Thursday, July 4, 2013

This silly science vs religion non-debate

Ok folks. This is a puke generator. This so-called debate has been going nowhere for a very long time. In fact, it’s not a debate at all. It’s simply two very strongly opinionated groups sticking to their specific brand of vodka or personal side arm. Never, then, shall the twain meet. This is foolish. If people can conjure up multiple explanations, rationales or models for the sum total of existential experiences, I really do not see any reason why they cannot co-exist without each attempting to debunk, subsume, marginalize, ignore, hate or wish-away every other.

And yet, co-existence of thoughts, ideas and worldviews seems to be, for mankind ver. 2000.02.3 the last thing we wish upon our collective selves. This, despite the fact that as rational beings, at the very least, acknowledgement of differences of opinion would seem indicated even if complete harmonization is not possible. This desire, however, lives not even in the furthest peripheries of our minds. For the current version of mankind, differentiation seems to be the primary operating context and of all things that divide us, I know of nothing more viral, more soul destroying than attempting to claim a monopoly on what is right and what is true.

This miserable stance is most starkly visible in the topic mentioned. I give below, a small “debate” if you want to call it that, between myself and two individuals on this most importantly silly matter. In a world where silly matters take on a prominence that is directly proportional to their stupidity, this one takes the cake. This particular skirmish took place on Sodahead where the subject under discussion was the validity of the stances of evolutionists and creationists. It is neither meant to edify nor clarify. Rather, it is merely meant to open a small window of inquiry that might yield a more balanced, more sober, less vindictive outlook on things as they are presented to us all in the short temporal slot in which we are, each of us, aware of every other one of us. I've dotted the discussion with a few photo-graphics in a rather lame attempt to stop people from taking a non-stop flight to boredom or pukedom *chuckles*. Oh, and there is a small clip from Tom Shadyac's "I am" which is quite cool but you got to go way down to get at it!



DISCUSSION ONE:                                                                                                                                  

Elijah: Fossil record evidence is strong that the evolutionary theory is truer than creation theories.

Arjuna: Fossils prove no connect between the animal and human worlds :) The burden of proof of this link is on the claimant not the questioner. On the matter of proof, I have already answered you in your previous post friend. :) (This was on a separate topic on the validity of the various aspects of “proof” as a measure of truth)


Elijah: The only way we could have more concrete evidence, is if we had time-lapsed video of the line of these changing generation after generation. There is a reason that the highest degree of certainty that science recognizes, is a "theory", and why evolution has achieved that level of certainty. Is it possible that evolution is a myth? Sure. Just as there is a possibility that gravity is a myth. But based on the facts and evidence that generations of scientists have gathered, it is the most logical conclusion, and it's the only one which has stood up to relentless scrutiny, without ever having been proven false.

Arjuna: Thank you for your response Ellijah. 

The problem here is on the choice of the hypothesis not on the volume of evidence that points to things other than those that the hypothesis is testing. If your hypothesis is "man involved from animals" that hypothesis has not been proven. If your hypothesis is "Statistically, all animals are shown through fossil evidence to have evolved through a selective process and since man is an animal, it is therefore inferred that man evolved from animals" then that hypothesis is subject to dialectic questioning against the two phrases 1) “Man is an animal” 2) “Inferential reasoning without evidence is  scientifically illogical and/or based on methodological astigmatism”.

It is significant that you mention "gravity" here. A rather brilliant argument by Robert Pirsig in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" clearly indicates that gravity did not exist before Newton "discovered" it. The point he was trying to make was that a systemic treatment of a cosmology should be validated against its own systemic foundation and that the "system of science" is found wanting in the way it determines what is "more truthful" and what is "more false". 

On the systemic front of scientific methodology, its effectiveness in understanding and identifying truth, its weaknesses and strengths, its faiths and its facts, two figures come to mind. 1) The philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1922 - 1996) and the particle physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra (1939-). There are many more but for the purposes of this response, these two are sufficient. Thomas Kuhn in his "Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (1962) argues for an episodic model of science and the "religious" reasons for paradigm shifts and Dr. Fridjof Capra, building on this (and other) work, through "The Tao of Physics" (1975) and "Belonging to the Universe" (1993 and co-authored with the Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast) explores the parallels between new paradigm thinking in science and religion that together offer what the authors consider remarkably compatible views of the universe. 

Capra most notably, pushes for western society to abandon conventional linear thought and the mechanistic views of Descartes. Critiquing the reductionistic Cartesian view that everything can be studied in parts to understand the whole, Capra encourages his readers to take a holistic approach. In The "Web of Life", Capra focuses on the systemic information generated by the relationships among all the parts as a significant additional factor in the character of the whole, emphasizing the web-like structure of all systems and thus the interconnectedness of all parts. 

So, Ellijah, from the brief exposé above, it is clear that the mechanics of "scientific reasoning" are far from accurate, are weakened in their effectiveness due to their discrete treatment of phenomena, adhered to as "valid" less through knowledge and more through blind faith in their efficacy and most certainly displays their faith based "conclusions" not entirely unlike religions. 

I am a careful thinker so I reflect on two different interpretations of a universe based on two entirely different cosmologies by not making the mistake of attempting to use the tools of the one to validate or disprove the other. That, for me, is an extremely unscientific method of attempting to understand the universe.

Elijah: There is not a single thought that has ever passed through the mind of a human being, which can be proven to such a degree that the odds that it is false drop to absolute 0. Not one. 

The debate between creationism and evolution, as well as any other hypotheses on the matter, is not about which one can be proven to an absolute certainty. It is a matter of which hypothesis is most likely, based upon the evidence and facts to which humanity currently has access. Which idea is not disproven by facts. Which theory requires the least significant variable presence, in order to be confirmed. 

There was a time, not so long ago, really; when creationism was the most logical hypothesis, because we didn't understand many of the things we know now. We didn't understand biology, genetics, or anything about adaptation. We understand those ideas better now; and because we do, we can track the evolution of the species back through generations. We can see a cell split, and regenerate life. We can see animals adapt over generations to their surroundings. 

I'm not sure that YOU were making this point, but others who have a problem with us being seen as animals, have certainly made this case in the past: that somehow the animals are beneath us and that it's insulting that we be seen as just another animal. I never understood that. Being the dominant species certainly has its advantages, but I don't see why it's an insult. 

My point is this: I believe we should all be open-minded to new evidence, but absent that new evidence, we can only reach the most logical conclusions with the facts we have; and based on those, we are the result of the evolutionary process.

Arjuna: Thank you for the response Ellijah. 

I am neither a creationist nor an evolutionist. 

On the one side, I am a scientist using scientific tools to determine how I should chart my relationship with the world I live in from a purely existentialist perspective. On the other, I am a practitioner of religious systems to determine how I should chart my relationship with myself to a high level of oneness in realms that science, due to its own established limitations and its own identified frames of reference does not/cannot cognize let alone chart. . 

As such, in this little discussion, I was merely pointing out that, scientifically, what it understands to be true has not been proved to be so. I take your point that there is evidence that leads one towards a confirmation of a pre-established hypothesis but scientific history is awash in instances where people have scientifically, "jumped the scientific-process-gun" with rather embarrassing outcomes. I choose not to do that. Science must prove its evolutionary hypothesis. So far, it has managed to significantly advance towards an understanding (although, perhaps, not outright knowledge) of species and selection thereof. This includes selection processes of animal species and anthropological change/revolution/evolution of humans as part of human history. I will reserve my judgment of whether or not man evolved from animals until an irrefutable link is scientifically established. Indeed, there are some strong counter-arguments based on complexity-theory that would be tough for evolutionists to disprove. Be that as it may, until linkages are established, evolution is a scientific hypothesis only and I will not use a mere hypothesis to prove that other cosmologies are false because that sort of assertion is simply, scientifically, inconsistent. 

On the matter of how effective a set of religious edicts or a religious system are, that cosmology does not require common proof but individual testimony. Its validity is relevant at any given time to a practitioner in an individual sense not a collective one. Therein lies the difference between these two methods of understanding the universe. That one appeals to a collective and the other appeals to an individual, that one takes a dialectic process to be the right one and the other takes a spiritual process to be the right one determines this difference. The reference material in my previous post was simply to highlight the fact that one system is not superior to the other and indicate at least a parallel if not a congruence of the separate models that are generated by each line of thinking, reflecting or faith. 

On the matter of whether human beings are superior to animals, knowing behavioral patterns of a majority of the human species over the last 400 years, I truly doubt that. No other inhabitant of this planet has destroyed as many members of its own species with little historic justification for it in the entire history of life on this planet.

Elijah: As a scientist, you certainly know that nothing will ever be proven conclusively. How do you justify faith in a god, who presents no evidence at all, but not evolution, which presents a ton of evidence?

Arjuna: Thank you for your response and apologies in advance for what I suspect would be a rather gaseous and long-winded response. In my defense, the question(s) cannot be either quickly or easily answered. Additionally, whatever answer I do give you will need to be scrutinized subjectively, not empirically due to the nature of the phenomena under question.

HOW CUTE. HOW QUAINT
"Proof" Ellijah, is a scientific requisite, not a spiritual one. "Faith" is mostly a spiritual requisite, not always a scientific one. Therefore, on your question, "Do I not have faith in evolution which presents a ton of evidence”?  The answer is no. I have no faith in evolution. I will only either affirm or reject evolution of man from animals once proof is available scientifically since evolution as a mechanism to explain the progression of life on earth is a scientific idea and subject to whatever framework of rigor that it defines for itself systemically. So far, that proof has not been forthcoming. So far, therefore, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I will be neutral to such claims. 

Faith is an outcome of the congruence of personal experience of the effectiveness a teacher's word from an individual perspective through personal practice of that word and the agreement between the outcome of that which one practiced and the teacher's promise of that outcome. This is true for all teachers, not only spiritual ones. 

However, spiritual experiences are, in their very nature, only available to each individual through practice and not to a collective who do not practice. If a practitioner were to try to tell others about his/her experiences, obviously, that individual will come across as either a) stupid or b) smoking something serious :) All that a practitioner can rightfully tell a collective is this: "Look guys, I practiced such and such a path, and through that practice, I arrived at such and such states of existence, understanding of creation, modes of ensuing a confident and contented existence on earth and ensuring contented existence after the breakup of this body. Now, if you guys want to experience what I have, then practice in accordance with the word of the teacher I followed". 

This personal experience can, in the realms of metaphysical and a-physical experiences yield so-called "super-normal knowledge". That is, knowledge that cannot be acquired by limiting oneself to phenomena that can only be recognized as such by the five senses. These, for me, have given me knowledge of 31 planes of existence including those that are classically known as "planes of existence of God / Allah / Maha Brahma". If you, Ellijah, wish to experience these, you will have to practice a path that leads you to that knowledge not entirely unlike the path we take through grade school through high school through university to understand physics. There is also a good chance that it will take the same period of time. 

The core question here is not the existence of God /Allah / Maha Brahma but rather, did they (him /her) create the universe? The answer: Of course not! The start / continuance / end of such a physical system is based on conditioned causality only and in this, both spiritual systems and scientific ones are in agreement. In conditioned causality, origination/creation/birth is discerned; termination/destruction/death is discerned and change while persisting is discerned. Exploration through practice indicates that creationists have got it all wrong. God / Allah /Maha Brahma most certainly have superior creative abilities when compared against the creative abilities of a human being who, for example, creates a car. However, they too are a part of that conditioned causality and as such are themselves subject to origination, termination and change. 

Now, do they, through various practices / efforts / supra-conscious experience etc. understand this universe better? Sure they do. Can we learn from their experiences similar to how we learn from a teacher of physics in terms of her experience of studying physics longer than we have? Of course we can. Is there a system through which we could acquire that knowledge? Yes there is. What is that system? Choose any that transcend the physical and explores the metaphysical/a-physical – the systems outlined by The Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohamed, Lord Shiva… any. The choice of physics teacher (in most cases) is not relevant to understanding what that teacher is saying because all physics teachers teach the same physical truth. The same goes for the spiritual teachers. Are their resistive factors? Definitely Ego. Are their pitfalls to be avoided? Most certainly. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. should be avoided at all costs.

My advice to anyone with respect to such matters is, first practice, then acquire direct personally validated knowledge, then, if you really really really really really really want to, preach. 

If you jump the first two stages and attempt to teach something purely on the basis of a written book (be that book Islam's Holy Qur'an, Newton's Principia Mathematica or Wittgenstein's Tractatus), or conditioned analysis based on the limitations of your own analytical abilities, or project a larger image of yourself than you actually are because of egotistic considerations, you are liable to a) fall flat on your face b) hope that unreflecting "faith" in the listener will give him/her confidence in what you are preaching and c) lead a lot of people up a rather charming garden path dotted with fervent prayers, mathematical exercises, ritualistic cleansing, examinations, holy water, PhDs and mindless incantations none of which are even remotely connected with the understanding of truth. 

Most people, unfortunately, taking the easy way out, become either pseudo-scientists or pseudo-spiritualists or a mix thereof, read a bit here, practice a little bit there and come to some very amusing conclusions based either on hearsay or shallow reading of effectiveness (e.g. "This car exists, therefore science is true" - based on vague ideas of science, what existence is, what is true and what the underlying form of a car is, or "God is real, therefore he will answer all prayers of the faithful" - based on vague understanding of what God is, what is real, what prayers are and what underlying form is required to determine what it means to be faithful and how such activity can yield reward). These readings do not hold up against the rigorous scrutiny of a philosopher of science or a practitioner of religious edicts or systems. Worse, they then proceed to desanitize the world with those conclusions.

DISCUSSION 2:                                                                                                                                     

Yuki: Science is used to logically explain natural phenomenon.

Religion is used to explain supernatural phenomenon with tales that have no bearing in logic whatsoever.

Religion demands belief and faith without proof. Science demands you observe the facts and come to a logical conclusion. Having a PhD proves nothing, but properly following the scientific method, gathering data, running trials and experiments and simulations, and then examining the results... does.

Arjuna: *smiles* Thank you Yuki. that is a good observation and one that is quite common. However, I believe this is a simplistic treatment of the issue and definitions of science, scientific method, religion, religious practice are perhaps required in order to make sense of what both of us are saying. 

Here is my rebuttal for whatever its worth. 

Science is supposed to test all tools it uses to measure what you call "natural phenomena" (to be scientifically correct, one must say, "phenomena that the five human sense organs can be stimulated by, recognize and react to" and whether or not these are the only sense organs or if the universal set of those things recognizable by human sense organs constitutes the whole of "nature" is still not proven by science so therein there is a limitation to the argument). 

The primary tool that science uses to explain these phenomena (named natural or otherwise) is the mind. This tool has never been adequately measured for accuracy by scientific method. Indeed, those few attempts of measuring what it is capable of being cognizant of (the scientific branches of psychiatry and psychology) have yielded very little determining results and there are arguments that clearly indicate that even the results obtained are relatively chaotic, unverifiable, unscientific and unreliable.

Therefore, using scientific reason, it is possible to hypothesize that all scientific explanations are erroneous since the primary tool that it uses is untested. Therefore, "blind faith" is a term that can be used adequately to explain the validity of scientific explanations since at least the necessary condition for so stipulating - "science stipulates testing its tools but cannot test its primary tool therefore the necessary condition for blind faith in its explanations of natural phenomena" - exists. Given a resolution of the debate of what constitutes natural and supernatural phenomena (which has not been clarified or demarcated by scientific method as far as I am aware) there is a possibility of yielding the sufficient condition for "blind faith being an underlying requisite for validating scientific explanations" as well. 

Religions and religious practice are different. I grant that religion (especially institutionalized religion) exhorts its followers to believe without proof. However, religious practice proves (or disproves) a given "promised result" stated as so by a seer/master/good/prophet/messiah to the individual. This is a proof that is individual due to the nature of the results that are promised - not general like the results that science promises. Science shies away from the individual and therein there is a limitation to both its method and to the extent of its vision. Religious practice is the other way around. 

What is important is not to try to use the tools of one type of cosmology to explain or debunk that which is seen (or unseen) by the other. Scientifically and religiously, this is not justifiable at all. However, much to the detriment of the planet, this seems to be the trend these days. Since I am not a fan of negative engagements, I have no logical choice but to reject institutions of religion just as completely and rationally as I reject the religions of science. *cheers*

Yuki: You're right. It pretty much is impossible to completely refute religion. It's like trying to argue with Luna Lovegood, who is a charming character, but quite mad in a lovely sort of way. 

I don't think that the method has been shunted aside when examining the core tool-- that is, the human mind. The problem lies in the fact that the human mind is so complex and variable that it is difficult to pin it down, not because it is impossible, but because it is like trying to figure out where to start with the Gordian Knot. We've already got a few ends loosened, and we're pushing and tugging, but it's going to be a long time before we get to the next layer, never mind the center. Someday, we will understand what makes the human mind tick, and our core tool will have been sufficiently measured.

It is absolutely true that sometimes, science shows aspects commonly found in religion. It's where people have turned science into a religion-- where they no longer think for themselves, or ask questions, but simply accept whatever they're told or shown as absolute, and aggressively defend the results without question (when science thrives on being questioned!) Science is about asking questions about the world, and when you turn it into a religion, people cease to do that.

Which is right? I can't say for certain which is right, but I can say for certain which one makes more sense-- that is, the method that tries things out and continually pokes and prods at things to see how they react and the consistency in which they do, rather than the one that makes a statement that refuses to accept criticism for obvious flaws. In which case, the latter can refer to institutionalized religion or "religious" science.

I'm not sure how religious arguments that attempt to refuse science sound "equally" plausible. Most of the ones I encounter either sound like someone attributing petty human elements to a deity or desperate. It usually reminds me of a child who holds up a stuff animal to their mom and says, "Tigger wants a cookie!" or "Tigger is angry!"

If there is a god, or a deity of some sort (which I have not ruled out-- as solidly as I stand behind science, I do place value in spirituality, and there is nothing that has solidly refuted the existence of a deity, only of the historical accuracy and claims of religious texts) I can't imagine it would waste its time on petty human squabbles, or place the existence of man over that of all other creatures (claims of otherwise sound extremely egotistic to me.) 

But again, now I'm delving into personal opinion, and if you have something that can explain my confusion as to how the religious refutations of science sound plausible-- please, tell me.

"I reject institutions of religion just as completely and rationally as I reject the religions of science."

That's a good phrase. Sounds very sensible to me.

Arjuna: The assertions you make and the questions you ask are very valid Yuki. Thanks again. Let me try to explain this a bit more. 

First we must recognize that religion does not refute science nor does it wish to. Religious cosmology doesn't work that way. It is science that finds words such as "proof", refute", "rebut" relevant - not religion. Religion has already asked and answered all cosmic questions to its complete satisfaction and requires no more effort in that direction. *smiles* 

To "refute" or "question" scientific method, I must use scientific method itself. (the tools of one specific cosmos cannot be used to describe another). 

The cosmos according to science is one which is constantly changing and throwing up new questions and new answers precisely because science has to keep asking and answering questions. Therefore, science is a process of learning that which is unknown. The ego of science is in believing that to ask questions constantly is to get clearer and clearer answers constantly. This is not correct. Science has managed to confuse itself both long term and short term by this process. 

A "short term" example of confusion that played out over about 20 years is this: "eggs are good, no, eggs are bad and full of cholesterol, no its just the yolk so eat the white, no eat the yolk you dolt- science has just said that that white is awful, no actually, the whole darn egg is good". 

Now, if someone were to question science and say "that example shows a confused system where scientific answers are the equivalent of bumbling blind idiots trying to figure out what an elephant is by touching specific parts of it" science would be hard put to justify that constant questioning actually yields better answers. The right answer was right there before the cycle began. Science can’t afford this. If its premise is that questioning makes things clearer and since there is at least ONE instance, (of that redoubtable egg), where that premise can be proved wrong, then the entire system has to be rejected according to the well known scientific method of observation, hypothesis, experiment, conclusion, acceptance of conclusion and the rejection of it. 

A "long term" example is this: science in the 400 years it has been practiced as a matter of preference by a majority of the world's peoples has brought the world to the brink of destruction and no scientist has any clear idea how to solve the problems that have arisen out of the use of science - the crises of food, energy, climate and finance. The anthropological treatment of scientific effort proves science is a failed paradigm in many areas of human reality. 

A third example of utterly wasted effort that results from the blind following of scientific process and its attendant institutions is as follows: Each year, over 300,000 new mathematical theorems are discovered, each with a viewership of 12 (friends and family) and a readership of 6 (faculty that sits on a thesis defense). The rediscovery rate is over 60% and 92% of those theorems are of no use to anyone. 

My conclusion is that academic process and institutionalized scientific effort is a blind, faith driven, useless exercise in the larger part and uses up huge amounts of time, human effort and physical resources for no practical end. The knowledge that results from this effort is neither wholesome nor usable. It merely contributes to the continuance of an already established system that has forgotten the reason for its existence and has lost its relevance. Sound familiar? That is the exact argument that many scientists use to describe religious practice. 

I hope I have explained myself sufficiently Yuki. We have engaged in a very good set of responses and look forward to many such exchanges including responses to this post. I am grateful for finding a good mind to engage on SH. Thank you.

Yuki: Food for thought for now. We both learned something through this exchange. Thank you. 

Arjuna: Indeed!

(Please watch this segment of Tom Shadyac's documentary I AM)


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