Yeah, I admit it: I"ve been getting a bit testy lately, blog-wise. (Summer-wise, life is great, what with a new camera and scooter to play with in the Oregon sunshine.)
If you read through some of the exchanges between Phil and me on my "Who cares if God exists?" post, you'll find a touch (well, maybe a slam) of irritation in my comments on Phil's comments.
You see, what gripes my churchless non-soul as much as anything is when science-bashers resort to spurious, irrational, shape-shifting arguments that can briefly sound good on the surface, but quickly break apart into Huh? fragments of non-sensicality when tested for soundness.
If I sound like I'm being harsh on anti-science types, my comparative mildness will be revealed by taking a look at some posts on biologist PZ Myers' Pharyngula blog.
For example, yesterday Myers laid into religious crazies in "I may not be perfectly rational, but my magic invisible monkeys are!" Great take on the question of whether science should try to accommodate religion. (Short answer: no.)
And I liked his "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," which enumerates some of the offenses that get visitors to his blog banned from leaving comments. Here's three that, as a fellow blogger, I could relate to:
Concern trolling. A particularly annoying form of trolling in which someone falsely pretends to be offering advice to favor a position they do not endorse; a creationist who masquerades as someone concerned about the arguments for evolution as an excuse to make criticisms.
Godbotting. Making an argument based only on the premise that your holy book is sufficient authority; citing lots of bible verses as if they were persuasive.
Insipidity. A great crime. Being tedious, repetitive, and completely boring; putting the blogger to sleep by going on and on about the same thing all the time.
Anyway, back to Phil and what I find annoying about his anti-science arguments -- which aren't at all original, so that helps explain why they're so irritating (see "Insipidity" above).
Here's a partial list of science-bashing approaches that leave me with a bored can't you do better? yawn. I realize that it's too much to expect that religious types will stop using them if I point them out, but, hey, while miracles are impossible, hope still springs eternal.
(1) Science doesn't know everything about something, so you can't trust what science does know. Wow, what a load of garbage. For example, Phil correctly pointed out that in the current state of big bang theory, direct evidence for inflation (the cosmological, not economic, variety) is lacking.
OK, this doesn't mean that the big bang theory is wrong -- just that more needs to be learned about how our universe was formed. Actually, there is loads of evidence in support of the big bang theory, as this Wikipedia article points out. But science-bashers like to seize on what isn't known by science rather than what already has been discovered.
That's like saying you can't trust me when I say that 2 + 2 = 4, because I don't know differential calculus. A ridiculous argument, so please, Church of the Churchless commenters, don't waste my and your time by bringing it up again.
(2) Scientific theories keep changing, so this shows they aren't true. Another hugely weak argument. Science isn't religion, thank non-god! It is open to new facts, fresh explanations, expanded horizons of knowledge beyond what is already known.
By and large, scientists make progress by standing on the shoulders of their predecessors. Einstein's theory of relativity broke new ground, not replacing Newton's laws of motion but showing that in extreme circumstances those laws don't reflect reality. Likewise, the bare bones of Darwin's theory of evolution has been vastly fleshed out by subsequent research.
Full-blown revelations don't occur in science. Unchanging truth isn't discovered. Scientists are engaged in a never-ending quest for more truth, more understanding, more insights into the nature of the cosmos. This is a strength of science, not a weakness. Know-it-all's never do. They're only found in religion, not science.
(3) Science hasn't proven that X can't be true, so X must be true. Agggghhhhh! This B.S. drives me crazy! I keep demolishing this absurd argument in my brilliant responses when it pops up in a comment conversation, but I haven't been able to kill it. Sigh...like Sisyphus, I am doomed to keep rolling the rock of reason into the lap of religious believers, who persist in tossing it down the hill of reality again.
One more time: the scientific method, and everyday life, is based on positive -- not negative -- evidence. No one, except a crazy person, goes into the kitchen and thinks "I don't know that there aren't invisible elephants in the refrigerator; if I open the door they could run out and trample me."
Similarly, no one can prove that God doesn't exist, that a billion angels can't dance on the head of a pin, that the soul doesn't enjoy eternity in heaven if you believe in Jesus, and countless other could be fantasies.
Phil likes to argue that science hasn't proven that consciousness isn't non-material, metaphysical. Yes, indeed. Science also hasn't proven that Phil hasn't been sent by the Devil to drive me crazy with his illogical arguments, or that he isn't an alien being studying how humans react to non-sensical reasoning.
Only positive evidence counts.
If you want me to believe that God exists, show me persuasive evidence. If you want me to believe that consciousness is separable from the physical brain, show me persuasive evidence. I'm not interested in could be's. Anything we imagine could be. I want reality, not imagination.
(4) Science can't explain the subjective side of life -- art, love, awareness, and all that -- so it knows nothing. No, science knows a lot. About the reality we share as humans. Not our subjective sense of knowing, because that is private.
I've read a great many science books. I've never come across any scientist who seriously argues that human consciousness isn't real. After all, every scientist occupies the same inner world of awareness as each of us does.
This is a bogus argument. Science-bashers like to put words into the mouths of scientists that I never hear them utter. Like, "Objective reality that can be measured, counted, and mathematically described is the only genuine form of truth."
Scientists understand the subjective side of life. They simply focus in their professional work on the outer world which can be jointly experienced, not the inner realm of consciousness that is each human's private domain.
I have no access to your subjectivity, just as you have no access to mine. You might know astounding truths about the cosmos. But if you can't provide any evidence to me of that knowledge, I've got no reason to believe it.
(5) Science is unable to answer the Really Big Questions, like why there is something rather than nothing. Yeah, so what? Nobody else can answer them either. Religion, mysticism, philosophy -- they all are clueless about ultimate reality. So is science. We're all reading the same blank page in the Really Big Questions answer book.
Some questions are outside the sphere of science. In fact, most of those questions are outside the sphere of anybody. For example, how would it be possible to know why there is something rather than nothing? Or even if this is a valid question, since "why" presumes there could have been nothing instead of something (the universe).
Science-bashers, if you can't prove that someone else, like a religious figure, knows the answers to the Really Big Questions, save your blog commenting breath and don't bore me with complaints that scientists haven't figured out the nature of ultimate reality.
Especially boring are arguments along the lines of, "Since an entity must always have existed for there to be something now, this proves that God exists." No, it proves that something must always have existed (or at least it proves this within the sphere of human understanding).
It's more reasonable to suppose that this thing is the physical cosmos, rather than a metaphysical god or some other supernatural power. If something is assumed to be eternal, why not the material matter/energy that is known to exist now rather than some hypothetical unseen entity?
(6) Science is a belief system, just as religions are. False. The scientific method is a means of sorting out truth from falsehood so valid beliefs are left standing, while invalid beliefs are toppled.
It only accepts a few meta-beliefs, such as that external objective reality exists and generalizations can be made about it. Otherwise, science is belief-free.
I'll let this essay, "Science as a Belief System," make the point for me, since it's written by someone who knows a lot more about the philosophy of science than I do. Here's an excerpt:
I have demonstrated that a scientific belief system is differentiable from a religious one because it minimizes faith, has a greater explanatory power, and is open to belief revision. It seems strange to me that people are still attempting to unify science and religion.
These two types of belief systems are entirely incompatible. Someone holding both religious and scientific beliefs cannot be thinking scientifically, as it is inconsistent (However, someone thinking religiously may hold scientific beliefs without conflict).
Despite all the measures science takes to seek the truth and explain the universe, it is still easy to [be] skeptical of its claims. However, it is far easier to be skeptical of religious claims. Since no better alternative belief systems exist for explaining the universe, the choice between those we have is easy.