Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. I Don’t Believe in God, I Believe in Science

 

Scott Walker’s evolution question has been hashed over quite a bit. Themes that I’ve read include relevancy to the presidency (is that a good band name? or some sort of L. Frank Baum chant?), fear of the creationist’s inquisitional powers in the classroom, the hypocrisy of the question, and the ulterior motive of either tripping up or exposing Scott Walker as a rube.

Was this question a nascent litmus test of belief in science as a replacement for a belief in God for the office of president? But no matter, because….

Esqueleto believes in science.

I point all this out to introduce you to the only [BANNED!] TedX talk I’ve ever seen that held my interest. And that is Rupert Sheldrake at TedX Whitechapel talking on the theme of Science Set Free. He starts by pointing out that science is operated under the purview of philosophical materialism (“I believe in Science!”), and then describes ten dogmas that are held by this philosophy. He makes a powerful claim about how science will be set free once it is released of philosophical materialism.

I must also point to John Walker’s excellent summary and discussion here on Ricochet of the book Science Set Free. A post I had missed.

I point all this out to introduce you to the little book which has gripped my interest most fervently over the last couple weeks: a 60-page tome called Nihilism by Fr. Seraphim Rose. Yeah, yeah, I can hear your fingers moving to click **next post**. Wait! This is not your run-of-the-mill Johnny-come-lately agog at how bad things are now and it’s all because of Nietzsche. No, he clearly shows how truth’s visage has been tortured and blackened by increasingly astigmatic goggles over the last 600 years, and suggests a way forward.

I thought some folks here might appreciate delving into these shout-outs. If you start at the end and work backwards, perhaps you’ll have a different view of the Scott Walker evolution question.

Update: I’ve added an excerpt from Nihilism. The book is significantly more important and foundational than one of its outworkings, Science Set Free. Perhaps I could summarize the below as such: We all have faith in something, and we all claim to know things, though with respect to absolute truth, many folks hedge and claim to be uncertain whether they know or can know anything. Thus the search for truth is abandoned, and piddly trivialities like class, race, gender, nation, or comfort become substitute quests. Four centuries of thought have further clarified that not only is there no truth, but that there is no Revealed Truth, and thus we arrive at the despotism of science over practical life. In fact, it is humbling to think that no truth is available outside of revelation. Indeed, it is not logic which counters Divine Revelation, but a counter revelation: Nihilism.

In actual fact, however,–whether it be from simple naiveté or from a deeper insight which they cannot justify by arguments–most scientists and humanists undoubtedly believe that their faith [in science] has something to do with the truth of things. Whether this belief is justified or not is, of course, another question; it is a metaphysical question, and one thing that is certain is that it is not justified by the rather primitive metaphysics of mosts scientists.Every man, as we have seen, lives by faith; likewise every man–something less obvious but no less certain–is a metaphysician. The claim to any knowledge whatever–and no living man can refrain from this claim–implies a theory and standard of knowledge, and a notion of what is ultimately knowable and true. This ultimate truth, whether be conceived of as the Christian God, or simply as the ultimate coherence of things, is a metaphysical first principle, an absolute truth. But with the acknowledgement, logically unavoidable, of such a principle, the theory of the “relativity of truth” collapses, it itself being revealed as a self-contradictory absolute.

….

Only in “critical” or “pure agnosticism” do we find, at last, what seems to be a successful renunciation of everything else and ends–if it is consistent–in total solipsism. Such agnosticism is the simple statement of fact: we do not know whether there exists an absolute truth, or what its nature could be if it did exist; let us, then–this is the corollary–content ourselves with the empirical, relative truth we can know. But what is truth? What is knowledge? If there is no absolute standard by which these are tot be measured, they cannot even be defined. The agnostic, if he acknowledges this criticism, does not allow it to disturb him; his position is one of “pragmatism,” “experimentalism,” “instrumentalism”: there is no truth, but man can survive, can get along in the world, without it… the least one can say [about such a position] is that it is intellectually irresponsible. It is the definitive abandonment of truth, or rather the surrender of truth to power, whether that power be nation, race, class, comfort, or whatever other cause is able to absurd the energies men once devoted to the truth.

….

Four centuries and more of modern thought have been, from one point of view, an experiment in the possibilities of knowledge open to man, assuming that there is no Revealed Truth… the conclusion of this experiment is an absolute negation: if there is no Revealed Truth, there is no truth at all; the search for truth outside of Revelation has come to a dead end… the multitudes demonstrate it by looking to the scientist, not for truth, but for the technological applications of a knowledge which has no more than a practical value, and by looking to other, irrational sources for the ultimate values men once expected to find in truth. The despotism of science over practical life is contemporaneous with the advent of a whole series of pseudo-religious “revelations”.

The critical mind hesitates at this point. Must we seek from without what we cannot attain by our own unaided power? It is a blow to pride–most of all to that pride which passes today for scientific “humility” that “sits down before fact as a little child” and yet refuses to acknowledge any arbiter of fact save the proud human reason. It is, however, a particular revelation–Divine Revelation, the Christian Revelation–that so repels the rationalist; other revelations he does not gainsay.

Indeed, the man who does not accept, fully and consciously, a coherent doctrine of truth such as the Christian Revelation provides, is forced… to seek such a doctrine elsewhere… To one who gropes in this darkness there is but one path, if he will not be healed of his blindness; and that is to seek some light amidst the darkness here below. Many run to the flickering candle of “common sense” and conventional life and accept–because one must get along somehow–the current opinions of the social and intellectual circles to which they belong. But many others, finding this light too dim, flock to the magic lanterns that project beguiling, multicolored views that are, if nothing else, distracting; they become devotees of this or the other political or religious or artistic current that the “spirit of the age” has thrown into fashion.

In fact, no one lives but by the light of some revelation……

The whole food of Christian Truth, however, is accessible only to faith; and the chief obstacle to such faith is not logic, as the facile modern view has it, but another and opposed faith. We have seen indeed, that logic cannot deny absolute truth without denying itself; the logic that sets itself up against the Christian Revelation is merely the servant of another “revelation,” of a false “absolute truth”: namely Nihilism.

There are 136 comments.

  1. Mike Rapkoch Member

    Brandon:

    You are right. Nihilism is a hugely important book. Fr. Seraphim offers the key insight that relativism isn’t so much the philosophy of the times. Nihilism is. It’s been a number of years since I’ve read it. Now I have to dig it out again. Thanks for the reminder.

    Also, you might appreciate David Bentley Hart’s discussion of this in the first pages of the Atheist Delusions.

    • #1
    • February 14, 2015, at 10:47 PM PST
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  2. Profile Photo Member

    I appreciate the Nacho Libre reference. Severely underrated movie.

    • #2
    • February 15, 2015, at 3:08 AM PST
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  3. John Walker Contributor

    Brandon Phelps: I point all this out to introduce you to the only TedX talk I’ve ever seen that held my interest. And that is Rupert Sheldrake at TedX Whitechapel talking on the theme of Science Set Free.

    We had a discussion of Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free on the May 17th, 2014 installment of Saturday Night Science. (The date in the post was mangled by Ricochet 2.0; it was May 17, not November 14, which isn’t even a Saturday.)

    • #3
    • February 15, 2015, at 5:07 AM PST
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  4. Seawriter Member

    Belief is faith-based. Science is fact-based. “Belief” in science transforms science into religion, and current scientific theories into religious dogma.

    Someone with a scientific outlook could believe the various versions of evolution are true, but they cannot truly be said to have a scientific outlook if the believe in evolution. They are practicing faith-based science, which is a contradiction.

    So, if you ask me do I believe in any scientific theory, “Do you believe in the special theory of relativity?” my response has to be “Don’t be silly. We are talking science, not religion. To treat science as religion is to reduce science to superstition.”

    Seawriter

    • #4
    • February 15, 2015, at 5:34 AM PST
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  5. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Scientists are only human, which means they fall prey to normal human failings. They have pride, and ego, and risk aversion, and illogical ad hominem attacks on those who disagree with them.

    But unlike normal humans, when a scientist acts like the member of a clique, or follows the herd, or excludes “the other,” they are blissfully unaware of it, because they are so sure of their rational superiority to other humans.

    • #5
    • February 15, 2015, at 6:03 AM PST
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  6. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    I am a big fan of Thomas Kuhn. He argued, essentially, that scientists follow the herd – and then showed how scientific revolutions changed the direction of the herd.

    More centrally to this argument, he showed that science is NOT people standing on the shoulders of giants who preceded them, with “giants all the way down”. Instead, people often stand on the shoulders of giant killers.

    The giant I like to attack is the Greek notion of “reality” as a notion in itself.
    For thousands of years people have believed in the famous allegory of Plato’s Cave. It tells us about the “Real” world, accessible, not through observation, but through the mental exercises of extremely bright people. The reader, appropriately flattered, is sucked into the vision, the mirage that we call “Reality.” And so they believe, paradoxically, that their belief in Reality is independent of any religious faith.

    The problem is that we actually have no way to prove that Reality exists. Reality is supposed to be there, independent from all observation. In every way we can measure, there is no underlying Reality. Each person truly lives in their own world, dependent on their own thought and perceptions.

    Anything that cannot be proven or disproven through observation is a religion, no different in measurable proof from a belief in Hashem or Allah. Which means that Reality itself is a faith-system. Those who worship Reality see it as the opponent of religion, when in fact they are merely practitioners of a competing worldview. Reality worshippers believe in something that cannot be observed or touched, something that is merely a mental construct that flatters its adherents into thinking that they are members of a uniquely intelligent human group, obviously superior to the weak-minded whose imaginations lead them to believe in things like G-d or Free Will or souls.

    • #6
    • February 15, 2015, at 6:12 AM PST
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  7. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Seawriter:Belief is faith-based. Science is fact-based.

    On the other hand, all facts are theory laden, and the way we sort fact from fiction is by determining our confidence – i.e, belief – in alleged facts.

    [F]aith-based science… is a contradiction.

    Ha! I am less sure of this than you. Here are some beliefs it seems perfectly acceptable for a good scientist to have (in fact, believing these things may help make you a better scientist):

    • Nature is mechanical.
    • Matter and energy are conserved.
    • The laws of nature are fixed.
    • We can trust our senses and memory, and the instruments which extend our senses and memory, in particular scientific instruments.
      (Except when we can’t: paranormal phenomena are due to errors in our senses and memory.)
    • We can trust math, with its axiomatic (i.e, non-empirical) reasoning, to help us measure the real world.
    • We can trust the scientific method.

    We believe these things with good reason. There’s quite a bit of evidence that these beliefs “work” – that we can do useful science with them. (Note, though, demonstrating that a belief is useful isn’t quite the same as demonstrating that it’s true.)

    That many scientists believe these things without having tried to test them for themselves is not some great sin of scientists. Science is a cooperative endeavor, and there isn’t time for every single scientist to test everything.

    So, if you ask me do I believe in any scientific theory, “Do you believe in the special theory of relativity?” my response has to be “Don’t be silly. We are talking science, not religion.

    Personally, I would trust the physicist who actually believes in the theory of relativity to have a better intuitive grasp of it, and to produce more insightful results :-)

    If the theory cannot possess you heart and soul, how much are you getting out of it, really?

    • #7
    • February 15, 2015, at 7:21 AM PST
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  8. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: If the theory cannot possess you heart and soul, how much are you getting out of it, really?

    This is absolutely correct. In order to test a theory, one must first advance it as IF one believes it – otherwise it cannot be tested. “Hydrogen and oxygen can form water” is testable. “If hydrogen and oxygen really exist, then I guess they might be able to react with each other,” is much less likely to lead to growth in knowledge.

    So you have to accept your assumptions before you can move forward. The good scientist, though, is aware of their assumptions and details them.

    (Most of Midge’s list, btw, are not assumptions – they are presuppositions that every scientist takes for granted and is usually not even aware of.)

    • #8
    • February 15, 2015, at 7:30 AM PST
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  9. Larry Koler Inactive

    Seawriter:Belief is faith-based. Science is fact-based. “Belief” in science transforms science into religion, and current scientific theories into religious dogma.

    Someone with a scientific outlook could believe the various versions of evolution are true, but they cannot truly be said to have a scientific outlook if the believe in evolution. They are practicing faith-based science, which is a contradiction.

    So, if you ask me do I believe in any scientific theory, “Do you believe in the special theory of relativity?” my response has to be “Don’t be silly. We are talking science, not religion. To treat science as religion is to reduce science to superstition.”

    Seawriter

    This is so profound. Well said.

    • #9
    • February 15, 2015, at 8:49 AM PST
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  10. Larry Koler Inactive

    Brandon, thanks very much for the banned talk. Very interesting approach to things that have interested me for a long time but I have never been able to think so clearly as Sheldrake so I have never quite been able to describe it to myself as clearly as he does in this talk. Really brilliant talk.

    I remember John’s SNS but I now see that I should have watched the videos he provided. (As an aside, we are very lucky to have a genius like John on Ricochet and doing his SNS because he is not dogmatic and has shown himself able to think outside the box on most issues.)

    • #10
    • February 15, 2015, at 8:59 AM PST
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  11. Larry Koler Inactive

    I just ordered Sheldrake’s book.

    • #11
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:00 AM PST
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  12. Seawriter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Personally, I would trust the physicist who actually believes in the theory of relativity to have a better intuitive grasp of it, and to produce more insightful results :-)

    Actually that is the trap. Do you believe in Newtonian physics? I don’t. I believe Newtonian physics works within a set of assumptions. Do I believe in the theory of relativity? Nope. I believe it works within a set of assumptions. Once you start believing in something scientific, you create a set of givens trapping you within the limits of the theory.

    Einstein believed in the theory of relativity to the point where he rejected the uncertainty principle. (God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Guess what? He just might.) Einstein ended up making himself irrelevant in the last decade of his life.

    The scientific method requires one to be willing to jettison all prior assumptions and beliefs in order to make progress. Personally I distrust the physicist who actually believes in the theory of relativity. That scientist may better intuitive grasp of it, but will only be able to produce results that fit within the context of that framework. When faced with contradictory results, that scientist is more likely to reject the results because it does not fit the accepted theory.

    Back in 1909 atomic theory used a “current bun” or “plum pudding” model for an atom. Had Ernest Rutherford believed in that model, he would have rejected the results of Hans Geiger’s and Ernest Marsden’s alpha particle experiment. Rutherford described the results “as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.” But the Thompson model of the atom was not an article of faith for Rutherford. He rejected that theory and created a new one.

    If you can reject a theory you do not believe in it. You may believe it, but you do not believe in it. When scientists start believing in theories science stagnates, whether the theories were developed by Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein. Belief in something requires faith. Science requires skepticism. It requires a willingness to disbelieve.

    A scientist who believes in rather than believes is not a scientist. He (or she) is a priest of the Church of Science.

    Seawriter

    • #12
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:15 AM PST
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  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Seawriter:The scientific method requires one to be willing to jettison all prior assumptions and beliefs in order to make progress.

    Nonsense.

    If we were to jettison all prior beliefs, we’d paralyze ourselves. (How would we function without the belief that our lab was where we left it, that our colleagues exist, that scientific instruments are capable of meaningful measurements? Etc, etc.) For scientists to be unwilling to do this is perfectly rational. Typically, we only test one hypothesis at a time, not all of them at once!

    Rather, science requires us to honestly update our prior beliefs based on new information.

    • #13
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:28 AM PST
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  14. Seawriter Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Seawriter:The scientific method requires one to be willing to jettison all prior assumptions and beliefs in order to make progress.

    Nonsense.

    If we were to jettison all prior beliefs, we’d paralyze ourselves. (How would we function without the belief that our lab was where we left it, that our colleagues exist, that scientific instruments are capable of meaningful measurements? Etc, etc.) For scientists to be unwilling to do this is perfectly rational. Typically, we only test one hypothesis at a time, not all of them at once!

    Rather, science requires us to honestly update our prior beliefs based on new information.

    It’s not nonsense. I did not say science requires us to jettison all prior beliefs. I said the scientific method requires us to be willing to jettison all assumptions and beliefs. Anyone unwilling to do that – when the data calls for it – really isn’t a scientist, regardless of job title.

    The last sentence in your reply it just a reiteration of my point using different words. You seem to be arguing with yourself rather than me.

    Seawriter

    • #14
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:44 AM PST
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  15. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Seawriter:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Personally, I would trust the physicist who actually believes in the theory of relativity to have a better intuitive grasp of it, and to produce more insightful results :-)

    Actually that is the trap.

    It is not a trap. It’s merely the “hot phase” of science.

    Doing science has a “hot phase” and a “cold phase”. The “cold phase” is the skepticism and detachment. The “hot phase” is the imagination and personal investment.

    Contrary to our mythologies about science (including the mythology that you apparently believe in), good science is not always done with fifty-foot forceps of skepticism and detachment. Attachment and personal investment are, in fact, necessary. When you’re totally indifferent as to which hypothesis is true, you’re not particularly motivated to test any of them. Why put in the effort when you don’t care?

    Einstein believed in the theory of relativity to the point where he rejected the uncertainty principle. (God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Guess what? He just might.) Einstein ended up making himself irrelevant in the last decade of his life.

    Yes, but his single-minded devotion to his theory also made him phenomenally relevant before then. It’s quite possible that if Einstein hadn’t been so good at the “hot phase”, he might have achieved nothing at all, instead of being a flawed man (as we all are) who nonetheless achieved great things despite his limitations.

    Belief in something requires faith. Science requires skepticism. It requires a willingness to disbelieve.

    Science does not only require skepticism. It requires imagination and intuition, which is visceral belief.

    Science that is only “hot phase” risks falling into the traps that you describe. But science that is only “cold phase” never even gets started. Both phases are needed, and why otherwise rational people are so willing to pretend that the “hot phase” doesn’t exist is beyond me.

    • #15
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:47 AM PST
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  16. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Seawriter:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Seawriter:The scientific method requires one to be willing to jettison all prior assumptions and beliefs in order to make progress.

    Nonsense.

    If we were to jettison all prior beliefs, we’d paralyze ourselves. (How would we function without the belief that our lab was where we left it, that our colleagues exist, that scientific instruments are capable of meaningful measurements? Etc, etc.) For scientists to be unwilling to do this is perfectly rational. Typically, we only test one hypothesis at a time, not all of them at once!

    Rather, science requires us to honestly update our prior beliefs based on new information.

    Anyone unwilling to do that – when the data calls for it – really isn’t a scientist, regardless of job title.

    Typically when the data contradicts established theory, the first thing you do is try to explain the data away by citing sources of error. In doing so, you do risk missing out on new information that could update the theory, but the risk is typically a small one: usually we are right to believe the theory rather than our noisy data.

    • #16
    • February 15, 2015, at 9:56 AM PST
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  17. Seawriter Member

    Far be it from me for me to deny others the comfort of their religion.

    Seawriter

    • #17
    • February 15, 2015, at 10:46 AM PST
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  18. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    John Walker:

    Brandon Phelps: I point all this out to introduce you to the only TedX talk I’ve ever seen that held my interest. And that is Rupert Sheldrake at TedX Whitechapel talking on the theme of Science Set Free.

    We had a discussion of Rupert Sheldrake’s Science Set Free on the May 17th, 2014 installment of Saturday Night Science. (The date in the post was mangled by Ricochet 2.0; it was May 17, not November 14, which isn’t even a Saturday.)

    Ah John, I didn’t see that! I had searched Ricochet for TedX rather than for Rupert.

    Excellent summary of the book.

    • #18
    • February 15, 2015, at 10:49 AM PST
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  19. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Seawriter: Einstein believed in the theory of relativity to the point where he rejected the uncertainty principle. (God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Guess what? He just might.) Einstein ended up making himself irrelevant in the last decade of his life….

    . He rejected that theory and created a new one.

    This is why Kuhn is so useful. He points out that “normal” science is extending current theories. For that work, one must assume the previous work is true – one is working on a very tall building.

    But revolutions happen when it gets harder and harder to accept a theory with the given data. And scientists disagree, on nothing more objective than feelings. That is OK! Some will make themselves irrelevant, but knowledge can continue.

    If you can reject a theory you do not believe in it. You may believe it, but you do not believe in it. When scientists start believing in theories science stagnates, whether the theories were developed by Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein.

    Not so.

    Look at Dark Energy and Dark Matter. We do not see it, and have never detected it. some 90%+ of the energy and matter in the universe must be of this type in order for our models of gravity, etc. to work.

    So scientists are working harder and harder to find the particles (like the “wimp”). To do this, they must believe in their theories!

    At the same time, if the “wimp” is not found, more people on the fringe will start to attack the underlying belief in Dark Energy and Dark Matter, on the perfectly responsible basis that science is supposed to be about empirically-determinable facts. And current physicists are getting very far away from facts. I think they have got it wrong – but it will take a scientific revolution to find out.

    • #19
    • February 15, 2015, at 11:16 AM PST
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  20. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    Seawriter: When scientists start believing in theories science stagnates, whether the theories were developed by Aristotle, Newton, or Einstein.

    Quite a lot of good, solid science was done by Newtonians (up until Einstein) – and by Einsteinians for quite some time as well.

    A vast amount of understanding fills in the blanks once scientists believe in theories.

    • #20
    • February 15, 2015, at 11:18 AM PST
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  21. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Seawriter:Far be it from me for me to deny others the comfort of their religion.

    Well, I would like to deny people the comfort of this dogmatic belief in the detachment of the “good scientist”.

    Nor am I alone. As Michael Polanyi put it,

    I start by rejecting the ideal of scientific detachment. In the exact sciences, this false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists.

    It is because Polanyi was a working chemist that he was able to observe how much our myth of the “good scientist” deviates from lived experience.

    • #21
    • February 15, 2015, at 11:24 AM PST
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  22. Z in MT Inactive

    I am a professional scientist.

    I think MFR makes the best case here. There is a difference between belief and faith. Belief is the sum total of evidence and must be continually updated as further evidence is acquired. Belief is a state that is always changing. A scientist must always be not only willing, but should always be modifying their beliefs based on the available evidence. Faith is when one doesn’t modify their belief when new evidence is acquired. A good scientist shouldn’t practice faith.

    Some of this could just be definitional confusion. A belief in evolution doesn’t require faith.

    • #22
    • February 15, 2015, at 11:36 AM PST
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  23. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    Z in MT:I am a professional scientist.

    I think MFR makes the best case here. There is a difference between belief and faith. Belief is the sum total of evidence and must be continually updated as further evidence is acquired. Belief is a state that is always changing. A scientist must always be not only willing, but should always be modifying their beliefs based on the available evidence. Faith is when one doesn’t modify their belief when new evidence is acquired. A good scientist shouldn’t practice faith.

    Some of this could just be definitional confusion. A belief in evolution doesn’t require faith.

    Z in MT, you have some terminology mixed up I think. You seem to be ascribing unchanging dogma to faith. This isn’t so: faith is a synonym for trust. Thats it. In what or in whom there is trust is the big question. For example, almost everyone trusts, or has faith in a scientist, via authority, when the scientist says that evolution is the way it happened.

    • #23
    • February 15, 2015, at 12:37 PM PST
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  24. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    Brayden Smith:I appreciate the Nacho Libre reference. Severely underrated movie.

    Indeed. Bubblegum, bubblegum, bubblegum, bubblegum for me!

    • #24
    • February 15, 2015, at 12:43 PM PST
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  25. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    First, let me just say: oy veh is mir.

    Seawriter:Einstein believed in the theory of relativity to the point where he rejected the uncertainty principle. (God doesn’t play dice with the universe. Guess what? He just might.) Einstein ended up making himself irrelevant in the last decade of his life.

    Um, no, not even close.

    The uncertainty principle got read into the dogma of quantum mechanics at the 5th Solvay Conference in 1927 because Niels Bohr was a gifted speaker with a penchant for sounding profound as he stood there saying nothing meaningful at all—and certainly nothing that qualifies as science, either by pre-Popperian/Kuhnian standards or post-. The young Heisenberg got swept into Bohr’s orbit, partially because of an honest shared philosophical predilection for dualism, partially due to the mentor/mentee relationship being a powerful force, whether constructive or destructive.

    And here we are in 2015 with no more evidence that quantum mechanics is a complete theory than we had in 1927. Einstein was right: there’s more work to do. Thankfully, the field is finally shaking off the Bohr/Heisenburg delusion and once again beginning to make actual progress, albeit slowly and painfully, because almost-90-year-old delusions do not go gently into that good night.

    If you can reject a theory you do not believe in it. You may believe it, but you do not believe in it.

    That’s a semantic distinction that 1) not everyone shares, and 2) even if they do can be measured in ångströms.

    Progress is made when a new theory subsumes the old one. Very little in this world infuriates me more than when people say relativity overthrew Newtonian mechanics, or quantum mechanics did. Every valid calculation in Hamiltonian (the most general and easiest to manipulate formulation of classical) mechanics remains valid in Einstein’s field equations. James Clerk Maxwell added a single term to Faraday’s equation to unify electromagnetism and light. Schrödinger’s equation adds one term to the Hamilton-Jacobi equation.

    When someone actually does offer a theory ex nihilo, insisting that all of the old foundations must be swept away, grab your wallet and your gun, because you’re dealing with, at best, a mere charlatan, and at worst, a materialist with a messiah complex.

    • #25
    • February 15, 2015, at 12:51 PM PST
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  26. Z in MT Inactive

    Brandon Phelps:

    Z in MT:I am a professional scientist.

    I think MFR makes the best case here. There is a difference between belief and faith. Belief is the sum total of evidence and must be continually updated as further evidence is acquired. Belief is a state that is always changing. A scientist must always be not only willing, but should always be modifying their beliefs based on the available evidence. Faith is when one doesn’t modify their belief when new evidence is acquired. A good scientist shouldn’t practice faith.

    Some of this could just be definitional confusion. A belief in evolution doesn’t require faith.

    Z in MT, you have some terminology mixed up I think. You seem to be ascribing unchanging dogma to faith. This isn’t so: faith is a synonym for trust. Thats it. In what or in whom there is trust is the big question. For example, almost everyone trusts, or has faith in a scientist, via authority, when the scientist says that evolution is the way it happened.

    I am arguing that is what you are doing. I am using belief in the Bayesian sense – the sum total of evidence and prior assumptions. One thing that I might have miss wrote, faith is belief without evidence and/or applying 100% probability to a prior without stating so. And I stick by my argument that good scientists shouldn’t practice faith – doesn’t mean they don’t do it, but when they do they are not being true to the scientific method.

    In performing a peer-review for a scientific paper, I am not automatically skeptical of a persons data or conclusions, nor do I take their data on faith. As I read the paper I gather evidence to come up with my belief. Some of that may not be based purely on the data itself. If the paper is written poorly, or description of the procedure is left out, I will be more skeptical of the data and conclusions. If I personally or professionally know the authors, my prior knowledge may sway belief one way of the other. i.e. if I have prior familiarity with a scientists work, I probably will be less skeptical. However, it also depends on the consequences or conclusions the authors is asking me to accept, for example if a Nobel Prize winner asks me to conclude that they have demonstrated faster than light communication, it would take more than a single paper or set of data to change my belief in that possibility.

    • #26
    • February 15, 2015, at 1:21 PM PST
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  27. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    I can see that I have been remiss in not explaining Nihilism better. Science Set Free ties into Nihilism, it is a small outworking of it. To quote from Fr Seraphim Rose:

    In actual fact, however,–whether it be from simple naiveté or from a deeper insight which they cannot justify by arguments–most scientists and humanists undoubtedly believe that their faith has something to do with the truth of things. Whether this belief is justified or not is, of course, another question; it is a metaphysical question, and one thing that is certain is that it is not justified by the rather primitive metaphysics of mosts scientists.

    Every man, as we have seen, lives by faith; likewise every man–something less obvious but no less certain–is a metaphysician. The claim to any knowledge whatever–and no living man can refrain from this claim–implies a theory and standard of knowledge, and a notion of what is ultimately knowable and true. This ultimate truth, whether be conceived of as the Christian God, or simply as the ultimate coherence of things, is a metaphysical first principle, an absolute truth. But with the acknowledgement, logically unavoidable, of such a principle, the theory of the “relativity of truth” collapses, it itself being revealed as a self-contradictory absolute.

    Only in “critical” or “pure agnosticism” do we find, at last, what seems to be a successful renunciation of everything else and ends–if it is consistent–in total solipsism. Such agnosticism is the simple statement of fact: we do not know whether there exists an absolute truth, or what its nature could be if it did exist; let us, then–this is the corollary–content ourselves with the empirical, relative truth we can know. But what is truth? What is knowledge? If there is no absolute standard by which these are tot be measured, they cannot even be defined. The agnostic, if he acknowledges this criticism, does not allow it to disturb him; his position is one of “pragmatism,” “experimentalism,” “instrumentalism”: there is no truth, but man can survive, can get along in the world, without it… the least one can say [about such a position] is that it is intellectually irresponsible. It is the definitive abandonment of truth, or rather the surrender of truth to power, whether that power be nation, race, class, comfort, or whatever other cause is able to absurd the energies men once devoted to the truth.

    Four centuries and more of modern thought have been, from one point of view, an experiment in the possibilities of knowledge open to man, assuming that there is no Revealed Truth… the conclusion of this experiment is an absolute negation: if there is no Revealed Truth, there is no truth at all; the search for truth outside of Revelation has come to a dead end… the multitudes demonstrate it by looking to the scientist, not for truth, but for the technological applications of a knowledge which has no more than a practical value, and by looking to other, irrational sources for the ultimate values men once expected to find in truth. The despotism of science over practical life is contemporaneous with the advent of a whole series of pseudo-religious “revelations”.

    The critical mind hesitates at this point. Must we seek from without what we cannot attain by our own unaided power? It is a blow to pride–most of all to that pride which passes today for scientific “humility” that “sits down before fact as a little child” and yet refuses to acknowledge any arbiter of fact save the proud human reason. It is, however, a particular revelation–Divine Revelation, the Christian Revelation–that so repels the rationalist; other revelations he does not gainsay.

    Indeed, the man who does not accept, fully and consciously, a coherent doctrine of truth such as the Christian Revelation provides, is forced… to seek such a doctrine elsewhere… To one who gropes in this darkness there is but one path, if he will not be healed of his blindness; and that is to seek some light amidst the darkness here below. Many run to the flickering candle of “common sense” and conventional life and accept–because one must get along somehow–the current opinions of the social and intellectual circles to which they belong. But many others, finding this light too dim, flock to the magic lanterns that project beguiling, multicolored views that are, if nothing else, distracting; they become devotees of this or the other political or religious or artistic current that the “spirit of the age” has thrown into fashion.

    In fact, no one lives but by the light of some revelation…

    The whole food of Christian Truth, however, is accessible only to faith; and the chief obstacle to such faith is not logic, as the facile modern view has it, but another and opposed faith. We have seen indeed, that logic cannot deny absolute truth without denying itself; the logic that sets itself up against the Christian Revelation is merely the servant of another “revelation,” of a false “absolute truth”: namely Nihilism.

    • #27
    • February 15, 2015, at 2:37 PM PST
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  28. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Z in MT:

    I am using belief in the Bayesian sense – the sum total of evidence and prior assumptions. One thing that I might have [miswritten], faith is belief without evidence and/or applying 100% probability to a prior without stating so. And I stick by my argument that good scientists shouldn’t practice faith – doesn’t mean they don’t do it, but when they do they are not being true to the scientific method.

    While it’s possible to define “faith” as a prior belief that no amount of data could ever update, I think it’s also possible to define faith as trust, or as synonymous with belief.

    Since people often have good reason for giving a plain-English word a highly specialized definition (you should see what mathematicians have done to the word “normal”!), I have no problem with using “faith” as the shorthand for “belief that can never be updated” – a monosyllabic shorthand for that concept is useful. But it’s equally understandable that others may use “faith” in a different way – for example, as a synonym for “trust”.

    In science, we hold some beliefs more strongly than others. Some beliefs are held so strongly that our confidence in them approaches 100%. Such beliefs include belief in the utility of describing nature mechanically, and belief in certain conservation laws. For example, we would be rightfully shocked to discover that momentum is not in fact conserved, and we rightfully dismiss most “evidence” that momentum is not conserved as noise or error.

    When we can rightfully hold a belief with near-100% confidence, we do not err greatly in holding it with 100% confidence, even if doing so diminishes our moral perfection as scientists. Odds are still good we can accomplish useful science despite our dogmatic belief in something that is very likely true anyhow.

    • #28
    • February 15, 2015, at 2:38 PM PST
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  29. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    Z in MT:

    I am arguing that is what you are doing. I am using belief in the Bayesian sense – the sum total of evidence and prior assumptions. One thing that I might have miss wrote, faith is belief without evidence and/or applying 100% probability to a prior without stating so. And I stick by my argument that good scientists shouldn’t practice faith – doesn’t mean they don’t do it, but when they do they are not being true to the scientific method.

    In performing a peer-review for a scientific paper, I am not automatically skeptical of a persons data or conclusions, nor do I take their data on faith. As I read the paper I gather evidence to come up with my belief. Some of that may not be based purely on the data itself. If the paper is written poorly, or description of the procedure is left out, I will be more skeptical of the data and conclusions. If I personally or professionally know the authors, my prior knowledge may sway belief one way of the other. i.e. if I have prior familiarity with a scientists work, I probably will be less skeptical. However, it also depends on the consequences or conclusions the authors is asking me to accept, for example if a Nobel Prize winner asks me to conclude that they have demonstrated faster than light communication, it would take more than a single paper or set of data to change my belief in that possibility.

    We are in agreement.

    • #29
    • February 15, 2015, at 2:42 PM PST
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  30. Brandon Phelps Inactive
    Brandon Phelps Post author

    Larry Koler:Brandon, thanks very much for the banned talk. Very interesting approach to things that have interested me for a long time but I have never been able to think so clearly as Sheldrake so I have never quite been able to describe it to myself as clearly as he does in this talk. Really brilliant talk.

    You’re welcome! Consider Nihilism also, because Science Set Free is a natural outworking of Nihilism.

    I remember John’s SNS but I now see that I should have watched the videos he provided. (As an aside, we are very lucky to have a genius like John on Ricochet and doing his SNS because he is not dogmatic and has shown himself able to think outside the box on most issues.)

    I very much appreciate having John on this site. His contributions are interesting, often enthralling. You can argue with him and he remains clear and respectful. Like everyone here. Also, he can pull off an interview quite well, as I heard him on one of the podcasts recently. Plus, doesn’t he live in Switzerland or something? That right there is a bonus.

    • #30
    • February 15, 2015, at 3:45 PM PST
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