Monday, July 23, 2007

Answering the questions

Its an argument I've heard before but this time it stuck. I'll start with my quick thank you's, in the order of my clicking, Pharyngula, Aardvarchaeology/Carnival of the Godless and finally Evanescent with the article that started this thought train. This is going to be a classic Rambling post in that it is being written bit by bit with significant time between bit, in other words don't look for linear or even coherent line of reasoning.

Science vs. Religion, an all together too common battle these days, but one of supreme importance. First I will say that I am not a scientist, not by any stretch. I did well in my basic science classes back in high school took an AP class, then had almost no science at college. So these are not the words of an expert, these are the words, the thoughts of a laymen, someone who wishes to expand their own personal knowledge and maybe pique the curiosity of a few others. So let us begin. Science is not a religion, science is simply a method for discovering the true nature of the world around us. I won't bother to explain the method as it should be known but heres the long version and I'll give a super-brief. My version is this, question everything, assume nothing, test with empirical evidence, then test again. The idea that your testing must be falsifiable and must be able to make predictions, otherwise what good is it to anyone?

I made mention of the fact that science is not a religion, that should go without saying but lately I've heard that argument quite a bit, usually in reference to evolution, and how science needs just as much faith as religion. I feel bad for these folks as they obviously had some very bad science teachers back in school. The entire point of science is to find the truth, even when the truth is in stark contrast to the way we thought things were. I could get into how religions contradict each other so at most only one could be right at which point the overwhelming probability is that none are right, but this was better covered by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion so I won't get into that.

Another fun avenue is to look at religion as a scientific hypothesis, this is also hardly a new concept but its fun so lets go for it. First off its non-falsifiable so it fails but we can ignore that so we can have some more time to play with this concept. Lets look at predictions, religions have made plenty of predictions, but how many have come true? And considering we are dealing with an omnipotent being they should be damn accurate. Well the biggest one would have to be the apocalypse, how many times was this supposed to have happened by now? And if I remember right (doubtful) the second coming was supposed to happen fairly quickly after the first, so that can easily be said to have been false barring any flying horsemen on the horizon. I'm not well enough informed on biblical matters to point out other predictions that haven't happened, and I'm sure there are some that people will say came true and therefore prove the bible true. Of course a single bit of info in your favor hardly "proves" your hypothesis correct but my bigger concern is that usually after an event people will show how it was foretold by the bible or Nostradamus or Mrs. Cleo, predictions are only useful if they can be clearly stated prior to an event.
My favorite was always "The Bible Code" it says 9/11 and osama and towers or whatever, thats great, after an event they dug around and found some ominous words, now give me a prediction based on your silly little code, tell me when the next terrorist attack will take place, do that and then I'll be impressed.

In screwing around I came across info on Wiki about Secular Humanism and how it earned the same legal protections as religions. First off secular humanism basically is a religion, just one that doesn't have a god. But people, simple people, have used this to say that if creationism can't be taught in school than neither can evolution because thats a part of secular humanism. They seem to be missing the opposite cause-effect relationships there. SH was given religious standing so they wouldn't have to pay taxes because they serve a similar function to a church and therefore should have the same right/privileges, and the religious are using it as another front to attack science. But there is a very simple solution to this delema, tax churches.

Oh man I have been rambling. The original idea of this post was to see what sort of questions religion has tried to answer over the years and then see how it does against science. Using basic examples like religion (some not all) teaches (taught) that the earth was at the center of the universe, which makes sense because according to those same religions the universe was created for humans, and only a few thousand years ago (only fundamentalists). Science has without a doubt proven that the earth is far far from the center of the universe, hell its not even the center of the galaxy, its not even the center of the solar system. Even the pope admitted they were wrong on that and apologized to Galileo, 359 years later... As for the age, well its ironic that this is still "debated," it seems to me that this is at least as obvious as the location of the earth and yet people today will argue against it. It seems to me that the only questions that religion still tries to answer is the ones that have little or no bearing on my life. "Why are we here" being the big one, we are here so have fun and play nice thats all I need to know and I have yet to see anyone with a better reply. Of course that assuming you even need a reply, some like Dawkins would reply that its a meaningless question. I've also seen a cartoon that summed it up well, it was the classic monkey to man picture with a thought bubble over each saying "eat sleep reproduce, eat sleep reproduce" up to man which thinks "why are we here." It was a good cartoon.

I had a way better post in my mind but it didn't come together very well, I'm sorry. Every time I hit on a subject it makes me think of three more things I want to say which is why these posts so often turn into incomprehensible garbage, hey I never claimed to be a great writer, I did take the pen name of a character described thusly, "His prose was terrible, only his ideas were good."

Anyway the fact that people now argue against the age of the earth, or if you really want to find the crazies there are those who will say that the earth really is in the center of the solar system, but thats the exception not the rule. I was hoping to have a link there but I can;t find the site right now, it was funny, and sad. It reminds me of a point made by Carl Sagan about how science has moved so far beyond the comprehensible that it is so often and easily misrepresented. The fact is all of the obvious questions have been answered now we have moved on to questions that no one who hasn't studied the field for ten years or more would even understand the question let alone think to ask it. Because of this science has become a mystery in its own right. Common folks don't understand it and its far easier to dismiss what we don't understand than it its to take the immense time required to learn. We are in a dangerous time when our world relies so heavily on science and technology and yet so very few really understand how it all works.

Ok I wrote this then added a little piece then finally remembered one of my bigger points a few minutes later. I firmly believe that people should practice what they preach (interesting how the most common expression on hypocrisy is in religious terms) therefore people who believe in the literal bible should practice it (sorta, I don't want them killing everyone). The bible says nothing of germs but it does speak of demons, those who want creationism taught in school should start by casting-off all of modern science, meaning no medicine-just prayer, no electricity, no cars, no running water just like back in the biblical days. I'd still think they were crazy, and I'd then have more proof, but at least they wouldn't by hypocrites. Thats why I have some respect for Jehovah's Witnesses, they might be crazy but at least they are consistently crazy... Ok I lied I don't respect them either but again, at least they are consistent.

If someone could give me a good reason to believe then I would, give me one claim that I can verify for myself and we can talk, until that time it seems like a hypothesis that failed mightily, it should go the way of geocentricism, and the dodo. Thats it for now, seriously this was supposed to make sense but I will assume it no longer does.


mr. morris said...

Science is concerned with what we can perceive with our senses: sight, hearing, and so on. I perceive the sun rises and sets; I make some measurements using tools that, in the end, give feedback to my senses; from these measurements I deduce a pattern for the sun that I call a "model" or a "theory"; I use these and other models to develop further models; with these models I make predictions that I verify again with my senses. Eventually I discover that the sun makes a motion so regular that I give the period of the regular motion a name: a "year". In a similar fashion I build up a lexicon that is shorthand for my observations and models.

When I say the earth is several billion years old, I mean that a large, concentrated mass has circled the sun several billion times in a regular orbit. When I say that a bone is from an animal that lived some hundred million years ago, I mean that the fossilized bone rests near a lump of minerals containing isotopes, and half the isotopes in the mineral sample decay in some number of revolutions around the sun, and that given the ratio of isotopes in the sample, I can calculate that the sample of mineral has been a cohesive lump for a hundred million revolutions around the sun.

What does a religious person mean when he says the earth is some several thousand years old? Does he mean by "year" the same as I mean? And if he does in part--if he means that period of time during which the sun changes latitude and returns--at exactly what point in the sequence of observations and models does his meaning for "year" depart from mine?

Kilgore Trout said...

I have two thoughts on that, first good point. Moderate and liberal religious groups usually deflect criticisms like mine by saying that when it took god 7 "days" that isn't the same thing as a day to us, and really how could it, if the earth hasn't been created then it can hardly be used as a time reference. This was also used to explain where dinosaurs fit in, those last couple "days" might have lasted a few billion of our earth years. This also led me to think (as a child) that maybe a "day" is a billion years so while maybe he was watching very intently there for a while he might have taken a nap or blinked, if a day is a billion years a blink could last a couple thousand, man is he going to be shocked when he opens his eyes back up...

The other side of me those says no, unfortunately there are too many, far too many people in this country of mine who think that it is all literal. It really did take 84 hours to create everything, in that time we went from udder void to everything you see before you.

Thanks for the comment and I hope you come back again. I'm also glad that there was enough coherent thought in my post to make someone comment because I was really nervous that it would come out really bad, or maybe it did and you were just being nice. Either way thanks and have a good one.

mr. morris said...

What is an "hour"?

Kilgore Trout said...

One 24th the time it takes for the earth to spin 360 degrees about its axis. But the real answer to your question is, Exactly. The point that I think you're making is in agreement with mine that you can't use earthly time measures when talking about events prior to the earths existence. I would guess that a fundamentalist would argue that because god made the world and spun it like a top at the exact speed he wanted to so he knew how long a day would be to people before the world, or people, existed.

While I disagree with the whole religion hypothesis in general I'm often intrigued by who is more honest, religious liberals or fundamentalists. I'm going to stay with Christianity as its the only religion I know well enough to say anything about, but I'm no scholar. the liberals seem to follow the new testament better, but refuse to see all the evils within their holy document. Fundamentalists on the other hand follow the old testament better but refuse to see that the bible was written and re-written by man, they refuse the idea that the bible is anything but absolutely perfect despite the fact that the jews who wrote and kept it never claimed it to be perfect and to this day the jews are still arguing over the correct meaning of the torah. I also think that if they want to think of the bible as literal then they should go the route of the muslims and only read it in its original language, oh and by the way fundies, it was written without vowels, Have Fun!

So which is more dishonest? eh, thats a matter of opinion.

And thanks for coming back Mr. Morris!

Kilgore Trout said...

Or to be a dick about it an hour would be, the duration of 33,093,474,372,000 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.

Ok so I had to cheat by taking the standard for a second and multiplying it by 3600. Not that it really matters what the definition is for our purposes.

evanescent said...

Hi QR, I liked this post, well said.