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Post Science, Religion, and the Ignorant Masses
Created by John Eipper on 01/09/18 9:13 AM

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Science, Religion, and the Ignorant Masses (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 01/09/18 9:13 am)

I must admit that I was not expecting such controversy regarding my comparison between Science and Religion. Some WAISers, quite vehemently, and in an eloquent, vigorous and possibly arrogant way, have criticized my statement that science was a modern religion.

First, I did not assert that science = religion. Of course they are two different subjects. However, because I belong to that "grossly ignorant masses of mental laziness," in Tor Guimaraes's words, and I believe there are billions of us grossly ignorant folks, I dared to describe the effects of science and religion on common people.

Suppose for instance that you belong to the ignorant masses, and you are told by scientists that the smallest material particle is the atom, and that nuclear energy is obtained by the disintegration of uranium atoms, except you never have seen an atom, nor do you know exactly what nuclear fission is; if you want to be certain about this fact, either you believe the scientific assertion--have "faith" in it--or you decide to study physical science and conduct experiments in your own lab to confirm what you have been told. The answer is obvious.

The fact is that for us, the common ignorant masses, whether nuclear energy is produced by nuclear disintegration or by some magical scientific power is indifferent. I could believe either one. Nowadays, we are guided to accept scientific theories as ultimate truths, despite the fact that many of them eventually were replaced by new more advanced discoveries or other theories.

To believe in the existence of some God is a question of faith, and the priest guides you to "interpret and understand" its ultimate truth with its religious supernatural mysteries and myths. Religions also evolve in their own way.

Are there similarities?

JE comments:  I'm with José Ignacio here.  Like him, I am also quite surprised by the longevity of this discussion.  Apologists for "science=truth" will naturally resist any comparison with religion.  Is there anything more to say?


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  • "Science is the New Religion": What Does This Mean? (A. J. Cave, USA 01/11/18 5:07 AM)
    There is a lot more to unpack in the religion vs science thread.

    I have used a variation of the "science is the new religion" catchphrase myself. ‎Here is the context:


    Since the 19th century, ‎our lives have become irrevocably tied to science. While science was (and remains) conservative, scientists were (and are) anything but conservative. They were considered eccentric iconoclasts--what we call "nerds" in modern jargon.


    While the Scientific Revolution ‎has profoundly changed the Western world and views, the marriage of science and religion has never been a happy one. Armed with experimentations and observations, scientific explanations started to replace traditional religious ones. With the twins of biology and geology, scientists started to think creatively about the origins of life. Science eventually became the new religion. Today, natural history (biological and geological) is no longer debated, but neither is it believed by the ultra religious.


    The 19th century was also the height of the Western quest for tracing the Biblical people and places. Discovering and cracking the code of cuneiform script‎ turned out to be a lot more than what anyone had bargained for: the Biblical scripture and the Babylonian accounts didn't exactly match and the results were unsettling to deeply religious Christians. Discovery of non-biblical people (like the Sumerians) contradicted the Biblical view that all (wo)men had descended from the biblical Adam. Now Adam of the Bible who had been considered the first man created by God, was no longer the first man created by God.


    For more "bad" news, tangible evidence from Assyrians and Babylonians (and other ancient civilizations) challenged Biblical chronology and the short age of mankind. The Sumerian story of a catastrophic flood unleashed a few thousands earlier than the Biblical story of Genesis, was the handiwork of the great god Enlil.


    The crisis of faith and loss of religion was not a liberating experience. There was neither emotional gratification nor intellectual satisfaction in an optional God.


    One of the most eloquent laments was the famous Dover Beach poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold published in 1867:


    ‎"The Sea of Faith"




    ...and we are here as on a darkling plain

    swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

    where ignorant armies clash by night.



    JE comments:  If science toppled religion beginning in the Enlightenment, does it come as any surprise that the former would replace the latter?  This is how I understand A. J. Cave's post.  And yes, there is little satisfaction (comfort?) to be found in an "optional" God.

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    • Donation of Constantine; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/13/18 4:28 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:


      This is in response to A.J. Cave's enumeration (January 11th) of how Bible literalism has had to ignore archaeology.


      (I'd never thought about the fact that Adam couldn't be the first man and also be 5,000
      years old, if profuse evidence shows the Sumerians were older.  This is a whole different
      difficulty from the Creationists denying paleontology.)


      My odd thought in response is that the belief
      process now sounds much like belief a thousand years ago--say, around 1018 AD--when the popes
      believed in the Donation of Constantine, though later popes, even in the 1500s, began to crumble
      and agree with scholar Lorenzo Valla that this hoary old writ (giving the entire Western Roman empire
      to Pope Sylvester I) was a hoax, a fake, a "pious fraud."


      Apparently it was penned around 700-800 AD,
      when the Church was desperately seeking to prove it shouldn't be attacked by various hordes
      of the Dark Ages, and since it purported to be from a time hundreds of years even earlier, the Dark
      Ages was unlikely to be able to check. Even in those years, though, its use of bloopers like "satraps,"
      "consuls," and other anachronisms should have made its fakery obvious, but there was a lack of will
      to compare and contrast. We may never know the specific monk or canon who sat down to create this
      whopper, though the Internet Age is strange. Will he be on YouTube someday?


      The centuries-long
      inviolability of the Donation's illusion circles back to my original question in this thread: All the time,
      we use the word "faith." But what is it? Is faith (at the most stellar height of irreverence) like a physiological
      climax, something you can sort of make yourself do--though not exactly on purpose? Or is it the
      manifestation of just the right convergence of upbringing and stress? Or, of course, there's Adam's answer,
      from 5,000 years ago.


      JE comments:  Faith as orgasm?  There may be something to the comparison.  As Gary Moore points out, both are sort of voluntary, sort of not.  And it's ultimately up to you to get there, even when others are involved.


      The Donation of Constantine may have been the biggest charitable contribution of all:  handing the entire Roman Empire to the papacy.  Imagine, say, a letter from President Trump giving a US state to WAIS.  (I trust it won't be a s*%#hole state.) 


      This gets me thinking:  why don't we start a WAIS thread on History's Hoaxes?  It's Godwin time:  remember the Hitler Diaries from 1983?

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  • Science, and Cause and Effect (Henry Levin, USA 01/11/18 7:27 AM)
    There is something missing from the Science-Religion discussion. Science is not only about prediction through experimental or quasi-experimental means. It is also about theory and verifiable mechanisms that link such prediction. That is, science can provide an explanation for what appears to be cause and effect, an interpretation beyond correlation. Religion provides stories of miracles which are not validated by scientific method and cannot be tested. If people want to believe in miracles, that is their prerogative. If they want to believe in cause and effect without a validated mechanism, that too is their prerogative.

    This does not mean that science is all-knowing or can be. Science is imperfect and is always evolving, but is more democratic in the sense that an outsider can use acceptable methods to "test" a finding and interpretation and others can judge their veracity. It is a dynamic process in which earlier understandings and "facts" can be contradicted by careful scientific methods because we have criteria to make those judgments.


    But, when a body of doctrine has declared the world is 5,000 years old and that all living things were deposited in the world at one time, I am more likely to be persuaded by the scientific alternatives and explanations on the age and development of the universe and the cosmological explanations and evolution. This is a different sphere than that of morality or ethics or establishing a social code and process for distinguishing right from wrong. I will rely on good "religious" values and empathy with other humans to address these questions, not the scientific developments that brought us the efficiency of the gas chambers or nuclear fission.


    JE comments:  To sum up:  Causality is one thing, morality another.  I think we can all agree on this.

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  • Even Newton, Einstein, and Curie Could Be Ignorant (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/12/18 3:51 AM)

    In response to José Ignacio Soler (January 9th), I did not mean to insult anyone. 



    Please understand that we are all members of the ignorant and mentally lazy masses. Ignorance and mental laziness is a matter of degree among humans.  Even the great scientists had moments of ignorance: Newton fumbled around and was basically pushed into his great conclusions.  Einstein thought the Big Bang was a stupid notion. Madame Currie died of cancer because she did not know about radioactivity.


    JE comments: Madame Sklodowska-Curie knew about radioactivity; she just didn't know it kills you.  Science may or may not be a religion, but its liturgy has changed over the last century:  scientists no longer experiment (inoculate, medicate, radiate) on themselves.

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