Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Science and Atheism

Here's a comment I made on Hemant's blog in reply to another. (The other guy's remarks are in the block quotes.)


Like some religious leaders, many scientists have forged evidence in support of a noble cause.

However unlike religion, science has a built in system that tries to minimize human error or outright corruption. A scientist has to make his methods clear and repeatable by others.

To me this behavior suggests to me that atheists are just as susceptible to self-deception as the rest of us.

I don’t think most atheists would disagree with you. But I bet most atheists have skeptical mind sets and at least try to keep their self-deception to a minimum. I’m not sure supernaturalists put in so much effort to question their own beliefs.

I know many atheists to whom evolution is a surrogate religion, because they too believe whatever their authority figures tell them, and like mainstream religious people, they easily turn emotional when their beliefs are being questioned.

How are you defining “religion” here? Geologists and astronomers also get upset when creationists say their research is garbage. Do we now say geology and astronomy are “religions”? Most, but actually not all, atheists accept evolution. This acceptance comes from a wealth of data, books, education, and also personal research. I think this is quite different from the religious model of a single authoritative source like the Bible.

Atheists are very prone to be as unscientific as creationists are, because atheism rules-out the existence of something which or someone who can not be
proved nor disproved.

If you talk to most atheists they are not saying they have proved God doesn’t exist. They just don’t believe a god exists because the positive evidence isn’t there. I’m not sure if you’re religious, but I constantly hear religious people and creationists overuse the word “prove”. I think the only people who are proving things are mathematicians. Scientists can disprove theories, everything else is provisional with varying degrees of acceptance based on the quality and quantity of evidence.

In addition I would like to suggest that even a renowned scientist like Richard Dawkins is in fact religious, his book “The God Delision” proves it.

How does his book prove that? And again how are you defining religion? I think the commonly accepted view of religion is that it has some supernatural element. If you broaden the definition to be just closely held beliefs and rituals, then baseball is a religion too.

Agnosticism appears to be about as close as you can get to being non-religious and objective…

I have a feeling you think atheism means 100% faith there is no God. Dawkins defined that as a 7 on his scale of belief. But even he said he was just a 6, which he called a defacto atheist. Some might want to insist that is really agnosticism, but then Dawkins and I would also be agnostics about fairies in our gardens which just sounds silly.


As a side comment to what I wrote above, I think many discussions about "science" go of course for the same reason discussions about "god" do since these words mean different things to different people. In a single discussion "science" shifts from meaning a body of knowledge, to a method of finding things out, to the actual community of working scientists. However unlike defining "god", defining "science" for a particular discussion shouldn't be that difficult.

People who criticize science often say things like "scientists don't know everything", "science isn't always right", "science has it's limits", etc. But who ever claimed the opposite? Scientists are people and the scientific community and the methods they use tries to minimize human error as much as possible. The bottom line here is, how are we going to find answers to the questions important to us? What methods will we use to find cures to diseases, learn about distant stars, uncover the past history of the Earth, or even why the sky is blue? Science is our best tool for answering questions like these.

For other more philosophical questions like "what is the right thing to do?" or "what is beauty?" maybe science can't find the answers currently, but I wouldn't rule it out completely. However, if we can't use science to find and verify the answers, what exactly will we use in its place? How will we know any answers we find are correct? I don't see any alternatives to the scientific method.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Other End

Last year I listened to an interesting podcast interview with John Shirley where he talked about his new book that he was working on at the time. That book, The Other End, has finally come out and I read it over the weekend. It's a great antidote to all those nasty Christian rapture books. In the pattern of Ken McLeod calling The Singularity "the rapture for nerds" I think the "end" in The Other End is like the rapture for atheists.

If the end of the world were to come as described in this book, I don't think any atheists would complain much. Some of the elements in the story seemed to be plucked from my own day dreams about people really waking up to what is going on around them. Looking up a name in the book lead me to this interesting Wikipedia page about an imperfect creator god.

Another book I zipped through over the weekend was Steven C. (not J.) Gould's latest Jumper novel, Griffin's Story. The first, Jumper and it's sequel Reflex are definitely near the top of my all time favorite books. They are making a movie based on Jumper due to come out in 2008. As expected the movie's plot has diverged quite a bit from the original books. In Griffin's Story, Steven Gould took the interesting tactic of making it consistent with the movie, and not the original world of the first two books. I thought that would annoy me, but the inconsistencies were minor and didn't bother me much. I finished the book way too quickly and I certainly hope he plans to write more Jumper books in the future.