atheism, Bioethics, creationism, science

Beyond Belief: the Institutional Delusion of Scientism

The New York Times reports on “Beyond belief: Science, religion, reason and survival,” a symposium sponsored by the Science Network at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which

began to resemble the founding convention for a political party built on a single plank: in a world dangerously charged with ideology, science needs to take on an evangelical role, vying with religion as teller of the greatest story ever told.

No one should be shocked that there was a conference of scientists (put on by the self-described “CSPAN for science”) who condemned religion while outlining ways to replace religion with an awe for science. After all, these guys want to launch a TV cable network and Richard Dawkins has to sell his book, The God Delusion.

But, wow, when these “Scientism”-ists (see Voegelin quote, below) let go (from the New Scientist, subscription only):

The big challenge, according to Porco, will be dealing with awareness of our own mortality. The God-concept brings a sense of immortality, something science can’t offer. Instead, she suggested highlighting the fact that our atoms came from stardust and would return to the cosmos – as mass or energy – after we die. “We should teach people to find comfort in that thought. We can find comfort in knowing that everyone who has ever lived on the Earth will some day adorn the heavens.”

Like many of the others at the meeting, Porco was preaching to the choir, and there was no more animated or passionate preacher than Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Tyson spoke with an evangelist’s zeal, and he had the heretics in his sights. Referring to a recent poll of US National Academy of Sciences members which showed 85 per cent do not believe in a personal God, he suggested that the remaining 15 per cent were a problem that needs to be addressed. “How come the number isn’t zero?” he asked. “That should be the subject of everybody’s investigation. That’s something that we can’t just sweep under the rug.”

This single statistic, he said, gave the lie to claims that patiently creating a scientifically literate public would get rid of religion. “How can [the public] do better than the scientists themselves? That’s unrealistic.”(Emphasis is mine.)

Other examples of public statements by scientists that the belief in God is dangerous include the comments of Robert Buckman, MD, an oncologist who gives talks concerning the correlation between right temporal lesions and “sensitivity” to religious experiences as well as violent and psychotic behavior. He cites surveys which lead him to believe that, “If you believe that there is a god, you are halfway to aggression,” because, of course, if your god told you to kill, you would have to do so. In the fall of 2005, the New York Times (available only for a fee, now – see Note 1) reported about scientist’s attitudes about religion and science, including the explicit statement concerning those working in science who believe in a Creator, by Herbert Hauptman, Ph. D., “this kind of belief is damaging to the well-being of the human race.”

The late philosopher Eric Voegelin decried this attitude, describing the loss due to it:

“The transfer of [the pathos of autonomy and self-reliance that animates the advancement of science] from science to existence expresses itself concretely in the growth of the belief that human existence can be oriented in an absolute sense through the truth of science. If this belief is justified, then it becomes unnecessary to cultivate knowledge beyond science. As a consequence of this belief, the preoccupation with science and the possession of scientific knowledge has come to legitimate ignorance with regard to all problems that lie beyond a science of phenomena. The spreading of the belief has had the result that the magnificent advancement of science in Western civilization is paralleled by an unspeakable advancement of mass ignorance with regard to the problems that are existentially the important ones.”

What “important” questions?

The Beyond Belief participants mentioned a few of them: aesthetics, the meaning of life, mortality, love, and “being good:”

“The axiom that values come from reason or religion is wrong… There are better ways of ensuring moral motivation than scaring the crap out of people.”
Patricia Churchland, philosopher, University of California, San Diego

“What about the hundreds of millions of dollars raised just for Katrina by religions? Religions did way more than the government did, and there were no scientific groups rushing to help the victims of Katrina – that’s not what science does.”
Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief, Skeptic magazine

“It doesn’t take away from love that we understand the biochemical basis of love.”
Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith

If you ask me (or read this far in the blog), a rational universe that is subject to measurements and study that yield consistant and ever sharper, more focused results in different labs and at different times does not preclude a Creator.

Note 1. Cornelia Dean, “Scientists Speak Up on Mix of Religion and Science,” New York Times August 23, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/national/23believers.html (accessed September 29, 2005).

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Beyond Belief: the Institutional Delusion of Scientism

  1. >"If you ask me (or read this far in the blog), a rational universe that is subject to measurements and study that yield consistant and ever sharper, more focused results in different labs and at different times does not preclude a Creator"I dont think a single participant in the beyond belief conference would claim otherwise. Science does not claim disprove the existence of God. It does however demonstrate that 'God' as 'he / she / it' is conventionally conceived and depicted is incredibly unlikely. Science also is making inroads into understanding why we are likely to be susceptible to a belief in God.Of course none of this affects me as a Jedi.

    Posted by Paul Booth | August 7, 2007, 2:03 pm
  2. >One of the panel members did ask why any scientists would believe in God at all.The real "unlikely" scenario is that the universe sprang from nothing. Once you get to something from nothing, it's not that big a leap to a Creator.

    Posted by LifeEthics.org | August 7, 2007, 8:23 pm
  3. >I agree. The inception of the universe is a glorious mystery – I dont mind who says what about that! The more ideas the better!The only worrying part is that people then think they understand what God wants through reading their historical texts.More is to be understood about the nature of the universe and life by observation rather than reading a book. I am not commited to any faith – so what is the best way to choose a faith? They seem to disagree a lot. This looks like the work of human authors – not an omniscient creator.

    Posted by Paul Booth | August 7, 2007, 9:52 pm
  4. >But even if a creator did it then who created the creator. If he can create himself then why can the universe not be called God and do just that?

    Posted by Paul Booth | August 7, 2007, 9:54 pm
  5. >Paul, we've already agreed that something can come from nothing.

    Posted by LifeEthics.org | August 7, 2007, 10:53 pm
  6. >But even if a creator did it then who created the creator. If he can create himself then why can the universe not be called God and do just that?The traditional christian view is that God is a noncontigent, uncreated being. Not a "kind" of being, but Being itself.This is not only biblical (which I presume you don't believe in), but is also the logical conclusion of nature itself. Every material thing is contigent upon something prior to it for its existence. It is impossible to have an infinite regress of contigencies, as we could never cross infinity to be where we are now. Therefore, it is necessary to have an uncreated, noncontigent 1st cause that wills existence outside of itself.

    Posted by Steve | August 8, 2007, 3:01 am
  7. >So as I read that Steve… apologies I am not too well read theologically and may get this wrong (please feel free to correct me)… God is the cause of all causes – infintely regressed back to source?But then from the myriad of Gods (with different arguements on all manner of things) how on earth do I find (and I would like to find God – an eternity in nirvana seems like a lovely idea) a good God to choose. Should I go for the God that most people choose? The one that resonates most with my existing moral code? The one with a nice book cover! I just dont know.And then… how do I convince myself that my chosen God's sacred text hasnt been edited beyond recognition by generation after generation of well meaning humanly flawed editor?Something may come from nothing – but a moral code and determinant code of behaviour doesnt come from nothing. All muslims – liars? All christians – liars? Jaynes? Mormons? etc. etc. These people (in some case races have mutually exclusive beliefs!)with Love and hope for future clarityPaul

    Posted by Paul Booth | August 15, 2007, 12:58 am

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