February 15, 2006

Harder To Believe 

Once upon a time, when people didn't know any better, a lightning strike or earthquake were enough to demonstrate that God existed, was powerful and likely angered. Likewise, rain after a drought or sun after a flood were proof that finally God listened to the prayers and paid heed to the plight of the faithful.

But then scientific and technical knowledge grew, and nowadays we know that there is nothing supernatural about lighting and earthquakes: it's electricity and atmospheric dynamics; it's plate tectonics and geology. We also know that weather is a fairly chaotic and thus not completely predictable system.

Then we have evolution. I think I know why many hate it with unique passion: not because of the flaws or weak points of this model, but because it denies that mankind has a special place in the world. When I say "deny", I do not mean that there is a plot or agenda behind evolution (there are individuals with agendas, tho); it is a model for the physical world and thus neutral in this sense. However, the meaning of evolution is that humans are the product of mutation and selection, like any other lifeform; they have no special purpose or role. This is quite contrary to what many religious doctrines say - namely, that God created mankind to fulfill a great plan of his (yes, I know that there is considerable variation around this theme).

I can understand how the scientific progress left many believers in disarray, requiring their faith to have different bases than the popular superstition that was enough for millennia. Indeed, not all cultures moved past the stage of animism/natural religion/whatever. However, in the end most believers adapted and manage to reconcile pretty well scientific knowledge with religious belief (except evolution; that is still cause of inflamed debates).

But for those who used people's beliefs as a tool to gain power, influence and wealth, science came as a true catastrophe; it meant that they could not anymore rule through simple tricks and creating mysteries. It is not accidental that conspirationism is most popular among religious and ideological (the border between religion and ideology is blurred) fanatics: they are the ones most likely to refuse the scientific knowledge and method; something that would rapidly pulverize most conspiracies (also post-modernists refuse the science as another social construct with no universal value, and they're big conspirationists too). And it is neither accidental that these "true believers" are desperately lashing out against what they see as an attack against the very foundations of their worldview (and often power).

But for me the weirdest ones are those who accept all science and engineering except evolution (and related matters). Chemistry is ok; mechanical engineering too; computer science is nice; physics and mathematics no problem; medicine is great and genetically modified plants are cool. But evolution is junk science (add eventually global warming), that's what they say. But they cannot have it both ways: the methods and basic knowledge are the same throughout all science; modern medicine is vastly based on evolutive models and genetics and molecular biology go hand in hand with evolution. Genetic programming works surprisingly well in many cases, and has produced astounding results.

The methods used to measure temperature and to process vast amounts of data are applied to many problems of practical interest, and they apply to global warming as well. While there is a lot of politicking about these issues, there is also little doubt that Earth warmed a little in recent times (but there is vastly insufficient knowledge regarding the state, causes and eventual solutions to this problem).

Still, I do not agree with those using science to bash religious beliefs: we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God using a scientific method; that is still in the realm of metaphisics.
Maybe one day quantum cosmology will be advanced enough to answer the question about The Life, Universe and Everything (and hopefully return an answer different from "42"), but I don't see it coming anytime soon.


may be global warming *is* BS to some extent, as most hype-promoted science tends to be. a bit like AIDS "science"... but this is OT indeed. ciao - v.
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