Friday, May 4, 2012

Science And The Wider World

I daresay that most of you are by no means reluctant to accept the scientific epic of the Creation, holding it perhaps as more to the glory of God than the traditional story. Perhaps you would prefer to tone down certain harshnesses of expression, to emphasise the forethought of the Creator in the events which I have called accidents. I would not venture to say that those who are eager to sanctify, as it were, the revelations of science by accepting them as new insight into the divine power are wrong. But this attitude is liable to grate a little on the scientific mind, forcing its free spirit of inquiry into one predetermined mode of expression; and I do not think that the harmonising of the scientific and the religious outlook on experience is assisted that way. Perhaps our feeling on this point can be explained by a comparison . A business man may believe that the hand of Providence is behind his commercial undertakings as it is behind all vicissitudes of his life; but he would be aghast at the suggestion that Providence should be entered as an asset in his balance sheet. I think it is not irreligion but a tidiness of mind, which rebels against the idea of permeating scientific research with a religious implication.

Arthur Stanley Eddington: Science and the Unseen World  

Asserting that intelligent design is a part of science requires an unallowable extension of non-scientific observations and ideas into science.   It is a violation of the formal requirements of science.  Science can't include information that doesn't conform to certain, fairly restrictive requirements.  That information has to be about the physical universe as it can be adequately observed, quantified, analyzed with methods of science, etc.  So the idea of a non-physical designer, teleology,  purpose,  values, morals etc. can't enter into the restricted confines of science.    I'd guess that most informed people would agree with those restrictions in so far as religion is concerned.   In fact, religion is the extra-scientific area of thought that has been most successfully kept out of modern science.  It has, beyond question, been the one category of thought which has been most rigorously rejected by those scientists who are hostile to religion as well as those of us who do so merely out of the kind of reasonableness Eddington talked about.  In doing that they are rigorously following the agreed to rules against ideas and information which can't be processed with science being inserted into the  discourse of science.

Other areas of thought and life have not been as rigorously segregated from the ideally pristine vessel of science.   Personal profit, professional ambition, political ideology,  intentional fraud, racism, sexism, class bias, ...   have all been successfully introduced into even the formal publication of science,   They have had damaging effects on science and, far more importantly, have caused far more harm in wider life than religious infiltration has.   Personal profit and professional ambition have certainly been among the least successfully excluded of pollutants of science as can be seen 24 hours a day of petroleum and gas propaganda featuring scientists as shills on American TV.   And there are lucrative opportunities for scientists in areas other than the extraction industries, not least of which is in the productions of ever more deadly ammunition and armaments.  The silence of the wider community of science on this massive corruption of the idealistic and beneficial endeavor that they present science to be is more revealing of trouble in science than the entire anti-religious campaign has managed to turn up.

Professional ambition, at least in the form of fraud in formal scientific publication has been more successfully expunged, when it is exposed.    The lesson that could be learned about weaknesses in the essential aspect of review in science and, especially, pre-publication review, doesn't seem to have been sufficient to have corrected those lapses.  And in no other area is that as obvious as in recent scandals in the social and biological sciences.   Professional ambition in the form of sometimes vicious intra-scientific ideological warfare is a ubiquitous feature of most scientific fields as well as in almost all academic disciplines.

Today, in the English speaking world,  ideological atheism is the most often and most successfully introduced ideological pollution of science, especially of the biological sciences, though physics seems to be catching up.   Certainly, that is the case in the wider culture of science, the overt insertion of materialist ideology into formal scientific publication being only somewhat less likely than its assertion in informal scientific discourse.    The assertion that science belongs to atheists, that atheism is a requirement to, not only do science but to be intellectually respectable,  that it is a worth while goal to push religious people into intellectual disrepute,  is the stated intention of many celebrity scientist-atheists like Dawkins, Myers and Coyne.  And their favorite weapon in their war against religion has been evolutionary science.  In that they follow a long line of scientific anti-religious campaigners such as Francis Galton, Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel.   The features of evolution and its clear contradiction of a literal reading of Genesis is the most obvious reason for its utility as an attack against religion and the battle was taken up enthusiastically on both sides.  That, all along, there were large numbers of religious people who took the information provided by evolution in stride and continued to be both religious and scientifically informed, hasn't made any difference to those who cling to their favorite weapons in the Darwin Wars.

But, the debunking of Genesis aside, much of the attack against religion, especially the lines of religion coming from Judaism is more fundamental.     The very existence of the possibility of unselfish behavior and even morality has been attacked.    The problem is usually called "altruism" but I'm going to call it "unshelfishness" to remove that most important of all human attitudes and practices from the intellectual chopping block.

A lot of the most obvious ideological efforts inserted directly into science have surrounded the problem of unselfishness which, no matter how hard they try, can't be squared with natural selection.  Natural selection operates by selfishness, self-interest, and merciless struggle for existence and reproduction, selfishness is given the status of a force of nature in the extreme interpretations of Darwin.  The chosen method of treating it with natural selection has been to transform unselfish behavior into some occult form of selfishness that would be predicted by natural selection.  The results have been some pretty dodgy science, which has been discussed endlessly by the critics of Sociobiology and evo-psy.  I'll digress here to say that this kind denotative shift is a constant tactic of materialist polemic, it has to be because so much of human experience is incompatible with materialism.

Why they don't just admit that the theory of natural selection has some but clearly limited explanatory power is, again, ideological.  To admit that, like most theories, natural selection is limited in its usefulness, runs up against a number of cultural predispositions as to render admitting that limit impossible for the most passionate of ideologues.  Foremost is the habit of using "evolution" and, specifically the ideological figure head they've made of Charles Darwin in their culture war.  To admit some kind of limit in his foremost idea would be unbearable for them.   Instead, as in the writing of figures in the war against religion such as Dawkins and Daniel Dennett the attempts to apply natural selection have become wildly, even irrationally ambitions.   I'd assert that British nationalism and Anglophone chauvinism is also at work.    In the wider culture a lot  of it is attributable to the tiresome habit of the BBC to produce costume dramas about Charles Darwin,  that lazy custom being a sort of scientific Jane Austin mania.    That modern genetics has discovered other, competing,  mechanisms of evolution hasn't made a dent into the pop-culture hegemony of the natural selection absolutists, either.  In this the Darwin cult has an ally in creationism.  It's hardly in the interest of the creationism industry to address modern theories in genetics which add evidence to the fact of evolution for which their massive research into the Darwin circle is irrelevant.

There is a lot to be learned from considering the entire context of how one of the most obviously beneficial attributes of people was turned into the "problem of altruism".   Unselfishness only becomes a problem when natural selection is asserted to have universally applicable explanatory power.  Clearly, it doesn't.   It should never be forgotten that natural selection is, itself,  an intellectual explanation instead of an actual thing.  It is an intellectual construction made of assumptions about how organisms die and their rates of reproduction.  And it couldn't be more relevant to that consideration that it was built on the clearly class influenced analysis of Malthusian economics.   It has little in common with the laws of physics and chemistry, not surprising since the phenomenon it proposes to address is of such stupendous range of circumstances as well as diverse organisms, their physical bodies, the physical and ephemeral aspects of organisms in time,  their history.   Evolution is probably the most complex entity that science has ever proposed to explain.   There is nothing of intellectual accuracy or honesty to be gained by ignoring the intellectual origins and problems such ideas contain.  Whenever those are swept under the rug it would be good to suspect less than honest motives, generally ideological ones.   The asserted universal efficacy of natural selection to explain just evolution is certainly audacious, it should probably be considered irrational in view of later discoveries in genetics.    The assertion of its supremacy is certainly premature.   The effect of that assertion in the study of science,  its political position within science is an important issue.  The ability of those asserting the universal efficacy of natural selection to damage careers and to punish other viewpoints within science has, almost certainly, been capable of distorting the science, likely enforcing adherence to a view giving a less than accurate picture.    Pointing out that it is likely,  not only possible, that the very real and observable phenomenon of unselfish behavior has nothing to do with natural selection, as it so obviously doesn't,  would certainly be controversial outside of science.  It would be interesting to see what the consequences of explicitly saying that within biology would be.   One of the weapons aimed at anyone saying that would certainly be a charge of covertly trying to insert religion into science, that's a charge that is even laid against atheists when they dare suggest far more modest things of that sort.

Since engaging in a  very long  blog argument last summer surrounding what can be known about the origin of life on Earth, I've become more interested in the stated ideological motivations of scientists, using science to promote atheism.  They haven't been shy about making declarations, staking claims and even creating entire branches of "science" to promote a materialistic-atheist ideology using science as a tool.   The extent to which their scientific claims might be effected by their ideology is seldom considered.  I hold that huge swaths of the social sciences are motivated by materialism, often in order to reduce people and animals into material objects, generally with the most breathtakingly evidence free speculations asserted as the equivalent of hard science.

I will write up the blog brawl I had over the entirely unknowable origin of life on Earth at Greg Laden's blog, something which my non-fans have mentioned to me on other blogs, so I know it has some currency.   The "science" of abiogenesis could stand as one of the clearest ideologically motivated and sustained branches of the biological sciences.   It could stand as a prime specimen of obvious serial violation of the restriction against inserting ideology into science.   Not to mention fundamentally violating other requirements of science, logic and even the most basic aspects of sensible thought.


Arthur Stanley Eddington said:

The physicist who inveighs against the lack of coherence and the indefiniteness of theological theories, will probably speak not much less harshly of the theories of biology and psychology. They also fail to come up to his standard of methodology. On the other side of him stands an even superior being – the pure mathematician – who has no high opinion of the methods of deduction used in physics, and does not hide his disapproval of the laxity of what is accepted as proof in physical science. 

Life is hard to study.  Organisms are far more complex than inert objects and physical systems, far more than the physics for which Eddington was a major figure of his time and the subject of applied mathematics, in which Eddington was also very highly accomplished.    Even single cell organisms are stunningly complex as compared to most of the non-living  things that physicists study.   Studying cells within a multi-cell organism add layers of added complexity and are not separable from the entire organism and can't be considered apart from it.  The complexities only multiply as a more complete and realistic picture of life is sought.  In order to just be getting on in biology often requires pruning out possible aspects of an enormously complex subject and to treat organisms as more generalized specimens than they are.   An individual organism is, truly, sui generis in many aspects of its life, physical structure, molecular activity, etc.  they are not merely interchangeable with other members of their species, though often studied as such out of practical exigencies, their individuality should never be forgotten.   They change as they live, often in dramatic ways due to different internal and external circumstances.  They do not exist in isolation but are intimately tied to their parents, their habitat and their environment, which are the opposite of simple and static items, either.   There is not a single organism that biology will know comprehensively and exhaustively,  there will always be more about any single organism than what science can tell us about it.  As more is learned about the things that effect organisms, the complexities multiply in knowable and presumably unknowable ways as those factors interact to influence the organism.  When the focus goes from an individual organism to include wider areas of life, the problems of understanding those grow.   My sister-in-law, who is a research biologist, likes to say "Biology isn't rocket science, it's a lot harder than rocket science".  

The complexity of life, which is stunningly obvious - one of Darwin's most famous passages praises the astonishing complexity of life in its environment -  has been one of the things used by creationists to attack the fact of evolution.  Though, the argument over the meaning of complexity doesn't, actually, attack evolution, it attacks the idea that life as it is was the product of random chance,  which  is essential for the atheistic assumptions about evolution and, indeed, all of physical reality.   That idea, ideologically motivated in this case,  could fall tomorrow and the fact of evolution, the stunningly massive amount of evidence supporting it, would still be there to explain.

Anyway, the implication in the argument is that the obvious complexity couldn't just happen by random actions according to chance.   And as the complexity of a result grows the calculation against the chance of that result happening by random actions also grows.   Which might "grate a little on the scientific mind",  but it is a conclusion which clearly has enormous persuasive power and which could be true.  The idea that intention was involved to produce that end might be unpalatable to materialists but it isn't irrational.   The dislike of atheists for an idea isn't a factor in determining its truth  any more than the dislike of non-atheists of other ideas.    Neither is the inability of science to address that possibility.   Science might be able to overturn some of the proposals of creationists within science, it can't touch the idea that the things science can show are the  product of God's intention. The ban on that idea only applies to science due to the exigencies of science, that ban only means that science can't address the idea not that it is proven false by that inability.  That ban doesn't cover any other part of life and human experience.

What is most remarkable in the political struggle surrounding that issue is that scientists fighting that question was never necessary.   Evolutionary science could have held to a strict line of presenting information about what the physical evidence indicated about  life, including that it evolved over billions of years,  without getting involved in extra-scientific brawls.   But history shows that, instead of protecting evolutionary science from becoming entrapped in materialist and atheist ideology,  of  avoiding involving it in an extra-scientific death match, evolution was claimed as a weapon of atheist ideology almost from the beginning, continuing down till today.

You would think that scientists who study evolution would have their hands full without that.   As compared to the ability of all of the scientists who have studied, do study or will study evolution, the topic is one of effectively  infinite complexity.   No  more than a tiny amount of the essential information required to understand evolution will ever be discovered, never mind studied to the extent that the conclusions about it could be rationally considered to be science.   Most of the potential information that was generated in the billions of years of evolving life on Earth is irretrievably lost.   One of the most obvious facts about evolutionary science is that its understanding will never be more than fragmentary.   And that is only in terms of the physical aspects of evolution that are the allowable subject matter of science, of data that can actually be had instead of an artificial substitute for data created out of ideological conjecture.

Questions such as teleology have never been treatable by science, though the habit of seeing things teleologically is so ingrained in human thought that even the most materialistic and atheistic of scientists are constantly presenting ideas such as "transitional species" which are teleological. Transition requires arrival, arrival requires direction. As if every "transitional" organism wasn't, itself, a member of what we would call a "species".   It is always an extinct species when considered this way and always seen as a way station on the road to a successor species or as a dead end.  Those "species", when they existed, the individual organisms that comprised those "species", were ends in themselves unless the concept of teleology is introduced.   There isn't any species alive today that isn't potentially "transitional", all of those which didn't come to a dead end could be considered to be "transitional".    

And teleology was  present, if unadmitted,  from the second that the first conception of evolution thought of the problem in terms of the production of species.   The very concept of evolution was born dancing on the cusp of teleology.  Considering individual organisms as merely parts of a somewhat artificial greater unit which their existence and reproduction serves is introducing a concept of temporal direction into the analysis.   The denial that the direction implies intention is a denial of the history of the subject as well as common sense.   "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"  is a title that is saturated by assumptions of teleology and implications of intention*.   Of course science, proper,  can't deal with more than what the physical evidence shows.  It is no accident due to the nature of the first chapter of Genesis that evolution was the subject that would be the major battle ground between science and religion on that basis, alone.  Though denying that the focus of evolution as science more than just runs up against ideas that are extra-scientific is one of the foremost pretenses of its use in materialist propaganda.

 The assertions of those atheists have provided  some of  the greatest opportunities to  biblical fundamentalists in the past 150 years.   Things might have been different if the Galtons and Huxleys and their ideological descendants hadn't used evolution ideologically, using it more dishonestly than it has been used by non-scientists without a professional obligation to observe the basic requirements of science.   When professional scientists violate the same boundaries as creationists why should anyone be surprised that those boundaries lose cultural allegiance?    Most people are not ideological atheists, most people are not true disbelievers.   Bullying assertions of authority by scientists might be effective with nervous people anxious to avoid the ridicule of materialists.  Clearly, most people don't respect that assertion of authority and are less than troubled by the ridicule.

The only reason that science can't deal with the concepts surrounding teleology is that its methods don't enable it to.  If those allowed for it, teleological thinking would be essential to consider in reviewing evidence and so gain a wider view of what is studied.    The rest of human thought isn't so restricted.   There is nothing to keep anyone from believing their  experience and from being persuaded that they see design and intention, in many things.   It would be irrational to deny that those are present if they were persuaded of their existence by their experience.   It is more than merely possible that the insistence on withholding belief merely because science can't account for an idea could lead to a distortion of what is real.  

Science isn't the measure of all of  human experience, it isn't the measure of human life, it isn't even the measure of the entire physical universe.  Science isn't everything, it is a means to an end, providing us with SOME information about what our experience of the universe means, giving us a limited amount of information, albeit of enhanced reliability,  about a limited range of things.  Evolutionary science, as can be seen in the language of evolutionary scientists and their extra-scientific use of it, doesn't stand apart from that wider network of human thought and life.   In nothing has that interaction been more apparent than the ideological use of science by scientists to attack religion  and the acquiescence to that misuse of science among other scientists.  The response is predictable and not a strengthening of the position of science in society.

The lost opportunity of evolutionary scientists is to clean their house of extra-scientific content presented as science and to point out just what the science can and can't show.   It can't do that, though, without reigning in the ambitions of scientists and the fans of science who use science in their ideological war against religion and, inevitably, against the enormous majority of human beings who are religious.   Other ideological use of science, especially when personal interest and ambition is the motive, will be even harder to expunge from the ideally pristine body of science which is asserted to be the goal.  Especially under ideologies that negate the reality of moral obligations.   The obligation to tell the truth rests on an effective belief in metaphysical moral obligations.  The concept of science as a human activity rests on that obligation, it lives or dies by a non-scientific, moral obligation.    You can't even assert that telling the truth about science is essential and so  assert that creationism as science is wrong without that.

By far, the majority of people who accept science, who accept evolution as a fact, are religious believers,  And many if not most of us believe that evolution is the way in which God has created and sustained life on Earth.   I've never read a scientifically inclined atheist who understands that.   Anyone who believes in a Creator believes that the universe AS IT IS, as opposed to how anyone believes it to be, is, in every detail, at every level of resolution,  the intentional product of that creator.    Science can only study that same universe,  it doesn't study some alternative universe that is the exclusive property of atheists.  Every single thing about the universe that science discovers is an aspect of that universe.  When scientists find some exquisitely subtle, molecular aspect of evolution, they are discovering something about the universe that religious believers fully believe in as the product of God.   Religious evolutionists accept what science has found out about evolution and believe it gives us an insight into how creation has happened.   Biblical fundamentalists don't accept it, even as they might accept every other finding of science.  There have been biblical fundamentalists who have had distinguished careers in science, after all.     Fundamentalism, though, isn't essential to religious belief,  most of those who can readily accept the fact of evolution are religious believers who believe that evolution as it happens, happens according to the will of God.   As with the ability of science to comprehend the physical universe, our understanding of God's will  and those intentions is limited and it always will be.  

Ideas asserted to be accurate by science are constantly questioned and rejected for many reasons other than religion.   Ideas such as climate change are attacked because they are inconvenient and unprofitable for petroleum companies who have hired qualified scientists to attack climate change science and to promote a profit motivated pseudo-scientific line.   I have seen none of those scientific hacks expelled from the fraternity of scientists.   Large parts of environmental science have been attacked for similar motives and, these days, as part of right-wing political expediency.   As mentioned early in this post, ideas are constantly attacked within science, by scientists, for reasons of professional interest and, even, because scientists disagree with the findings.   Sometimes the critics of science are proven right,  sometimes they find refuting evidence, sometimes their analyses uncover mistakes and contradictions within what is proposed.   It is one of the conceits of  ideological atheists that that kind of questioning is a virtue other areas of human culture lack as an integrated practice.  They are, of course, wrong about that but it is among the things most often heard about religion, these days.   But when it's a Richard Dawkins or a Jerry Coyne whose ideas are subjected to that skepticism, their enthusiasm for it is considerably diminished. They don't, though, treat that kind of skepticism of science as the unpardonable offense in any other instance than when that skepticism is attributable to religion.   As I said, even when it is an atheist who is criticizing a proposal,  they are accused of covert religiosity, sometimes they are accused of trying to find a "sky hook", one of Daniel Dennett's favorite tactics.   As they convert unselfishness into  covert selfishness, they also convert criticisms of their ideas into veiled religion.

Unless something is done to seriously look at the ideological junking up of biological science and, especially, the very vulnerable science studying evolution,  those difficulties and the public rejection of science will become far harder and will eventually lead to a complete breakdown in public support of science.   I don't think arguments like the one Meyers presented below will do anything to add to the public confidence that scientists are engaged in a non-ideological search for information, not to mention the truth.   The consequences for all of us will be far, far more tragic than it will be for scientists who can't get funding and public school curricula being infiltrated, I hope temporarily,  by pseudo-science.

Further Update:   As the original title, I Still Can't Believe The Driftwood Dodge Didn't Get Smacked Down By Biologists, indicates, I wasn't intending to write a long essay when I began this post but it has turned into one.   I can't say that it is in the form I'd like it to be even after four days of revision.   If you would like to see a display of many of the issues I'm talking about here, just about the perfect one came  on the Chris Hayes Show the day after an early draft of this essay was posted .  The discussion featured Chris Mooney, a journalist who I admire but with whom I have some major disagreements and  Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist who I disagree with about many things as well as his fundamental orientation.    Notice, especially, what happens when John McWorter (with whom I disagree about almost everything),  declaring himself to be an atheist who rejects the idea of an intelligent designer, violates the taboo against mentioning appearances of design in evolution.   Also note the bizarre and appalling part in the discussion when Larry Summers' evidence free, sexist assumption of gender differences in mathematical ability WAS ASSUMED TO BE VALID, simply because what he was asserting had the trappings of science.   Addressing what's wrong with that will take a long post, in itself.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This is a Masterpiece

I'm Coming Home 

The Staple Singers 

Because Cells Are Like Accumulated Driftwood On a Shore

Therefore, No God.

If you might wonder how piles of driftwood  accumulating randomly on a shore and the organization of living, functioning, reproducing cells are supposed to be alike, count yourself among those who aren't privileged to share such Bright insights with P.Z. Myers, atheist blog celebrity.  

I'm not making this up, you know.

P. Z. Myers, I'm no creationist and intelligent design as science is as absurdly asserted as atheist ideology as science is, but  I've got enough respect for coherent, logical argument, not to mention the duty of someone who agrees to give a quasi-academic lecture to ACTUALLY PREPARE A COHERENT, LOGICAL ARGUMENT  instead of throwing a bunch of crap into a Power Point program,  to not say you've presented something less of both than the failed arguments of creationists.

What next?   How a pile of junk lying inert in your office, give or take something getting put on it or falling on the floor, is like really slow metabolism and reproduction?

I'm looking around for the condemnation of other biologists for this and am finding not too much.   In this you can see the danger of substituting atheist ideology for a rigorous separation of ideology and science.   If scientists don't see the danger of this kind of thing becoming the public face of science they are either cowards or ideological dupes.

Aldous Huxley Anticipates The Culture of the Atheist Blogosphere

Remember this the next time someone tells you to 'lighten up' or that you sound .... well, it comes down to sounding too much like an adult.

 At the sound of his voice the Director started into a guilty realization of where he was; shot a glance at Bernard, and averting his eyes, blushed darkly; looked at him again with sudden suspicion and, angrily on his dignity, "Don't imagine," he said, "that I'd had any indecorous relation with the girl. Nothing emotional, nothing long-drawn. It was all perfectly healthy and normal." He handed Bernard the permit. "I really don't know why I bored you with this trivial anecdote." Furious with himself for having given away a discreditable secret, he vented his rage on Bernard. The look in his eyes was now frankly malignant. "And I should like to take this opportunity, Mr. Marx," he went on, "of saying that I'm not at all pleased with the reports I receive of your behaviour outside working hours. You may say that this is not my business. But it is. I have the good name of the Centre to think of. My workers must be above suspicion, particularly those of the highest castes. Alphas are so conditioned that they do not have to be infantile in their emotional behaviour. But that is all the more reason for their making a special effort to conform. lt is their duty to be infantile, even against their inclination. And so, Mr. Marx, I give you fair warning." The Director's voice vibrated with an indignation that had now become wholly righteous and impersonal–was the expression of the disapproval of Society itself. "If ever I hear again of any lapse from a proper standard of infantile decorum, I shall ask for your transference to a Sub-Centre–preferably to Iceland. Good morning." And swivelling round in his chair, he picked up his pen and began to write.

 from: Brave New World 

 of course.