Monday, June 1, 2015

Science is about truth, not falsity

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne plugs his latest book:
In fact, the conflict between science and religion — at least the Abrahamic faiths dominant in the U.S. — is deep, endemic, and unlikely to be resolved. For this conflict is one between faith and fact — a battle in the long-fought war between rationality and superstition. ...

But while science and religion both claim to discern what’s true, only science has a system for weeding out what’s false. In the end, that is the irreconcilable conflict between them. Science is not just a profession or a body of facts, but, more important, a set of cognitive and practical tools designed to understand brute reality while overcoming the human desire to believe what we like or what we find emotionally satisfying. The tools are many, including observation of nature, peer review and replication of results, and above all, the hegemony of doubt and criticality. The best characterization of science I know came from physicist Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that.”
I do not find this to be a very good description of science. Lots of religious believers are also concerned about fooling themselves.

I also do not agree with this view that science is all about proving things false. It is about establishing empirical truths.

Consider a basic scientific finding that can be expressed in the positive: "Energy is conserved", or the negative: "There is no perpetual motion machine."

The positive is preferable, by far. It comes with theories of how energy can be transformed from one form to another, and experiments measuring the conservation to high precision. We are extremely confident of these results because they are so often replicated, and applied in a useful way.

Saying that there is no perpetual motion machine is less certain, and less verifiable. Some say that the expansion of the universe is creating dark energy. Maybe that could be used for perpetual. I doubt it, but we cannot be sure.
But even if science and religion are incompatible, what’s the harm? Most of the damage comes from something inherent in many faiths: proselytizing. If you have a faith-based code of conduct attached to beliefs in absolute truths and eternal rewards and punishments, you’re tempted to impose those truths on others. ...

There is also “horizontal” proselytizing: pressing faith-based beliefs on others via politics. This has led to religion-based opposition to things like global warming, ...
Are there religious folks trying to impose some sort of biblical truth about global warming on others? News to me.

He argues that modern DNA evidence is inconsistent with the Adam and Eve story. Yes, I guess that is true, but it is not necessarily inconsistent with the religious lessons people draw from the story.

Coyne's main concern seems to be that religion is an obstacle to his leftist political agenda. He does not similarly attack people with a religious belief in environmentalism.

Update: SciAm's John Horgan does not have any problem with leftism, atheism, or evolutionism, but trashes Coyne's book as going too far.
Mr. Coyne’s critique of free will, far from being based on scientific “fact,” betrays how his hostility toward religion distorts his judgment. Evidence against free will, he says, “kicks the props out from under much theology, including the doctrine of salvation.” Mr. Coyne thinks that if religious people believe in free will, it must be an illusion.

Mr. Coyne’s loathing of creationism, similarly, leads him to exaggerate what science can tell us about our cosmic origins. Mr. Coyne asserts that “we are starting to see how the universe could arise from ‘nothing,’ and that our own universe might be only one of many universes that differ in their physical laws.” Actually, cosmologists are more baffled than ever at why there is something rather than nothing… And multiverse theories are about as testable as religious beliefs. ...

Actually, Faith vs. Fact serves as a splendid specimen of scientism. Mr. Coyne disparages not only religion but also other human ways of engaging with reality. The arts, he argues, “cannot ascertain truth or knowledge,” and the humanities do so only to the extent that they emulate the sciences. This sort of arrogance and certitude is the essence of scientism.
Sometimes I post stuff like this, and people tell me that creationists are so much worse, and that anyone fighting the creationists is doing a good thing.

This blog is about science, and I hold scientists to scientific standards. However bad someone's theology might be, that is all the more reason for scientists to be scientific, if they want to show that science is superior.


  1. Science is about Welfare Kings

    Or Science is about Cinderella vs I Give up

    Cinderella = Platonists and Idealized Experiments= Fairytale land such as the world is a sphere (beautiful symmetry), not an ellipsoid (computationally intractable).

    I Give Up = 'Computationally Intractable'...therefore anything goes...all peer reviewed computations are first rate science...rubber stamping fraud.

    Both sides believe in bullshit. The bums of science are all communists. They haven't invented a thing in 50 years except surveillance (Google). The Peoples Republic of California should be bulldozed into the ocean to frack the shale.

  2. OK. I am appropriating that last sentence - classic! I'd send you a royalty check but... you're anonymous.