Consensus Schmensus

The debate between science and religion and whether one disproves the other usually butts heads hardest in the area of “evolution”, which encompasses multiple definitions (micro/macro etc.) and is routinely equivocated during the discussion.  The evidence is in, says science, man and apes descended from a common ancestor, or so the theory goes.  Who can argue with lab coats and clipboards, or the evidence for that matter?  The evidence comes in many forms; the fossil record, for example, illustrating the strong similarity of skeletal features, which is overwhelmingly incomplete; homologous structures such as the forelimbs of vertebrates, the “design” of which can be attributed to either intelligence or common descent depending upon whom you ask.  But suppose we ask a skeptic of Intelligent Design, usually a scientist of some fashion.  Surely a scientist can be objective when evaluating the evidence, or one would hope.  I am not arguing for or against the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis or Intelligent Design here, but rather the ability to evaluate evidence objectively.

No one is ideologically neutral…about anything.  Well, perhaps on subjects of which you have no prior knowledge.  But once arguments and ideas for or against a position are offered, immediately we start to filter what we have heard or seen or what have you, through the lens of our worldview.  Our worldview about how reality is best explained dictates the weight we give an argument’s merits.  Some people believe they can put aside all biases in order to reach an objective conclusion, although difficult, is possible.  However, simply having a bias does not a priori disqualify the conclusions one makes, unless those biases dictate what types of conclusions the investigation must yield.

Consider this statement by Richard Lewontin, a highly respected evolutionary biologist and geneticist:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

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Billions and Billions of Demons Jan 9, 1997, review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.  The New York Review of Books

This candid admission by Lewontin exposes not only his bias, but that he and scientists in general consciously impose their bias on their work.  It is the a priori  commitment to philosophical naturalism which drives scientific conclusions rather than the evidence itself.  Lewontin and others rule out certain types of conclusions before ever examining any evidence.  Scientists (generally speaking) filter evidence through the lens of scientific naturalism, which means only conclusions which affirm purely natural processes and explanations is acceptable.  It presumes the supernatural is non-existent and that the natural is all there is.  The evidence itself does not dictate this filter, the philosophical worldview does.

Consider this illustration.  Two police homicide detectives arrive upon homicide crime scene.  Pictures are taken, bullet casings are logged in.  They measure the landscape of the room, and whatever else crime scene detectives would do before beginning their consideration of the evidence.  As they are about to leave, their Captain arrives giving his full confidence in his detective’s abilities.  Before sending them off, he says to them, “Good job collecting all the evidence, you seemed to be pretty thorough and I’m confident you will find the killer.  Just one thing, you cannot implicate a woman as a suspect.”  The detectives puzzled reply, “But what if the evidence leads to a woman?”  Says the Captain, “Women do not commit murders, so you cannot implicate a woman.”

This is exactly what Lewontin is admitting to.  It matters not where the evidence leads, a naturalistic explanation must be reached no matter how absurd.  Here again I am not arguing the merits of ID or evolution in any of its forms, but some scientists have gone to great lengths and postulated many absurd, wholly un-validated explanations of phenomena.  The beginning of the universe for example, at times even claiming something can bring itself into existence, that something can come from nothing.  A phenomenon entirely unsubstantiated even by science.

This admission from one in the field is disturbing on its own, but what about an educator?  Professor  Richard Rorty, a notable philosopher who taught at such schools as Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Stanford University, is just as candid with his admission on what his job as an educator really is, and what the function of higher academia is in general.

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ … It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank… You have to be educated in order to be … a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.”

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Universality and Truth,’ in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-22.

Rorty and Lewontin are not fringe extremists in their fields, they are respected and well-known in the scientific and academic communities.  Rorty goes so far as to claim that it is a practice “most Americans who teach humanities…in universities” engage.  Rather than teaching from a point of neutral ground, putting all the facts on the table and examining differing points of view and forming conclusions based on the evidence, Rorty has no qualms about intentionally indoctrinating students to be hostile towards any faith.  His persistent use of the term “we” is particularly troubling.  It is apparently a common practice of American educators to invoke this method of teaching.  His justification for such “teaching” is that he is correct.  There is no room for dialog or debate in our universities, and it would not surprise me to learn grades have suffered for dissention.  Rather than argue his point of view on its merits, he finds it acceptable to coerce his worldview.  I believe if you think you have the truth, let your ideas be cross-examined.  The truth need not fear criticism.

The next time you hear of a “consensus” as a defense of a point of view held among professors and scientists, it would suit you well to start asking questions.  I find it suspicious that an appeal to consensus be made to convince someone of your view.  Truth is not determined by taking a vote.  Rather it is by an open evaluation of all the evidence in an effort to reach the conclusion which best fits the evidence, not which best fits your philosophy.  A practice which Rorty and Lewontin admit academia does not partake.  The scientific and academic communities have been indoctrinating youth for a certain worldview, forcing conclusions based not on evidence, but ideology.

Comments

  1. I agree with John Barron Jr. Science and religion should have more discussion between each other. It is elitistic to claim science does not have to discus things in religious terms, because so many people understand reality around them through religious concepts. Science should be not only for its own sake but also for the people. There are of course, not only scientists who would not have this discussion, but religious people also. Most religions are built on mystical consepts and often science has a way of rupturing that mysticism. This also means that religious feelings are often hurt when the mystical part of religion is examined through scientific methods. Science is not only about the physical world, there are sciences that examine human behaviour like religion studies, where the religious part of human behaviour is examined and a neutral wiev of different religions is formed. It is reassuaring that major consepts of those studies are formed around the knowledge of the researchers point of wiev, wether he/she is studying the phenomenon from “inside” or from “outside”.

    Science and religion have a common history in many ways. Many of the consepts that the greek philosphers left to us, were in fact result of the work and findings of the priests or mages of the great cultures of the Mesopotamia and Egypt. In western world the universities have grown within church, and scientific research was originally only part of the studies of future clergy and their teachers. Theology is seen as a science of sorts just because of this historical connection, even though it has a completely different starting point to all other sciences. When other sciences research that wich is not known, theology researches that wich is known and the results should only point all that to be true what was held true before the theological research even begun.

    It was long before the theorization of evolution that the religion and science had their first clashes. The reasons are obvious. Religions start from the point where they give an infallible explanation, while it is inherent to science that even the best proven ideas in science are called theories. Religions are systems designed to explain everything and science is not. So when science finds out something new, which may be a complete surprice to the scientist himself, the authority of religious leadership may be in jeopardy, if that new discovery is in contradiction to the previous “infallible” religious explanation of the world. This was so with Columbus whose re-discovery of the shape of the world did not please the clergy of his time. This was also the case with Darwin, who had no agenda to attack religion, but whose discoveries are still seen threatening the religious world wiev. Yet, most people who belong as members to some religious groups in the world do not find neither Darwin or Columbus as threatening in any way. Sometimes scientific explanations are hard to grasp without the necessary education, but scientists should make the effort, because religious leadership has usually a wery strong propaganda machinery at their disposal.

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