towering bulk. But s/he was rather sweet.

    Ken – you’ll be happy to hear that one of my colleagues here has also started a blog: Marcus Wilson writes Physics Stop: http://sci.waikato.ac.nz/physicsstop . He’s just finding his voice at the moment but I know he’s got some interesting topics lined up to talk about. Our ITS people are very keen to expand the use of blogging & I’m right behind them on that one. Now the uni needs to start thinking about how, in this PBRF-focused world, it can encourage & support its staff in doing so.

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