Science as Religion? – It bloody well looks like it!

April 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Yesterday I made the mistake of deciding to listen to this debate. I admit to being shocked by many of the things I heard. And that’s not easy to achieve because people expressing such views are neither thin on the ground nor shrinking violets, and they seem to have somehow managed to take over mainstream media. Even so, some of things I heard here truly shocked me.

As I have mentioned before, I know many scientists. My other half is a scientist. The greatest part of our social circle are scientists. And I am happy to be able to report that these views expressed below are not universally held by scientists. Neither, sadly, is the gentleman here a one-off, or a rarity amongst his peers.

I have transcribed the excerpt in question from the video I link to below. It is by no means his only questionable statement, but it is the most shocking.

This is our Church: Science as Religion

Science is the only way of discovering reliable information about the physical universe. There is nothing other than the physical universe, therefore science is the only and the best way of discovering everything there is about everything there is. And if that includes analysing the works of Shakespeare to understand the workings of his brain, then so be it. If it involves looking at a picture by Turner to understand the way that he perceived light, then so be it. I can see that all the activities of the poets the artists and the hoi polloi are fodder to be poured into sciences’ hopper to be explored and grounded down to Truth. They are aspects of evidence. They are not insights into the world without further analysis. – 30:11—31:12 min. Peter Atkins (Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Oxford)

I can’t even begin to go into every problem that arises from this string of statements. I probably don’t have to, because they will be obvious to most people. I’ll just list some as examples, without further analysis. I can’t go into further analysis, because I’m not calm enough to do so.

So, a) the entire thing is based on two scientifically unprovable premises. Hence, he already starts off his reasoning by contradicting himself. b) This then becomes a circular argument, which means he doesn’t even realise he’s doing any of this, which in turn proves he has no understanding of what makes a rational argument. But all that is just details. Because, c) He then goes on to describe all of human endeavour and experience outside of modern science as meaningless. I shall just remind everyone that modern science was only developed in the last 300 years. So everything that came before is meaningless and contributes nothing to “Truth”. Whatever that is. He states earlier in the video that he doesn’t care what discussions philosophers have about what truth is. Well, yes, we can see that, because he obviously doesn’t understand any of it. And finally, d) he manages to cap it all off by setting “scientists”, above every other single human being that has come before or will come in the future, and denigrates their work/creation/endeavours/life/experience as pointless and meaningless, by calling them “the masses” (hoi polloi). Though, it’s also possible that he doesn’t actually know what hoi polloi means, not that that would make things any better. The arrogance demonstrated by these statements (and his discussion as a whole) and his sense of superiority is simply colossal and mind-boggling. So is the ignorance.

I should write a concluding paragraph explaining why these above attitudes, which, unfortunately, are widespread but thankfully not universal, in the scientific community, are a problem, both socially and scientifically. But, do I really have to?

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