Sunday, January 31, 2010

Anti-science science enthusiasts

While we're discussing compatibility of science and religion, I want to reiterate: just because someone claims to be totally pro-science does not make them pro-science. In fact, I'd say that anti-science advocates tend to be just as enthusiastic about science as is the rest of the public. They don't think of science as their enemy. But they are wrong; science is indeed their enemy.

Example #1: Deepak Chopra. Deepak Chopra, if you didn't know, is one of the biggest supporters of quantum nonsense. I think Professor Farnsworth from Futurama described him best. However, Deepak Chopra thinks of himself as pro-science, as can be seen in one of his recent columns.
No skeptic, to my knowledge, ever made a major scientific discovery or advanced the welfare of others. Typically they sit by the side of the road with a sign that reads "You're Wrong" so that every passerby, whether an Einstein, Gandhi, Newton, or Darwin, can gain the benefit of their illuminated skepticism.

It never occurs to skeptics that a sense of wonder is paramount, even for scientists. Especially for scientists. Einstein insisted, in fact, that no great discovery can be made without a sense of awe before the mysteries of the universe.
Look, he's talking about the greatness of scientists like Einstein, Newton, and Darwin. He's talking about the awe and wonder of science. But at the same time, he attacks "skeptics", not realizing that every great scientist shares most of the ideals of skepticism. Revolutionary ideas in science necessarily meet resistance because for every correct revolutionary idea, there are countless incorrect revolutionary ideas. You just don't hear as much about the failed ideas because history naturally forgets them.

In short, Deepak Chopra likes the idea of science, but opposes that which is essential to science.

Example #2: The Muslim Student Alliance is often out on Bruin Walk handing out free flyers and copies of the Q'uran. One time, I saw a pamphlet which explained how the truth of the Q'uran is confirmed by modern science. One humorous example sticks out in my mind. The Q'uran describes one stage of human creation like a mudghah, a "chewed substance". Therefore, if it turns out that a stage in the human embryo looks like a chewed substance, this is positive evidence of the Q'uran's truth.
What do you know, the human embryo indeed looks like a piece of gum with suggestive teeth marks. Next thing you know, they'll compare the early state of the universe to smoke because it's made of opaque, dense, hot gas (and somewhere in the middle, they'll confuse the early universe with nebulae). Seriously?

This argument, along with the rest of the pamphlet, arises from a deep respect for science. If they didn't respect science, they wouldn't try so hard to find ways for science to confirm their beliefs. Furthermore, unlike Creationists (who, by the way, also usually believe themselves pro-science), they fully accept the conclusions of science. But even if they have pro-science motivations, are they in fact pro-science?

Nope. Their motivations are betrayed by an abuse of science in their actions.

Example #3
: Francis Collins. I've mentioned this example multiple times in the past, but that's because I think it is a good example. Francis Collins is a great scientist. He headed the Human Genome Project, and currently serves as the director of the National Institutes of Health. If his scientific success doesn't make him pro-science, I don't know what does.

But being pro-science doesn't stop him from saying a one or two things that are anti-science. Francis Collins believes that morality exists only among humans and could not have evolved. Never mind that there's a whole field which studies the evolution of altruism, and it contradicts these beliefs. Why does Francis Collins believe this? One of C. S. Lewis' arguments for Christianity is that only God could have created human morality; Francis Collins is a big fan of C. S. Lewis.

Now, Francis Collins is a spectacular example of how great scientists can be outspokenly religious, with no conflict. But it's a good thing he doesn't specialize in evolutionary altruism, or he might be a spectacular example of how religion carelessly obstructs science without even trying. C. S. Lewis wasn't trying to get science wrong, he was just trying to advance an apologetics argument, one whose premise turns out to be false.

Unlike the first two examples, Francis Collins doesn't just claim to be pro-science, he really is pro-science. But he could do just a little better.

And maybe even I could do better! Just because I claim to be pro-skepticism doesn't make me flawless.