25/9/2011

Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:29 am

David Hancock posted a longish post about science in a forum I frequent. It’s easier to do a bit of a line-by-line response here than there, I hope it’ll be interesting.

Science seems now to be venerated to the extent that religious writings used to be. IMHO science has become just another excuse for some persons to exert hegemony over others.

To the extent that science is used in either of those ways, it is being abused, not used. Science is about the on-going quest to understand the universe. Science itself is not about politics and power, but by its nature as a human endeavor it’s embedded in politics and power.

The difference between scientific findings and other forms of knowledge, including religious forms, is that they stand or fall on the empirical evidence. Anyone who cares enough can educate him-or-herself well enough to evaluate and understand the evidence. It’s not about canonical authority, it’s about evidence. We resort to trusted authorities simply because we don’t have time to fully educate ourselves in all fields, but if there’s a field in which we differ it’s worth putting in the work. It *never* has to come down to ‘trust me, I’m a scientist’ – it’s always about ‘what does the evidence say?’

Inductive logic is a myth because observations are always interpreted within the framework of existing beliefs.

Philosophers of science have known this for at least 1800 years, since Sextus Empiricus (look it up). Popper’s falsificationism, developed in the 60s and 70s (so many decades ago) didn’t solve the ‘problem of induction’, but it effectively side-stepped it.

See, this is the problem with so many of the ‘critiques’ of ‘science’: they attack something that simply is not an issue. This problem is long sorted.

It becomes an argument from ignorance. There is nothing wrong with ignorance: it’s the state we’re all born in. What is wrong is wilful ignorance: when someone has been shown that their view is not informed, and pointed to appropriate resources to further inform themself, and still makes an ignorant claim… that’s a problem.

Science (along with its political wing -secular humanism) has become the new orthodoxy and persecutes or derides non-believers in the same way that religion used to do.

Firstly, there is no logical or other link between science and secular humanism. Secular humanists have a wide range of views on science – including quite a few who profoundly distrust it – and scientists have a range of philosophical perspectives. Secondly, there is an immense difference between ‘derides’ and ‘persecutes’. It’s pretty ingenuous to just conflate the two. Derision never killed anyone…

Just like the blokes with white dog collars the PhDs have done some good things but they have also done much evil (eg. invented nuclear weapons and napalm).

Yep. Human beings do bad shit. Not because they’re scientists, because they’re human beings. How do you think the balance stands, though? Average life expectancy in Australia was 50 in 1900, and now it’s pushing 90. As Tim Minchin so elegantly and beautifully puts it: “Twice as long to live this life of mine, twice as long to love this wife of mine.”

People with “scientific training” have used concentration camps for their experiments.

Science is also not ethics, though science needs ethics to guide it. Ethics are a whole other challenging area, but again, humans do unethical things. We wish they didn’t. But the tools they use are tools. A hammer is not a weapon, but it can be used as one. When a tool is used as a weapon, we don’t blame the tool we blame the weilder. Is it possible to use science for evil? Absolutely. The same applies to any other tool. The appropriate response is to work to stop evil-doers, not to ban or complain about the tools.

They have spent 30 years looking (unsuccessfully) for “Dark Matter” because, on the basis of their “beliefs”, it must exist (talk about blind faith).

Not beliefs, evidence. The ways in which galaxies rotate are not consistent with the laws of physics and the visible matter in them. Dark matter by its very nature is expected to be very difficult to find. It is a tentative hypothesis, held until it is supported or refuted by the evidence, or until a better alternative explanation comes along. It is not an article of faith: if it was, the search for evidence would be unnecessary.

Its takes just as much “faith” to believe that everything “magically” originated from a “big bang” than it does to believe that everything originated from a “God”.

No. This is such an ancient and refuted cannard that I’m not even going to bother, at least not here, getting into it in any detail. Let me just say ‘evidence’ and leave it at that.

The whole notion of “evolution” contradicts the second law of thermodynamics and is a 19th century myth whose historic credibility was destroyed at such places as Verdun, Passchendeale and Ypres.

On the war argument, I’ve addressed it above… and this sentence is incoherent on its face. How do battles refute a theory about how species arise? No logic at all. On the ‘thermodynamics’ argument, I already wrote: “The second law of thermodynamics is that in the universe as a whole, disorder increases. This is true. The claim made, then, is that evolution is impossible, since it involves an increase in order. The problem is, the 2nd law is about the *net* effect across the whole universe: in particular locations, order increases, but only at the expense of a greater increase in disorder elsewhere. The *net* amount of disorder increases, but the *local* amount of disorder can decrease. It takes a pretty fundamental misunderstanding of the science to which someone is supposedly appealing to make this claim. it’s just flat wrong in scientific terms – and it’s a scientific claim, or masquerading as one.”

Frankly I don’t trust a scientist any more than I’d trust anyone in a position of religious authority. In the end its all about power and ego – all is vanity.

Nope, once again, it’s about evidence. You don’t have to trust a scientist: you have to look at the evidence. It’s not about power and ego, it’s about what can be supported.

One response to “Science”

  1. Mark says:

    The article you are commenting on is not great, and you pick it apart fairly easily. But there is a problem, even if this person hasn’t articulated it well. There is an attitude in some people to say that “science” is based on evidence and “religion” is based on irrational faith, and therefore there is no God, matter is all there is, etc. Maybe this is scientism, a sort of revival of logical positivism, if I have accurately grasped what that is.

    What is being contrasted there is in fact 2 different groups of people with different levels of education, IQ and so on. In fact, many areas of investigation are not open to science, and the questions posed by religion are often metaphysical and cannot be addressed by science. But the human mind abhors a vacuum and whatever culture you find yourself in you will turn to to answer life’s big questions, like origins, meaning of life etc. Thus terminology and methods from the scientific culture get co-opted to say things that are beyond our ability to know.

    You have said that science is about evidence as if that is all there is to it. But the evidence may be contradictory, as it is in quantum cosmology, but we still find Hawking and other making bold theological pronouncements, that certain sections of the population lap up as confirmation that theism is irrational. And the solid consensus on evolution, when the evidence is scattered, show that given enough “evidence” or pieces to the jig-saw, science can put together pictures that suit a certain theology rather than humbly admitting that there is a mystery and conclusions are premature.

    You can’t be fully serious when suggesting that ego and power are not involved in the careers of scientists. They are just as human as the rest of us. In theory the system is self correcting, but when the evidence is open to multiple interpretations, well… The history of human origins seems particularly prone to over-hyped claims.

    Of course I’m saying all this as a fan of science. More strength to understanding things on their own terms and getting the maths of processes sorted out.

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