The Red Herring and Its Endless Stink

It’s amazing how foolish a person can be without realizing it. Ah, accusing people who trust to science of being arrogant. This is one we’ve seen before.

It is a recurrent and utterly foolish red herring among those who believe to know mystical secrets of invisible deities, accessible only to those who have the “right” kind of faith and study the “right” ancient texts (usually as defined by elderly men in funny clothing), that studying the universe and developing models describing its physical functioning, while carefully, cautiously accepting those models only on the basis of hard evidence is a position of arrogance.

The amusing thing is that, once you start reading a little about crackpot groups like the occultists and theosophists in Kensington around World War I, or the anti-vaxxers, or the “21 Dec. 2012 is the end of the worlders,” you discover how much they have in common with mainstream religion: similar techniques of argumentation, similar inversion of logic (the most patently unbelievable and unprovable claim must be the one that is actual truth; the less evidence, the more certain it is true), and similar accusations against those who reject their, er, “beliefs”.

Arrogance? You speak to invisible beings you cannot prove exist; you beseech their aid and claim to know the absolute moral structure of reality, on the basis of your interpretation of confusing, self-contradictory, and in fact rather bloody scriptures from one particular culture that we’re supposed to believe knew the non-apparent secrets of reality, while every other culture, in at least relative but maybe absolute terms, got it “wrong”? Your system is better at of knowledge-producing, for while repudiating empiricism, it has no built-in system of claim-falsification, and in fact openly embraces belief in things that may or may not be real, on the basis of human feelings and suspect reports of “experiences” or revelation that most humans never undergo themselves?

Meanwhile, the scientist looks at the world in a directed fashion, performs careful bookkeeping of both the direction and the looking, and participates in a method of knowledge-testing and knowledge-sharing where he or she can have procedural or analytical errors pointed out, and is subject to others getting the same results, regardless of their culture, skin color, sex, or age — and if others get different results, using proper methology, then the original theory is in trouble — and scientisis freely choose to participate in such a system where their life’s work could be falsified by some young upstart… and indeed where one can and must celebrate such falsification as progress, provided it really is a valid falsification? A system designed, as it were, to exclude all the human weaknesses of cognitive static, mental illness, emotional confusion, and wishful thinking, so as to better focus one’s attention on the physical universe itself, and away from the ego and identity of the scientist?

Who was it  that was arrogant, again?

I’d venture to argue it’s the people in the Ignorant Tightass Club:

I’ve nothing against people turning to religion, and I understand human beings have a need, deep down, to commune with the universe, with the immensity of all that is around them. I don’t have a problem with someone being religious, and in fact many of the important people in my life are or have been.

But bashing science, the scientific method, and scientific materialism is just plain stupid and ignorant. The immense irony of someone doing so online is so flabbergasting as to leave me astonished at the range of stupidity that can be observed among humans. It’s like people in a spaceship, their ever need provided by the ship’s AI as they cruise about faster than light from planet to planet, complaining about how technology ruins everything and things would be so much better if we could only go back to a Neolithic lifestyle.

Science is an amazing, moving adventure from ignorance to deeper understanding, and a deeper embrace not of the stories that have floated through the mists of ignorance since time immemorial, but of the universe itself, of which we are a part, and in which we play a part of our own choosing. It is an adventure where the responsibility is ours, but so are the joys and terrors and wonders. Those who see arrogance there, see it because they want to see it… and I suspect it is primarily fear that blinds them.

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