Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

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From a Theologian in 1909: Stop Deceiving Children About Science

March 18, 2016

I recently found an old book in a second-hand bookshop here in Berlin, entitled Darwin: His Meaning for Our Worldview and Values. It’s a small collection of essays by scientists and academics, and was published in 1909 — 50 years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, and 49 years after it appeared in translation in Germany. The essay that struck me most was written by a theologian called Friedrich Naumann. (Biographical details at the end of this post.)

Warenhaus A. Weiss, Schöneberg, 1907. Das Haus steht noch und ist ein lohnendes Objekt um die Verschandelung von Bauwerken zu studieren.

Schöneberg, Berlin, 1907 (source)

Naumann begins by noting that although religious people don’t usually accept evolution, they do concede that Darwin was a decent fellow who was sincerely seeking the truth. This is already a stark contrast to today where the religious frequently hold Darwin more or less to have been inspired by the devil, and evolution to be “lies straight from the pit of hell”.

Naumann then makes an interesting and rarely made point: that Darwin’s ideas were in fact no more “anti-Christian” than a great many other ideas which had already been proposed for quite some time, albeit without any complaint about them from the church. Religious leaders, he says, failed to discuss these new ideas and discoveries amongst themselves, and withheld them from parishioners.

He continues:

Through the writings of Darwin and Haeckel, what was until then the preserve of scientists erupted into public awareness. For many, “Darwinism” came as a completely unexpected “anti-religious” revelation… Those of us who experienced the years 1860 to 1890 in the company of pious Christians, remember how powerful the waves were. Even today the waters have not been stilled.

From his tone, I suspect Naumann would be quite surprised if he knew that the shock waves would still be felt in many countries more than 100 years later.

Next, he makes an important and I think undeniable point — undeniable even from a Christian perspective:

Darwinism would have come as less of a shock to the pious if they had already been speaking more openly with each other about scientific discoveries and the implications for religion. This rarely happened. Although some religious thinkers like Schleiermacher familiarized themselves with current scientific learning and “adjusted” their Christianity accordingly, those who preached in the church or taught in the schools deliberately and timidly avoided presenting these new ideas and discussing their implications.

Deliberately and timidly avoided teaching such ideas in the churches and schools. Exactly.

There follows another noteworthy passage.

Look, we’ve long known that the Bible does not place the sun at the center of the solar system; that it presents heaven as being located above the earth… Similarly, the Creation and the Great Flood were known even before Darwin to have been derived from earlier oriental myths, and cannot be taken as historical events. Had the faithful already been clearly and unreservedly informed of these facts, then Darwinism would not have arrived like a hailstorm on the field of religion.

A hailstorm on the field of religion. And how telling it is that even science teachers today avoid teaching evolution for fear of upsetting the faithful (or losing their job). It is even customary for academics to place trigger warnings and apologies prior to any mention of human origins. 

Yet in 1909 it was already clear that such pussyfooting ultimately serves no one. Those who reject science, merely find that they have to push back harder and harder in their denial as science progresses — and become proportionately stupider and stupider. Naumann would have been stunned to discover that climate change is rejected by political leaders in the US because they and the voters believe that God promised Noah that there would be no more floods. I can understand why people are shocked by the idea that we are a species of ape, but…. getting upset about Noah’s Ark being a myth????

Our theologian continues, to make a rather rhetorical argument that Jesus would have embraced Darwinism, because he was the quintessential reformer. I am in no position to comment on that (and neither was he of course, but it’s his religion not mine, so I will let it pass). The Bible, he points out is itself a historical record of reform and changes in religious thought. And he makes another excellent point when he says that by failing to teach the facts of science:

we allow people to develop false hopes. This sets them up for disappointment and confusion if they ever discover the truth.

These days, theologians are reluctant to write as boldly as this. Even the most science-friendly theologians keep one hand cautiously on the hand brake whilst discussing anything to do with science. But Naumann clearly believes that if God created the earth and its creatures, then the study of nature is a path to God. Modern theologians are far more nervous about that “if” being in there.

Religions of course, always face a dilemma, not only with science but with facts in general. Even St Augustine noticed it’s hard to proselytize when some doctrines are clearly false or hilariously stupid. He saw no option but to “interpret” the craziest parts of the Bible allegorically. But once that decision has been taken, it’s hard to stop reality swamping in and ruining dogmas that useful or even essential to the whole faith. Once Noah’s Ark is accepted as a myth (as Naumann conceded in 1909, and as Ken Ham doesn’t concede in 2016), then why not also concede that the “Virgin” Mary was a mistranslation that even the early Christians were informed about by the Jews? Don’t expect a coherent answer from any theologian. There’s too much riding on it. Naumann himself could have, or maybe should have known about this, but he says nothing about it. Is it too close to the bone? Did he know it and simply blend it out? 

I see no way to rescue believers from this collision of their faith with reality. But I also see no alternative to Naumann’s positive attitude to science.

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For the record, Friedrich Naumann (1860 – 1919) was a somewhat recognized theologian, priest, and author, who was involved in politics, (for the most part on the progressive side). A foundation named in honor of Naumann is connected to the mainstream but distinctly right-wing Freie Democratische Partei (FDP) in Germany. This Foundation, ironically, promotes climate-change denial. Unfortunately, he advocated a mild form of eugenics — a position that was opposed on ethical grounds by other writers in that book. Naumann was, however an outspoken activist for women’s rights, and other worthy causes. 

Posted by Yakaru

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Spiritual Believers Don’t Understand Science – Part 6: Knowledge v Speculation

November 23, 2014

Scientists have two tendencies that confuse and infuriate believers in modern esoteric spirituality.

One is their apparently unshakable certainty about some matters.

The other is their tendency to suddenly declare I don’t know or We don’t know when challenged on some question.

The first horrifies believers because it looks like fanatical dogmatism. The only other people in history to appear so certain of their rightness were the inquisitors. The second looks like a pathetic back-down, making their initial show of certainty appear all the more laughable.

Scientist: Evolution is a fact. Humans evolved from earlier hominids.

Believer: Oh? Well how did life start?

Scientist: We don’t know exactly.

Believer: HA! Science doesn’t know everything. Well I do know how it started. You see, you are infinite consciousness that is embodied in the space-time continuum through a process of quantum entanglement and non-local events…

The spiritual believer thinks that the scientist’s hubris has been exposed by their dogged questioning. It’s even quite fashionable for academics to join in with this misunderstanding. They are, however, unaware that science involves some methodological steps that spiritual people are loath to even contemplate — namely, scientists clearly distinguish between established knowledge and speculation. 

But they don’t do this in a black and white manner. Rather they differentiate gradations on a kind of sliding scale of certainty.

fadeFact — quite certain —  probable  — quite likely —  possible — unknown

Good science places each fact, piece of data, and idea somewhere along this scale, ranging from strong certainty to unknown validity. Certainty is represented here as dark, implying the weight added by repeated verification. Nevertheless, the lighter, more speculative end is where the most interesting and important scientific work occurs. 

Scientific knowledge is not there for scientists to passively sit on while smugly dismissing people’s spiritual beliefs. Rather, it forms both the theoretical foundation and the conceptual tools for scientific research. It is the platform from which scientific advancement arises. It consists not merely of facts but also theoretical ideas that have been confirmed and verified so many times that it would simply be a waste of time to re-test them. There is no need, for example, to re-test the chemical composition of water, or whether it might perhaps flow uphill. One can simply get on with planning the irrigation program.

The Problem

Spiritual teachers really do not like that dark end of the scale at all. They don’t like the boundaries it sets. They don’t like the way that those who are ignorant of its contents can be excluded from scientific discourse. They don’t like it when scientists mention facts that conflict with spiritual teachings. All their teachings — all of them — belong way up in the light, speculative end of the scale. And that factual knowledge stuff down the dark end sets considerable limits and prerequisites for speculation. They don’t like it at all. It hurts their ego and is bad for business.

But they do like the instant credibility that science is granted, and they want a bit of it for themselves. So they imitate scientific language and method. They make up their own rigged but official looking studies, designed “to prove” their pet theories. They plunder the language of science with the same kind of rapacity with which they plunder Hindu philosophy and indigenous cultures, for fancy sounding words and exotic concepts to distort and filter through their marketing department.

Spiritual teachers are ignorant both of the content as well as the sheer quantity of knowledge is down the dark end of the scale. They don’t realize how often their own teachings replicate well establish scientific knowledge of phenomena that have long been explained, and processes that have long been mastered. When challenged, portray their superfluous or spurious ideas as legitimate speculation (“we’re just saying keep an open mind, give the new paradigm a chance”). But thanks to their ignorance (or blinkered ideology) their work does not build on any factual basis and is therefore rendered utterly useless.

Louise Hay, for example, behaves as if our knowledge of human physiology is still in the state it was during the time of Christ. She drags her readers down into believing that what goes on under the skin is a vast inexplicable and unexplored mystery, where the demons and angels of negative and positive thoughts prowl. In fact science today is well equipped to check all of her unsupported assertions. Don’t expect to hear this from her though.

Science has of course advanced spectacularly during the last few centuries. But the only advances in spirituality have been improvements in marketing and packaging. Spiritual teachers want scientific status, but they don’t want the trouble that honest inquiry, fact checking and criticism bring. All I can do is suggest to their fans that they underline the speculations in the literature that their favorite teacher produces, and then go back and run another line through it if the teacher presented it as fact. If anything is left over, insert the necessary qualifying terms — “perhaps”, “maybe”, “hypothetically”, etc — into the factual statements of their favorite teachers, and see how it sounds.

Previous posts in this series (I’ve altered the title a little since it started) can be found here.

Posted by Yakaru

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science: Part 5 — Paradigm Shift

January 4, 2014

The previous post in this series looked at the way disproof drives scientific inquiry forward. It noted that disproof will be welcomed by anyone who is sincerely trying to solve a problem or understand how something works. Better known as falsifiability, this idea was a great contribution to the understanding of how science works, and is an essential element of scientific methodology. 

But it also carries some problems. It seems to imply that science progresses in a linear fashion, with all progress involving minor adjustments to a universally accepted model, never endangering anyone’s career or reputation with any radical changes. This in turn makes it all too easy to ignore research and ideas that do not fit the accepted parameters. And this fits rather too snugly with the idea that science is restricted to privileged white men from the politically dominant culture. These lucky folks control research funding and get to decide where the “cutting edge” is…. All of which means the system is wide open for all kinds of shenanigans.

Paradigms & Paradigm Shifts

In contrast to this, is the idea of paradigms, which recognizes that progress can at certain times be discontinuous with the past. An existing model can be completely overturned, not so much by new data or new evidence, but by a new vision.

Thomas Kuhn, the originator of this idea, used the example of the Copernican Revolution. changing from a geocentric model of the solar system to a heliocentric one. Here an entire cosmology was completely overturned by a fairly simple idea. A radically different model of the solar system fitted the data better than the dominant model.

Kuhn clearly recognized that a paradigm is more than just a conceptual model. It’s an entire world-view. It exists in a political context, a social context, and ultimately, in the context of human psychology. It is therefore subject to the same conditions as all other ideas — customs, norms, political restrictions, habits of thought, etc. 

This must be taken into account when evaluating scientific ideas: is a new idea lacking in evidence, or is it merely unwanted by certain highly regarded professors, priests, etc., because it conflicts with their prejudices or interests? And above all, is it being disregarded simply because we are not used to seeing the world in this manner? This is an important contribution to science. It opens broader perspectives for inquiry and research.

The down side of this is that silly people can use it to reject those parts of scientific knowledge that conflict with their pet theories. They say that the dominant paradigm will one day be usurped, so it doesn’t matter if science says their ideas are implausible and their products won’t work. The coming dominant paradigm will, they somehow “know”, confirm all their theories. 

They are unerringly selective in rejecting only those aspects of the “dominant scientific paradigm” that render their ideas implausible. The bits of science that they like –computers, air travel, luxury items, sanitation, etc. — they blithely take for granted. The bits they don’t like are exclusively singled out for vociferous and indignant rejection.

ps3

Paradigm shifts — almost as popular as quantum leaps

Well steady on there, folks. You can’t isolate certain bits of a paradigm for exclusion without affecting all the other bits. It fits together as a system. DUH. That’s the whole friggin’ point of a paradigm!!!

My favorite example of this is the enormously popular idea that the law of attraction is true, “just like the law of gravity.” Wrong. If the law of attraction were real, it would disprove the law of the gravity. Stupid example, you people.

Also, if you argue that the dominant paradigm can be disregarded purely because it will eventually be overthrown anyway, then why don’t we save time and turf out your paradigm as well for the same reason.

Sorry guys, but……..

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be supported by existing evidence, not flatly contradicted by it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you wouldn’t be saying that the evidence is “emerging” or “will soon be found”, or even more pathetically, hasn’t been found “yet”. Instead, you’d have bucket loads of evidence from the existing dominant paradigm and would just be interpreting it in a smarter way. And by the way, if you haven’t got any evidence, just admit it for heaven’s sake. And never say “What scientists are beginning to see is….”  unless you want to immediately identify yourself as a quack or a fool.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would not come with a built-in free pass exempting you from presenting evidence. Rather, it would tell you where new evidence is likely to be found. In fact it would help you make falsifiable claims about it.

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would have understood the old one well enough to accurately point out anomalies in it which no one had noticed before. You would also have a better (and probably simpler) explanation for these anomalies — not merely vague speculations and hand-waving about the supposed weaknesses of what you have just arrogantly declared to be the “old paradigm”.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would probably be sweet and simple. It would not be “cut from whole cloth” without need of improvement. It would not “overturn” vast swathes of the most blatantly incontrovertible, non-controversial and utterly and totally obvious, solid and well grounded natural laws. And it would not attempt to replace them with layer upon layer of complicated speculations about supposed new natural laws to explain the supposed anomalies. It would not come already complete with special skills or gadgets to control these supposed new natural laws, all of which you just happen to have recently published a book about.

If you really had a “new paradigm” it would be unlikely to be identical with religious dogma from previous ages which has already been overturned by several other paradigm shifts and mountains of evidence. Most especially it would not be based on 17th Century mechanistic dogma derived from Descartes. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Good, so you’re not about to claim you’ve discovered how mind controls matter, are you.)

If you really had a “new paradigm” you would recognize the power structures and conflicts of interest within your own subculture and you would oppose them. You would not see them as an opportunity for cross-promotion with other community members without regard for standards or ethics. 

And finally, if you really had a “new paradigm” it would not be exactly the same as all the other new paradigms since about 1970, all of which are justified by the same mis-reading of quantum physics thanks to Fritjof Capra, and all of which come with an exploitive business plan and a highly manipulative marketing strategy attached.

Posted by Yakaru

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science: Part 4 — Disproof

August 6, 2013

Esther Hicks once said, “There is not a shred of evidence that the Law of Attraction doesn’t work.” And she’s right. In fact the Law of Attraction cannot be disproven.

But this is not a strength; it’s a weakness. And it’s why spiritual ideas and systems never advance or improve in any way beyond better marketing. 

It’s also why spiritual believers are so miffed and confused by criticism, and don’t know how to respond to it.

Scientific advancement is in fact driven by disproof. Disproof is the dark (but less complicated) brother of proof. It’s hard (and by some standards impossible) to completely prove something. But disproof can be much clearer. And once it has happened, an idea can be dropped and need not cause any further distractions. The more clearly an idea or theory is stated, the easier it is to disprove.

This post considers how world views or belief systems get constructed, and what they need in order to be useful on a practical level.

An Ancient Theory of gravity: Natural Place and Natural Motion

Aristotle, two and a half thousand years ago, wrote one of the first decent explanations for why things fall. It is in their very nature, he said, for them to move toward their “natural place”, which is at the center of the of the earth. In other words, if you let go of a stone you are holding, something within it — in its very nature — will drive it straight downwards.

ptolemaic

In the Aristotelian system, the earth is at the center of the universe. And the center of the universe is the Natural Place for all heavy things. The earth itself is the spherical coagulation of the all the heavy elements in the universe.

Here we meet the ancient Greek concept of the four elements: Earth, Water, Air, Fire. The elements Earth and Water are heavy and their natural motion is straight down. Air and Fire, the lighter elements, have a natural motion which impels them straight up. A tree will grow because it has enough Air and Fire mixed in with the heavy elements to enable a motion upwards, but when it decays, its elements will decay and move towards their natural place.

Aristotle saw “motion” not only in terms of changes of place. He also identified qualitative and quantitative changes as forms of “motion”. The growth (increase in size) of a tree or an animal he saw as “quantitative motion”. Even more strangely, he saw the ripening of an apple or the psychological maturing of a child as it grows, as “qualitative motion”.

In other words, it is in the nature of an apple to turn red, just as it is in the nature of a stone to fall to the ground !!!

A force within the apple makes it ripen. A force within the stone moves it towards its Natural Place.

… 

Disproof

A brilliant experiment carried out by Henry Cavendish in 1798 ultimately disproved this notion in the most direct and convincing manner.

Essentially, Cavendish placed two small lead weights of equal mass on each end of a wooden beam, and suspended the beam, perfectly balanced, on a wire. He then carefully maneuvered two larger lead weights into closer proximity with the two smaller weights, and saw the beam swing, as the smaller weights were attracted to the larger ones. He had canceled out the earth’s gravitational pull, and could then see and even exactly measure the gravitational force of the weights as he moved them. These measurements confirmed Newton’s formula for universal gravity.

u6l3d2

Graphic from The Physics Classroom website

The Value of Disproof

Aristotle was trying to discover and state universal laws of nature in an unequivocal manner. Had he been right, Cavendish’s experiment would have supported him. (That is, the smaller weights would not have moved.)

It would be easy (at least superficially) to think up ways of rescuing Aristotle’s system from this disproof. In fact one pope argued that as God is omnipotent, He could be responsible for causing all change in the universe in an infinitely varying number of ways and therefore be undetectable to science. Nice try, but it would have stopped scientific advancement in its tracks in 400 years ago had anyone taken it seriously.

Scientific advancement is based on the disproof and discarding of ideas. Each step forward is necessarily accompanied by a multitude of missteps and the minute refinement of ideas that partly work. Esoteric systems on the other hand (think of astrology, for example) are usually cut from one piece of cloth and will unravel when one tugs on the first loose thread. 

Adding on special rules, exceptions or obfuscations to evade disproof can give the appearance of strength. But if nothing can disprove it, nothing can support it either. Anyone believing a system of beliefs which evades all possibility of disproof should start recognizing this as a sign of weakness and learn to suspect a trap.

Concluding Thoughts: Aristotle’s Death

Aristotle died persecuted and isolated in self-imposed exile from Athens. After becoming increasingly entangled in political complications, he was accused of teaching that prayer and animal sacrifice don’t work. Certainly there is no place for such things in his system, but how ironic it is, that although the refutation of Aristotle’s cosmology is today calmly accepted, we are still arguing about prayer and various forms sacrifice and magic.

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Notes & References

* Esther Hicks claims to channel some kind of disembodied corporate entity that goes by the name Abraham. She was initially involved in making The Secret, but left after some kind of squabble. She tried to copyright the idea of the Law of Attraction, but failed For more information about this scam, see the Post-Abe blog,

* The term falsifiability is a more correct term than disproof, but I didn’t use it. My apologies to Karl Popper.

* Anyone who thinks it is a little harsh to compare esoteric ideas like the LoA to the greatest ideas in natural science obviously hasn’t seen The Secret or read any statements by proponents themselves. The LoA is regularly compared to the law of gravity in terms of effects and certainty. It is regularly claimed that Isaac Newton and even Albert Einstein “knew” of and believed in it. When challenged in this, believers usually say “Prove they didn’t.” Rhonda Byrne’s book The Power (which I’ve reviewed here) claimed that the Law of Attraction is an established part of modern physics. In fact, the system she proposed was vastly more simplistic and far less plausible than the system Empedocles dreamt up in 450 BC! Unlike Byrne, Empedocles managed to notice that there were forces of repulsion as well as attraction. I doubt there has ever in human history been a theory as stupid and hubristic as the one Ms Byrne invented.

* The pope who made the claim about God causing events in an infinite number of ways was Pope Urban VIII. He agreed to allow Galilleo to publish his book about the heliocentric system in the condition that Galilleo include a fair hearing in it for this idea. Galilleo put it on the last page, in a dialogue where it was expressed by a character called Simplicius. I guess you know the rest!

* Newton in fact also claimed gravity was the activity of god, Newton was of course a devout Christian (in fact quite a fanatic and even a heretic by the standards of his time) and an alchemist. It appears he was deeply disturbed by the incipient atheism in the mechanistic clockwork systems of the universe that were current. It has been speculated that he drew on alchemical ideas when formulating his theory of gravity. Certainly the “action at a distance” implied by gravity is completely at odds with early mechanistic models.

* A fascinating and beautifully made documentary about Aristotle’s biological studies, called Aristotle’s Lagoon is at this link.

Anyone with any kind of background in science will have noticed that I don’t have a background in science. I’ve checked everything as well as I can, but any corrections or improvements are welcome.

...

Posted by Yakaru

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science — Part 3: We are now more capable than ever of proving a miracle

July 13, 2013

This post concerns miraculous or paranormal events. That is, events which “science can’t explain” or which seem to involve the suspension of the laws of physics. It’s often argued that science is dogmatically opposed to even considering the evidence for such events, or that it is blind to, of incapable of detecting such evidence. This post will argue that if in fact paranormal events really do occur, the chances of them being detected and accurately verified by science are better now than they are ever were.

As an easy entry into the topic, let’s start with a hypothetical paranormal event. How about the story told in this song written by Tommy Faile in 1968, and performed here by Tom Waits.

Big Joe and Phantom 309 performed by Tom Waits

For those who can’t make head or tail of it, here are the lyrics. And for those who didn’t want to listen, I’ll recount the story briefly.

A young kid is hitchhiking his way home across the US. He is waiting by the road on a rainy night, when a truck stops for him. The driver introduces himself as “Big Joe” and proudly says his rig is called “The Phantom 309”. The two talk for a while, each telling their stories and enjoying the company, until Joe stops the truck near a roadhouse and says the kid will have to get out here, as he has to be making a turn soon. As the kid climbs out, Joe tosses his a dime and says, “Go on in there son, and get yourself a hot cup of coffee on Big Joe.”

The kid goes into the diner, orders his coffee and mentions that Big Joe is paying for it. The place goes deathly quiet. It is explained to the kid that everyone there knows about Big Joe. About ten years ago he was driving his truck along that road when suddenly a school bus full kids rounded the corner on the wrong side of the road. Joe jack-knifed the truck to avoid hitting them. The kids were saved, but Joe lost control of his truck and died. And now,

Every now and then, when the Moon’s holdin’ water, they say old Joe Will stop and give you a ride….

In a nice touch at the end, the kid is told to hang onto that dime, as a reminder of Big Joe.

Stories like these often have a few common elements. A strong one is the pure enjoyment or attachment to the idea that the story is true as well as the confirmation of outlandish events by an innocent third party, (circumstantial evidence) and some direct physical evidence (the dime).

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10 Things New Agers Don’t Understand About Science #2 — Science is not a satanic ideology

May 30, 2013

Variations on a theme by various spiritual and religious ideologies see science as some form of satanic or “fallen” thinking that sees only a portion of reality. 

William Blake put it quite enchantingly, that when we see a butterfly, we are seeing merely the hem of the gown of a dancer, gliding and whirling across the floor of our three-dimensional realm. As he famously wrote, When the doors of perception are cleansed, we shall see things as they truly are – infinite.

Blake opposed the materialistic science of his time which he characterized as single vision and Newton’s sleep. But what makes Blake’s work rise into the realm of great art is that his poetry arose from a creative vision, rather than an intellectual squabble. He was responding to some deep psychological tug in his being, informing him that there is more going on than we can perceive with our senses. His poetry survives the transition to a time of greater scientific knowledge, and steps easily into expressing a vision of a world of atoms dancing, forming, and recombining eternally.

The same cannot be said of modern spirituality in general. Where Blake used esoteric ideas and his creative insight to make great art, New Age ideology is driven mostly by marketability of ideas. Despite the sincerity of many New Age believers, it should not be overlooked that science poses a massive threat to the profits of all pushers of pseudo-science and sellers of magickal powers. The usual response to this danger is to misrepresent and attack science on ideological grounds. 

The numerous ideologies that see science as blind to spiritual phenomena, have a few common elements: for example, the view that there is indeed evidence for the spirit and it has been ignored or actively suppressed; and the view that science is blind to the spiritual, or has defined it out of reality. Later posts in this series will look at both these viewpoints more closely, but in this post I will especially focus on a third element: the idea that science is somehow alien to humanity, inhuman, or “unnatural”.

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Atheism is not a “controversial position” for a scientist

May 12, 2013

I’ve been intending to write something about this for ages, but I was never quite sure how to approach it.  Happily the theologian John Haught has solved that problem for me, by saying something which succinctly reveals a very common misunderstanding both about science, and about the recent popular outbreak of atheism.

John Haught, like many people, thinks that scientists who publicly proclaim their atheism must be pushing their own radical and hubristic science-flavored ideology. They are not. People like Richard Dawkins and (as we shall see) the biologist and author Jerry Coyne* (see footnote), are presenting a position that is entirely consistent with well established science. The only “radical” — or better put, unusual — thing they are doing is speaking about it publicly, without obscuring  the obvious conclusions of established scientific knowledge from the public.

Haught had the following to say:

Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, whose faith in evolutionary naturalism has no limits, will continue to remind us that the high degree of accident and blind necessity in biological evolution renders the emergence of mind nothing but a fluke of nature. (Why he puts so much trust in his own mind, therefore, remains a mystery.) [Emphasis added]

I will pass over his disgracefully (for an academic) ignorant implication that natural selection is random, and focus on the parenthesized statement. As if Professor Coyne himself dreamed up the whole idea that evolutionary theory functions perfectly well without the need of resorting to a creator to drive it.

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