• Objective vs. Subjective

    There seems to be an increase in the anti-science pro-faith speakers on the internet.  Maybe it’s just the Thanksgiving holiday so they have more time on their hands.  It seems to have started at Why Evolution is True, with Deepak Chopra trying to goad Jerry Coyne into a twitter duel after some uncomplimentary things were written by Jerry in The New Republic.  There was also a recent twitter ‘discussion’ which I was tangentially involved in.

    Basically, it comes back to the “even scientists have faith” argument.  “Science is really faith.”  “Scientism is belief in science.” and all those other related statements that totally miss the entire point of science.

    Science is objective.  It (and reality) is true for every person, every where, no matter their beliefs, skin color, gender, wealth, or political affiliation. No one who fails to study about gravity will be immune to it. Even the great woomiesters acknowledge it.

    How do people learn about gravity?  From the time they are born.  Gravity is a huge influence on them.  Babies learn about gravity in the same way that scientists learn about things.  Experimentation and observation.  When a baby falls enough times, they get the picture that they need to be careful, because gravity can cause pain.

    I’m using gravity here, but this applies to every single thing that we know exists in our world.  It isn’t faith to think that science can solve almost any problem and find out the answer to almost any question.  It’s justified because of the success that science has had over the last few hundred years.

    I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again.  Almost everything that exists in our modern world is a direct result of science.  Not religion.

    Religion is about faith.  It is, by definition, belief without evidence.  There is no evidence that religion can solve the world’s problems.  Indeed, the evidence is that religion causes many more problems than it solves, especially if there is more than one religion.

    But even the religious know that science works, even if they refuse to admit it to themselves. Almost everyone, religious or not, takes all their antibiotics.  That’s because the doctor told them to and the doctor (should) knows that evolution works.

    The religious don’t ever pray for an amputee to be healed, because they know it won’t work.  Somewhere, deep inside, they know that their god will never, ever grow a new limb for someone.  Science will, but that doesn’t count.*

    In my old church, they would pray for healing, until the doctor said that there wasn’t any hope.  Then the prayer would change to “end the suffering”.  While a noble goal, they totally understand that their god will not heal that person, even if they refuse to admit it.

    Religion is subjective.  Everyone has a different religion… even within the same church.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen members of the congregation shaking their heads to something the preacher has said.  They think he’s wrong, because their personal belief system disagrees with him.

    In the twitter conversation, the discussion popped up about altruism.  How religions are altruistic (except they aren’t) and there’s no scientific reason for it (except there is).  This goes back to my annoyances about the anti-science crowd.

    Religion is highly subjective, it simply doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because it is subjective.  People choose their religion based on the beliefs that they have that are supported by that religion.  Or (and more likely) people have the beliefs that they do because they grew up in a household with those beliefs that are supported by their religion.

    Science is highly objective, it simply does work. The same experiment works for anyone who does the same thing.  Every time.  Christians don’t get better gas mileage and Muslims don’t have better digestive systems.  If you turn on a device made by science, then it works.  The same GPS can be used by atheists, Christians, Muslims, Hindu, pagans, Scientologists and every other religion in existence.

    It really bugs me.


    * Actually, that’s the same annoyance I have when people thank god for healing someone, but ignore the three doctors, 20 nurses, and other assorted medical professionals who worked their asses off to learn to help people.


    Category: CultureReligionScienceSociety


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat

    • paulpfish

      Thanks again for a thoughtful post, and I basically agree with much
      of what you say, but I also have a few thoughts. First, when a priest comes in to console the
      family and offer the sacraments of faith to the dying person I can objectively
      appreciate his consoling. While family
      members of faith may have a much stronger positive reaction to his presence than
      any brilliant objective thing I might be able to come up with, I don’t see this
      response as inherently irrational on anyone’s part. Indeed, I can also have a very strong positive
      objective feeling that their emotional needs are being cared for. In addition, priests I have known are often very
      compassionate people that truly care about helping people come to grips with
      the loss they are experiencing. Personally, I think it will be hard to reinvent
      the wheel in these situations to find something that works even better for
      everyone, and it seems unreasonable to me to expect people to jettison this
      tried and true coping system at times of dire need. Obviously it is always possible to have a priest that makes things worse, but if this was the rule rather than the
      exception there would probably be a selection against such approaches. Most likely a priest is our current cultural
      extension of an ancient tradition of helping people at these crisis moments and
      there likely a certain “Darwinian” tuning of the rituals that are used because
      they have been found to work over time to console the grieving family.

      Obviously if everyone is objectively oriented then we may all do
      even better with an objectively oriented grief counselor, but the fact is that
      we live in a world where people do have strong connections with their lives of
      faith and this needs to be respected.
      For me if a priest comes in at a time of death and talks about the
      connections of love that we have for each other and links this with God’s love
      for us, I’m ok with that. Those
      connections of love are so important that it isn’t so important to me what the
      objective mechanism is by which we come to grips with what is happening.

      As a practical matter, we are so imbedded in a culture of Christianity
      that it is often difficult to access a vocabulary of empathy and shared concern
      without resorting to Christian symbolism versus sterile vocabulary. When
      someone recovers, “Thank God” feels a lot better than “Thank A
      Non-Zero Probability”, or “We are Praying for You” feels like
      active concern compared to “We sure hope you get better.”
      Maybe there are other ways to say these things, but an established shared
      culture of concern sure feels important at crisis times.

      In the end, I find it less important to “correct” people’s faith
      to a fully objective view of the world.
      Instead I see my role to help them see the objective errors of certain
      faith positions. You mentioned in this
      post several examples of such errors. If
      I can help them to eliminate the destructive nature of certain ideas, like sin
      as a cause of illness, or God choosing to save some over others, or their
      failure to understand our connection with all life on earth, I see that as a
      success. If in the process I give them a
      better, stronger foundation for their faith, that is less susceptible to the
      fallacies of things like young earth creationism, I’m ok with that. I don’t need a faith free world to be happy.

      • SmilodonsRetreat

        There is a lot of truth to this. Humans need comfort. They have this need to feel special.

        But that doesn’t imply religion. Anyone can be a shoulder to cry on. John Loftus is a former minister who is now an atheist and does weddings and funerals.

        Even atheists can be comforting. The thing that they don’t do, is lie to people. We (at least I) wouldn’t tell them that they will see their loved one in heaven. I can tell them that it’s OK to feel sad. That they are out of pain. That it’s a chance to celebrate their life and remember them. I can tell them that it’s hard and share my stories of losing the one person in the world who meant the most to me.

        But to tell them things that aren’t true, that’s not consoling, that’s not helping. That’s condescending. That’s telling them that they are too weak to hear the truth. That they are too pitiful to accept the real world and instead must live in a dream world.

        That’s the tragedy, not the death of a loved one, but the corruption of the living.

        • azportsider

          I think this comment is even better than your original post, Smilodon.

          • SmilodonsRetreat

            Thanks. I do tend to think on spur of the moment and my posts are rarely the end-all of commentary. I’d like to think of them as more discussion points.