18 March, 2009

Those who place great emphasis on science are also the first to abuse it

I've criticised Pharyngula before. It's sort of like when you've had a crush on someone, admired little things about them, picked out things you like about the way they wear their long dark hair, their clothes which are cheap and ready but perfectly in place, their ability to write helpfully and clearly about science. A couple of years later, when you've had some separation, you might be over them when you see them heavily cropped, in a designer dress and only ever ranting about the Pope being evil. A walking advert for the ludicrous "Out Campaign.*"

You keep an eye on them and you resent them. It's emotionally exhausting, I don't mind admitting.

Where do I still agree with Myers? Well... Science must be as apolitical as possible. You don't go into scientific exploration knowing the results in advance, much less in order to confirm your current opinions. You're testing hypotheses, you don't know what you'll come up with, and you don't serve up results with a side-order of heaped invective...


Those fears I had that the sclogosphere (trust me, that'll catch on) might not be a good substitute for peer-reviewed journals are further reinforced. I don't know if Myers has read the original paper (I intend to find it when I visit campus later) but he links to a news source. This study has been reinterpreted by a journalist even before it received the Pharyngula treatment!

Contrast with Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science, who only uses primary research papers, and does his best to fully understand the research first (read his rules). No reinterpreted headlines here. There's a reason this has become my favourite science blog. A soothing balm, and my new crush!

Is Myers' interpretation accurate? Possibly, I can't rule it out. A biased conclusion can be the correct one if you hitch to the right wagon. But it's certainly not proven. Psychological research has shown a large range of effects religious practice can have on believers, some more intuitive than others. It's a complex set of contributing factors and jumping straight for the "fear and ignorance" parameters seems hugely simplistic and convenient.

PZ Myers has a nice choir to preach to by now, a well-rehearsed line in atheism, a total disregard for the philosophical/theological heritage present-day thought (including much of his) comes from, and plenty of bile. He's certainly a pretty skilled writer, I envy him that. I know full well that he and his followers are content in the knowledge that they are the most rational people in the world, and that's fine. I can only hope my views are somewhat less reductive.

A further annoyance: Scientific knowledge, we all understand, has been built up from foundation levels to much more intricate and detailed platforms. I seem to be reading so much right now where scientists stride boldly and rationally into other areas with no foundation whatsoever. I hope I at least have the good grace to be tentative!


There's a whole quagmire here that I shouldn't get into, but the very next post he's made, about Catholicism's opposition to condom use in Africa (an area I should agree with him on), also winds me up. There's a glaring clash in his view that you can't deny human nature, when it's juxtaposed with decrying certain human behaviours as pathological. Read Pharyngula for a few weeks (probably more like days) and you'll understand Myers applies this idea of pathology to a wide range of irrational behaviours.

Admittedly, sex is a pretty fundamental drive for human beings. But one has to wonder, if we've been prone to irrational belief throughout recorded history, and show few signs of stopping now, what's the difference? Can sex be described as pathological? Is hardcore rationalism denying human nature? In the latter case, I think the answer is certainly.


*So, if I were worried about religion causing evil to come about because it creates factions that hate each other I'm sure as hell the first thing I'd do is create a new faction that aggressively states its difference to all others
Furthermore, I'd want to alienate moderates with my "if you're not with us, you're against us" attitude. Comparing myself to the great liberators and civil-rights campaigners of history would be my choice technique for squaring things off.


Capital letters in headings? I really don't know. I used to, religiously, "every word as important as the word that precedes it" and all that. But in the middle of typing out that title it just struck me as a bit ridiculous, more than a little pompous, frankly.
I shall just see which whims take me.

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