Why science is good and religion is crap

I’ve so far not commented on the debate regarding Dr Rowan Williams’ remarks on sharia law — it’s a debate that’s caused more heat than light, expecially in the popular press which has wilfully misrepresented Williams’ remarks. But I will pass on this tidbit from Quaequam blog:

The point which much of the media has ignored is that Williams has argued for a system of exceptionalism whereby we atheists (or, as he put it in his speech on Thursday, sterile positivists) must abide by the rule of law while anyone of faith can negotiate whatever opt-outs they wish. At the same time, of course, he insists that the Church should be established and retain its existing seats in the House of Lords. Gay marriage, and even same-sex registered partnerships, is apparently a threat that undermines the institution of marriage, yet we should at least be open-minded about the idea of Muslim polygamy. People of faith can say what they like about atheists, but atheists should be locked up for slagging off the religious. In short, he believes absolutely in equal rights with the modest proviso that the religious are more equal than the rest of us.

This I think gets to the nub of what Williams is arguing for. It’s obvious what the attraction of such a point of view is to a religious leader such as Williams; it is also obvious to any fair-minded person what’s wrong with it. Why should any belief system be priviledged over any other? The only reason is that some beliefs are correct, or at least more correct than other beliefs. For example consider:

Belief A: Strawberries are good to eat.

Belief B: Broken glass is good to eat.

It happens that one of these beliefs is more true than the other one. How do we know? By observing reality. Now there’s a special way of observing reality that consists of considering procedures which if carried out will give a different result based on with belief is true, and then carrying out those procedures. This way is called experimentation and it’s how science works.

Sometimes its impossible to do experiments — for example it would be unethical to force people to smoke cigarettes to see if doing so harmed their health — but what you can do is observe the health of smokers and non-smokers and use statistical techniques to infer a correlation. Correlation isn’t causation (of course) but it does strongly hint that something is going on.

Now consider another belief:

Belief C: The world was created with apparent age by my pet cat last Tuesday.

There are no experiments that can tell whether Belief C is true or false. Thus it is said to be unfalsifiable. This has two implications: first, we don’t know whether it is true or not, and secondly we don’t (or shouldn’t) care anyway, because all observable phenomena behave exactly the same regardless of whether it is true or false.

Society (and the state) should respect and priviledge those beliefs that have been shown by observation or experiment to be true — or at least that have the evidence in their favour (beliefs such as Belief A). So for example,it’s reasonable for the state to say smoking is bad for people and therefore to tax it highly and restrict its sale.

Regarding beliefs that are wrong or unfalsifiable (such as Belief B and Belief C), these should not be respected or priviledged in any way. In fact, it’s best for society to actively ridicule such beliefs, in order to reduce the number of people who believe them.

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18 Responses to Why science is good and religion is crap

  1. Jennie says:

    What you said.

  2. hughvic says:

    I see that you have chosen your paradigm, Science, and your cosmology, Naturalism. Rather particularistic, aren’t you? I mean, to exclude all other worldviews on the basis of the presumptive superiority of your own?

    As for the Church of England, the term “belief”, in the Greek and Aramaic Scriptures, bears little resemblance to your materialistic use of that word. Moreover, belief, in the Christian faith tradition, is rather beside the point. Your cat’s pawing with “belief” resembles a Creationist’s misconstrual of the scientific meaning of the word “theory”.

    “In fact it’s best for society…” What is this, Engels’ proclamation of the dawn of the Age of “Dialectical Materialism”? “In fact”? What fact? Whose society? The one you’d like to see? You’re straying from facts—from scientific evidence—to cosmological speculation and the projection of unearned power over social prohibitions. In the scientific study of religious phenomena, this is the behavior of a cultist.

    Having said that, I support—actively—efforts of atheists in my country to achieve greater latitude for the expression of their views. To the extent that such expression achieves your kind of exclusivity in the agora of public expression, however, it will be crushed, insha’Allah.

  3. Harrison says:

    Once again, how many times will I have to say it, there is no truth in beliefs. What is everyone looking for anyway?

  4. euphonos says:

    rofl – is ‘crap’ a technical term? :)

  5. Jersey says:

    If the religious get preiveleges over the irreligious…maybe can’t we think up our own “religions” to get those same rights then?

  6. modulatum says:

    “In fact, it’s best for society to actively ridicule such beliefs, in order to reduce the number of people who believe them.”
    For all of your scientific postulating, this seems rather hasty of a proposition. The premise is ridiculing beliefs reduces people who believe them, therefore ridiculing religious beliefs reduces people who believe them. That’s a bit like ridiculing Linux advocates’ beliefs that result in strangely unlikely claims about the world (and man, are these beliefs RIDICULOUS!) and expecting the Linux advocates to simply stop believing in Linux, freeware, and open source.

    “…what you can do is observe the health of smokers and non-smokers and use statistical techniques to infer a correlation.”
    True that, so looking at Western civilization and its reaction to religion, one can see a correlation of increased progress and freedom. This doesn’t imply causation, as you pointed out, but this phenomena would “strongly hint that something is going on.” Whether it’s negative or positive reactions that religion has inspired, it’s done something right.

  7. isaiah30v8 says:

    Atheism is a philosophy which plays a large part in the understanding of what the Original Sin is. The fact atheism exists in this world therefore can provide a great deal of support for belief in the bible. That atheist’s don’t believe in a God(s) leaves them in a large predicament. It is generally agreed that if you don’t believe in God then you have to believe in something. Usually an atheist will attach themselves to a belief in science to provide a center on which to give some meaning to their lives. The science they believe in is being continually passed on to the rest of the world by very intelligent men and women. This becomes their religion. They make decisions which effect their own futures and that of others based on this scientific pool of knowledge. This is not something new. Atheists have been making these decisions for years, even centuries. They must be convinced that every single decision they make is the right one, even if it later turns out that it is wrong. Certainly a person who makes what is considered a bad decision must initially have somehow deluded themselves into thinking it is the right decision. As this ever growing pool of scientific knowledge grows we would hope the decisions which affect our futures have more quality or value. This is the Atheist’s religion.

    Many people believe that in this post modern age we are reaching a pinnacle of knowledge. In fact at any time in history the people living at that time probably thought the same thing.
    So with this understood I should then be able to look around at what is happening in the world and immediately measure its value. What I see should measure the value of what the most intelligent men are thinking. If what I see doesn’t measure the value of what the most intelligent men are thinking then they are not intelligent enough!

    Now the Christians point of view is justified.

    Their daily prayer takes on meaning:

    Matthew 6:9
    “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done”.

    Certainly if the result of what I see measures the value of what the most intelligent people are thinking, (the atheist’s religion) then I want it replaced with something better as soon as possible!

    It makes even more sense when the bible is examined in regard to what I have said above.

    Genesis 3:4-5
    “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

    This is it, the first lies! ……………. The Original Sin.

    You will be like God, knowing good and bad. What Satan implied to Eve was that she could now properly make her own decisions; she would know what to do and did not need God. The Atheist Religion!

    We do die and we don’t have a clue what to do.

    The only way that God could resolve this dilemma is to let men do what they think is the right thing to do. Let them pretend they can be like God. Measuring the value of the decisions those intelligent men are making simply by looking around at what is happening in the world true Christians can now see the lie. The Original Sin. We are reaping the benefit of decisions made by men, not God.

    The end result goes to God’s favour proving him right and Satan the liar.

    Certainly God knows what to do!

    The thing is, now we’ll have to admit that we do not have a clue and ask him to come back. That is exactly what Christians do every day.

    “Let your kingdom come, let your will be done”.

    Now you know why. It’s because of the Original Sin. When God does return it will be the ultimate vindication, which still has yet to happen. Perhaps the discerning reader will understand why the time immediately preceding that of God’s return is called the “Tribulation”. In fact conditions in the world have deteriorated so much that some people already believe we are living in that time period which the bible calls the “Tribulation”.

    When the “end of the world” finally does arrive people will finally realize that they really don’t know what to do. This is prophesied in the bible:

    Luke 21:25 (Amplified Bible)
    25And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth [there will be] distress (trouble and anguish) of nations in bewilderment and perplexity [[a]without resources, left wanting, embarrassed, in doubt, not knowing which way to turn] at the roaring ([b]the echo) of the tossing of the sea,(A)

    The atheists will be embarrassed; they will not know which way to turn.

    Society should actively ridicule the atheists in order to reduce their number however, that atheists exist helps me to understand the bible.

    In this way I suppose I have to be thankful for them.

    So, thank you!

  8. cabalamat says:

    Hughvic: “I mean, to exclude all other worldviews on the basis of the presumptive superiority of your own?”

    You evidently haven’t understood the article. I don’t “exclude all other worldviews” I just exclude ones that are wrong or unfalsifiable. If someone comes to me with a proposition I don’t agree with and presents experimental evidence that it’s true, I’m willing to be persuaded.

    “As for the Church of England, the term “belief”, in the Greek and Aramaic Scriptures, bears little resemblance to your materialistic use of that word.”

    I daresay you are right that the Greek and Aramaic Scriptures use the word in a different sense — but merely saying it is different and not how it is different doesn’t advance the discussion. How do the scriptures use “belief” differently to how I use the word, and how is this important?

    “Whose society?”

    I was chiefly thinking about the UK here, but I think the principle holds for all human societies.

  9. cabalamat says:

    Jersey: “If the religious get preiveleges over the irreligious…maybe can’t we think up our own “religions” to get those same rights then?”

    It’d be nice if the world worked that way.

    However, in UK law — and I’m thinking particularly here of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 religion is not defined. I belief one reason for this is specifically to preclude the strategy you suggest.

  10. cabalamat says:

    Modulatum: “For all of your scientific postulating, this seems rather hasty of a proposition. The premise is ridiculing beliefs reduces people who believe them, therefore ridiculing religious beliefs reduces people who believe them.”

    This is a valid criticism. It may be that ridiculing some beliefs may instead cause a “bunker mentality” in the believers, strengthening the beliefs. I think it’s likely that both effects will apply, and that in the long term the effect will be to reduce belief. Who now believes in a flat earth, for example?

    “That’s a bit like ridiculing Linux advocates’ beliefs that result in strangely unlikely claims about the world (and man, are these beliefs RIDICULOUS!) and expecting the Linux advocates to simply stop believing in Linux, freeware, and open source.”

    Well, some beliefs of some Linux advocates are untrue. And some are true. Incidently, essentially no Linux advocates use the term “freeware” (and you shouldn’t either since it is meaningless and misleading). The term you might have meant is “free software”.

  11. modulatum says:

    “It may be that ridiculing some beliefs may instead cause a “bunker mentality” in the believers, strengthening the beliefs.”
    Yes, sir. In a book I’ve read about group psychology, when a religious cult’s predicted event fails to occur, it only seeks out more converts instead of questioning its beliefs.

    “Well, some beliefs of some Linux advocates are untrue. And some are true. ”
    Okay, sure, but that doesn’t exactly make Linux good and Windows crap (to borrow from your title). Religion and science can both be used to evil ends as well as benevolent ones.

    “Incidently, essentially no Linux advocates use the term “freeware””
    My bad, what I meant was, like you said, “free software.” I realize that nobody “believes” in shareware or trialware and the like.

    “I think it’s likely that both effects will apply, and that in the long term the effect will be to reduce belief. Who now believes in a flat earth, for example?”
    Well, that’s a rather lop-sided example. We know for a fact that the Earth is not flat. We don’t know for a fact that a supernatural deity exists, hence the myriad of belief systems saying one thing or another. Personally, I think it rather oppressive that you seek to eradicate beliefs that you find objectionable from the public consciousness. If you were a religious man in an atheist society, would you agree with some atheist blogger saying “cabalamat and his cronies don’t have a shred of empirical evidence for their beliefs, therefore they should believe like we do?”

  12. hughvic says:

    Goodness. So much to say, and yet I must of course be brief. Let me attempt, please, to convey what is on my mind, as unfiltered as I can make it; so, without much regard for rhetoric.

    I did of course understand your clear and straightforward piece. The temptation, I’m sure you’ll understand, is to try to maneuver you, through formal logic, back into something like the reverse of the cul-de-sac into which you essay to maneuver believers by your definitional control and stipulation of criteria—your two thrown gauntlets.

    For me to respond in kind, however, would be to repeat and thereby validate what to me is a rather odd categorical error, one in which putatively supernatural phenomena are to be subjected to scientific standards of testable evidence. President Ahmadinejad, in his fatuous appearance before an equally fatuous audience at Columbia University, made the same error, but in reverse: he presented a fairly extended argument for subjugating science to religion.

    Evidence is preeminently a materialist concept. But even were we to pursue this evidentiary command performance, it ought to be written into the script that there are other sets of evidentiary standards from which to choose, e.g., legal, logical, anthropological, sociological, theological. Why jettison all these and privilege your choice instead? Because you happen to prefer the laboratory sciences? Because you are very impressed with their constructive and destructive power, and assume that we ought to be similarly impressed?

    Isaiah 30v8, to whom I respond 41:13 in greeting, apparently is no more impressed than I with these rather scientistic presumptions. If you would like, I’d be happy at some later time to expand on some of these alternative evidentiary paradigms, but for now, in the interest of brevity let me allude to one or two parameters characterizing each. In legal evidence, such things as testimony under pain of sanction would come into play as evidence of a religious claim. In anthropology, massive cross-cultural, and temporally longitudinal, ethnological matches of supernatural claims from many cultures at many times would be of great and compelling interest. In Sociology, the phenomena themselves would be viewed, by the now dominant school of thought in that field, as sheer “fact”; that is, the phenomenon of religion, the phenomenon of skepticism, of cult beliefs, of civil religion, of scientism, of Sociology’s own genesis in the collapse of faith in the West, etc.

    Which brings me to the theological point to which I rather rudely only alluded, and about which you asked. Again, I will belabor the exegesis later if you wish, but in the relevant two of the five Biblical languages, “belief” simply means conviction, the state of being convinced of something. What is a big deal to you, belief vs. unbelief, is of almost no consequence in the Christian texts, because, hell, even “the demons believe, and they tremble.” The point for Christians, and especially for Protestants, is of course faith, which in Koine Greek especially takes on the character of an active mode–something like a verb. “Faith” is something evinced.

    Is a “believer’s” evinced faith testable evidence? Why not tie him to a post and light a fire beneath him, and find out?

  13. hughvic says:

    Permit me a political observation, compliments of the late John Wesley: what is not funded cannot remain Established.

  14. lwtc247 says:

    Re: Belief C… “we don’t (or shouldn’t) care anyway”

    Of course we should care, whether it can be proved or not, simply by virtue of the FACT that C ALWAYS HAS THE POSSIBILITY OF BEING TRUE. It should always therefore be in our sights.

    “because all observable phenomena behave exactly the same regardless of whether it is true or false” – I do not understand this statement. The phenomenon ‘bond making releases heat’ (observable) always releases heat (behaves exactly the same) not because it, (the supposition bond making releases heat) is false, but because it is true.

    Can truth be demonstrated? I would say no. That would require omnipotence. I feel happier with this term I’ve formulated over the years: Man cannot know everything about something, but can know something about everything as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle indicates.

    This means that to believe in something (including God) requires a ‘leap of faith’. The argument is really the perception over the magnitude of that leap with regard to ALL issued and ones perception as to whether making that leap is reasonable.

    So, at the end of the day, as individuals, all perceptions vary and one has no authority to impinge upon the intellectual leap of faith one takes. The physical results of that leap produce effects which we do have a right to address we perceive it as being oppressive, however some impingement will always occur, so we must also learn to tolerate some low level of imposition. The threshold of tolerance is again subjective and is a product of what we are and therefore leaps of faith will always influence society.

    We are trapped by what we are.

    “Regarding beliefs that are wrong or unfalsifiable (such as Belief B and Belief C), these should not be respected or privileged in any way. In fact, it’s best for society to actively ridicule such beliefs, in order to reduce the number of people who believe them.” But that is Fascism. You are not a fascist surely?

  15. isaiah30v8 says:

    hughvic,

    Speaking of putatively supernatural phenomena subjected to scientific standards of testable evidence. I found the following article called “Armchair Archeology” to be very profound and compelling. Its not just the quality of testable evidences but the volume which drives any thought of skepticism beyond reasonable boundaries.

    http://ablebodiedman.blogspot.com/

  16. hughvic says:

    I’m trying to take it in, Isa30v8, and will get back to you one place or t’othah.

  17. peter powell says:

    Any form of religious exeptualism in Europe I feel,should be put to wide consensus.

  18. charles darwin says:

    jesus

    buddha

    mohammad

    tao

    confucius

    hindu

    sikhs

    jains

    moses

    shinto

    batman

    mickey mouse

    mighty mouse

    “little man in the sky”

    “buffaloe in the sky”

    which god gods or goooods should I believe?

    so many gods on earth?

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