Thursday, November 24, 2011

Waterloo Ignorance Day

This looks like a lot of fun (details in the poster here).

That's the difference between science and religion. Scientists are happy to admit when they don't know something, and they view it as a challenge to learn more, while religionists like to "revel in the mystery" and just sit there.


Antony van Leeuwenhoek said...

"religionists like to "revel in the mystery" and just sit there."

The following "religionists" all say, "bulls**t":
Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, William Harvey, Blaise Pascal, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Carolus Linnaeus, William Herschel, Samuel Morse, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, James Joule, Lord Kelvin, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister.

(Don't bother quibbling about two or three of these men unless you're willing to reject them all.)

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Faux Antony:

A "religionist" is someone who lets their theism interfere with genuine investigation. I'm thinking of people like the modern-day creationists. Most of the folks you listed don't qualify.

I do find it amusing you felt compelled to type in all those names, though. As if, for example, anyone scientifically literate didn't know about Newton's and Faraday's views of Christianity.

Antony van Leeuwenhoek said...

"I'm thinking of people like the modern-day creationists."
Good, I'm glad you clarified.

It was more of a cut'n'paste job.

Your readers would have to be more than scientifically literate. They'd have to be historically literate, too.

Pseudonym said...

To be fair, I'd never heard the term "religionist" defined before either. I'd always assumed it was a synonym for "religious person". Even had I not assumed that, I'm not sure I could have worked out the intended meaning from context and etymology alone.

It's always good to learn a new (and useful) word.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

I like the term "religionist". I'll adopt it. I can think of many such people: John Lennox, William Dembski, to mention a couple. The Pope could be considered a religionist too, although he never claims to be scientifically literary. Should we revise the term and say:

A "religionist" is someone who pretends to be conducting scientific investigation and lets their theism interfere with genuine investigation.

Antony v. L said...

"Scientists are happy to admit when they don't know something"

Of course, you mean the | good | ones do.

Tim Kenyon said...

Hey Jeff,


...and philosophers... :-)

cody said...

Antony van Leeuwenhoek, looking at the time periods of your list,

Robert Grosseteste (1175-1253),
Roger Bacon (1214-1294),
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519),
Francis Bacon (1561-1626),
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630),
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642),
William Harvey (1578-1657),
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662),
Robert Boyle (1627-1691),
Isaac Newton (1643-1727),
Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778),
William Herschel (1738-1822),
Samuel Morse (1791-1872),
Michael Faraday (1791-1867),
Charles Babbage (1791-1871),
James Joule (1818-1889),
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907),
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879),
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884),
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895),
Joseph Lister (1827-1912),

only the last six were born after Darwin (1809-1882), but were essentially contemporaries—it was much easier to believe magical things (like religion) before a reasonable explanation for our existence was developed.

Of course there are modern religious scientists—Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller are two prominent examples—but all this is missing the real point: science is about testing information to figure out what is true and what isn't.

In contrast, religion endorses information from ancient (unverifiable) texts, personal revelation and authorities, all sources which science has taught us are highly prone to err.

There is no reason to think the most brilliant scientific minds are immune to the ignorant superstitions of their time and culture (especially given the long tradition of childhood indoctrination), but the more one learns about the world the more difficult it becomes to maintain theistic and scientific descriptions of the world simultaneously. It has also become far more acceptable to express skepticism about religious claims (e.g. no house arrest for suggesting the earth isn't the center of the universe).

Henry said...

If we believe in Einstein's theory that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, will we be called a 'religionist'? (Now that two separate experiments appear to have found a particle that can travel faster by, was it 40 nanoseconds?) Or will we be a religionist if we take on the new result and discount Einstein's theory?
Personally, I am not religious. But my point with the above is that many of us accept results from experiments/theorems that other people have done/proved and we have not checked it independently and many times have no ability to do so. I have gone through some of the arguments for the speed of light argument but have no way of reproducing the faster than light experiment.
As observed already in this discussion, there have been and currently are many smart people who are religious and are scientists. Religion obviously keeps changing as does science. I personally hope that there is such a thing as a scientific method that is superior to the religious way of doing things/reasoning things out. But most of the time I think that religion just keeps changing. The current main religion is the media ... next, if not already, will be the internet, i.e. the way the media controls the information flow is essentially what religion did historically. Instead of believing 'a bible', most people now believe what they read in the media and accept that as (scientific) fact.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


You seem very, very confused.

1. Einstein's theory does not rule out particles travelling faster than light.

2. The new experiments are interesting but two experiments by the same team aren't enough to overthrow a well-verified theory. That's not the way science works.

3. The new experiments have nothing to do with religion.

4. Religion - in particular the dominant religion of North America - does not change at the same speed or in the same manner as science.

Antony v. L said...

Cody, there were plenty of atheists in the 1700 and 1800s. Can you provide list of atheist scientists from that period. If not, why not?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Faux Antony:

No, there weren't, largely because of (i) the argument from design, later destroyed by Darwin and (ii) saying you were could get you killed.

Takis Konstantopoulos said...

Henry: Religious texts NEVER change. I have often recommended a revision of the Torah, the Quran, etc., but religious folk are shocked by my suggestion and call me blasphemous. Contrast this to science...
Yes, you are very confused.

cody said...

Antony v. L, yes, as Jeffery said, one's life was at risk for professing atheism.

A 2007 Gallup poll asking "whether they would vote for 'a generally well-qualified' presidential candidate nominated by their party with each of the following characteristics," atheist was dead last at 45%, 10 points behind homosexuality, 12 points behind 72 year olds, and more than 25 points behind every religion, women, and race (actually Islam wasn't included)—and that's here, in 21st century America.

15th century Europe was still burning people alive at the suggestion that Earth might not be the center of the universe! The pope only forgave Galileo in 19912! I suspect there were many more atheists at the time than recorded history shows, but no one can say for sure how many people historically have doubted the existence of a god because of the social pressures preventing one from doing so have remained extraordinarily high!

The first text espousing atheism was only discovered upon the death of it's author, Jean Meslier (1664-1729). Why didn't he publish before he died? Even Copernicus, writing only about the cosmos, only published his idea post-mortum, later Galileo was tried and sentenced to house arrest for some of the same and similar ideas.

People often object, "but even Galileo was a theist!" and "we wouldn't have the Sistine Chapel without the catholic church," but who knows? No one knows what a world without theism would look like. Perhaps funding for Michelangelo(s) wouldn't have been there? But maybe we would have had internet in 1700 if we hadn't been executing geniuses in the name of Jesus?

Antony v L. said...

"saying you were could get you killed."

You may need to brush up on your history.
"Since the 1700s history provides a series of atheistic books, politicians, etc, such as the group who wrote the first Encyclopedia, led by Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Jean D'Alembert (one of the founders of Positivsm), Baron d'Holbach, Voltaire, the Marquis de Sade (in 1782 wrote an atheist book), the physician Matthew Turner also wrote a book in 1782. Some of these authors and people were imprisoned for blasphemy because of their atheism (Antony v L: Did this say 'murder'?), but from this time onwards largely it has been safe to call yourself an atheist, and the major sciences have since flourished."

C'mon, there should've been plenty of scientists from that century who were at least quiet atheists.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Faux Antony:

If you are going to cut and paste more material, at least have the decency to let us know the source.

I stand by my claim. Listing a handful of people does not negate it.

Furthermore, you have yet to explain why you think it is even relevant. Today, many, perhaps even most, scientists are nonbelievers. Why do we care about whether there were nonbelievers in the 1700's, when science was done by a handful of people?

SLC said...

Re Antony v. L

Cody, there were plenty of atheists in the 1700 and 1800s. Can you provide list of atheist scientists from that period. If not, why not?

How about Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace? When asked by Napoleon what part god might play in maintaining the stability of the Solar System, he replied that he had no need of that hypothesis.

cody said...

"From this time onward it was safe to call yourself an atheist"? The Roman inquisition didn't end until 1860; in 1858 they legally kidnapped a fevered jewish boy because in a moment of panic his babysitter baptized him and the law required baptized children be raised by catholics! (safe ≠ !murder)

The fact that a handful of people were writing about atheism and suffering nothing more than jailtime is not exactly support for the idea that everyone who questioned god vocalized it, let alone scientists who aren't traditionally known for their risk-taking, as opposed to their hedging & caution! (Dunning-Kruger amirit?)

Even now, in 21st century America, one's career—political or otherwise—may come under threat for expressing certain beliefs (especially in certain parts of the country). Our explicitly secular country didn't adopt the First Amendment until 1791, and a great many citizens ignore it to this day!

I don't know why I keep responding to this anyway as Jeffrey has repeatedly pointed out the original statement had nothing to do with these details. One should reasonably understand "scientists" to refer to thinking done in a scientific manner while "religionists" refers to thinking done in a religious manner, with nothing precluding the possibility that the two types of thinking occur in a single individual at different times (or the same time for that matter). The fact that some people can tolerate great cognitive dissonance is incidental.

Kenneth Miller is a scientist when discussing evolution and some aspects of biology, and a religionist when discussing theology and some other aspects of biology, but these effects are really due to the institutions themselves. Newton wrote on a huge variety of physics, theology, and alchemy (among others), so despite being among the greatest scientists in human history, he may also rightly be called a crank! So what?

Antony v. L said...

Did the persecution go on in Asia, too? Let's not ignore them.

"Scientists are happy to admit when they don't know something, and they view it as a challenge to learn more, while religionists like to "revel in the mystery" and just sit there."

Except maybe when it comes to junk DNA. The majority of biologists thought that junk was indeed junk, so didn't think research in the area was important. The "religionists", even if they weren't doing the experiments themselves, were rooting for the minority of biologists who sought for functionality in the "junk" DNA.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Faux Antony:

Except maybe when it comes to junk DNA.

Oh, dear, it seems our blog commenter has nothing better to do than to cut-and-paste from Uncommon Descent.

Faux Antony, most DNA is junk DNA. And biologists did not stop researching it. You know nothing about it, but you're pretending you do. Stop lyingl

cody said...

Antony, do you not understand the irrelevance of your questions? Has me wondering, are you trolling?

Though the direct source and quote elude me, Sam Harris had a great way to clarify the difference between religion and science. It was along the lines of: if you were to ask a 14th century expert about physics, chemistry, biology, geology, medicine, practically everything they told you would be flat wrong. But doing the same with 14th century religious figures you'd get the major points of any theology that has survived the interim.

This is because the fundamental operation of science is not a system of belief, but systematic doubt. It's true that scientists (being human) sometimes suffer from the same human traits that religionists suffer under: the unquestioning acceptance of hidden assumptions. In these instances they are not thinking like scientists, they are thinking like humans. This doesn't typically interfere with science in general because one researcher's unconscious biases are another researcher's advantage, and the race to publish new discoveries and hypotheses and ideas is extremely competitive.

This systemic doubt is what excludes all the suggestions of divine interference that religionists so fervently cling to. Hence Jeffrey's original distinction.

If you really want to discuss this stuff further, I'd be happy to correspond with you through email (cause I feel bad about fueling this discussion on Jeffrey's blog).

Antony v. L said...

"And biologists did not stop researching it."

Don't misquote me! Read my words carefully this time, OK?

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it is hard to differentiate between science and religion - and today's media -... there is lots of discussion on religion in this article.