Monday, January 12, 2009

Science vs. Faith

19 comments:

Brigitte said...

Why "vs."?

For example, when you love your wife, there is a lot of science involved, from hormones to recombining DNA, etc.

But there is more. There is faith and there is faithfulness and loving care. Even when you are crabby, you keep this love. It remains.

I think we do "science vs. faith" because we are too lazy or scared to do "faith vs. faith". With the pen and not the sword, faith vs. faith needs to be explored.

Reformed Baptist said...

You are referring to the irrducible nature of the subjective. I think Thomas Nagel has some good writing on this. Others will, of course, demur.

Blake

paulv said...

This idea, that science and faith are diametrically opposite ways of looking at the world, itself qualifies as an idea, and so is a valid input to either flow chart.

Let’s assume that the idea is true. How then does one account for the fact that so called "primitive" societies had very detailed and accurate knowledge of animal behavior while also having strong faith beliefs (Atran, Dunbar) or that 50% of US scientists believe in God (deGrasse-Tyson). While this is less than the percentage of US citizens who claim to believe, it is still rather high compared with the percentage of scientists that do not believe in evolution. How can these scientists operate with both algorithms simultaneously? If the idea is true shouldn't atheistic scientists be more efficient? Many critics of religion cannot help but acknowledge that the historical record shows believers have made important progress (deGrasse-Tyson), or that the beliefs of scientists in spite of some contrary evidence, often drove them to investigate deeper and sometimes paid huge dividends (Koestler, Dunbar) (and sometimes great scientists went to their graves not believing new evidence (Einstein).

The enormous evolutionary advantage of adapting your ideas to meet the facts should have eliminated faith, if faith really is what you say it is.
The evidence from Atran and others seems to indicate that faith reasoning and scientific reasoning operate in different domains. To believe the contrary, seems to be ignoring the evidence and so would fall into the right hand flowchart and thus should be considered unscientific.

Reginald Selkirk said...

If the idea is true shouldn't atheistic scientists be more efficient?

Gosh, how could we test this? Maybe someone could make a survey of more accomplished scientists, such as members of the United States National Academy of Science, and see if they have a higher rate of disbelief.

Leading scientists still reject God
E.J. Larson, L. Witham, (July 23, 1998) Nature 394, p. 313

paulv said...

Very valid data, that must be considered, but an idea or theory must account for all the facts to avoid being classified on the dogma side of the page.
The data you cite, while consistant with the doubt vs dogma idea, does not directly indicate that believing scientists are less efficient, only much less numerous.

How are people who believe (have a habit of ignoring all evidence), still able to do science well?

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/10/1018_041018_science_religion.html

Anonymous said...

Excellent Straw Man!

Grade: A

And as an appeal to authority, Reginald has an excellent point.

Grade: A-


James Christensen

Reginald Selkirk said...

The data you cite, while consistant with the doubt vs dogma idea, does not directly indicate that believing scientists are less efficient, only much less numerous.

Coupled with other data which show 40-50% of scientists (as opposed to members of the National Academy of Sciences) hold some form of religious belief, I think the point is made. Precise numbers vary depending on who is considered a "scientist" and how the question about belief is worded.

Scientists are still keeping the faith
E.J. Larson & L. Witham (April 3, 1997) Nature 386, 435-436.

Reginald Selkirk said...

God and Science: An Inner Conflict

...
"We can only believe in one explanation at a time," [psychologist Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] told LiveScience. "So although people can report explicitly, 'Look, I've been a Christian all my life, and yes, I also believe in science and I am a practicing chemist,' the question is, are these people really reconciling belief in God and science, or are they just believing in one thing at a time?"
...

Matt McCormick said...

The study at Reginald's link is more evidence for the hidden, unconscious neurological forces at work contributing to our religiousness. See my most recent blog post for more.

Thanks RS.

MM

Anonymous said...

There have been in the past, people who claimed that women, or blacks, etc were not capable of doing highly intellectual tasks like those of a scientist. And there was no shortage of reasons why.

How many female or black scientists should it take to convince a rational person, that this view is wrong.

It should only take one Marie Curie for example. One fact that doesn't fit the theory is enough for a rational person to reject it. What would we say to someone who then says "but how do you explain the perponderance of white male scientists?" A sufficient answer is I don't have to, it is unknown, I could speculate but I need not.

So while the perponderance of elite scientists being atheist, or male, or white at any given time is an important fact that may need to be explained or corrected, the fact that believers, woman, and blacks can do science seems quite clear from even a single piece of evidence.

The fact that many scientists have been bigots in the past, should be a hint that all of us, believers included, are quite capable of ignoring data when we choose to.
It does not seem to be something limited to religious thinkers.

Player Piano said...

Anonymous,

I agree that "if one good example contradicts a claim, the claim needs to be re-examined, revised or rejected" (paraphrased).

For example, many Christians say that their religion is the ultimate source of morality. The existence of non-Christians who are moral should go a long way toward disproving this point.

Yes, everyone is capable of ignoring evidence from time to time. Science, however, has built-in outlets to account for this. Blind faith does not. I think that is the pertinent issue here.

M. Tully said...

paulv,

When you wrote, "The data you cite, while consistent with the doubt vs dogma idea, does not directly indicate that believing scientists are less efficient, only much less numerous."

The question is do the theistic scientists compartmentalize?

Do they apply the same rigorous standards of evidence and predictive power to their Theistic beliefs that they do their scientific beliefs?

Would an astrophysicist say, "Well astronauts, every piece of evidence I have to date shows you won't survive this mission, but my faith tells me you will so you should go on it?"

Umm...No.

Show me a consensus of scientists that apply the same rigorous tests to their faith as they do to their real world applications and we can have a discussion.

Or is your god not all powerful, but one who acts on emotion only?

M. Tully said...

paulv,

"How then does one account for the fact that so called "primitive" societies had very detailed and accurate knowledge of animal behavior while also having strong faith beliefs (Atran, Dunbar)"

Let me think...

A "knowledge of animal behavior..."

Hmm, I do well when I consume protein, my muscle tissue grows faster and I out breed my competitors. The most abundant source of protein comes from consuming animals around me.

When I avoid the sabre-tooth and the hyena, I out breed my competitors. Understanding animal behavior is an advantage in both finding an advantageous food source and avoiding threats.

No, for the life of me, I can't figure out a natural (evolutionary based) reason why that would happen!

As for also having faith, can you explain why so many forms of life on this planet (protozoa, plants and animals) have survived much longer than humans, avoiding predators and finding new food sources, without faith?

Reginald Selkirk said...

As for also having faith, can you explain why so many forms of life on this planet (protozoa, plants and animals) have survived much longer than humans, avoiding predators and finding new food sources, without faith?

Oh come now, they're all about the same age: 6000 years. (wink)

What Is Science?

Reginald Selkirk said...

So while the preponderance of elite scientists being atheist, or male, or white at any given time is an important fact that may need to be explained or corrected, the fact that believers, woman, and blacks can do science seems quite clear from even a single piece of evidence.

Hmm, it was your side (in the person of paulv) which called for evidence, then when it is presented and inconveniently does not support your wishes, you attempt to discount it. And the claim made was not an exclusion of deductive certainty (e.g. "believers cannot do science"), so a single counter-example does not negate the statistics. Your attempt to frame the discussion that way is therefore a strawman.

Unlike the case with racial or sexual bias, there is not a long-standing societal bias against believers. In fact, the bias has been in the opposite direction. Until a few centuries ago open atheists, in science or not, were at risk of their lives.

paulv said...

Reginald, it was not my intention to hide my identity, and you have correctly surmised that the anonymous post was mine.
But The truth of a position is not a function of the author, so after accidently forgetting to leave my name, I decided not to clutter the page with a second post explaining the error. (although now I have)

I think Tully's point on compartmentalization is very pertinent. Believers (and anyone can compartmentalize). It explains Atrans data on Mayan indians (with what we would call primitive beliefs) having very accurate knowledge about local animals. It explains how in the past very rational scientists have also been Nazi's, or sexist.

The original argument was a conflict of faith vs science, with that one form of thinking should predominate. Atran and others assume that they operate on different data sets.
Ie. that being able to accept some things on faith does not impair the ability to thing about other things logically. You present some data that people can't really belief two things at a time, but the article is quite clear that this is preliminary data, and alternate explanations exist (that people have been conditioned to believe science and religion are mutually exclusive). Other things you cannot afford to wait for certainty, so you develop methods to emotionally commit to important causes before all the data is in. Scientists have show great faith in the veracity of some ideas in the face of evidence to the contrary, faith that more important data was yet to be discovered. Many times their faith has been proved right.

As for protazoa surviving without faith, or science, hands or eyes, I don't understand the point you are trying to make. Homo sapiens sapiens however has eyes, hands, religion and science.

If you agree that believers can do science well than you accept that their capacity for faith-based thinking somehow does not destroy their capacity for logical thinking. You then, like me, should not fear that faith will destroy science.

This is the claim that Atran and others make. I am not disputing the point that their are more atheist scientists than believers. Nor the argument that the smart money now appears to be with atheism. What evidence am I ignoring?

The main point about women and science, is that the preponderance of male scientists alone is not sufficient to conclude that gender helps science.
So the preponderance of atheistic scientists alone does not show that faith based thinking makes scientists less efficient, as you seem to attribute when you first brought up the fact. What evidence am I ignoring?

If there is a fundamental competition for the way people think, between skeptical approaches characterised by science, and dogma characterised by religions, How does one account for peaceful coexistance of both methods in many instances? You can say that no-one is perfect, and so the faults of some scientists is due to them not being fully able to suppress faith based idiocy. This can account for a believing and bigotted scientists, but becomes a bit of a circular argument, and cannot be independently verified or falsified.

Player Piano said...

paulv,

No one is arguing that we should eliminate the instances of people taking things on faith.

What is desirable to be eliminated, in my opinion, is when people take things on BLIND faith alone.

Yes, scientists do have 'faith' in certain propositions when they have evidence that their hypothesis is correct. For example, when Einstein articulated his Theory of Relativity, we did not have the technology to test it extensively. However, he still had confidence in his work.

Religion, and the blind faith in which it is predicated, is not falsifiable. That is another major problem: science is falsifiable, and can be tested at some future date, as you indicated. However, religious claims are usually not testable.

Yes, there is a competition for "the way people think" -- do you want people to employ non-falsifiable thinking which is predicated upon blind faith, or falsifiable thinking which is predicated upon evidence and experimental research? That is what is meant, in my opinion, by the "science vs. faith" debate.

Generally, the "peaceful co-existence" of which you speak occurs when a society values falsifiable thinking in science and unfalsifiable thinking in religious matters. If societies want to embrace that dichotomy, that is their own choice. However, if these non-falsifiable beliefs influence serious decisions about public policy, then we need to have a transformation of thinking. In many countries, non-falsifiable religious beliefs are indeed altering policy implementation and public debates in a counterproductive way. This is why we need a shift in public perception from blind faith to skepticism.

paulv said...

Player Piano.

I agree hold heartedly with the value of scepticism. So when it is claimed that faith is about getting an idea and holding on to it forever, I'm sceptical and want to see data for this. Do the proponents of faith (rteligions_ really behave this way? Not according to anthropologist Scott Atran.

And when I hear more science will solve everything, I'm also sceptical (although I think science needs to be part of the answer).

Science alone, did not start the movements against slavery, the movement to limit experimentation on laboratory animals or prisoners. I haven't seen evidence that scientific collaboration with repressive regimes (USSR, Nazi Germany etc) was different that that of the general public).

Godel's theorem essentially says that for mathematical systems there will be true statements that cannot proved from within the system. Stephen Hawking and others, argue that Gödel's theorem implies that even the most sophisticated formulation of physics will be incomplete, and that therefore there can never be an ultimate theory that can be formulated as a finite number of principles, known for certain as "final". (from Wikipedia)

A complete theorem must contain inconsitancies. So we ultimately must accept some contradictions.

I do support science, but don't feel that all religion is a mortal threat. They have coexisted for hundreds (in the west) if not thousands of years, in which time the majority of western religions have (sometimes slowly) accepted all scientific discoveries.

Even if we accept that religion is a danger to science (or that Jews were a danger to Germany) we should still attempt to isolate the dangerous components by some sort of test, both to save any innocents that perhaps don't have the dangerous trait, and destroy other dangerous things that may have aquired the defect from religion. (like some forms of nationlism) Lastly we should keep the religion danger in perspective to the other dangers facing science. Focussing on old and minor dangers, when new and major ones abound is doing a disservice to science. In the end Hitler did more damage to Germany than Jews ever would have, and the attempt to destroy religion could do the same for science.

Science has other real dangers, like the rising influence of corporate and military players who may wish to restrict the free flow of information (patents and trade secrets) upon which science depends, or unduly influence the direction of research. The focus on short term results (like next fiscal quarter) of the publish or perish career structure that has become entrenched, Smolin argues in "The Trouble with Physics") makes breakthrough work like Einstein less likely.

You have a valid concern on public policy, and as believer in democracy, I think that the people are the ultimate best judge of what is in their best interest. I think it will be difficult to convince some Americans that stem cell (and other medical) research is worthwhile, unless we can provide them with decent access to healtcare.

I say keep trying to convince them on public policy. It may be slow going, but they will ultimately respond to reason. If however scientific progress benefits only a minority, then the majority will ultimately turn on the way we do science.

Reginald Selkirk said...

In The New Republic:

Seeing and Believing

Jerry A. Coyne, evolutionary biologist, reviews two recent books on science and religion:

Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution
by Karl W. Giberson
and
Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul
by Kenneth R. Miller