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A scientist must go where the evidence leads (scientificamerican.com)
77 points by bookofjoe 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 92 comments



Even in research, when everyone else is zigging, it may be time to start zagging and pursue alternatives. Neural nets have a lot of attention, but maybe competitors will show sufficient promise once enough research is done. For example, Factor Tables:

https://github.com/RowColz/AI

Most of the research on early semiconductors focused on germanium. Manufacturers got pretty good at preparing it, but some started looking to silicon as a promising alternative. Germanian had a head start due to experience, but silicon research started paying off after a while. Lesson: the early leader may not be the best finisher.


e.g. Blu-Ray v VHS


I'm surprised disks are still as prevalent as they are for music and movies. Thumb-drives should have replaced them years ago. Perhaps there are copyright-related reasons holding it back?


> Thumb-drives should have replaced them years ago. Perhaps there are copyright-related reasons holding it back?

IIRC, thumb drives are far more unreliable and unstable than discs.


Perhaps because manufactures are sloppy. Redundancy perhaps could be added, but consumers don't seem to reward it yet.


The discipline of science (and its sibling mathematics) has been one of the great achievements of human civilization. It has been so astonishingly successful, we can’t even fathom there being any phenomena beyond its reach, given enough time and enough foundational understanding. Because I like to stretch my mind in uncomfortable directions, I often wonder: is there something else? Something that can lead us to Truth other than mathematics and science? Has human civilization gotten stuck in a local maximum where it appears as though we now have a means for understanding the entire universe, but there is another whole level we are as yet too primitive to reach? I worry that as a species we haven’t spent enough time trying to answer this question.


It sounds like you may mean philosophy. You are getting philosophical, being meta..(although I'm suspicious of capitalizing things like 'Truth') Philosophy asks "What is X?" e.g. what is science, how does it work? Tries to understand things. When the answers philosophy gets in an area become complete enough, that area is called science/maths/logic etc.. That happened with science itself, which used to be 'natural philosophy'. Also, if there was some new way discovered for increasing scientific-type knowledge, it would itself become a part of science.


It seems likely that such truths (which are neither mathematical nor scientific) exist, as can be seen from the effort that philosophers of science have put in studying the so-called "demarcation problem." If they could have defined science as "not math" and left it at that, they surely would have. They have some very good ideas in this direction (Popper's falsifiability) but the debate rages on. In particular, it's very hard to answer the question, are there things which are not science, but still true or at least useful?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem

Some examples:

1. C. S. Pierce believed he had discovered a third form of thought, distinct from deduction (math and logic) and induction (empirical science). He called it "abduction."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abductive_reasoning

2. Certain aspects of philosophy seem to be outside what we consider math or science, such as ethics. The "is-ought" problem is currently open; we basically have no way of giving force to normative statements (you ought/should do a thing, it is right/good/just to do a thing). Kant's categorical imperative is probably the closest approach, but it's hard to accept it uncritically (or seriously entertain Kant's resulting system of ethics, which for example imply you should not lie even to save a life.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem

3. Semantics (study of meaning) also may not be neither math (which can avoid all semantics and adopt a formalist POV) or science (which can also be described as a formal attempt to predict empirical observations, i.e. operationalism and instrumentalism.) For example, the logical positivists attempted to define a verifiability criterion of meaning, but this can easily be show to fail its own test, leaving the question open.


I think a better way to state this is:

If you're not going where the evidence leads then you are not a scientist.

Too often we're using the wrong words, and that further complicates an always complex process (i.e., human communication). Other words that are also often misused are: leader and journalist.


Yeah, pretty much. There seems to be a misconception in some circles that pseudoscientific ideas, religious faith, etc are outright despised by 'scientists' because they somehow go against some naturalistic order or something rather than because the evidence for them isn't there/happens to be weak. It's basically the basis for the old 'flat Earth atheist' trope, the idea that fictional scientists will turn up their noses at claims of magic or ghosts or gods because they're 'not real', even if said universe has them clearly existing.

But this isn't how science works. A 'scientist' who ignores evidence because they don't want something to be true isn't a good scientist, and doesn't act at all like a real life one would. If clear evidence for Bigfoot or Nessie or whatever else was found, it'd become a normal part of science. If we suddenly saw religious style miracles occur in plain sight with no other possible explanation, the idea of a miracle would become a scientific concept that we'd try and study. And in the worlds of say, the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars or Ghostbusters or the Legend of Zelda or whatever other franchise with things that don't exist in real life, those elements would be scientific in their universes too, with their scientists and academics studying them and their literature treating them like everyday things.

But yeah, despite certain fiction tropes and complaints from certain corners, science is about what the evidence says, not about some hard nosed disdain for anything not seen as 'logical'.


> If we suddenly saw religious style miracles occur in plain sight with no other possible explanation, the idea of a miracle would become a scientific concept that we'd try and study.

I disagree. Even if miracles happened and were observed, I think they'd likely still be outside the realm of scientific study and would therefore remain unscientific concepts. Science is built around the assumptions that mechanistic and predictable processes are being studied, but an actual religious miracle would be preformed by an transcendent agent who is likely aware of all attempts to predict its actions and can react to and influence those predictions, breaking the assumptions. The only secular discipline that could really study them would probably be history.

However, if you replace miracles with Harry Potter-style magic, I think your point stands.


Hmm, good point. I guess miracles if they happened would be an interesting kind of beast, since they obviously wouldn't follow any sort of standard logic. That might definitely make them difficult to study, especially compared to other, more logical (but non existent) possibilities like the undead or Harry Potter style magic.

But I guess scientists would still accept they're a thing that exists if they did provably happen, even if there was no logical framework for explaining or studying it.


> But I guess scientists would still accept they're a thing that exists if they did provably happen, even if there was no logical framework for explaining or studying it.

I think they could, but not as scientists wearing their science-hats. They'd only be able to accept the miracles as individuals with personal experience or as people who trust the historical record.


> Rather than softening our interpretation of a conflict between our models and new evidence, we should always seek the simplest explanation and be willing to abandon failed models.

Sure, but what is exactly is "evidence"? The word is used as if observational data has no ambiguity or subjectivity is the way it is defined.

The book, Range (Epstein), had a great example of this in discussing the Challenger explosion in the last chapter.

The premise: several engineering teams in Nasa had a working theory/model about O-ring susceptibility to cold whether. However, their model was not backed up by the evidence available. Nasa made the call to launch based on data alone.

Why? the evidence collected for decision-making was incomplete and poorly presented. Range presents a thesis that over-reliance on a quantitative thinking can lead to optimization of the wrong thing and actually inhibits learning.

Related, "The Challenger: An Information Disaster" https://www.asktog.com/books/challengerExerpt.html - Tufte’s re-examination of the Challenger disaster.


What's the subtext of this column?


The current state of Physics research, as far as I can tell:

[if such and such then] ... physicists should move on to consider alternatives and admit that our original concepts of “naturalness” might have been wrong.

"naturalness" as in: http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/11/naturalness-is-dead...


Probably the politicization of science?


I thought that blind religion is suspicious, I thought. More general: blind adherence to groupthink is perilous.


I like it, especially the constant referal to checking models against results.

For me (and I suspect many others), this is the key to making a convincing argument about the state of climate change. It seems we have lots of headlines (and guesses) about exactly how bad things are, but nobody seems able to correctly forecast even a year or two out.

I think a short pattern of correct predictions would really, really deserve attention.


In my mind any perversion of this truth undermines the very credibility of the scientific discipline. For if our scientific leaders are swayed by forces other than facts, how can we be surprised when public opinion turns on science? One of my favorite quotes that resonates with this piece is by John Maynard Keynes:

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

EDIT: to address the possibility that the Keynes quote is apocryphal, here is another (also possibly apocryphal!) quote I enjoy:

"In God we trust, all others bring data" - W. Edwards Deming


Apologies, since I don't want to derail your point, but there is little evidence that Keynes ever said that:

https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/07/22/keynes-change-mind/


I change my mind then change the facts I focus on. I think we all do it at least a little, right?



Too many religious people that I know think that scientists have it out for them and/or are conspiring against them. Enough articles like this and it will prove their point for them (the statement equating being irreligious with acting like an adult), even though I don't think it's true of scientists as a whole.


> There are major aspects of our life that remain unexplained, leaving professional scientists with the choice of whether to accept the general notion that they will also be resolved one day by the scientific method. ... This ambiguous state of affairs explains why some of the best scientists are religious.

This to me reflects huge deficit in the author's thinking and perception.

It also reflects a common sentiment and so reflects a common deficit in many people's thinking and perception, especially in the contemporary Western world.

At some point in history, Science and Religion both got tricked into a debate -- both got tricked into thinking that their propositions somehow exist in the same domain when they do not. Their domains are mutually exclusive and yet the conversation continues stupidly (on both sides) as if they were.

So a Scientist will say the Resurrection never happened and proceed with their proof leveraging physics and biology. The Scientist makes the first mistake by trying to engage on these grounds, as if any of that fundamentally mattered to the Religious person. The Religious person, not recognizing the flub, takes the bait, and tries to answer the Scientist using the scientific vocabulary (the internet is not short on religious apologists doing just this.)

The Religious makes this mistake because they are tricked into thinking that Truth is a pure function of propositions in scientific terms. They are tricked into this rhetoric, at least. They are not fully tricked, though, because after debating on these grounds (and likely losing -- b/c after all Science owns those terms, and brought them to the table), the Religious person will still go home and pray, will still go home and live according to the mimetic behaviors of the characters within their faith.

What a Religious person derives from their beliefs has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with the measurable/observable particle interactions of the material world. Even if they say it does, self-reports are not to be trusted here.

What a Scientist derives from their observations has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with how they approach the world and others in the way of morality, pursuit of contented life, etc. Again self-reports are not to be trusted here.

Corollary to this is that everybody is Religious and everybody is Scientific, and plays the card when its needed.


>Their domains are mutually exclusive and yet the conversation continues stupidly (on both sides) as if they were.

This may be true in principle, but your whole argument falls apart because religion does make assertions about the real physical world. They (taking here the example of Christianity) they postulate miracles, divine intervention, life after death, an unlikely and unsubstantiated cosmology, not to mention of course stories about the creation of the universe or biblical floods which have conveniently become "metaphorical" after it became plain enough that they were nothing but fabrication. So your premise is not true, and that is where the whole friction comes from.

EDIT: Engagement rather than downvotes would be appreciated :)


I agree with your central thesis, but I doubt one of your other points:

> not to mention of course stories about the creation of the universe or biblical floods which have conveniently become "metaphorical" after it became plain enough that they were nothing but fabrication.

People hold (and have held) various beliefs about Christian theology and proper interpretation of scripture. E.g., you rightly point out problems with a literal 6-day interpretation of creation, but St. Augustine and others [0] were skeptical of that interpretation well before modern archaeological methods and/or carbon dating.

So I think it's helpful to look closely at just a handful of testable claims, that cut across many different theologies, denominations, and interpretations.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of...


> This may be true in principle, but your whole argument falls apart because religion does make assertions about the real physical world. They (taking here the example of Christianity) they postulate miracles, divine intervention, life after death, an unlikely and unsubstantiated cosmology, not to mention of course stories about the creation of the universe or biblical floods...

I don't think you could have articulated my point any better.

The so-called "assertions"[1] you're talking about are narratives that came well before the scientific method, including presumably your conceptual understanding of the whole model of a "real physical world".

So, therefore, at least for your examples here, there is no way that religion could have been making these "assertions"[1] in the way that you're talking about.

[1] Also this word "assertions" is so grounded in this narrow (but extremely useful at times) scientific/propositional/static worldview. Science derives value from "assertions", "axioms" etc. The religious derive no value from static "assertions"; for the religious the value is in a dynamic mimetic process to the characters and narratives of their long-evolved spiritual texts & scriptures.

We are so deeply entrenched in this "static" view of "assertions" that for many, many people it is the only way to "see" the world. But it is a narrow, severely incomplete picture of the world -- and, of course, extremely useful at times, but extremely narrow as well.


> religion does make assertions about the real physical world

Even though religion makes those assertions, that doesn't mean the physical world is now in its domain. Religion is just making false assertions about subjects outside its domain, regardless of what their believers believe. I believe this is what the parent means by:

> What a Religious person derives from their beliefs has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with the measurable/observable particle interactions of the material world


Very good point.

Adding to it, there are things in life which are ineffable. This means they are (by definition), impossible to model or explain with words. Thus, these things will forever evade scientific scrutiny as science cannot deal with the ineffable.

Despite the above, we (and science) are continuously trying to reduce the immensity, inconmensurability and ineffability of reality into something that can easily fit into our small minds.

Unfortunately this is an impossible task to perform for all of reality.

However we do have the capacity to experience instead of thinking/modeling, which is a very good way of understanding things at an intuitive level. This was very well expressed by Nietzsche: "There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy".


> Adding to it, there are things in life which are ineffable. This means they are (by definition), impossible to model or explain with words. Thus, these things will forever evade scientific scrutiny as science cannot deal with the ineffable.

The concept of 'Ineffable things', is a very poetic way of describing something but it does not reflect reality. If a word exists to refer to something it is because is not ineffable. Let's take your example of love, for which you say is impossible to model or explain with words: Now, perhaps it is, if we are being pedantic and requiring a 100% concrete description of it where every one of its possible expressions are explained to the total satisfaction of every one every where every time. But that is not the bar we are aiming for, we are only aiming for it not being ineffable. As it happens, we can describe love at the very list in a vague sense, which is a lot more than no description at all.

We can say for example that love is an emotion, we can say love is not hunger. Love is not the number 9. Love is related to affection, love is a feeling expressed by humans, among other creatures. Just in those few sentences we know a lot more about love than we did if we just accepted its condition as ineffable.

In fact, we could spend days describing love, as many many poets already have, and while it is true we do not understand it completely, we do know what we are talking about when we say love enough to write millions of inspiring pages about it.


What you are saying is that because we have a map then we know the terrain.

A description (in this case words), is not the actual thing.

Using your example, we can spend days describing love and write millions of pages about it, but that is a very different thing than actually experiencing or feeling love.

It is the experience that is ineffable, not the description of the experience.

Additionally, we each assign meaning to our own experiences and language, even if we choose to agree with others about it. Funnily enough, there are people that have assigned meaning of love to the number 9 (you can lookup the song Love Potion No. 9, or Love Numerology).

Accepting something as ineffable doesn't mean that you give up on it, it just means that it doesn't have a universal "true" meaning for everyone and that it cannot be fully understood unless it is experienced.


> What you are saying is that because we have a map then we know the terrain.

No. What I'm saying is that having a map is better, way better than having nothing and resigning to even try because by definition is imposible to attain 100% of the terrain with the same level of detail as the real thing in a piece of paper that you can fold into your pocket.

> This means they are (by definition), impossible to model or explain with words.

> A description (in this case words), is not the actual thing. Using your example, we can spend days describing love and write millions of pages about it, but that is a very different thing than actually experiencing or feeling love.

You started talking about describing something, now you want to switch to talking about "the thing". Obviously describing a thing is not the same as the real thing. Is your argument that the thing is ineffable or is it that the description is ineffable?

> This means they are (by definition), impossible to model or explain with words.

> it just means that it doesn't have a universal "true" meaning for everyone and that it cannot be fully understood unless it is experienced.

So which is it? Or is the definition of ineffable too, ineffable?


Adding to it, there are things in life which are ineffable. This means they are (by definition), impossible to model or explain with words. Thus, these things will forever evade scientific scrutiny as science cannot deal with the ineffable.

What are ineffable things in life?


Some examples (for me): Love, death, having a kid.

One way of understanding how we struggle with the ineffable:

When parents raise a kid they usually want the kid to learn without suffering, without making the mistakes they made. However that's an impossible task. The kid will only truly understand what getting burnt (literally) means, when they get burnt. And no amount of explaining from the parents will ever convey the experience/meaning of getting burnt to their kid. Same for falling to the floor or falling in love. You can only truly "know" those things by experiencing them.


Qualia are one class.


I am content with trying to grasp with it and never quite coming to an answer.

These stuff can be answered with "I don't know" or "I don't know, but this is my best guess".


Or you could write narratives and koans and poems that explore it and assist in exploring it to its depths.

Or -- better -- read the ancient and long-evolved, long-refined attempts at this.

Why limit exploration to the narrow (and yet highly valuable at times) domain of Science.


Its fine to write fairy tales and works of fiction, but its quite another to do so in a attempt to explain objective reality. There is great value in being able to admit to yourself, and to others, that you "don't know" without any shame in doing so.


Qualia are the only class of things which both can be experienced by an individual (and thus reasonably be said to exist, at least by that individual) but also be ineffable.

If there are other ineffable things which exist, we cannot ever know about them.


From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia

> Much of the debate over their importance hinges on the definition of the term, and various philosophers emphasize or deny the existence of certain features of qualia. Consequently, the nature and existence of various definitions of qualia remain controversial because they are not verifiable.


I'm not quite sure what it is exactly that you're trying to say, so apologies if I misinterpreted it, but to me you seem to suggest that science and religion are somehow complimentary; two different ways of seeing "truth". Two different "domains" of truthiness, in essence.

If you're just saying that people can use religions to make themselves feel better by believing in things that are false, then yes, that's evidently true, but I don't think it's a good thing.

I have serious problems with this sentiment that there's some other way of knowing things besides studying reality. To me, it is not apparent at all that there even can be such a thing as "religious truth" as opposed to "scientific truth". I have never seen a definition of the former, so I don't know how to even discuss it meaningfully.

Also, to claim that science has nothing to do with how a person views the world etc. is patently false. It is perfectly possible for example to derive a workable moral systems without involving religion. You just need an axiom to start with, and then you can do science to examine whether your actions lead to morally acceptable outcomes given that axiom. A common axiom for morality seems to be something like "maximal suffering for everyone is bad", which I personally would agree with. Similarly, neither is the "pursuit of contented life" in any way a concept outside science.

I acknowledge that I may hold beliefs that are not true, but I will state with certainty that there is nothing religious about how I view the world. I understand religion as a social phenomenon, I am not convinced that it is, or can ever be, a tool for understanding "truths".


I mean this with no offense but I think you're reflecting the deficit in thinking I mention.

E.g. here:

> If you're just saying that people can use religions to make themselves feel better by believing in things that are false,

I assume you're using science's rhetoric of false here. Which is really just can it be observed using the tools & vocabulary of science.

> I have serious problems with this sentiment that there's some other way of knowing things besides studying reality

What is reality? Is science reality? Science has models. We are mistaken to think that "particle" is somehow a brutally real thing. "Particle" is a word used to model observations.

> It is perfectly possible for example to derive a workable moral systems without involving religion.

This is a contentious statement. There are intense debates about this. The Peterson/Harris Vancouver debates are famous (infamous?) vigorous but futile attempts at trying to sort this out.

Actually -- just to make sure I'm clear. You can't derive a workable moral system from scientific axioms/observations.

Now someone may report to be an atheist and report that they have a moral outlook that involves respect for fellow man. I guess I won't insist that its Religion; I simply insist its not Science that is giving them their moral outlook.


Re: your last statement, you can say it is not science that gave people[0] their morals, and I would agree. Science didn't create humans, so it can't be blamed for human's properties.

But it is a job of science to describe how those morals emerge and why they are the way they are: yadda yadda, evolution, group selection, basic biological realities, some other natural mechanisms I haven't heard about. Thousands of man-years of research to be done yet I'm sure.

It is also a job of science to extend and improve existing moral framework where it fails due to internal contradictions. Because that framework was created by many millennia of biological and cultural evolution, mostly in small tribe hunter gatherer context, once you move people out of that context things start to work less well.

Things like scale insensitivity and loss aversion affect our moral intuitions. Depending on how the question is posed you can judge exact same outcome to be a good or bad, moral or immoral (no wonder philosophers spend all their time running more and more elaborate trolley experiments). For me that indicates that morals are more like evolved heuristics for cooperating in tribal environment than a set of divine rules bestowed by a triple-omni deity.

[0] - Both atheists and religious people get their core morals from the same place. What that place is, is being contended.


There is distinction between investigating how people’s moral intuitions work, which science can do, and answering the question “what is actually Good.” Many materialists would say the latter question doesn’t have an answer, because there is no such thing as morality outside of human opinion.


I generally agree with that, but would extend it to hypothetical other sentient beings, artificial or otherwise. With every species having potentially distinct moral frameworks that can have different answer to that question.

You could say I'm a species-level moral relativist. :)

Still, answering "what is actually Good" is not a trivial question because self-contradicting moral intuitions are too easily confused. Here is where science works better than other approaches (most of which involve just intuiting harder or relying on sloppy intuitions of ancients) -- if for example you value individual rights and have to decide if mandatory vaccinations are a Good or a Bad thing, there is no substitute to using a scientific approach, investigating outcomes as fully as possible and then morally intuiting at those much more fleshed out scenarios.

Let say you found out that mandatory vaxxing everybody would save X number of people, kill Y number with side-effects that would otherwise survive, cause Z amount of secondary goodness (ie some members of public becoming less selfish) and Ω amount of secondary badness (ie other members of public becoming paranoid and state authoritarian). Now you can look at those projected outcomes and weigh them using your conflicting intuitions and decide which parts you care more about. And if numbers change, maybe your judgement also changes.


I think we may be talking past each other. You can certainly use the scientific method to help you maximize utility, but it can’t tell you that maximizing utility is Good.


What I'm trying to say is that "Good" is what your moral intuitions (however you got them) tell you is Good. There is no goodness without a conscious being it would apply to. There is no way to consider something as Good if all your nature screams at you that this is evil. (I will leave Christian concept of Good God running Hell for eternity out of the picture for now).

A separate claim is that those intuitions are a result of long evolution and are a bunch of heuristics that tend to increase gene survival and propagation, plus a bunch of accidental not too detrimental for that purpose rules. Most likely not an absolute optimum set too.

A meteor smashing into a mountain on the moon is neither good nor bad.

What's good for a human and what's good for an octopus and what's good for our upcoming robot overlords can be completely different.


I agree that there are claims (normative, aesthetic, etc.) that are not amenable to scientific inquiry. But most religious people would claim that 1) a god exists and 2) that god has observable effects on the material world.

If claim 2 is true we should be able to use the usual tools to know it.

If claim 1 is true but claim 2 is false, that is practically indistinguishable from a situation where God does not exist at all.


> If claim 2 is true we should be able to use the usual tools to know it.

Not necessarily. The "usual tools" presume objects that react minimally to observation, and they tend to loose potency when the objects being studied are aware of observation and especially of its intent. You see reactions to this fact in psychological research, which often has to mislead experimental participants to get them to react less unnaturally, for instance. If God exists, He knows of your tests and may choose to have you point your "usual tools" somewhere else when He's "having an observable effect."


Re claim 2, I claim that it has an effect on my experience: Though I was at one time an atheist, I experienced what I can only describe as the presence of God or the divine spirit. I am far from the only witness.

Does this count as an observable effect on the material world? I am certainly a material being living in the physical universe, but you could not detect that experience with a telescope. Maybe with an MRI? Dunno.

Of course you can claim the experience was probably a delusion. But you'll never convince me of that.


I definitely count that as an observable effect on the material world. There’s not enough information for me to know what caused it, but yeah I think it’s a totally normal datapoint.

I’m not arguing about the existence of God per se, I’m saying that I find the idea that claims about God are totally different than other kinds of claims unconvincing.


> I assume you're using science's rhetoric of false here. Which is really just can it be observed using the tools & vocabulary of science.

What useful definition of true and false exist besides the scientific one? And why would any religion have a claim to this?

> > I have serious problems with this sentiment that there's some other way of knowing things besides studying reality

> What is reality? Is science reality? Science has models. We are mistaken to think that "particle" is somehow a brutally real thing. "Particle" is a word used to model observations.

Reality is that which we attempt to describe using science. Any other definition is nonsensical, because of we want to actually know anything that is practically useful, we have no choice but to accept reality as real.

If you disagree, please provide another definition and show me how it's useful.

> Actually -- just to make sure I'm clear. You can't derive a workable moral system from scientific axioms/observations.

There's no reason for moral axioms to be scientific. We can simply decide that striving towards universal wellbeing is morally good, and that suffering should be minimized. The difference is that I don't drag the baggage of religion with me.

> Now someone may report to be an atheist and report that they have a moral outlook that involves respect for fellow man. I guess I won't insist that its Religion; I simply insist its not Science that is giving them their moral outlook.

I think you're wrongly equivocating "religion" with simple value statements here. I personally think that this kind of rhetoric is dangerous and gives religion as a concept more credence that it deserves, but I won't go any further on that topic.

EDIT: I was missing a rather crucial 'but'. I hope I didn't confuse anyone.


> We can simply decide that striving towards universal wellbeing is morally good, and that suffering should be minimized.

Your "axiom" will also have to define what "universal wellbeing" and "suffering" actually mean, and how these maxima/minima are to be computed, etc. That is not simple at all.

Having done that, you have to admit that your decision is arbitrary (except, hopefully, it aligns modestly well with the evolved/cultural preferences of some set of brains). I hope you won't lapse into dishonesty and tell brains that reach different conclusions from their evolved/cultural preferences that your decision is "right" or "wrong" in any sense similar to the "right" and "wrong" of scientific truth. Unfortunately I have never yet met anyone who is able to resist that temptation.


Of course it is arbitrary, just like every other moral compass out there ultimately is (as far as has been demonstrated).

Practically, we already have a decent idea what "wellbeing" and "suffering" mean. That means we can use them as our axiom even if the understanding is not perfect.

If you waited for perfection, you'd be stuck doing nothing forever for the fear that it's immoral.

We can still use science to examine where our axioms lead, and see if we still agree with the projected outcomes. Then we may have a reason to modify the arbitrary starting point.


Now someone may report to be an atheist and report that they have a moral outlook that involves respect for fellow man. I guess I won't insist that its Religion; I simply insist its not Science that is giving them their moral outlook.

When people claimed that god exists, then it is a claim that can be challenged. If someone claimed that Jesus Christ came to back to life, then it is a claim that can be challenged.

Ditto for system of morality where certain aspects can be subjected to empirical testing.

It's intellectually dishonest to say that Christians or some other religion X have no claims that could be subjected to scientific scrutiny.


> If someone claimed that Jesus Christ came to back to life, then it is a claim that can be challenged.

True, but doesn't change that science ultimately deals with models we create to explain our observations. They're nowhere near as nilly-willy as, say, scientology, sure. But it's also not 100% objective, everything is filtered through us, or the models and instruments we make.

> And so in its actual procedure physics studies not these inscrutable qualities, but pointer-readings which we can observe, The readings, it is true, reflect the fluctuations of the world-qualities; but our exact knowledge is of the readings, not of the qualities. The former have as much resemblance to the latter as a telephone number has to a subscriber.

-- Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Domain of Physical Science (1925)

> Ditto for system of morality where certain aspects can be subjected to empirical testing.

I honestly have no idea what aspects of a moral system one could test empirically, could you give an example?

The way I see it, science can tell us that malnutrition in kids can affect their development and how, but it can't tell us whether it's right or wrong to let children starve, for example. It can't even tell us if it's better for people to be healthy or sick, happy or unhappy, and so on. It can at best measure physical reality accurately and even with some predictive power, but that still leaves all the moral questions (I can think of right now) to us.


Science doesn't create "goals", only describes impacts at best. It has no will or motivation by itself.

But I am bothered by the idea the primary reason religious people behave is due to fear of becoming BBQ. What about personal pride in not being a jerk?


If Hell exists then fear of it is healthy. Empirically I don't know any Christians for whom that is a primary motivator. In Protestant Christianity in particular, that's a weak motivator because it is generally taught that all a Christian's sins are forgiven through Jesus, so choosing to commit a sin will not send us to hell. (Patterns of sinful behaviour might, however, rightly cause us and others to question the sincerity of our commitment to Jesus.)

Personal pride in not being a jerk is a good motivation, but that kind of motivation can easily turn to self-righteousness.

For Christians, a healthy motivation is to consider Romans 6 and understand that if we really believe we are sinners and we really believe our sins are forgiven through Jesus, then we should please him by doing what he wants, out of love and gratitude.


The Hellfire fear is a naive interpretation of what most religious people derive from their religion.


Some groups do claim that "fear of God's wrath" (or Satan's) makes people behave better. I will agree that different sects have widely different interpretations of such.


I am not making any claim that "science" have goals.


Not science, but scientists do define goals for themselves.


This is a philosophical issue, and it's also an ineffable issue.

What is truth?

Something that is the same for everyone at the same time? How could you ever prove something is true if you are not omniscient? (ie. you can only experience reality from your own point of view, but can never experience it from someone else's).

To complicate things further, we are trying to use words and spoken language as a way to communicate meaning about something else (reality). How can you know for certain that the words you use have the same meaning for you and me? We can't even agree on the meaning of words for one language.

Every time you say something, you are essentially translating what you feel/understand "in your head" to words, which you hope the receiver/listener will decode to mean the same thing you understand. But we can never be certain of the effectiveness of that. And we can only find relief in apparent agreement (ie. When the other person(s) ascents to what we say)

In other words, what for you might not be true is your own perspective of reality, and it doesn't imply that the same thing is not true for someone else. Reality is subjective. If you can't force me to agree with you, then our realities will just be different, even if we can still share some aspects of it. And that's ok.


In the philosophical sense, I'd say truth is what reality is. In the practical sense, truth is what the evidence indicates, and anything else either remains unknown or is false if it contradicts the evidence.

We're limited to never knowing the complete truth of most things, which is why we have science so we can make our practical truth approximation ever closer to reality.


That is a circular definition of truth. Which very well exemplifies the limitation of our spoken/written languages and the ineffability of reality.

Any evidence needs to be interpreted. You need to assign some sort of meaning to evidence. That interpretation is subjective. And this has happened a million times in science. If science actually discovered "truth", then it would never need to be revised. Nevertheless science is constantly discovering that it was wrong and keeps updating itself (well, us humans keep doing that).

Science (like religion), is just a system for humans to assign meaning to their experiences. Meanings will differ, just like our individual experiences. Hence these systems are built on collective agreement and continuous re-building of their own meanings.

Also, if as you say, we're limited to never knowing the complete truth of most things, then how could we possibly ever know that science is actually getting us closer to that truth?


Agree very much. It's a terrible state to be in.

I think religion's job is not to explain things, as the very non-religious (and even now, most religious!) seem to think, but to leave you in wonder, to fill you with the mystery of the world.

Demanding such an explanation from your religion seems like asking for the wrong thing. Like asking your cat to sub in as a human baby. You will be disappointed, and scratched.

> Corollary to this is that everybody is Religious and everybody is Scientific, and plays the card when its needed.

I think you are right. And yet, I wish people were more religious, and filled with wonder, open to mystery. I also wish people were more scientific too, and took their life seriously enough to practice, experiment, measure their health, wealth, etc.


>I think religion's job is not to explain things, as the very non-religious (and even now, most religious!) seem to think, but to leave you in wonder, to fill you with the mystery of the world.

Religions were created when there was no concept of a separation between a physical and metaphysical world, when everything natural was also supernatural. Religion's job is not only to explain things, but to assert itself as the only valid explanation.

Also, I disagree that religion is necessary for one to be able experience wonder and mystery in the world. One doesn't need to believe in faeries at the bottom of a pool to appreciate its beauty.


I don't see why we need to appeal to religion to have a system of morality or having a sense of wonder.


You don't have to appeal to religion -- in the word.

But you will be appealing to something that isn't Scientific rhetoric, call it what you will.

You can just use the word Wonder if you like.

I only object when one approaches someone else (like a religious person) and accuses them of being "wrong" and "un-scientific".

You are both doing the same thing. One is staring at Wonder. The other is staring at God.

Or call me wrong and devise whatever vocbulary you want that is better than this^^

But god-forbid anyone think they're on higher ground just because they have a different word for it.


both got tricked into thinking that their propositions somehow exist in the same domain when they do not.

This seems quite ahistorical and dismissive of a few hundred years of recent history. The domains overlap and this was a fight, both intellectual and sometimes literal that lasted centuries and for real stakes. It has now mostly settled into a sort of polite truce but calling this all a result of some sort of trick is reductive to the point of not-even-wrongness.


Take my example of the person who believes in Resurrection encountering the Scientific dissenter.

Either they are having a fair debate and they are talking in the same domain or they are not.

I say they are not.

Yet they are still having the debate.

Ergo, I say they are "tricked".

What better word to use for two people fervently engaging in debate based on a senseless equivalency?

I also point to history b/c it seems pretty clear to me that this wasn't always a dichotomy.


You don't have to make up some hypothetical, you can just look at what actually happened with, say, heliocentrism or the beginnings of scientific geology. These were real, genuine cosmological disputes. In what way was this a 'trick'? What is the history you are pointing at that clarifies your position?


The trick was in both sides acting as if geo or helio-centrism from a scientific method pov had anything to do with the derived value to the religious.

The religious derives value — perhaps — from the concept of centrism, perhaps the centrism of the soul/consciousness from a relational POV but whether or not the litmus paper proves an earth center matters two shits to the religious.

The trick was that these two domains were confounded and a yes genuine dispute (based on a genuinely stupid equivalency) played out.


With all due respect, I think it is you the one who's been tricked into the ethereal realm of 'the religious', which you've used often in this thread to get out of the real discussion.

The historical debate came about because of specific claims about the physical world. No one is, or was, discussing the derived value of 'the religious', that is not the point of contention most of the time.

The heliocentric debate refers specifically to a physical description of our shared universe. It is about an object, about many objects, objects that can be touched, smelled and seen.

Religion is not some ambiguous collection of moral view points, it is and has been something concrete for many people for many centuries, something for which they've died and sadly something for which they've killed.


> With all due respect, I think it is you the one who's been tricked into the ethereal realm of 'the religious', which you've used often in this thread to get out of the real discussion.

"real discussion" -- this is exactly the trick. you are laying claim to your domain being the "real discussion"

> The historical debate came about because of specific claims about the physical world. No one is, or was, discussing the derived value of 'the religious', that is not the point of contention most of the time.

This is why I say "trick". Yes, the challenge to the religious was from Science/empiricalism that said "Look, I can explain phenomenon this way, now you don't need religion." The latter part "now you don't need religion" is the trick -- b/c it's assuming falsely that the value that the religious were getting from their faith was explanation for phenomenon which is not primarily what most humans are getting from their belief, now and then.

> Religion is not some ambiguous collection of moral view points

I'm afraid you're not able to see what I'm talking about, even when you shift your perspective to religion. Here you're misunderstanding the claim. The claim isn't that Religion = A Set of Moral Propositions. The value from "religion" is the resonance of a dynamic, mimetic process played out usually in narratives in historic texts/scriptures.

To only be able to construe your "opponents" position as a static set of "view points" or "axioms" means you have been wholly inculcated by the domain of science etc. This is the trick, again: to try to drag the Religious person from their dynamic relationship to their faith into an on-paper axiom-, proof- oriented domain of symbol manipulation.

(By the way, if I've taken liberty in explaining your position ^ here it is only to ask you to clarify yourself.)


Someone has certainly been tricked in this example...

wellpast 66 days ago [flagged]

You have an ellipse to finish I think. Show us your brilliant thinking:


> Corollary to this is that everybody is Religious and everybody is Scientific, and plays the card when its needed.

Only if you define religious as 'spiritual'; as more than the physical atoms that make up a person.

If you are claiming that being religious is an integral part of being human I guess we are going to need a new word to describe those who believe in a divine power guiding the events of the universe.

I am certainly not religious.

> What a Religious person derives from their beliefs has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with the measurable/observable particle interactions of the material world. Even if they say it does, self-reports are not to be trusted here.

> What a Scientist derives from their observations has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with how they approach the world and others in the way of morality, pursuit of contented life, etc. Again self-reports are not to be trusted here.

I do believe you are wrong in both counts here. If you don't think religious doctrines can shape how a person percieves and acts in the world I guess you have not meet many devout people. And if you think the observations of science have nothing to do with how people approach their interactions in the world, well, I don't know what to say. Science in human reproduction has made unthinkable positions just a couple of decades ago, morally acceptable today, and that is just one example of hundreds I could list of the top of my head.


> So a Scientist will say the Resurrection never happened and proceed with their proof leveraging physics and biology. The Scientist makes the first mistake by trying to engage on these grounds, as if any of that fundamentally mattered to the Religious person.

In doing so he also makes the mistake of confusing his practical methodological assumptions for something more fundamental than they are, so his proof ends up begging the question.


>What a Scientist derives from their observations has nothing -- zero, nothing -- to do with how they approach the world and others in the way of morality, pursuit of contented life, etc. Again self-reports are not to be trusted here.

Why do you claim self-reports are not to be trusted here? My understanding of morality has absolutely been shaped by empirical studies of moral thinking. When I consider whether something is right or wrong, I'm drawing on that knowledge, as well as other related knowledge that I have.

When considering how to live a contented life, I'm absolutely going to be thinking about studies that have shown levels of happiness tend to stabilize over time, and related information. And if I encounter a studies that is in conflict with my moral and ethical views, I'm definitely going to be considering those things.

That's not to say that these things are purely scientific, but it's also not accurate to say that there is nothing scientific about them.


People use both science and religion to say what other people should do:

* What they should and should not eat.

* Who they should and should not marry.

* Who/What they should and should not kill.

When some people think that science backs their ideas and other people think that religion backs their ideas, then you got a discussion.


Unless you're trying to play the "not true Scotsman" card for the historical actions of religious figures, as well as the understanding of religion, then I would argue that the trick and quite modern one is the proposition that science and religion are different domains. It has only been until recently that religion lose enough ground, that they might be considered different domains.


Was there a point to this essay?

You can figure out the ingredients to a soup two ways: taste it and guess based on experience or use fractional distillation too separate and identify the compounds. What a poor analogy.


It's an analogy for the second law of thermodynamics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics. The point is that it's “challenging” and that complex events “evade a straightforward explanation”. That “challenge” is our intuitive experience of the directional arrow of entropy. A similar analogy would be to consider the difficulty of un-cracking an egg. Also, imagine comparing one bowl of soup to another bowl which was made just from tasting (or distilling) the first. Intuitively these are not likely to taste the same, otherwise a notable episode of Seinfeld would be invalidated.


What if the evidence is deemed offensive by a mob because they don’t like the scientific findings?

Or what if the scientist has personal beliefs or opinions that are disagreeable to some?

And what if the evidence is politically toxic?


>What if the evidence is deemed offensive by a mob because they don’t like the scientific findings?

This is pretty much the history of science. It is full of instances where new findings were rejected by society at large.

I get the impression that you're trying to make some point about the environment today, but pushing against societal inertia is pretty much built into the idea of doing science. it's always been that way, and will continue to be that way until people are basically willing to put their ego on hold and consider something without judgement.


Assuming "evidence" in this context is something that has been sufficiently scrutinized and no alternative hypotheses pass muster, why would any of those three things matter? And if you're leaving open the possibility that the evidence in your hypothetical situation is wrong, then what is the point of your question?

The universe is what it is regardless of what we think of it. When we attain better understanding of the truth of things, we need to adapt to the truth. It is literally insane to do otherwise.

Fortunately, we are also part of the universe, so better understanding also grants us tools to change things more to our liking.


> why would any of those three things matter?

Because the public is not scientific, and scientists generally rely on explicit or at least tacit approval of the public to do their work.


Most basic science is funded by the government, at least in the US, whose money in turn comes from taxes.


Then, these days, you bury the evidence and move on to less controversial areas, unless you are a very unreasonable person. Of course if you lack intellectual integrity, as well as unreasonableness you have more options.


> What if the evidence is deemed offensive by a mob because they don’t like the scientific findings?

That depends on who the mob is voting for.




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