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Science as religion (Merged)
Posted: 24 October 2010 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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As I saw this phrase in another thread, I thought it might fit in a thread on its own.

The point I want to make is that for many people science really is a kind of religion, or better, faith.

As far as I see it, there are four kinds of attitudes to science that could be called faith:

1. Having no real knowledge about what science really is, and see it as something one can believe or not, as if it is a religion. Without any clear ideas how science differs from any other believe, either be it a religion, or some other world view, science is just another world view, that for some unreflected reason somebody takes as true, maybe while (s)he likes technical gizmos, or falls in love with scientific types. What is missing is the capability to be critical.

2. The trust that science will eventually solve every human problem. E.g., one must not worry about global warming, science will find a solution: extract CO2 from the atmosphere, using nuclear fusion, or build gigantic solar panels in tropical areas. Said otherwise, we do not have to take any responsibility, ‘they’ (scientists) will solve it for us.

3. Related to 3: the faith that every aspect of human life, be it morality, aesthetics or politics can in principle be understood by science, and in this way can take responsibility from us. It is the idea that norms and values can in principle derived from basic scientific facts only.

4. The idea that only things that can be scientifically can be proven are valuable for us, because they bring gain and power to us via technology. This is more or less the opposite of 3. Instead of using science for ethics, aesthetics, and politics, these are thrown away as unscientific. Science becomes a value in itself.

A critical attitude to science must include the insight in what way science defers from other believe systems, but also see that science covers only a part of the human world. Not every problem can be translated in a scientific problem. A critical attitude should also see that science is not a ‘thing’ but a human activity: and humans make errors, want to be famous, need money etc. One should clearly distinguish established science and speculative science. And not everything sold under the label ‘scientific’ or ‘clinically proven’ is established science.

I definitely see that there are some ‘science believers’ here on the forum, and as humanistic inclined person, I want to plead strongly for not forgetting other human values, and that we should not forget to improve our capabilities for dealing with them, ethics, aesthetics, and wisdom.

GdB

[ Edited: 24 October 2010 08:42 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 24 October 2010 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I believe the word that has been coined for this is “scientism”.  As a scientist I probably have a stronger bias toward it than the average, however, I certainly recognize its limitations and place in my life.  As I see it reason (under which science is subsumed) is a major part of me, but emotion, humor, enjoyment and pain are all important parts that work together with reason to guide my life and behavior.

Occam

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Posted: 24 October 2010 11:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Occam. - 24 October 2010 10:17 AM

I believe the word that has been coined for this is “scientism”.

Yep. The only difference is that I wanted to shine some light on it from a less ideological point of view, more as an unreflected, and therefore wrong, attitude to science. And I think my points 1 and 2 do not fit the idea of scientism.

I think nobody here fits category 1, only a few in category 2. Of 3 and 4 I think there are quite a lot. Some here love science, and do not think ethics is important, unless science can say something about it, i.e. provide morality on a scientific basis. Others think that ethics, meaning, and yes, free will (no, I do not discuss that here!), are useless concepts because they are not scientific. It is more or less saying that if we have no clear meaning for a concept (that ideally can be derived from physics), it is not valuable. Simply said, when it is vague, then it is worth nothing.

From Wikipedia:

“there is physics and there is stamp-collecting”
Rutherford

GdB

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Posted: 24 October 2010 11:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Whew, I misunderstood your posts with my first reading! I don’t agree with ANY of those, I thought you were saying that we all fit into one of those four categories…which I thought were all rather kooky! surprised

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Posted: 25 October 2010 12:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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asanta - 24 October 2010 11:54 PM

Whew, I misunderstood your posts with my first reading! I don’t agree with ANY of those, I thought you were saying that we all fit into one of those four categories…which I thought were all rather kooky! surprised

No, no, surely not all! I just want to stress the point that science is not all, and not all that is called scientific is sure. Last category goes from deception to still not completely proven.

Deception when some products are said to be ‘proven scientifically’ where they are not, or when ‘clinically tested’ (how? by whom? what were the results?), medicine where only the positive results are published and not the negative ones;
not completely proven, from hypothetical (multiverses?) till as sure as we an get at the moment (global warming).

To see what is what, one needs a critical view to see what can count as scientific, and what not. It is possible to be too critical e.g. global warming deniers, or not critical enough i.e. science believers, who take everything granted that is said by a scientist, e.g. believe neuroscientists that say free will does not exist, or biologists who say that ethical norms can fully be explained by evolution, or physicists who say that we will have nuclear fusion in production in 50 years (they said that also 20 years ago).

I think that in your profession as a nurse, you come in situations where you might well know all the facts about a patient, but still are not sure what the right action would be.

GdB

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Posted: 25 October 2010 02:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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GdB - 25 October 2010 12:48 AM

I think that in your profession as a nurse, you come in situations where you might well know all the facts about a patient, but still are not sure what the right action would be.

To see what is what, one needs a critical view to see what can count as scientific, and what not. It is possible to be too critical e.g. global warming deniers, or not critical enough i.e. science believers, who take everything granted that is said by a scientist, e.g. believe neuroscientists that say free will does not exist, or biologists who say that ethical norms can fully be explained by evolution, or physicists who say that we will have nuclear fusion in production in 50 years (they said that also 20 years ago).
GdB

Yes, we do need as a society, to learn how to think and critically evaluate claims.

Not often, more likely,you know what you need to do…but you know you don’t have all the facts. You can usually get started without all of the facts and change course a little as more facts become available. I can start CPR if someone arrests without knowing why they arrested.

[ Edited: 25 October 2010 02:16 AM by asanta ]
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Posted: 25 October 2010 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It’s not so much that I trust Science to solve every problem or answer every question (as if “Science” were this anthropomorphic being sitting out there somewhere)—it’s just that as a matter of fact, the scientific method has proven itself to be the only thing really capable of solving problems or answering questions.

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Posted: 25 October 2010 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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advocatus - 25 October 2010 07:11 AM

it’s just that as a matter of fact, the scientific method has proven itself to be the only thing really capable of solving problems or answering questions.

But follows from this that scientific problems are the most important problems? What is your position in this respect?

GdB

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Posted: 25 October 2010 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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You have to take care with religion because religion works from authority.

Authority is not always bad but there is always potential for abuse.

I don’t know… Can you mix science with awe and wonder, beauty and joy?

Maybe the fear of believers is that science will take these things away.

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Posted: 25 October 2010 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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GdB - 25 October 2010 07:27 AM
advocatus - 25 October 2010 07:11 AM

it’s just that as a matter of fact, the scientific method has proven itself to be the only thing really capable of solving problems or answering questions.

But follows from this that scientific problems are the most important problems? What is your position in this respect?

GdB

Each individual, IMO, gets to decide what is important for themselves. However that decision is largely influenced by their perspective on life.

Science is a tool anyone can use to validate their beliefs. However mystery, creativity and imagination can add enjoyment to one’s life.

Superstition is fun. As long as people can understand that no one else need take it seriously.

I wore my lucky shirt. It may not really affect reality in anyway but it makes me feel lucky.

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Posted: 25 October 2010 10:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Gnostikosis - 25 October 2010 10:36 AM

Science is a tool anyone can use to validate their beliefs. However mystery, creativity and imagination can add enjoyment to one’s life.

Why “however”? It is science that constantly keeps opening doors to new mysteries. Some of the best popular science books read better than many mystery novels. And it is precisely because they are about science, or in other words, thing that really exist, that makes this so much more fun. There is really nothing mysterious about religion.

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Posted: 25 October 2010 12:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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George - 25 October 2010 10:44 AM
Gnostikosis - 25 October 2010 10:36 AM

Science is a tool anyone can use to validate their beliefs. However mystery, creativity and imagination can add enjoyment to one’s life.

Why “however”? It is science that constantly keeps opening doors to new mysteries. Some of the best popular science books read better than many mystery novels. And it is precisely because they are about science, or in other words, thing that really exist, that makes this so much more fun. There is really nothing mysterious about religion.

If you find joy and happiness through reading science books, who am I to argue?

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Posted: 25 October 2010 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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How can you “believe” in Science? Science is not a belief system. It would be like saying, I “believe” in computers, which makes no sense at all.
I do however believe in the scientific method as I do believe in the ability of a computer for accurate processing of data.

[ Edited: 25 October 2010 03:35 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 25 October 2010 03:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Well, write4U, humans can believe in anything.  It is possible to believe that science is the answer to our problems and will be the only thing that gets us out of our problems.  When one believes science will find a solution and solve our problems, then they are holding science up like a god.  I can continue with the four things GdB listed, but that is where I am showing critical thinking.  Those who believe science is the be all and end all, probably make the mistake of accepting some pseudo-science as being science.  Who knows, but they don’t show any critical thinking in which to decide and think for themselves.  They take science, maybe any science, to be gospel.  While we can base some of our morals on medical science, we can’t base ALL our morals on science, but some (Sam Harris seems to be one) believe we can base ALL our morals on science.  That makes it very much like a religion.

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Posted: 25 October 2010 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Mriana - 25 October 2010 03:41 PM

Well, write4U, humans can believe in anything.  It is possible to believe that science is the answer to our problems and will be the only thing that gets us out of our problems.  When one believes science will find a solution and solve our problems, then they are holding science up like a god.  I can continue with the four things GdB listed, but that is where I am showing critical thinking.  Those who believe science is the be all and end all, probably make the mistake of accepting some pseudo-science as being science.  Who knows, but they don’t show any critical thinking in which to decide and think for themselves.  They take science, maybe any science, to be gospel.  While we can base some of our morals on medical science, we can’t base ALL our morals on science, but some (Sam Harris seems to be one) believe we can base ALL our morals on science.  That makes it very much like a religion.

Of course humans can and some do believe in anything. But is that an argument for or against Science as Religion? Anyone who believes that science will solve all our problems is just as misguided as someone who believes that God is the answer to all our problems.
You mentioned Sam Harris, I doubt that he would accept a “scientific claim” without using the scientific method of falsifying that claim. As to morals, I do not believe the universe has morals that resemble anything like human morals, however I do believe that Humanism (is that a science?) can arrive at a fundamental human morality, by employing scientific methods as tools for providing data and comparison, from which reliable conclusions can be made.

[ Edited: 25 October 2010 04:06 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 25 October 2010 06:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Write4U - 25 October 2010 04:01 PM
Mriana - 25 October 2010 03:41 PM

Well, write4U, humans can believe in anything.  It is possible to believe that science is the answer to our problems and will be the only thing that gets us out of our problems.  When one believes science will find a solution and solve our problems, then they are holding science up like a god.  I can continue with the four things GdB listed, but that is where I am showing critical thinking.  Those who believe science is the be all and end all, probably make the mistake of accepting some pseudo-science as being science.  Who knows, but they don’t show any critical thinking in which to decide and think for themselves.  They take science, maybe any science, to be gospel.  While we can base some of our morals on medical science, we can’t base ALL our morals on science, but some (Sam Harris seems to be one) believe we can base ALL our morals on science.  That makes it very much like a religion.

Of course humans can and some do believe in anything. But is that an argument for or against Science as Religion? Anyone who believes that science will solve all our problems is just as misguided as someone who believes that God is the answer to all our problems.
You mentioned Sam Harris, I doubt that he would accept a “scientific claim” without using the scientific method of falsifying that claim. As to morals, I do not believe the universe has morals that resemble anything like human morals, however I do believe that Humanism (is that a science?) can arrive at a fundamental human morality, by employing scientific methods as tools for providing data and comparison, from which reliable conclusions can be made.

I mention Sam Harris because he seems to believe science can help us develop morals.  They can, but not solely in and of themselves.  I’m not even arguing for or against science being a religion.  I’m just stating that anyone can make anything into a religion and some do seem to make science a religion.

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