Neil deGrasse Tyson: You Can’t Bend Science to Suit Religious or Cultural Mores

Source: AlterNet

Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Emphasis Mine

If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious or political objectives, you undermine the foundations of an informed democracy.

Science distinguishes itself from all other branches of human pursuit by its power to probe and understand the behavior of nature on a level that allows us to predict with accuracy, if not control, the outcomes of events in the natural world. Science especially enhances our health, wealth and security, which is greater today for more people on Earth than at any other time in human history.

The scientific method, which underpins these achievements, can be summarized in one sentence, which is all about objectivity:

Do whatever it takes to avoid fooling yourself into thinking something is true that is not, or that something is not true that is.

This approach to knowing did not take root until early in the 17th century, shortly after the inventions of both the microscope and the telescope. The astronomer Galileo and philosopher Sir Francis Bacon agreed: conduct experiments to test your hypothesis and allocate your confidence in proportion to the strength of your evidence. Since then, we would further learn not to claim knowledge of a newly discovered truth until multiple researchers, and ultimately the majority of researchers, obtain results consistent with one another.

This code of conduct carries remarkable consequences. There’s no law against publishing wrong or biased results. But the cost to you for doing so is high. If your research is re-checked by colleagues, and nobody can duplicate your findings, the integrity of your future research will be held suspect. If you commit outright fraud, such as knowingly faking data, and subsequent researchers on the subject uncover this, the revelation will end your career.

It’s that simple.

This internal, self-regulating system within science may be unique among professions, and it does not require the public or the press or politicians to make it work. But watching the machinery operate may nonetheless fascinate you. Just observe the flow of research papers that grace the pages of peer reviewed scientific journals. This breeding ground of discovery is also, on occasion, a battlefield where scientific controversy is laid bare.

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. The press, in an effort to break a story, may mislead the public’s awareness of how science works by headlining a just-published scientific paper as “the truth,” perhaps also touting the academic pedigree of the authors. In fact, when drawn from the moving frontier, the truth has not yet been established, so research can land all over the place until experiments converge in one direction or another — or in no direction, itself usually indicating no phenomenon at all.

Once an objective truth is established by these methods, it is not later found to be false. We will not be revisiting the question of whether Earth is round; whether the sun is hot; whether humans and chimps share more than 98 percent identical DNA; or whether the air we breathe is 78 percent nitrogen.

The era of “modern physics,” born with the quantum revolution of the early 20th century and the relativity revolution of around the same time, did not discard Newton’s laws of motion and gravity. What it did was describe deeper realities of nature, made visible by ever-greater methods and tools of inquiry. Modern physics enclosed classical physics as a special case of these larger truths. So the only times science cannot assure objective truths is on the pre-consensus frontier of research, and the only time it couldn’t was before the 17th century, when our senses — inadequate and biased — were the only tools at our disposal to inform us of what was and was not true in our world.

Objective truths exist outside of your perception of reality, such as the value of pi; E= m c 2; Earth’s rate of rotation; and that carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases.

These statements can be verified by anybody, at any time, and at any place. And they are true, whether or not you believe in them.

Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. These are the foundations of most people’s opinions. Is Jesus your savior? Is Mohammad God’s last prophet on Earth? Should the government support poor people? Is Beyoncé a cultural queen? Kirk or Picard? Differences in opinion define the cultural diversity of a nation, and should be cherished in any free society. You don’t have to like gay marriage. Nobody will ever force you to gay-marry. But to create a law preventing fellow citizens from doing so is to force your personal truths on others. Political attempts to require that others share your personal truths are, in their limit, dictatorships.

Note further that in science, conformity is anathema to success. The persistent accusations that we are all trying to agree with one another is laughable to scientists attempting to advance their careers. The best way to get famous in your own lifetime is to pose an idea that is counter to prevailing research and which ultimately earns a consistency of observations and experiment. This ensures healthy disagreement at all times while working on the bleeding edge of discovery.

In 1863, a year when he clearly had more pressing matters to attend to, Abraham Lincoln — the first Republican president — signed into existence the National Academy of Sciences, based on an Act of Congress. This august body would provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters relating to science and technology.

Today, other government agencies with scientific missions serve similar purpose, including NASA, which explores space and aeronautics; NIST, which explores standards of scientific measurement, on which all other measurements are based; DOE, which explores energy in all usable forms; and NOAA, which explores Earth’s weather and climate.

These centers of research, as well as other trusted sources of published science, can empower politicians in ways that lead to enlightened and informed governance. But this won’t happen until the people in charge, and the people who vote for them, come to understand how and why science works.

See:http://www.alternet.org/culture/neil-degrasse-tyson-you-cant-bend-science-suit-religious-or-cultural-mores?akid=13692.123424.cyif-s&rd=1&src=newsletter1046163&t=14

 

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Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma

Source: AlterNet

Author: Dan Arel

Emphasis Mine

(The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel.)

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, not links to scientific studies, but to blogs or “information” sites by doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

This is a failure in critical thinking, and it’s usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead, a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it is crucial.

Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” Then look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources reliable?

This same method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, and does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there a simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. First look at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would be required? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each, what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

This alone makes the story seem implausible, but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of this size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood subsided? How did he do this?

Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological goldmine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. What have we found? To date we have found nothing suggesting a flood of this magnitude. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth, and can be treated as such.

Thinking critically about such an issue is rather simple to find a logical conclusion. This can be used for every tale in the Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, question family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or untestable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims, yet people insist on continuing to believe these claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them lack critical thinking skills.

Pseudoscience is a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. Many people lose the battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have a “cure” that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, despite FDA warning that its treatments are not only unproven, but its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. It has been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to state medical standards. Yet it remains open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills continue to throw all their money at this fraud, no matter the results.

How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk or see, or help someone overcome addiction, by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling prayers or speaking in incoherent tongues? Then boom, the people are healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

This is all a fraud: everyone involved is in on the secret. Faith healers know that people want to believe in miracles; they want to believe so badly they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, like the paranormal, even though we know that no evidence ever supports such claims.  It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, yet seem to think ghosts are possible Maybe even you. But think about it: you don’t believe in a soul or an afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some or our energy sticks around. Even skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it. 

  Belief  
comments_image 197 COMMENTS

Learning to Think in a Society Ruled by Absurd Religion and Other Dogma

Children should be prepared to question everyone and everything.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The following is an excerpt from Parenting Without God by Dan Arel.

One important thing to teach our children is how to think critically. It is easy to tell them they should, but it is not as easy to teach them how, mainly because we may not be that great at it ourselves.

How many atheists do you know who are anti-GMO or anti-vaccination? We know these can be smart people who took on a position that is full of emotion, misinformation or bad research methods.

Think back to earlier discussions about vaccinations when those opposed were flooding you with links, not links to scientific studies, but to blogs or “information” sites by doctors who seemed to be selling a cure-all at the same time they were telling you to avoid modern medicine.

This is a failure in critical thinking, and it’s usually the result of confirmation bias. If you start off with the notion that vaccines are dangerous you will be drawn to articles that confirm your position. Instead, a position should be started from a clean slate. This is not easy to do but it is crucial.

Ask the question, “Are vaccines safe?” Then look for information from trustworthy sources and see what they say. What do medical peer review journals have to say? What do medical organizations say? What do opponents think and what are their sources? Are their sources reliable?

This same method applies to religion. Who is making the claim, and does the claim defy the laws of nature that we understand? Is there a simpler explanation for what happened? Is it possible this claim ever happened at all?

Look at Noah’s flood, with two of every single animal on the planet and a handful of human beings on a single boat. First look at the logistics. How big would the boat need to be and how much food would be required? What about the carnivorous animals? If you only brought two of each, what did the lions eat for an entire trip?

This alone makes the story seem implausible, but then look at the scientific evidence. Have we found a boat that could have done this? Surely a boat of this size must have some rather impressive remains somewhere in the world. How about the placement of animals; did Noah go around and drop each animal off at its particular continent after the flood subsided? How did he do this?

Then we can look at the archeological evidence. Fossils form best in wet conditions. So just imagine the archeological goldmine left behind from this massive flood that would have drowned billions of creatures. What have we found? To date we have found nothing suggesting a flood of this magnitude. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude there was no flood. No mass killings of people and animals. This is nothing but a myth, and can be treated as such.

Thinking critically about such an issue is rather simple to find a logical conclusion. This can be used for every tale in the Bible. From talking snakes to virgin births, we can look at these stories and apply the same critical thinking skills to them.

Our children should be using this method every day in all matters of life. With claims from friends, family, parents, and teachers, they should be well prepared to question everyone and everything. Doing this also allows them to become their own person and not simply a carbon copy of what people are telling them to be.

Many of us, especially those who grew up in religion, had it engrained that the questioning of claims is frowned upon and God has an exact plan for who we should be. Many never break out of that cycle and allow those they consider authorities to dictate how their lives should be led. The generation we want to raise would be a generation that questions everything, from religion to government and even science.

We often imagine we cannot question science, but the core of scientific research is questioning. That is what peer-review is all about. Theists, especially creationists, often claim we all have faith in science, or call science a religion because we simply accept what scientists say. This could not be further from the truth. However, this is something important we should be teaching our children. The method in which we apply critical thinking to science, the scientific method and the rigorous testing scientific ideas are put through ensures that only sound ideas come out the other end as scientifically valid. All the others are discarded as nonsense or failures.

Pseudoscience exists because some people lack the ability to discard disproven or untestable ideas. From homeopathy to astrology, science discards claims, yet people insist on continuing to believe these claims. People who hold onto these ideas and continue to believe them lack critical thinking skills.

Pseudoscience is a strong example of the dangers of not applying critical thinking skills to real life. Many people lose the battle with treatable cancer because they believe nonsense claims by alternative medicine practitioners who have a “cure” that has never been tested, or if it has, failed.

The Burzynski Clinic in Texas offers such a service, despite FDA warning that its treatments are not only unproven, but its advertising and claims are deemed to be unlawful. It has been sued for misleading patients, insurance fraud and not being up to state medical standards. Yet it remains open for business, offering a cure that is too good to be true, while people who are not using critical thinking skills continue to throw all their money at this fraud, no matter the results.

How many TV evangelists have we seen in our lifetime who can heal those who cannot walk or see, or help someone overcome addiction, by placing their hands on someone’s head, yelling prayers or speaking in incoherent tongues? Then boom, the people are healed, up walking and dancing, while the audience goes crazy and throws money at the pastor and church to continue this miraculous healing.

This is all a fraud: everyone involved is in on the secret. Faith healers know that people want to believe in miracles; they want to believe so badly they will suspend reality to do so. We are eager to believe in things outside the laws of nature, like the paranormal, even though we know that no evidence ever supports such claims.

It may be crazy, but think about it. How many people do you know who do not believe in God, yet seem to think ghosts are possible Maybe even you. But think about it: you don’t believe in a soul or an afterlife, yet you believe we somehow stay alive after death, or some or our energy sticks around. Even skeptical thinkers can fall victim to thoughts like this. We seemed to be evolutionarily primed for it.

See: http://www.alternet.org/belief/learning-think-society-ruled-absurd-religion-and-other-dogma?akid=12161.123424.rh-T2m&rd=1&src=newsletter1016640&t=7   

How the Right-Wing War on Science Has Made Americans Dumber at Every Level

Source: Media Matters via Alternet

Author: John Whitehouse

“On the April 5th edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, science education activist  Zack Kopplin confronted The Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore over myths about science funding, pointing out that Moore, who questioned the need for funding research on “snail mating habits,” is “not a scientist”:

As it turns out, the reason actual scientists are conducting this type of research is because snails carry parasitic worms that kill children:

Watch where you jump in for a swim or where your bath water comes from, especially if you live in Africa, Asia or South America. Snails that live in tropical fresh water in these locations are intermediaries between disease-causing parasitic worms and humans.

People in developing countries who don’t have access to clean water and good sanitation facilities are often exposed to the infected snails. Then they’re left open to the parasitic worms.

The worms’ infectious larvae emerge from the snails, cruise in shallow water, easily penetrate human skin and mature in internal organs.

The result is schistosomiasis, the second most socioeconomically devastating disease after malaria. As of 2009, 74 developing nations had identified significant rates of schistosomiasis in human populations.

Moore is not some fringe right-winger. He is the senior economics writer and an editorial board member for The Wall Street Journal.  And, while on a nationally televised show, he called for killing a government-funded scientific study while bragging about not understanding the research behind it.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Rush Limbaugh said virtually the same thing on his radio show earlier that day, suggesting that science today is an extension of the Democratic Party:

For conservative media like Moore and Limbaugh, scientific ignorance is a feature, not a glitch. From  climate science and polar bears to economicsto condoms to social sciences to duck penises, conservative media peddle the same anti-science behavior over and over and over. The logic goes that scientists are inherently biased because they care about science. It’s third-rate sophism combined with fourth-rate Luddism.

This is not to say that all scientists are correct just by virtue of them being scientists. Rather, media should respect the scientific method, whereby scientists present arguments with data and rigourously test ideas until a consensus emerges. It’s essentially a free market for scientific ideas. Does that sound like something conservatives should be interested in?

For more on the scientific method and research projects, check out  Zack Kopplin’s petition.

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.alternet.org/how-right-wing-war-science-has-made-americans-dumber-every-level?akid=10307.108242.DWV8R2&rd=1&src=newsletter822182&t=13

Science and Religion Cannot Be Reconciled

From: HuffPost

N.B.: A very clear distinction

By: Victor Stenger

“(This essay is based on my 2012 book, God and the Folly of Faith (Prometheus Books).

Religious apologists, spiritualist gurus, and accommodating atheists have been bombarding us with assertions that science and religion have no reason not to get along. This may be politically convenient, but it’s simply untrue. Science and religion are fundamentally irreconcilable, and they always will be.

Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in the light of contrary evidence. No one disputes that religion is based on faith. Some authors claim that science is also based on faith. They argue that science takes it on faith that the world is rational and that nature can be ordered in an intelligible way.

However, science makes no such assumption on faith. It analyzes observations by applying certain methodological rules and formulates models to describe those observations. It justifies that process by its practical success, not by any logical deduction derived from dubious metaphysical assumptions. We must distinguish faith from trust. Science has earned our trust by its proven success. Religion has destroyed our trust by its repeated failure.

Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible because of their unequivocally opposed epistemologies — the separate assumptions they make concerning what we can know about the world. Every human alive is aware of a world that seems to exist outside the body, the world of sensory experience we call the natural. Science is the systematic study of the observations made of the natural world with our senses and scientific instruments.

By contrast, all major religions teach that humans possess an additional “inner” sense that allows us to access a realm lying beyond the visible world — a divine, transcendent reality we call the supernatural. If it does not involve the transcendent, it is not religion.

No doubt science has its limits. However, that fact that science is limited doesn’t mean that religion or any alternative system of thought can or does provide insight into what lies beyond those limits. For example, science cannot yet show precisely how the universe and life originated naturally, although many plausible scenarios exist. But the fact that science does not at present have a definitive answer to this question does not mean that ancient creation myths such as those in Genesis have any substance, any chance of eventually being verified.

Most of the scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science as they are currently practiced exclude supernatural causes. However, if we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.

If someone’s inner sense were to warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, which then occurred on schedule, we would have evidence for this extrasensory source of knowledge. Claims of “divine prophecies” have been made throughout history, but not one has been conclusively confirmed.

So far we see no evidence that the feelings people experience when they perceive themselves to be in touch with the supernatural correspond to anything outside their heads, and have no reason to rely on those feelings when they occur. However, if such evidence or reason should show up, then scientists will have to consider it whether they like it or not.

We cannot sweep under the rug the many serious problems brought about by the scientific revolution and the exponential burst in humanity’s ability to exploit Earth’s resources made possible by the accompanying technology. There would be no problems with overpopulation, pollution, global warming, or the threat of nuclear holocaust if science had not made them possible. The growing distrust of science found now in America can be understood by observing the disgraceful examples of scientists employed by oil, food, tobacco, and pharmaceutical companies who have contributed to the unnecessary deaths of millions by allowing products to be marketed that these scientists knew full well were unsafe.

But does anyone want to return to the pre-scientific age when human life was nasty, brutish, and short? Even fire was once a new technology.

Unsafe products are more than overshadowed by miracle drugs, foods, and technologies that have made all our lives immeasurably better than those of humans in the not-too-distant past. At least in developed countries, women now rarely die in childbirth and most children grow to adulthood. This was not the case even just a few generations ago. Unlike our ancestors, we lead long, fulfilling lives largely free of pain and drudgery. The aged are so numerous that they are becoming a social problem. All this is the result of scientific developments.

We can solve the problems brought about by the misuse of science only by better use of science and more rational behavior on the part of scientists, politicians, corporations, and citizens in all walks of life. And religion, as it is currently practiced, with its continued focus on closed thinking and ancient mythology, is not doing much to support the goal of a better, safer world. In fact, religion is hindering our attempts to attain that goal.

Today science and religion find themselves in serious conflict. Even moderate believers do not fully accept Darwinian evolution. Although they claim to see no conflict between their faith and evolution, they insist that God still controlled the development of life so humans would evolve, which is not at all what the theory of evolution says. Evolution, as understood by science, has no room for God. Anti-evolution fundamentalists are absolutely right about that.

In another example, greedy corporate interests and unscrupulous politicians are exploiting the antiscience attitudes embedded in popular religion to suppress scientific results on issues of global importance, such as the overpopulation and environmental degradation, that threaten the generations of humanity that will follow ours.

Those who rely on observation and reason to provide an understanding of the world must stop viewing as harmless those who rely instead on superstition and the mythologies in ancient texts passed down from the childhood of our species. For the sake of the future of humanity, we must fight to expunge the fantasies of faith from human thinking.

Religious faith would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about religion. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life. It produces a frame of mind in which concepts are formulated with deep passion but without the slightest attention paid to the evidence that bears on the concept. Nowhere is this more evident than in America today where the large majority of the public hold on to a whole set of beliefs despite the total lack of evidence to support these beliefs and, indeed, strong evidence that denies them. Magical thinking and blind faith are the worst mental system we can apply under these circumstances. They allow the most outrageous lies to be accepted as facts.

From its very beginning, religion has been a tool used by those in power to retain that power and keep the masses in line. This continues today as religious groups are manipulated to work against believers’ own best interests in health and economic well-being in order to cast doubt on well-established scientific findings. This would not be possible except for the diametrically opposed world-views of science and religion. Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. We can only hope religion will change its commitment to nonsense.”

Emphasis Mine

see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/religion-and-science-_b_2719280.html