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Friday, May 06, 2011

Scientific Priesthood

Timothy Birdnow

Wesley J. Smith has an essay on the trend in Scientific American and other modern advocates of "science" to confuse the scientific method with some mystical notion of science as the keeper of all wisdom. As he points out, Scientism is a political/philosophical/religious viewpoint that believes that this mystical entity called science can answer all questions and explain how to build a paradise.

From the article:

So, how does Daniel T. Willingham answer the question, “Why so many people choose not to believe what scientists say?” From the article:

"On public policy issues, Americans believe that science leaders are more knowledgeable and impartial than leaders in other sectors of society, such as business or government. Why do people say that they trust scientists in general but part company with them on specific issues?"

I think that’s because people differentiate properly between what are sometimes called bench scientists, and the politicized “science” advocates that too often seek to harness our general support for science as the horses to pull their own political/ideological agenda carts. We’ve seen that repeatedly in the global warming debate, the embryonic stem cell issue, environmental controversies, and etc. They also seek to conflate a scientific “finding,” e.g., the earth has warmed in the last century–with advocates’ desired political “solution,” e.g., global warming hysteria.

He sniffs that some of us are fooled into not believing science because different studies sometimes reach different conclusions, noting that science often reaches new conclusions based on updated knowledge. There is some truth here. On the other hand, the idea that the “scientific study” somehow settles things is ludicrous given the number of conflicting scientific studies that are based on methodology rather than more recently gained knowledge. Moreover, people understand that scientific studies are like the Bible, you can get them to say almost anything you want. In other words, too often the answer that is wanted seems to precede the actual study–kind of like the Warren Commission conclusions.

End excerpt.

I left this reply to the piece:

"A point to ponder; what exactly is science? That author at SA seems to see science as something that answers all questions. But there is a huge difference between an evolutionary biologist, an astrophysicist, and a climatologist. The global warming alarmists always nitpick when geologists or meteorologists chime in on global warming, yet many of the same people complain when the mythical SCIENCE is challenged, as if it were some sort of brotherhood of the ex cathedra.

As to the comment about Medieval thinking and geocentrism, the man shows his own collosal ignorance. The Greeks themselves rejected heliocentrism in the end, and medieval scholars were slow to embrace it on scientific grounds; it didn’t markedly improve our understanding of the universe. Until it was realized that the planets orbited in an elipse you still had epicycles – not as many, but enough to make the new theory suspect. A real study of the history of science should have taught Willingham this very fact. He’s blinded by his bias for scientism, his religious view."

End reply.

And that's a fact, Jack; the science was the determining factor. Much is made about the trial of Galileo, about how that "proves" religion's animus to science, but that was largely mythos. One commenter on the thread had this to say:

May 5th, 2011 | 2:04 pm
“Finally, we should take note of the divisive “war” that some in the Politicized Science community have declared against religion and the decidedly and very vocal disrespect these advocates (not most scientists) voice about faith in general and the faithful in specific. People don’t want to follow snobs.”

The “war” Wesley urges you to take note of wasn’t started by “politicized scientists,” but by a politicized religious establishment whose enforced orthodoxy was challenged by the scientific method. Well, more or less successfully challenged, since I think we’re all aware that a disturbing number of Americans still accept nonsensical ideas: astrology, UFOlogy, a universe created 10,000 years ago in six 24-hour days, humans contemporary with dinosaurs, “creation science” — all kinds of hokum.

Many (fortunately, not all) of “the faithful,” as Wesley terms them, have a tendency to close their eyes to facts that challenge beliefs that make them feel secure and comfortable. While they’re not personally deserving of disrespect (they really can’t do anything about the IQs they were born with, can they?), their opinions are often subject to criticism. Justifiably so.

For example, most have little knowledge of science, and even less of climatology, which makes them ripe for manipulation by any charlatan who makes the right approach. And what IS the right approach? Students of propaganda have long known that calling intelligent people snobs appeals to the simple-minded by making the propagandist appear to be on the side of “regular folks” like them. The objective, of course, is to make them feel so comfortable in their stupidity that they can be all the more easily manipulated by those whose agendas include the negation of scientific opposition. Like the big lie, it’s a simple enough concept: downplay the validity of science strongly and often enough, and after a while people will buy snake oil (read “global warming “hysteria”).

In the propaganda of Wesley-World, scientists who oppose the institutionalization — indeed, the apotheosis — of scientific illiteracy are called “snobs;” As I recall, George Wallace used to call those opposed to racial segregation “pointy-headed intellectuals.” Same audience, same approach. As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.


End excerpt.

This man is horrendously ignorant, and yet calls himself History Writer. Let me tell you about Galileo.

Galileo was a personal friend of Pope Urban VIII - Cardinal Maffeo Barberini - who was disposed toward Copernicanism but wanted to wait until the facts were all in i.e. he wanted the science to be settled before proclaiming something as True. (Sounds like a familiar debate, doesn't it!)

Now, there were many Biblical references to a round Earth, such as:

"He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth..." (Isaiah 40:22,NIV).

"He spreads out the northern [skies] over empty space; he suspends the earth over nothing" (Job 26:7, NIV).

and these references made it clear that, as the Greeks understood, the Earth was a sphere and not flat, as has so often been asserted by people like History Writer above. But what of Geo vs. Helio centrism? The Bible makes reference to the movement of the Sun, but that is a given; it was written by simple people for simple people. What difference does it make if this is real or apparent motion? If the Earth is a sphere, one can ultimately work backwards to heliocentrism. Certainly the early Hebrews understood that a stationary Earth would mean the stars would not move in fixed paths. But they weren't writing a science text, and they weren't writing it for future generations to interpret via translations of translations. The purpose is first and foremost spiritual.

It was the Church that created what we know today as science; the Greeks had philosophy. The scientific method was developed by Christian scholars in Christian universities, for the purpose of knowing Creation - and thereby the Creator - better. To claim some sort of anti-intellectualism in Christendom is so much horse hockey. But the Left, and particularly the evangelical atheists, have created a myth, claiming the medieval Church pushed nonsense solely to maintain their power, and oppressed Reason and Knowledge (always capitalize the names of their gods). How many people today believe that people thought the Earth was flat until Columbus? That was a myth created during the 19th century to smear Christianity and create a state of war between Faith and Reason. (Antoine-Jean Letronne (1787-1848) argued this in his On the Cosmographical Ideas of the Church Fathers (1834) and Washington Irving in his history of Columbus in 1834.) The reality is, everyone save the most ignorant knew the Earth was round, and nobody had any real reason to oppose Heliocentrism.

The opposition to heliocentrism was on scientific grounds; Galileo argued that "the science is settled" while the rest of the intellectual class said it was not. Galileo did not make this case as a private citizen, but rather argued it as settled BY THE CHURCH while working in a Church-sponsored institution of higher learning.

Galileo was first ordered not to teach Copernicanism as fact, but was free to discuss it as hypothesis. This he did for a number of years, but he was a stubborn man, a man angry with the Church heirarchy (but he was devout; read his letter to the Duchess Christina if you should doubt. In Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems Galileo mocked those opposed to Copernicanism and the Pope, calling the protagonist of geocentrism "simplicio". He was put on trial in 1633.

Why a trial? In those days there was no temporal authority to issue a restraining order. Communications were poor, and a man openly defying Church teaching while claiming to speak for the Church was committing an act that required action. It would have been nice if Galileo could have been tried for slander and liable (think Dr. Timothy Ball, who is currently being tried in Canada for liable of Michael Mann) but they didn't have enforcement powers we have today. Galileo was found guilty and sentenced to house arrest, a very light punishment by the standards of the day.

But, we are told that the Church was a bad egg, guilty of starting a war with SCIENCE and REASON by refusing to be buffaloed.

Again, it bears to keep in mind that Copernicanism didn't really solve the problems with planetary motion; they still had reversals that were inexplicable. Granted, under Copernicanism there were fewer of these "epicycles" but they were there.

In the end, scientists are nothing more than people, with their own agendas, their own prejudices, and their own limitations. Do we use pronouncements from men based on a best guess to set public policy? We've tried that; it was called Eugenics. In America it led to forced sterilizations and apartheid laws, especially where reproduction was concerned. In Germany it lead to death camps and genocide. Great track record!

Yes, it was based on faulty science, but it was considered cutting edge in it's day, and still is by some in this country on the Left, particularly the pro-abortion crowd. That is the whole point; we don't hand our lives over to some who claim they are brighter than we and know what is best for us. Scientists may have more data, but that hardly means more wisdom.

If we are to reject rule by priests, reject a theocracy, then why are we so eager to put a theocracy of scientism in place? Isn't this just exchanging one priesthood for another?

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