Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Lying for the truth

I'm not a big fan of lies, as a general rule. It's not that I don't think they have their uses, or that I won't quite skillfully deceive someone if it's necessary for some reason (hostage negotiation, surprise party, etc.) but I just don't think lying helps in most respects. This may have something to do with my love of science- after all, there's a world of difference between a system that admits that it doesn't know everything, and that it's sometimes wrong, as opposed to one that uses falsehood to promulgate itself.

My appreciation for this relative earnestness present in science is part of the reason why I felt the need to criticize Ramtha's movie the other day. It isn't that I object to her philosophy, per se (I mean I do, but that's hardly the issue), but rather that I object to her twisting of science to support her philosophy. This seems to me to be a losing proposition for both science and religion since it forces them to battle each other. Why, you ask? Well, simple: if you link a religion to scientific evidence, and argue that the evidence supports your religion, you're essentially claiming that your philosophy can be falsified by evidence. Now, realistically speaking, the core of most religions cannot be falsified in any way. I cannot prove that an immaterial soul doesn't exist precisely because it's immaterial. Immaterial things are not, as a general rule, amenable to scientific investigation. So, no religion can really be falsified via science.

But, of course, if you argue that a religion can be supported by science, then you imply that it can be falsified. And if the scientific conclusions change, and they no longer partially or fully support your position... you're in trouble. Your religion has been falsified not logically, or factually, but by implication. You're guilty of falsity by association with false facts. So, either your religion is wrong, or science is wrong, and since we "know" that religion contains ultimate, eternal truth, we've got a real ballgame on our hands. This point was ably summed up in reference to efforts to merge modern physics and Eastern philosophy by physicist Jeremy Bernstein. Bernstein, realizing the extent to which all scientific knowledge is subject to review and rejection, said: "In short, if I were an Eastern mystic the last thing in the world that I would want would be a reconciliation with modern science."

I bring all this up (again) because I want to make sure we're very clear on a particular point. I don't really have a problem with the recent move in Texas to introduce a bible study elective into public school. Seriously, I don't. Though I don't think the bible contains all wisdom, I do think it contains some interesting philosophy, and is a work of historical import. I have no more difficulty with it being taught as such than I would with teaching Siddhartha, the Qur'an, the Torah, or any other religious book. To divide church from state is not to ignore the existence of religion, but rather to avoid priviledging any one faith, and to make sure we make decisions for other than purely-religious reasons. So, I don't have a problem with an elective course on the bible in public school curriculum.

No, what I have a problem with are blatant factual inaccuracies in that curriculum:

The course's broad statements about the Bible being the blueprint for the nation are askew, said Mr. Haynes of the Freedom Forum, part of a nonpartisan ecumenical group promoting the Bible Literacy Project textbook. "If the Bible is a blueprint for the Constitution," he said, "I guess they haven't read it," referring to the Constitution.

Some of the claims made in the national council's curriculum are laughable, said Mark A. Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who spent seven weeks studying the syllabus for the freedom network. Mr. Chancey said he found it "riddled with errors" of facts, dates, definitions and incorrect spellings. It cites supposed NASA findings to suggest that the earth stopped twice in its orbit, in support of the literal truth of the biblical text that the sun stood still in Joshua and II Kings.

"When the type of urban legend that normally circulates by e-mail ends up in a textbook, that's a problem," Mr. Chancey said.

Tracey Kiesling, the national council's national teacher trainer, said the course offered "scientific documentation" on the flood and cites as a scientific authority Carl Baugh, described by Mrs. Kiesling as "an internationally known creation scientist who founded the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, Tex."

Look, wacky religious fundamentalists, can we talk? As a member of the vast, left-wing atheist conspiracy (I think there are, like, six of us. We meet every third Tuesday and play scrabble. Sometimes Paul makes his avocado dip- you should try it!) let me assure you that we don't want to take your bibles away, or tear down your churches, or remove all references to your god from society. Speaking personally, I have no problems with the pledge of allegiance as it stands now, so long as you let some of us omit the "under god" bit, am willing to tolerate the "In god we trust" on the currency, and generally would like to find a way for us all to live together. Seriously, we're not your enemies on this one.

Here's the thing though: is it really necessary to deceive in order to shore up your position? Is your religion really worth being a part of if membership requires that you delude yourself, and others, with wildly incorrect information?

Is your "truth" really worth lying for?

As a side note: No, I don't think all Christians are pathological liars. I know, and respect, a great many Christians, one of whom is a co-blogger named Slag. My only point is that we have an aggressive minority among Christians who seem perfectly willing to twist, mangle, or invent entirely, scientific evidence to support the literal story in the bible. I think this is dangerous and demeaning to both those who believe in the Christian god, and those who don't. So, I very much respect thoughtful, humble Christians, but have nothing but scorn for those who would lie and cheat to convert others.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But, of course, if you argue that a religion can be supported by science, then you imply that it can be falsified.

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but isn't this statement simply untrue unless you assume monocausality? If something is overdetermined, then its falsifiability does not depend on a single causal relationship (or non-causal "support" for that matter) from something else that is falsifiable (eg science), no matter how much early Popper you've read. Okay, that Popper comment was mean. I just wish people would read more than just early Popper, Lakatos, and Kuhn. Incidentally, you might also pay some attention to the difference between "science" as a whole and specific scientific theories or statements. I recommend at least one serving per day of some Duhem or some Quine might be in order. Or hey, Zammito's book from last year.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005 9:20:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Hey Lago,

Leaving aside the "meanness" of your Popper remark (as if I care) and your frustration vis-a-vis Lakatos and others (some of whom I've read) I'm really just arguing that if you imply that religion can be falsified by science then you've set up a situation where science and religion are opposed to one another. I regard this as a false opposition, and one that is dangerous and wasteful of our resources.

Your point about monocausality is good, but that's where the implied part comes in- I rather expect people to respond to the implication, and not the logical reality.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005 7:52:00 AM  

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