Beware of science!

Most of us living in a democracy appreciate our pluralist society. We are used to relating to others who have different religious, political and other beliefs. We accept that our employers, employees, teachers, students, doctors, patients, customers, shop-owners, etc., may think differently to us. This is usually not a problem – providing people are respectful to one another.addis-doubt-church-cartoon

But what about the individuals who are so sensitive they cannot tolerate relationships with those holding different beliefs to theirs? Life must be very difficult.

At one stage our institute took part in a scheme for the temporary employment of unemployed people. One guy we had was a real problem. He was an extreme Christian and took offence at nearly everything that went on in the workplace. Some of it related to what he considered blasphemy but I also wonder if he was also offended by the scientific research that went on there. I could see how his attitude made it difficult to maintain employment.

His case came to mind recently when reading a post by Rob at Thinking Matters (a local Christian Apologetics site). He describes how as a science student “it is usually with some trepidation that I attend lectures and talks such as these, just in case my faith is shattered.” He seems concerned the lecturers “have something to gain by converting me.”

Well, welcome to the real world, Rob! It’s just possible that these lecturers, whatever, their personal belief, are not preoccupied with yours! Lecturers and presenters usually live a more interesting life than that.

Scaring students away from science?

Rob also suggests the declared atheism of some scientists “plays a role” in student “disinterest in science.” That’s the old claim that scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Harry Kroto*, who actively promote and popularise science, are “scaring” off Christians – encouraging them to see science as “atheistic.”

Strange! Over the years I have had many teachers, lecturers and bosses who were religious or had different political beliefs. I also enjoy articles and  presentations by people like Francis Collins and Ken Miller.  I never found these lectures or books infectious.

It does no harm to expose oneself to different beliefs. You never know, Rob, you might find some of them useful. And most people agree that Sagan, Dawkins, Tyson and Kroto have done a lot to develop public enthusiasm for science.

*Harry Kroto is responsible for the Vega website which provides videos of documentaries and lectures covering a wide range of topics. I am currently watching his lectures on astrophysical chemistry – very interesting.

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19 responses to “Beware of science!

  1. Yet again, Ken, you demonstrate your ability to wilfully misrepresent others. I wonder if you even read Rob’s article, or if you just scanned it for keywords, “wrote” an article in your head based on those, and assumed that must be what Rob had written as well.

    Rob also suggests the declared atheism of some scientists “plays a role” in student “disinterest in science.” That’s the old claim that scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Harry Kroto*, who actively promote and popularise science, are “scaring” off Christians – encouraging them to see science as “atheistic.”

    Is it really? What did Rob actually say?

    This leads on to another point which is the trouble universities are having recruiting science students. I’m not about to suggest that atheism and post-modernism are the reasons for the disinterest in science, but I think they do play a role. Consider, if you live a life that is ultimately meaningless (born, live, reproduce, die, nothingness), then why would you choose an occupation that is hard and doesn’t pay well? Why ought I live for the good of all and work on great science that helps improve lives rather than just live for myself? Of course atheists counter this by saying that they are philanthropic and good people to which I would often agree. But my question is why ought they be like that rather than be selfish and self centered? Christians (and some other) religious people know how they ought to behave, but atheists have to take a pragmatic view on oughts, yet one persons’ ought may differ from anothers’ ought, so which do we choose and why?

    Amazing—Rob is talking about atheists being turned off science because of secular presuppositions, and you’re able to turn this around to make it appear that he’s talking about Christians being scared off science because of Christian presuppositions. You should write for a tabloid.

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  2. Dominic – I am sure if I have misrepresented Rob (and I only made a brief reference to specific comments in his article as an illustration of a common attitude amongst fundamentalist Christians) then he will comment here appropriately.

    You are of course welcome to express your own opinions on this post (I don’t arbitrarily censor comments) but why claim to be able to represent the opinions of others – either Rob, the unnamed workmate I referred to (I am surprised you haven’t told us what he really thought) or these “atheists” you continually speak for?

    It would be of more value for you, and other readers, to engage with the actual message of my post.

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  3. Hi Ken,

    I think you have been a little unfair in the way you have portrayed my article. You quote a line about my “trepidation” for instance, but omit the following: “Over the years I have been to many university-based science lectures and found this fear to rarely be justified and the challenges to Christianity to actually be incredibly weak.”

    Only a very arrogant (know-it-all) type of person would go to a lecture where their views are openly attacked (as Kroto did mine) with no trepidation. Perhaps my problem is that I am actually willing to evaluate both sides and follow the evidence where it seems to lead.

    How about you Ken? When were you last seriously intellectually challenged, or is your worldview too secure for that?

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  4. Thanks for commenting Rob. It is sad when other people try to speak for others in a discussion like this.

    Did Kroto attack your views personally? Or was he just criticising (for example) theist beliefs in general?

    I have been to many meetings, lectures and even social occasions where some of the religious, political or philosophical views I might identify with have been criticised. It still happens regularly. I have read, and still read, many books (and blogs) where that has been, and is, the case. My point is that in a pluralist society that is normal and mature people have no real problem with it. Its part of democratic activity.

    Of course it is disrespectful to actually attack a person directly for their beliefs. Similarly it is disrespectful to impose a narrow religious ceremony (like a prayer) on a mixed group. We must criticise that when it happens. Did it happen with Kroto and you?

    And what the hell was Kroto lecturing on? Astro-chemistry, C60, his Noble experience, etc.? Or was he talking about religious belief? I would love to know.

    Rob – I try to experience intellectual challenges on a daily basis – mainly through reading. I have often said that if you haven’t changed your beliefs in the last few years you should check your pulse as you may not be alive. It’s certainly common to change one’s beliefs in science – but also politics and ideology (although dogma is a much greater problem there).

    Anyway, Rob. Let me assure you that my post was not meant to be a criticism of you. I quoted from your article simply to provide examples of two criticism that seem to be commonly made by fundamentalist Christians who, quite unjustly in my view, would rather people with different beliefs not express them. I am all for these views, together with the Christian ones, being discussed openly.

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  5. You are of course welcome to express your own opinions on this post (I don’t arbitrarily censor comments) but why claim to be able to represent the opinions of others – either Rob, the unnamed workmate I referred to (I am surprised you haven’t told us what he really thought) or these “atheists” you continually speak for?

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that the only person allowed to point out blatant journalistic misconduct was the person being misrepresented. In future, I’ll be sure to ignore instances where you quotemine my friends and twist their words to mean the opposite of what they said.

    It would be of more value for you, and other readers, to engage with the actual message of my post.

    What message? I fail to see any actual point worth interacting with here. You’re basically just saying that some Christians should get over the fact that other people believe and teach differently to them. So what? Some atheists should too. Some Muslims should. What’s the actual point you’re trying to make?

    It is sad when other people try to speak for others in a discussion like this.

    Sad like when you try to speak for Rob by using him as an example of Christians who are “scared” of science, or who think that science is “scaring off” Christians with its atheistic attitude, even when Rob wasn’t talking about this at all? Is your mind going, Ken? Are you incapable of recognizing the double standards that you’re employing here?

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  6. Bnonn:

    Yet again, Ken, you demonstrate your ability to wilfully misrepresent others.

    You shouldn’t accuse others of what you (or your colleagues) do yourself, Bnonn. Your crowd does often misrepresent others, most often by claiming them to say or think things they don’t. I believe I have occasionally pointed out instances of this at your blog, including asking if in that particular article Rob had accurately represented the aims of the speaker’s lecture, and criticising his misrepresentation of what atheists say to others (which you don’t mention above).

    I haven’t read the comments in Rob’s thread until this moment and I’ve only just seen my post there and discovered that you have edited it, in the process misrepresenting me!

    Going briefly back to the main topic before addressing your editing my comment, there seems to be a strong tendency for people with “set” views on matters to present what amount to “straw-man” presentations of those they see as in “opposition”, misrepresenting them in a manner they feel they can then attack, rather than look at what those in “opposition” are actually doing or saying. Understandably, this is particularly true of those whose ideals are founded on ideologies that have a built-in negativity to others in one form or other. Creationism is like that, it is a relatively recent development that (intentionally) sets itself against evolutionary science. There is an argument that this arose from a small number of evangelical christians being frightened of losing their power. (This seem to have considerable substance, as far as I have time to check.) This is one of the reasons I suggested in another thread that your group might do well to learn the history of your own belief system, organisations, etc. (I hope that you haven’t edited that out, too.)

    Now that I realise you have now taken to editing my posts as suits yourself, editing their meaning in doing so, let me address this. I’m doing this here, as given what you have done I am sceptical that I will get a fair hearing on your own blog. I would query if you too frightened to look at what other’s write and consider what they are saying, but I suspect a more likely reason is just that you have gotten too hot-headed to read my comment for what I actually wrote. (Please don’t accuse me of fake pyscho-analysis: it is worth you considering the real, underlying, reason why you edited my comment.)

    It is telling that rather than just remove the material politely, you try “represent” the removed material, misrepresenting me. This has you doing precisely what you accuse Ken of and very ironically precisely what you “represent” my removed material to be doing! Please think about that.

    Here’s the original, with the deleted material included (please excuse the length):

    Sir Harry’s talks however appeared to present little if anything that would convince me to change my mind

    Unless his talks were aimed at “challenging religions points of view”, why would anyone expect them to present “anything that would convince me to change my mind”? It’s not reasonable to ask that someone talking about one topic to give you convincing material about an unrelated topic. It’d be like me expecting some Christian’s talk about say, environmental issues, to convince me about Christianity. Sure they might make the odd passing remark about their beliefs, but since their talk is not about Christianity, it’d be unreasonable to expect it convince anyone much about Christianity. What you are asking for doesn’t make sense and reads like a sloppy excuse to dismiss someone.

    So why don’t you tell us what his talks were actually about? (I note that readers can infer that their main topics were not religion from your words: “and by numerous remarks during the sessions today”; obviously references to religion were only made in passing remarks.)

    As for the double standard, let’s consider what atheists are teaching young people. Young person: you are part of a cosmic accident, a piece of highly evolved pond-scum. But don’t worry, you are good pond scum. And life is good and has much meaning. We don’t know what it is, but fear not for you can pretend life has meaning which should make you feel better and you will have less reason to follow 500 other New Zealanders each year by committing suicide. Yes, we know that the universe began with a big bang and ultimately will end in a whimpering heat death. But don’t worry, you will be long dead before that happens, and your ashes will be part of that (cough) meaningful utopic picture.

    You are putting words others wouldn’t say into their mouths, a very, very poor way to argue, to say the least. Why would atheists say humans are “pond scum”? No-one goes around saying that. Unless you are trying to put someone down, which, of course, is precisely the loaded language you’re using. By definition humans are human, not pond scum. Humans have evolved from simpler forms of life. And so on for the rest of it.

    Consider, if you live a life that is ultimately meaningless (born, live, reproduce, die, nothingness), then why would you choose an occupation that is hard and doesn’t pay well?

    Straw man rubbish again. The first part you have pasted onto the latter, but the first part hasn’t anything to do with it: it’s what you want to be there, to suit your argument.

    And then you go on to bring up the tired old attempts to dismiss “evidence”, at which point I’m leaving because that’s a waste of time reading…

    I see that the levels of argument here still haven’t gotten above embar[r]assingly low!

    Firstly, note that I have no particular worry about presenting my original comment. I don’t see anything for me to be embarrassed about, if it is read fairly.

    With that in mind, let me briefly quote and comment on on the bits you removed. I would like to think that you will come to realise that none of them represent “[Trademark passive-aggressive well-poisoning “psycho-analysis” removed —Bnonn]”.

    No-one goes around saying that. Unless you are trying to put someone down, which, of course, is precisely the loaded language you’re using.

    First point is just a statement, and a pretty harmless one at that. The second point is an alternative way of looking at what was written: the use of ‘pond scum’ was loaded language to imply that atheists were pond scum. Rob knows that. So do you. It’s not “psycho-analysis”, it’s analysing the use of language in the argument (i.e. the use of English), as any good critic would. Use of loaded words/meanings is usually quite revealing as I would like to think your English teacher would have taught you.

    it’s what you want to be there, to suit your argument.

    This is not “psycho-analysis”: it simply points out the nature of Rob’s argument, as any good critic should observe. Rob has placed a “stance” on others that he wishes them to have in order that he might attack it. I’m saying that part of this article presents is a straw-man argument.

    And then you go on to bring up the tired old attempts to dismiss “evidence”, at which point I’m leaving because that’s a waste of time reading…

    I see that the levels of argument here still haven’t gotten above embarrassingly low!

    This isn’t ad hominem. Neither of these statements make personal attacks. The first points out that, to me, the arguments to “dismiss” evidence are tired and old. It’s my opinion and I’m perfectly entitled to it. I also wanted to explain why I didn’t feel the need to address the rest of this article. The second refers to the argument presented, not to any person. Ironically for me, I added the exclamation mark to “lighten” what I wrote, as so not to be offensive. If you present an argument in public, then you should be open to the argument being criticised. If the standard of argument seem shoddy, people are free to point that out.

    Yes, my comments were blunt. I usually have little time, in which case, I will be to the point.

    I would suggest in future that you slow down before attacking me. My best (and kindest) guess is that you are a bit of hot-head! Can you see the huge irony in you “reading meanings” into my words (psycho-analysis…) and attacking me (passive-aggressive well-poisoning…)? The very things you accuse me of… 😉

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  7. 5 crossed over 4.

    I can’t help but note that post 4 repeatedly attempts to hold “high moral ground” by accusing another of what you or your colleagues have being doing. It’s indefensible: look at yourself and your colleagues before you criticise others.

    What message? I fail to see any actual point worth interacting with here. You’re basically just saying that some Christians should get over the fact that other people believe and teach differently to them. So what? Some atheists should too. Some Muslims should. What’s the actual point you’re trying to make?

    That maybe you should actually do it? (It’s interesting that I independently made this same point in post 5.)

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  8. Heraclidess said…”I haven’t read the comments in Rob’s thread until this moment and I’ve only just seen my post there and discovered that you have edited it, in the process misrepresenting me!”

    I remember asking Stuart whether he knew who was deleteing comments on his site. He claimed ignorance.
    Perhaps the matter can be resolved now?
    Bnonn,…was it you? Are you the censor?
    How come Stuart doesn’t know about your little games?
    🙂

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  9. Pretty sure it’ll be Bnonn. I’m not that worried about their blog (I don’t post there often after all), but when I do post it’s disconcerting to be misrepresented or be unable to defend misleading claims about what I supposedly had written. To be fair to them, it is an issue I feel strongly about: they’re welcome to represent their own position, but when they to present the position of others they should take more care not to “misread” them or misrepresent them in order to attack them.

    Just looking right now, I note that Bnonn has just deleted a post I sent to Rob’s thread, inviting readers to read this thread to read what he deleted and an explanation as to why this misrepresents me. Perhaps this goes to prove my scepticism that I wouldn’t get a fair hearing on his blog?

    PS: I’m not an ‘ess’! *Check genitals and chest* Male, not female 🙂 [Just kidding, obviously!]

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  10. Hi Ken,

    I have a lot of respect for a lot of scientists, but I do think that scientists need to know when they are crossing the boundary between science and philosophy. Sir Harry’s talks were a mixture of both I think, but with no clear demarcation being indicated.

    It is one thing to talk about buckyballs, carbon nano-tubes, and the future of nano-science, and another thing to talk about the problems religions can create. Personally I have no problem with scientists talking about both, but we should all realise that underpinning ALL of these are deeper philosophical issues. As I point out in the comments of my post, even the assumption that the world is NOT an illusion is just that — an assumption.

    Sir Harry made the oft-heard claim that he does not believe anything without evidence, so I asked him about the foundations of that claim, namely why he believed in the uniformity of nature and the laws of logic. (I suggest he, like all of us, takes them on faith at some level.) I don’t think he answered my question but rather went off on a tangent regarding the numerous conflicting religions in the world.

    Personally Ken I welcome engagement on these issues and find it sad that more heat than light is often generated.

    Lastly, in my experience and observations, I find scientists have little idea when it comes to philosophy, and philosophy of science. In all of my training, I have never been required to do any philosophy. This is sad but highlights one of the big problems with modern science. Einstein and others of his era were not so ignorant as we are.

    Blessings.

    Rob (http://talk.thinkingmatters.org.nz/people/)

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  11. Heraclides — I actually suggested Bnonn delete your TM post entirely. I’m not interested in mud-slinging so if you post as such, I personally would delete it 🙂

    Blessings,

    Rob

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  12. Ken,

    To answer your question above:

    1. Panel discussion on nano-science (students and staff)
    2. Postgrads discussion on his interests and various science and faith issues
    3. Large public lecture (Sir Neil Waters Lecture) with hundreds of PP slides that varied from science to religion-bashing to promotion of his website projects and his art (he is a keen graphic artist).

    Blessings again,

    Rob

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  13. thanks

    very good

    🙂

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  14. 10:

    Your own article engaged in mud-slinging…

    I was NOT trying to “mudsling”. I pointed out that your arguments had faults. Please note that I ASKED you:

    So why don’t you tell us what his talks were actually about? (I note that readers can infer that their main topics were not religion from your words: “and by numerous remarks during the sessions today”; obviously references to religion were only made in passing remarks.)

    That was a question, not an assertion, or mud-slinging, or whatever. And so on for the rest as I have explained.

    Besides, if you didn’t like my criticism, why did you write as you did? Ask yourself, that.

    Sir Harry made the oft-heard claim that he does not believe anything without evidence, so I asked him about the foundations of that claim, namely why he believed in the uniformity of nature and the laws of logic. (I suggest he, like all of us, takes them on faith at some level.) I don’t think he answered my question but rather went off on a tangent regarding the numerous conflicting religions in the world.

    He almost certainly could see the underlying source of the question, and addressed that (we would need to know the exact the words you used in asking him). I’ve done much the same with TM posters posting here and get similar “criticism” for trying to see the origins of the issues.

    Lastly, in my experience and observations, I find scientists have little idea when it comes to philosophy, and philosophy of science. In all of my training, I have never been required to do any philosophy. This is sad but highlights one of the big problems with modern science. Einstein and others of his era were not so ignorant as we are.

    Don’t presume that people don’t know because they avoid using philosophy. I almost always avoid it, as it generally tracks away from the real issues. I am a fan of using simpler language and believe if you can’t explain it with that, you probably have no real idea what you are talking about.

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  15. Well, Kroto’s presentations sound interesting – wish I had been there. I suspect, though, your “religion-bashing” comment is really just a personal feeling on your part.

    “another thing to talk about the problems religions can create.”

    Unfortunately this has become a real issue for science specifically because some religionists have attempted to introduce there own methodologies into science. The intelligent design/creationist brigades for example (I know Kroto has been actively appearing at school board hearings to defend scientific methodology against such attacks). There has also been a lot of rubbish talked about ‘naturalism”, “materialism”, etc., aimed at discrediting science, attempting to undermine scientific method, and conveying a false impression about how science works.

    So, the prevalence of such attacks at present inevitably has resulted in a bit of a “fight-back”. I strongly believe such false ideas have to be opposed and it is a pity more scientists don’t engage with that. To complain about the reaction by Kroto and other scientists is to deny them the normal right of defence against what are some pretty dishonest and mean attacks.

    But wouldn’t it be nice if scientists didn’t have to put up with such attacks? They wouldn’t have to comment on religion then, would they?

    “Sir Harry made the oft-heard claim that he does not believe anything without evidence”

    Well – I guess that is pretty basic to the scientific method. We must start with evidence and validate ideas/hypotheses/theories via experiential evidence. If we don’t accept that we are not doing science.

    One should always be suspicious of anyone who makes claims but then denies the need for evidence. I certainly go along with Kroto on that.

    “In all of my training, I have never been required to do any philosophy. “

    There’s is probably a very good reason for this (although education in different philosophies would certainly benefit many people whatever their profession). We got some philosophy in my undergraduate training but I personally believed the particular philosophy represented the bias of the professor. He presented a philosophy (a form of philosophical pragmatism)I could not accept as scientific. It would have been better to have had the opportunity to learn about the different philosophical trends manifested in the then current debate around quantum mechanics. To learn about philosophies (plural) rather than being indoctrinated in one philosophy.

    Scientists have got a healthy suspicion towards philosophy – for very good reason. We saw what happened in the USSR with Lysenkoism. It happened again in Mao’s China. And the Wedge people promoting ID are also pushing a similar approach of imposing their own philosophy onto science in the US.

    Scientists rightfully reject such dogmatism. And many of them do pick up quite a bit of philosophy in their own reading, professional development and in their own day-to-day work. Often this is essential. It was essential for Einstein – who developed his own philosophical preferences – and changed them (radically) as he matured.

    In many cases philosophical questions are central to a scientists work. Of course, to be of any use their philosophy needs to be a lot more sophisticated than the naive “philosophical arguments” often presented by first year students. And, I find the sort of arguments presented by people like Stuart and Dominic to be of that naive sort – completely inappropriate to the much more sophisticated world of scientific research. Their “philosophical comments” are also often unnecessarily denigrating or even abusive (especially Dominic’s) and that is usually a sign of naivety.

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  16. Rob – think about it. The deleted comments from Heraclides and myself have been pretty innocuous. Especially when you put them alongside Bonn’s comments where he calls people morons and fools. (Pots and kettles!)

    I can’t see any justification for Bnonn’s censoring. He is clearly over-emotional. And he is interfering in discussions initiated by you and Stuart. His interferences usually don’t add anything – because of his emotive style.

    In the end we all have something to learn by talking with each other. This can be respectful – even if the language sometimes expresses frustration.

    Bnonn’s behaviour is producing a situation where few wish to engage with discussion on the TM site because of censoring and rudeness.

    It’s no skin off my nose – but I would have thought that you would wish to develop the blog so that it does engage with others. Bnonn is preventing that so in your own interests you should really address the problem.

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  17. Just to lighten things up a little, take a trip to http://www.di.utoronto.ca/coolcosmos/index.php?ad=1 and read the headlines (click on each circular icon on the left to change the header). Great stuff. Hat tip to sandwalk.

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  18. Looks good. its a podcast site so I will have to listen to a few to check it out.

    Like

  19. A very thoughtful article, particularly for a scientist like me.

    Johnson C. Philip, PhD
    India

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