Through The Static

May 12, 2008

“Science Versus Religion”: What Doth This All MEME?!!

It annoys me when the very idea of spirituality is equated with stuperstition in favor of science’s empirical evidence. This is not to say that we should be ruled solely by myth, legend, or religion — or that science and spirituality cannot be reconciled. Whether or not Religion or Spirituality is accepted as Truth or Reality, it is the human imagination and intellect that created and continues to create and refine these rituals, these codes of human ethics, and I do believe there’s got to be something more than human irrationality that allows for these patterns, practices, and belief systems to persist.

stained glass

But then again, this is all coming from a gal who has a weak spot for, oh, I don’t know, Neon Genesis Evangelion, LOST, Gargoyles (greatest American animated series of my generation), Ayashi no Ceres, Calculating God, Octavia E. Butler stuff, and Death Note. And did I mention that I’ve been particularly enamored with Battlestar Galactica for the past 52 hours? In the midst of FINALS???

gargoyes

Sure, I had a crush on Goliath, like 92% of the audience, but I always had a soft spot for Lexington!  BTW, am I the only one who found Xanatos hot?  ::fans self to cool down circuits::

I am not going to romanticize the unexplained phenomenon ingrained within the very fibers of science or bash the “pseudo-scientific” qualities of established fields such as psychoanalysis. Science is just as rationally irrational and driven by speculation and human imagination as spirituality and the ideological values we are willing to die for. Whether it is the as hokey as The Secret or as moving as those hidden meanings in formation of water crystals, it is important to have seemingly contradictory fields engage in a process of dialectics — having their ideas bounce off one another until alternatives are found and new contradictions are produced. ANYWAY, I’ll get on with the uber cool article I picked up on Truthdig.com.

From Truthdig.com

Render Unto Darwin That Which Is Darwin’s

The German chemist August Kekulé fell asleep in his study after a fruitless struggle to identify the chemical structure of benzene. He dreamed of a snake eating its own tail and awoke instantly. The dream gave him, through the ancient language of symbolism, the circular structure of the benzene ring that had eluded his conscious mind. The dream may have had its basis in Kekulé’s experiments, but it was the nonrational that brought him his discovery…

Science is often as inexact and intuitive as theology, philosophy and every other human endeavor. A mirror demonstrates the randomness of nature. A mirror reflects about 95 percent of light hitting it. The other 5 percent passes through the mirror. Photons, which are invisible, are either reflected or pass through the mirror’s surface. But there is no way of knowing which photons will be reflected and which will be absorbed. Electrons are also subject to these quantum effects. This led Werner Heisenberg to formulate his “uncertainty principle.” This principle states that we cannot know everything about a particle. If we can determine a particle’s position we cannot determine its momentum. We can measure momentum, but in this measurement we lose the particle’s exact position. We can know a particle’s momentum or its position. We cannot know both with definitive accuracy.

Science is not always directly empirical. Science is not governed by absolute, immutable laws. Science, and especially quantum mechanics, far from telling us we can know everything, tells us there will always be things we cannot know. No one ultimately understands. Science affirms the complexity and mystery of the universe. Science, like the religious impulse, opens us up to a world where we face mystery. There are forces in the universe that will always lie beyond the capacity of the human mind.

Another bone of contention: why is it that when we do not know the answer, cannot find the answer, that we go off on a holy grail search for an empirical explanation? AGAIN, I am not saying that for every answer we cannot find, we should ascribe to the holy hands of God(s). I mean, that would be an intellectual cop-out as well. But would it be so horrible to find a rationale, a mode of logic, that lies outside the linearity of empiricism?

water crystals

Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese quantum physicist, performed a series of experiments on water crystals and revealed the fact that water is receptive to external messages. The formation of water crystals is positively correlated to exposure of the water to messages from human language, music, and printed characters.

The New Atheist writers from Richard Dawkins to E.O. Wilson to Sam Harris have become the high priests not of science but the cult of science. Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore, for example, call religious beliefs “memes.” Memes are defined as cultural artifacts—prototypical ideas—that invade and restructure minds in order to reproduce themselves. A meme replicates in human minds, they argue, the way genes replicate in human bodies. Memes include a word, belief, thought, religious ritual, dance, poem or any of the myriad of behaviors that are copied and reproduced in human societies. Although memes, unlike genes, are not identifiable physical structures, Dawkins uses the image of a virus to describe them. Religion, for Dawkins, is equated with a disease, and the religiously inclined are disease carriers.

Again, religion, like homosexuality, femininity, and trans fats are pathologized in the Name of Science. No, I belong to no church and believe that religious doctrine is about as problematic as the protective ideologies that lie behind the idea of the nation state — but it’s interesting when it is framed as a disease. A disease erodes health, which therefore implies that without this “disease” human society would be healthy. Without religion, human society would be that much stronger. Just like in the past when science classified homosexuality as a mental illness, or that female brains were that much smaller and limited in intellectual capacity in comparison to male brains (assuming a binary division of gender.)

And yet I don’t want to totally reject the idea of memes. This IDEA (ie, speculation, ie product of irrational logic) holds value. If inherent human behaviors and ideology are things encoded within our very genes, then there must be something in its persistence and survival that contributes to a much larger pattern and design that may lie beyond the capacity of strictly empirical understanding.

tap that WATER

yeeeeah, TAP that water! Tap it, now!

Random question: who OWNS Science, anyway? Who does ScienCe BELONG to? (I ask this question a lot in relation to Culture with a capital C.)

The attempt to equate patterns of human society with the behavior of genes, while it sounds plausible, and may even be instructive in some settings, is part of this cult of science. The genetic coding that permits the transfer of DNA-encoded units of information is fairly precise. But this model fails to work for the transfer of cultural, social, ethical and political behavior. Patterns of morality are easily reversed or erased, especially in ages of revolutionary fervor, war, anarchy, fear, social decline and despotism. Those who are schooled in identical religious texts, even within the same communities, have different views of morality and ethics. It is possible to transfer literal meaning. It is possible to transfer genetic information. It is possible to pass on heritable characteristics mediated by hard-and-fast rules of chemistry and physics. These rules, however, have no counterpart in the dissemination of ideas. Ideas do not replicate like genes. Ideas are snuffed out or forgotten, often for centuries. Ideas that prevail are often not the best ideas but more often ideas backed by power. The rise of Christianity owed more to the brutality of Constantine and the Holy Roman Empire than it did its particular theology. Those who advocate the theory of memes ignore the role of power, repression, persecution and force in human history, as well as the inherent chaos and irrationality of human thought. Human thought cannot be treated like an object in a laboratory. There is no scientific mechanism that explains cultural evolution.

goliath vs

Those who endorse the meme theory speak of memetic engineering. This memetic engineering would involve the conscious manipulation of intellectual evolution by disseminating good memes and curtailing bad ones. The question of who decides which memes are good and which bad is not raised.

CYLON!

Hmmm… looks like “SCIENCE” can be as scary as that oft-talked-about “Hand of GOD.” Still, I am wary of the bashing of an idea because there are holes that which cannot be explained…YET. This is where I disagree with the writer — “Well, you can’t explain THIS, therefore this idea of MEMES is BULLSH*T.” Of course, as delicious as the prospect of mimetic engineering and, from the fragments of our human flaws, the behavioral construction of Cylons sounds, perhaps it would be wise to not ignore these quibbles.

Einstein’s quest for a unified field theory explaining subatomic structure or the Big Bang no more undermined religious contemplation than evolutionary biology. The questions of science are not the questions of religion. Science does not attempt to address, nor is it capable of addressing, the final mystery of existence, our moments of transcendence, the moral life, love, our search for meaning and our mortality. Science, limited to what can be proved and disproved, is a morally neutral discipline. It serves human needs and human ambitions. There are times when it protects and advances life. There are times when it empowers ambitions that are immoral and deadly. Science, like all human endeavors, comes with good and bad, possibilities of hope and possibilities of destruction.

Speak on it, Mister! Science, like spirituality, is a tool and can be utilized in an endless variety of ways. Science has no endeavor, no final aim or goal. But there is a design to it. A pattern that can sometimes be supported by mathematics — but not always. In any case, it is the ulterior motives of those who use science or spirituality that determine its direction and its capacity for destruction/reconstruction. If there is anything that can be described as a potential pathogen, it would probably be human ideology. Hm… let me refine that — ideology that divides the world into 2 categories: Inferior and Superior.

death note ryuk

People interested in the greed behind holding the keys to deciding what is Inferior and Superior, the barometer of human life value, should definitely check out Death Note. (De-su Noo-to.) Are you more of an L or a Yagami Light? I’m quite partial to both.

When Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” in 1859, he named natural selection as the mechanism that drives and defines life. Evolutionary science, however, swiftly became for many a surrogate religion. It was used to promote racism and pseudo-science, such as eugenics, a theory of biological determinism invented by Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin. It was turned like a club on religion and used to justify exploitation and neglect of the poor and disadvantaged.

There are unfortunate implications in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin believes in the possibility of compassion and benevolence. He argues that these adaptations give one species advantage over another. He uses compassion to insist that sooner or later the “superior” races—those with compassion—will exterminate the “more savage” races. Compassion, he implies, does not exist, or certainly not in the same abundance, in others as it does in us. But Darwin left the championing of these implications to others such as Herbert Spencer, a utopian and a doctrinaire Malthusian. It was Spencer, not Darwin, who argued that step by step we were progressing as a species and would end with the perfect human being. And it was Spencer who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest.”

neon genesis evangelion

Darwin would sooooooo be a Yagami Rai-tto. (Yagami Light.)

Wilson and Dawkins build their vision of human perfectibility out of the legitimate theory that human beings are shaped by the laws of heredity and natural selection. They depart from this position when they assert that we can leave that determinism behind. There is nothing in science that implies that our genetic makeup allows us to perfect ourselves. Those who, in the name of science, claim that we can overcome our imperfect human nature make a leap of faith. In this leap they leave the realm of science. They operate on a belief system that functions like religion. It gives meaning. It gives purpose and hope. But it is a myth. It is not true. And there is nothing, when you cut through their scientific jargon, which supports their absurd proposition.

dharma initiative

There is value in this assessment. Science and religion aren’t exactly incompatible or mutually exclusive. Both can operate on disturbingly similar wavelengths when it comes to pushing towards an idea of an Ultimate Truth. The idea that there is One Truth, like there is only One God, or One Religion, can be as dangerous as those who work to promote this.

The attempt to impose the methodology of science onto collective and personal relationships also has grave consequences. If a scientific hypothesis does not work it is discarded. Pluralism has no place in science. Neither do competing truths. Science, when set up as a model for our moral and social existence, implicitly banishes compromise and tolerance. Scientific ideas, because they can be demonstrated or disproved, are embraced or rejected on quantifiable evidence. But human relationships and social organizations interact and function effectively when they are not rigid, accept morally ambiguity and take into account the irrational. Politics, for example, is about channeling and managing human drives and desires. It is only fitfully in contact with reason. This profound understanding of the irrational element in politics led Sigmund Freud to write his masterpiece “Civilization and Its Discontents.” The secular fundamentalists, in a gross misuse of Darwin and of science, turn biological evolution into a methodology to champion moral progress for the human race. They seek to give to their arguments the patina of unassailable truth. But what they sell are myths, bizarre utopian visions of a new heaven and a new earth dressed up in the language of scientific rationalism.

ayashi no ceres

Oh, Chris Hedges — you ALMOST had it — ALMOST! For me, at least. Sometimes when trying to counter the argument of one party, we BECOME the other party, or use the very methods we argue against. This is Hedges’ One Truth. He’s not anti-religion and is critical of science that uses the same ideological methods to assail religion — but in the end, Hedges also uses the very same methods to assail some of the nefarious aspects of Science with a capital “S”.

stained glass

Picking sides won’t help propel us beyond the binary or trying to understand new truths and creative practices. When it comes to fields of science and spirituality, sometimes it’s most helpful to follow what’s helped me digest Freud in my gender politics class: “You’ve got to assume that he’s always right and that he’s always wrong.” Sometimes getting stuck on just one inconsistency or contradiction can paralyze us from finding new alternatives, visions, and solutions.

Bottom line: instead of bashing contradictions, maybe we should try diving into them to see what we can come up with.

Bottom line #2: I dunno about y’all but I am craving the first season of Gargoyles. I still get chills every time I hear the opening theme of Gargoyles: <– please click to shiver along with me!

“One thousand years ago, Superstition and the Sword ruled.

It was a time of Darkness, it was a world of Fear.

It was the age of Gargoyles.

Stone by day, warriors by night,

we were Betrayed by the humans we had sworn to protect,

frozen in stone by a magic spell for a thousand years…

Now, here, in Manhattan,

the spell is broken, AND WE LIVE AGAIN!

::THEMATIC INTERLUDE, TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP::

We are defenders of the night!

We. Are. GARGOYLES!”

goliath and desdemona

Okay, as much as I was an Elisa Maza/Goliath fan (interracial coupling, anyone?) I still felt quite torn about and secretly rooted for the connection between Desdemona and Goliath. Sometimes politics trumps the irrational mind of RUV, but when one does embrace the heart of the illogicaL (Goliath + Maza = 4EVA!), sometimes one will be pleasantly surprised by the productive forces that proliferate.

Do not be prisoner of history, my friends! We all have the capacity to endlessly create ourselves!!!

::circuitry experiencing sensory overload::

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8 Comments »

  1. Nice post Bobbles. I know my OJ post was a hard act to follow!

    “…I do believe there’s got to be something more than human irrationality that allows for these patterns, practices, and belief systems to persist.”

    Sure, a religion or other supernatural belief may have an important societal function. Religion, for example, can set/justify a society’s moral standards, provide an explanation for the origin of a people, provide comfort in an uncertain world, etc. However, that in itself doesn’t mean it has to be rational/true.

    As far as science vs. the supernatural or what have you, you know my stance, but I think the difference, succinctly put, is this: in science, when you make a claim, your evidence must be adequate in proportion to the claim you’re making. In religion, on the other hand, when asked for proof, it’s sufficient to throw your hands in the air and say “It’s a mystery.” For me, authoritative claims about the origin and purpose of life require a little more than the good old “mystery” explanation. That’s actually a non-explanation…

    As far as Dawkins goes, he is actually a bit more extreme than me, and I don’t completely agree with him and what may be called his “cult of science”. From what I remember of his last book about atheism, he claims authoritatively that there is no God. I think something like that is going too far; how can he prove that negative? My atheism is simply a lack of belief; sure God may exist, and Santa Claus may exist too….I can’t disprove either. But I haven’t found a good reason to believe in either.

    And yeah, science is done by humans, so of course the conclusions they come to may be wrong. But that isn’t the fault of the scientific method. If I come up with a bogus answer to a calculus problem, for example, that doesn’t mean that calculus doesn’t work. The concept of evidence being required to justify claims is far superior to the act of making extraordinary claims and justifying them with the “mystery” explanation.

    And no, I don’t believe science is the end-all be-all solution to every single problem in life. But it is the best method we have for ascertaining truth in certain areas.

    Now stop arguing with me. =)

    Comment by disciplepete — May 12, 2008 @ 3:16 pm | Reply

  2. I cannot reSIST!

    “As far as science vs. the supernatural or what have you, you know my stance, but I think the difference, succinctly put, is this: in science, when you make a claim, your evidence must be adequate in proportion to the claim you’re making. In religion, on the other hand, when asked for proof, it’s sufficient to throw your hands in the air and say “It’s a mystery.””

    Sighs! It’s almost as though you go out of your way to push my buttons sometimes! Why are you fighting me? I am not fighting you! Why are you belittling something you do not understand about me? I do not belittle what I do not understand about you! ::grabs disciple Pete by the collar:: WHY, my friend, WHY??!

    Sometimes I feel like you go off on talking points as opposed to really understanding the crux of what it is that I’m saying. And I think it’s a hindrance to be distracted by judgment on something you obviously don’t believe in or want to be open in understanding. Siiiighs! There are times when you are as bad as Tucker Carlson, my toasty dosti!

    What I find problematic is when people use talking points as ammunition to drive forth an ideology that can be potentially damaging. Science can be just as helpful and harmful and valuable as religion. One is not better than the other, it is not a battlefield — and there may be value in having the two “sides” engage in an honest dialogue.

    If in religion it was sufficient to throw up your hands in the air and say “It’s a mystery!” there would be no religious doctrine at all. It would all be chaos, there would be no structure or narrative pattern to follow. In other words, there is a science and math to the very structuring of religion.

    Second — science is science. And it, TOO, is fallible. Like anything created, utilized, and interpreted by human beings.

    Religion may hold a scientific structure — hence it has the potential for dialogue with science. At the same time, why make religion what it is not? Why is religion less valuable when measured in a barometer of empirical evidence? It’s like calculating the value of colored peoples by how well they “assimilate” to American values. I know, right? Isn’t that a little ridiculous?

    So isn’t it ridiculous to calculate the value of religion via empirical evidence? It wasn’t built on empirical evidence, it was built on something else: faith. In am pseudo-empirical world, we can call it Hope. Is there no value in Hope? Isn’t Hope itself irrational? And yet, without it, where would we be and why would we bother writing this blog, reading the news, or trying to even TRY?

    Again — I feel like I’m getting roped into a debate when I want a discussion. And again — I’m no proponent of religion and I do not belong to any established church. But I do believe in the power of Faith, the power in Hope, a power that owes its power to the very fact that it extends beyond the boundaries of empirical evidence.

    THAT, my friend, is what I am getting at. It’s not the rules, the mythology, or the capitalistic need for evangelism. Is it so wrong to hold a dialogue? If you’re concerned about there even being a dialogue between the two, what exactly is the danger in it?

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — May 12, 2008 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  3. “Why are you belittling something you do not understand about me? I do not belittle what I do not understand about you! ::grabs disciple Pete by the collar:: WHY, my friend, WHY??!”

    Hey I wasn’t belittling any of your beliefs specifically…I was attacking all forms of what I refer to as superstition…and no, I am not completely ignorant and lacking in understanding on this topic, I grew up in a very religious household, in a religious society, and have devoted a lot of thought to this subject.

    “If in religion it was sufficient to throw up your hands in the air and say “It’s a mystery!” there would be no religious doctrine at all.”

    Oh, really? Well, ask an educated Catholic to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to you. How much you wanna bet the word “mystery” will come up? And yet this is a core doctrine of Catholicism. And other justifications for the claims of religion are often the equivalent of the “mystery” explanation, even if they won’t use the M word. Many religious believers freely admit that their beliefs cannot be defended rationally.

    “Second — science is science. And it, TOO, is fallible. And it, TOO, is fallible. Like anything created, utilized, and interpreted by human beings.”

    I acknowledged that science doesn’t provide all the answers. When you say science is fallible, I agree to a point; if you are stretching it to say that the statement “2+2=4” is fallible, is something we should doubt, I can’t go that far with you. Philosophically/in the abstract, sure, anything could be wrong, but some statements, like the one just quoted, you have to be sorta nuts to realistically deny.

    You know…I’m not even sure I get what the dialogue is that you’e trying to start. You say that I totally went off on talking points, I thought I was addressing some of what you wrote, but apparently I wasn’t. I ddn’t mean to go on an irrelevant tangent, sorry if that’s how it came off.

    “But I do believe in the power of Faith, the power in Hope, a power that owes its power to the very fact that it extends beyond the boundaries of empirical evidence.”

    I believe in hope too, and faith, depending on how you define it. (I don’t believe in the type of Faith where u say that Black is White because allegedly God or your leader said so).I don’t think everything needs to be quantifiable/measurable/empirically verified.

    Before I go any further, can u elaborate more on what u mean by a dialogue bewteen science and religion? I don’t want to mistakenly speak on unrelated issues and drive u more astronuts. =)

    Comment by disciplepete — May 12, 2008 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  4. please, no debating. we need to TAWK. tawk it out. again, i feel this getting sucked into, “I disagree with this, and here is why you’re WRONG.” and the frame of this discussion is pulling me into this dynamic against my will.

    science and religion are not mutually exclusive — basically, why should they be enemies?

    religion and science are not static, but both can be made insidious by fanatics and rigid forms of indoctrination. and again, I feel myself getting sucked into defending religion when I am not a religious follower.

    this is getting to be soooooooo American. American in that we’re just naturally combative, and don’t really bounce of IDEAS, but argue a point. And arguments are fine, per se, but when caught up in the passion of it all, we tend to lose sight of the core issues or ignore the finer points of the person you’re debating with. It’s like, “wait for it… wait for it… wait for — I see an opening! STRIKE!”

    it’s that MODALITY that I don’t particularly care for. Instead of “I see your point, and that’s a really good idea, lemme add to that… but back on that other issue, I don’t get where exactly it is that you’re coming from…? I mean, if you look at it this way, isn’t it…?”

    American form of debating is, “Finished? Okay, HERE’s where you’re WRONG and why I’m RIGHT. I mean, sure, THIS is true, but seriously, on THIS, THIS, and THAT issue, you slipped up, and ergo you are WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. I WIN.”

    See? Battles are won and they are lost. Fights are won and lost. Discussions, there is no real winning or losing… it’s a process in which you’re really trying to learn from the other person you’re talking to, expanding on what’s already inside your brains. You may not necessarily agree with them, and you can bring it up, but what’s the point in sticking them in a corner where they feel the need to defend something? That’s a battle, my friend, not a discussion.

    Battles and debates are all fine and dandy when I’m in the mood for them, but I don’t like being sucked into them when I just ain’t feelin it.

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — May 12, 2008 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  5. DAMMIT. dammit, dammit, DAMMIT. I think i just got sucked into another argument yet AGAIN.

    it was that “I’m not belittling your beliefs” comment. since when was I talking about my beliefs? implicit in the way that was phrased was the idea that i was somehow talking about my religious or spiritual beliefs when I made that comment.

    siiiiiiiiiigh. i was talking about what you do not understand about the way in which my brain works and processes. “beliefs.” that’s such a patronizing way to frame someone else’s perspective. i got riled up. ::exhales:: and now i’m going to rile down.

    Comment by bobbleheadedbob — May 12, 2008 @ 5:13 pm | Reply

  6. Whoa, whoa bobbles…you’re seeing a lot of combativeness where there isn’t any. None. My original comment wasn’t aimed at getting u into an argument at all. When I said “Stop arguing with me” at the end of my original comment, it was a facetious reference to our previous extensive arguments on this topic.

    “it was that “I’m not belittling your beliefs” comment. since when was I talking about my beliefs?”

    Well, in comment #2 u said “Why are you belittling something you do not understand about me?…siiiiiiiiiigh. i was talking about what you do not understand about the way in which my brain works and processes. “beliefs.” that’s such a patronizing way to frame someone else’s perspective. ”

    Sorry, I thought you meant that I was belittling your beliefs when I criticized religion/supersititon. Honest misunderstanding. How was I supposed to know that u were referring to the way your brain works and processes? That’ not really apparent in what u wrote.

    Bobbles, relax!! I am so not trying to argue with you. I’m just stating my opinions on religion vs. science. That’s fine if u wanna disagree, of course, but don’t take it as if I’m challenging u to a duel to the death; why on earth would I wanna do that…that’s water under the bridge for us already. =)

    Again, if I was off topic in my earlier comments, it was unintentional.

    Comment by disciplepete — May 12, 2008 @ 6:32 pm | Reply

  7. 1yGood idea.3d I compleatly disagree with last post . txe
    ламинированный паркет 5j

    Comment by ламинат — August 24, 2008 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

  8. Aww, I’m so glad that bobblebot and pete’e friendly exchange has been revived!!

    Comment by disciplepete — August 24, 2008 @ 11:30 pm | Reply


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