Friday, 4 November 2011

Reason vs. Ideology

The words of the prophets are written, not just on the subway walls, but in the pages of the October 29 New Scientist. In a keynote piece Shaun Lawrence Otto laments the intellectual rot that underlies the anti-science discourse popularised by blowhards like Michele Bachman (a woman raised in the highly anti-intellectual tradition of Wisconsin Synod Lutheranism.) Why does the anti-science lobby have so much undeserved influence?
"Relieved [after WW2] of the burden of selling the value of their research to philanthropists, scientists turned inward and in many ways withdrew from public engagement. University tenure programmes were developed that rewarded research and publication but not public outreach. Scientists who did reach out to the public were often viewed poorly by their peers."
But his observations ring true in other fields as well. Replace the word 'scientists' with 'theologians' and behold, the ring of truth. Think of the snotty reception given to Karen Armstrong, Jack Spong, Bart Ehrman and other superb communicators by their disdainful critics cossetted within the academy.
"Withdrawing from the [public] conversation cedes these discussions to opponents, which is exactly what happened."
Think of creationism, prosperity gospel televangelists and a resurgent, world-hating fundamentalism.
"Postmodernism emerged, drawing on cultural anthropology and relativity to argue that there was no such thing as objective truth. Science was simply the cultural expression of western white men and had no greater claim to the truth than the 'truths' of women and minorities... Many positive things came out of postmodernism but the idea that there is no objective truth is just plain wrong... Without objective truth, all arguments become rhetorical. We are either paralysed in endless debate or we must resort to brute authority."
Again, Otto is talking about science and the challenge of pestiferous delusions - homeopathy springs to mind, though it isn't mentioned - that petulantly demand equal treatment. One of the last theology papers I took was laced with this nonsense. A Bible passage can mean many things, nobody needs to be wrong, we can take what we like from the text and, even if it's completely unrelated to the author's (or redactor's) intentions, that's perfectly okay, the historical-critical approach is so yesterday, blather, blather, blather. Back to Otto:
"A generation of journalists with a postmodern education decided that 'objective' reporting was simply getting varying views of the story, but not taking a position on which represented reality... This [gave] undue exposure to extreme views - a situation that has been compounded by the elimination of most science and investigative reporters from cash-strapped newsrooms."
Creationism has no more legitimate place debating science in the fields of biology and anthropology than any of the origin myths of indigenous cultures. The uninformed, undereducated, lazily anti-intellectual 'pastor' of a 'Bible Church' has no more credibility is expounding scripture than an enthusiastic plumber who has been reading too many copies of Watchtower in his down time, no matter how impressively he struts on stage.
"With every step away from reason and into ideology, the country moves toward a state of tyranny in which public policy comes to be based not on knowledge, but on the most loudly voiced opinions."
Add a 'verily, verily' for extra impact.


  1. Here's the best response.

    Cults hate science because science is a tool which creates reproducible experiments with consistent results, showing up cults as frauds, because in a cult there is no consistency: It is dysfunctional chaos replete with magical thinking which produces either no results or bad results.

    But have faith and a miracle may occur by the cult member completely defying scientific principles to do nonsensical things.

    Jerry Oltion in the Special Feature, "What Science Means to Me" in the latest Analog Science Fiction and Fact January/February 2012 issue, said referring to plastering over the holes created by wrong premises which doesn't agree with observed data:

    That's not science. That's dogma.

    He makes this useful suggestion:

    I don't imagine anything I say will change your mind, so I'll just make one suggestion: If you're relying on religion to explain how the Universe works, it would seem to me that you'd want to incorporate the most successful tool for examining the Universe ever invented by mankind -- science -- into your belief system.

    I would submit to you that anti-science religionists can't have that because it disturbs the status quo of their idolatry of lust for money by threatening their income. In the end, this is all about money and using the herds of religious slaves as commodities for their own livestock they milk for all they are worth.

    It is here we can abandon all the empty talk about science and religion and turn to economics, business and accounting.

  2. Scientists can be extremely dogmatic too.

  3. I dunno, Gavin, I think the mileage may vary, on those "theology" degrees -- the GCI Canada ministers who wanted to go the worldly religious education route, have gone to everything from Baptist to Mennonite "seminary" but the only thing it seems to have given them, is the ability to argue a little less loudly than they used to before, but no less persistently.

    That said, the ministry in GCI Canada at least is very very much on the same level as the members now, which is certainly a positive improvement, IMO.

    I personally think the relaxation of the fundamentalist Evangelical extremism that came into the Church in the 1990s was what led to this improvement in the disposition of the ministry, not the adoption of it.

    Having lived through the changes, I can absolutely verify that, if anything, the authoritarian attitudes of the ministry actually got worse because of the changes, not better. Which is part of the reason why the splits and splinters...and of course the members who never did rely on God, but always followed men...not that there's anyone but one Judge who will steer us all right, on that, in the end.

    Of course, the other theory is, there's no one left but ministers now, so. Very very very few members I meet these days, were not ordained in some congregation or another, either having been in the past, or now in the present.

    Who knows? At least my faith is solid, and I'm certainly not persecuted for holding fast to it anymore (before you ask, yes, I am perfectly honest about holding to the Church's former beliefs, and I have not had one single problem yet). Which is one positive change the Church needs to advertise, far and wide, if it wants to rescue all those souls lost out there to the splinter groups, or those moving from one to another to another to another.

  4. larry said...
    Scientists can be extremely dogmatic too.

    Case in point and so predictable. Any excuse to remain clueless and ignorant in favor of having 'all the answers' whispered from on high.

    "Come unto me all ye heavy laden with facts and evidence and I will give you rest from all that learning and knowledge and give you nonsense to believe instead."

  5. The U.S. Constitution calls for Congress to promote "science" - but not "religion."

    Aside from the first amendment mentioning freedom or religion, it states "no religious test shall ever be required" to hold a U.S. office.

    Fundamentalist Christian groups either have never read this, or clearly oppose it.