28 April 2012

Science vs Religion? Science is a religion.

Science is now a full fledged religion. Much of its proselytising has been based on its not being a 'religion' at all. Science claims to be a rational, logical approach to investigating existence.

The early scientists, like the early christians before them were persecuted. Their teachings were demonised and their morality was considered suspect. Over time, the new way gradually replaced the old.

As was the case with early christianity many priests of the new religion hold a dual allegiance, practicing the old forms while being involved with the new. As the numbers and confidence of the new religion grows, allegiance becomes an issue. Peoples and their governments are under increasing pressured to choose.

Science has heroes now. Hitchslap (now deceased) and Dawkins have been aggressively challenging priests in debate.

Over time, Christian priests became part of culture and government. Science has done very well in these areas.

People once went to priests for confession, shared prayer, emotional help and healing. Various branches (roughly equivalent to Catholic Orders) of science now perform these functions for many who still profess adherence to old religion. Even the Pope is treated by practitioners schooled in the ways of medical science.

Christian's views were sought (or had to be respected) when political decisions were made and when laws were written. Their practices and divinations were taken seriously in courts of law. A dream about the sexual conduct of, for example, a witch could result in a severe sentence even in the complete absence of any other supporting evidence. Nowadays, the pronouncements of scientists have more influence in such things than that of priests of the old religions.

When Christianity was the new religion, many people were much relieved that they could now just have a sip of wine and a piece of bread rather than get involved with real blood and entrails. It was also a relief to be assured that  a new God (or representative thereof) had arisen – the old ones had not been heard from for so long that even their priests did not really believe in them anymore.

Nowadays, many are relieved that they do not have to go to a place of worship to avoid ostracism or worse from their community. They are glad to be free of priests, imams and preachers. They are glad to think they live in a well ordered, understandable universe and they are generally willing to be guided by those who claim to understand it in detail.

Science is obviously a great improvement on the Abrahamic religion. Its claim to not be a religion is a strong feature of its propaganda. Very believable. Much of science seems to be about investigating the truth of 'what is' rather than pronouncing dogmas and beliefs. Science claims to not have dogmas and beliefs. It claims to deal in facts.

It is said that one becomes what one opposes. Science has, for a while been opposing religion. Lately, it has been especially targeting the Bible Belt selective-literalists who dominate American elections and public policy.

I call Science a full-fledged religion now because it has all the major features of the religions and all of the attendant failings.

Mysticism is the department of religion that is its seed. The mystics attempt to understand, see, hear or become the divine. They take risks, gambling on intuitive leaps and their strength of faith. They provide a religion with a starting point, making pronouncements about and explanations of observable and invisible phenomena. The mystics of a religion express awe at the elegance of the underlying principles of existence that they find revealed to them. Because they are not much influenced by politics and financial interests they eventually become inconvenient to a religion. Mystics have been silenced, even by assassination, when their revelations have been inconvenient to the other departments of the religion.

Theology is the branch of a religion that argues and evolves ideas, understandings and teachings from the writings of the mystics. It continually re-examines its interpretations in the light of current social necessity and circumstances. It constrains itself with agreement on the sources and references it works from, and its statements are subject to, internal debate, scrutiny and peer review before being allowed serious consideration.

The Doctrinal branch declares the known certainties and the fundamental principles of the religion. It is the authoritative part of the religion. It tells the adherents what to believe. It is also the department that interfaces most with government, the law and other social institutions. Doctrine deals in the declaration of absolutes.  It has little room for the debatable statements of theology and none at all for new revelations from the mystics.

The older, larger and more established a religion becomes, the more it avoids new mysticism, constrains theology and emphasises dogma.

Christianity has become increasingly vulnerable due to this trend. The dogmas that inform policy around sex, marriage and abortion and chosen death are obviously outdated and silly. Likewise the Bible Belt literalists' dogma of Intelligunt Desine and their protests about the teaching of the theory of evolution.

Science has developed a huge body of theology. It is based upon the work of the major Scientific mystics: Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein. It declares dogmas, presenting them as 'facts' and declares unbelievers to be primitive, stupid or un-evolved.

Dogmas are, of course, not necessarily incorrect. When they are incorrect, though, it can prove impossible to replace or modify them. If mysticism is still strong in a religion, changes to dogma can happen, but very slowly, each order and sect taking its own time about things.

Dogma also severely affects the next generation of mystics and theologians. It provides boundaries to how they may think of their discoveries and interpretations. It prevents the publication and popularisation of ideas that call dogmas into question.

Evolution is an area of particular heat in the current challenge the new religion brings to the old. Personally I like the the mysticism of it. It is indeed an elegant insight into how some aspects of the arising existence we observe come to be the way they are. It is worth calling a theory - a possible explanation of what one of the processes of life might be.

A religion, though, cannot compete with vague ideas and suppositions as weapons of debate. It needs dogma. Science calls its dogmas 'proven theories'. Dawkins and his militant atheists have declared evolution to be an indisputable fact.

Being dogmatic about evolution, particularly human evolution is foolish. The entire fossil record of human developments is said to total under a half-ton. Neanderthals and the other early humans had skeletons within the parameters of current humanity. They were not as different from us as a rottweiler is from a maltese poodle or an Arabian thoroughbred from a cart horse.

Evolution and its mechanisms have mysteries. There are factors at play that have not been accounted for. The stance of dogma, of declaring a theory to be a fact, makes Science as silly as the religions it tries to ridicule.

As has been seen with Christianity, dogma encourages circuitous logic of a self supporting nature. It also makes firm declarations that the religion insists its laity and even non-adherents respect. The contradictions that arise between dogma and theology are settled, usually, by the insistence that theology respect dogma. When this does not work, a schism develops, as between Catholics and the breakaways that protested against its dogma: the Protestants.

Religions grow far beyond their original mystical/investigative parameters when they become involved with culture and law. In the area of law, the typically religious failings of science are occasionally seen.

Not long ago, a cluster of particular injuries was regarded by medical science as proof of "shaken baby syndrome". Proof that at least one of the parents had shaken the baby severely, thus contributing to its death. Proof worth going into court with. Proof good enough to get convictions with little or no further supporting evidence.

Recently, the same cluster of injuries was documented as being caused by falls and other accidents. Several convictions have since been overturned. This could be regarded as a good thing - science corrected the error it had made and some unlucky people are now free. It could be regarded as a bad thing if the scientific evidence of the presented dogma (in this case called a syndrome) meant that other evidence was not gathered, thereby enabling guilty people to now go free.

In America there was a laboratory where the police sent cartridge cases found at crime scenes. They also sent them boxes of bullets found in houses they searched. Definitive pronouncements, claiming to exactly match which box of bullets the rounds at a crime scene came from was key evidence in many trials. It was also, we now know, absolute thumb-sucking.

To even moderately developed logic, it seems absurd that judges and juries were gulled by such nonsense. They were fooled, many times, because an authoritative fellow told them, with sincerity, that their science revealed the truth to several decimal places of certainty.

Other dogmas in this area seem to be dying out more slowly.

DNA evidence being used to 'put' someone at the scene of a crime is just ridiculous. Several degrees of separation can still carry a trace of DNA.  The DNA 'magnification' techniques claim to discern very small samples indeed … just a few skin cells in clothing, or something just briefly touched. I am sure DNA magnification could prove me to have been in around a dozen or so cities so far this year, just from the visits of people I have hugged, touched or shared a bath, a computer keyboard and so on with. If it is as sensitive as claimed, this science would probably find 'me' almost anywhere on the planet.

Partial finger prints, drug tests and other staples of law enforcement are equally and obviously dodgy, but have a scientist from the dogma department tell it, and people will respect belief as fact.

Scientists now give evidence as to the likelihood of recidivism. They make pronouncements about the future development of 'sex offenders', justifying serious ongoing persecution quite beyond the usual parameters of law. They give evidence about the social/psychological damage that children suffer if their parents are vegetarian or raw-food fans. In some cases they support the remove of children from such harmful parenting.

The dogmas and self-justifying logic at the roots of many branches of science are just as presumptive as those of any religion.  Even discoveries that shake foundational premises do not prevent branches from ignoring them and carrying on under doctrinal protection. Education in particular suffers.

A few dogmas of science:

Archeology: The dating of the pyramids and the narrative given by the early saints (Carter et al) stand. Even if the geologists point out some rather extreme inconsistencies.

The constancy of the speed of light and other laws of science: These things may be universal, but even if they are, it is a matter of assumption. WE can see how things look from here, but we can only really know about 'out there' when we get out there. The further assumptions that lead to the theories explaining red-shift and other pillars of current cosmology do have other possible explanations. The descriptions and suppositions about the 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' which have become necessary to make the numbers work are as esoteric and as strange as anything that other theologians have come up with.

Talking of numbers, one of the greatest browbeating weapons the new priests wield is the club of statistics. Nothing gets people to shut up like a firmly pronounced augury.

Here is a little statistical game which may make this point:

Let us suppose that a disease affects a few in a population that you are part of. Say on average, 3 out of 1000 people have the disease.

Let us say the disease has no particular identifying symptoms, and you are tested to see if you have it.

Let us say that the test you are given is claimed by the scientists to be 90% accurate, and you test positive.

The question is: What are the odds that you have the disease?

To most people and most scientists, the answer is obvious. The test is 90% accurate, so there is a 90% chance that you have the disease.

But, let's get a bit deeper into those numbers. If 1000 people are tested with a test that is 90% accurate, 100 false-positive results are expected.

If 3 people out of 1000 have the disease, 103 positive results are expected.

If you test positive, the actual chance that you have the disease is therefore around 2%. A little different from 90%.

It has been said: There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.

Personally, I am a fan of the mystics of science. I enjoy the logic games and suggestions of string theorists and Lisi. I also enjoy the practicalities of technology.

Technology is an interesting branch of science, sometimes being developed from insights and theory, but usually having to meet the test of reality in application. The technological areas of science are less prone to dogma, but it does occur.

The dogma of technology is largely determined by financial interests. This is why we still drive petroleum fueled vehicles with infernal combustion engines instead of ones running on electricity. The prevailing technological dogma is that the technology for electric cars is 'not yet developed'.

I do think that, in the main, the new religion is potentially more human friendly and useful than the older ones. Maybe … if we can see it for what it is, support its mystics and take the dogmatics with a pinch of salt.


  1. A podcast about this from Disinfo.com:


  2. Science is a whole different story than religion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this matter, but I beg to disagree.