Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Question of the Day #23: Science Changes

Scientific theories about the world are constantly in flux. This is inevitable, as we are not omnicient, and new data surfaces all the time, forcing those in the field to adjust their theories.

Why is this so difficult for the layman to understand? Why is tentativeness regarded as a weakness, while so few of us celebrate its strength?

I encounter the distrust of science from more than just Christians.

Bonus Question: How come Christians never see the irony of expressing anti-scientific views on the internet?

Post a Comment


At 1/28/2006 12:35 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

I think this is partially because the idea exists of Science as a monolithic body of absolute knowledge. This is exacerbated by the incomplete and insufficient nature of science education in the States. Another complicating factor is the simplistic way that scientific advances are reported to the public by the mass media- too much emphasis on conclusions and not enough emphasis on interpretation. This is how the most common complaints about science arise: "Last year scientists said that X was bad for us; now they're saying that X has some benefits. Why don't those scientists make up their minds?"

At 1/28/2006 11:17 AM, Blogger Hellbound Alleee declaimed...

The changing nature of science means work. New technology, new information--the concept may be too much for little brains to handle. Just when you think you understand something in science, something new has already passed. People think that when they get an education, that's it. Now we're educated! Nobody ever said anything about having to school oneself all one's life! No way! I put in my 12 grades/2-4 years in college, and I don't have to do homework anymore!

People want comfort, not work. That's why I think people like to complain about the fantastic variety of information choices out there. They call it--get this--"information overload." Isn't that a kick in the pants? Turn off the internet. Turn off the tv. But you can't turn off the world.

At 1/28/2006 11:20 AM, Blogger mathyoo declaimed...

I think that zachary is right, but I'd also add that the majority of people are most comfortable with bipolar thinking-things are good or bad, black or white, absolutely right or absolutely wrong, and scientific theory is really about probabilities and requires nuanced thinking, which many people just aren't capable of. It doesn't help that many aspects of science seem to be about absolutes-a calculation is either right or wrong, etc., but when you get to the theoretical level, it requires much more flexible thinking.

At 1/28/2006 12:18 PM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...

Although the poster is lazy in that he didn't quote any sources for this type of thinking that apparantly runs rampid in Christian thought and so expects us to take his word on it, I'd like to ask another question which the first part assumes that the question of the day is correct, the second is related but does not.

Why is it that the general public is so unfamiliar with how scientific theories are held? How, when the government and states spend mass amounts of our (mine!) tax dollars to indoctrinate children while they are in public school, when virtually all the universities are "scientifically" minded, when we have billions of dollars pumped into educating the laymen, etc., can they be so confused? Maybe because just because people *tell* them science holds their beliefs "tennatively" but in reallity and practice many do not hold many of their theories tennatively but, rather, quite tennaciously? (Note: it is a side issue but the view that one of the necessary and sufficient ways to define "science" is that its theories are held "tenatively" is a naive view and most philosophers of science (christian and non!) have ripped this view to shreds.)

The second question is, why do the majority of people still not believe in macro evolution despite massive indoctrination perpetrated by public schools, the media, and the "elite" at universities, etc?

Maybe it is not the "stupid laymen's" fault but rather that (1) the teaching is not being done as it should and the misunderstanding is *your guys'* fault. or (2) people find the theory of evolution to be silly and despite having it shoved down their throats, they think it defies common sense. I mean, scientists are saying that it is just so "plain and obvious" that macro evolution has occured, yet can't manage to convince the majority of people that it is true.

Oh, this must because every body is just stupid.

At 1/28/2006 5:31 PM, Blogger Mr. Neil declaimed...

You know what, Paul? You're a worthless piece of shit. Do me a favor. If I'm such a lazy poster, then don't waste your time answering my posts. I'm clearly no threat to your philosophical superiority. Why write a refute to something that is no threat to you?

Unlike Franc, Aaron, and Zach, I don't really find you very interesting. I agreed to do Question Of The Day for the sake of my own learning. Since you seem to have a primary interest in attacking me and apparently little-to-no interest in helping me learn, nothing you say is of any value to me. You're basically useless.

I'm not going to going to get baited into endless tit-for-tat arguments with you. This is not an argument post. It's a question. And if the connotation in my post is that you happen to be ignorant of science, then that's just too god damn bad!

Some of us aren't offended to be called ignorant. I'm ignorant of lots of things. That's why I ask questions.

If you don't like it, leave.

At 1/28/2006 6:59 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Let's consult the Book of Common Wisdom! Yup, it says right here, "Pay no attention to that man in the lab coat!"

It is an odd survival trait and an unfortunate truth about human nature that, when confronted with contradictory arguments, the tendency is to become distrustful, unsure of one's self, and susceptible to believing the most emotional and least technical of the two arguments.

In other words Paul, your cult holds sway because it has a more simplistic answer that does not require knowledge of complicated subjects. This works on a majority because, unfortunately, our society has a blasé attitude toward High School dropouts and people who party their brains out in college. A Liberal Arts degree will not even get you the knowledge you need to be a lab assistant, let alone a research chemist. I daresay a majority of the PhDs in this world aren't great thinkers either. Our society is geared toward discouraging independent thought. "Look at the pretty monkey! Look at the WWE wrestler! Look at the fiery NASCAR wreck! What are the celebs up to this week?" None of that is worth a good crap after a turkey dinner.

As for the bonus question, Christians never see the irony of “right to life” coupled with their support of war and glorification of military service. They never see the irony in their demands for religious tolerance for themselves, while rebuking those with other beliefs. They never see the irony in thanking God for saving them from a flood that is perceived to be an act of God, and has killed their neighbors. They do not see the irony of sitting down to a dinner of pork chops that came from an intelligent animal that had some form of self-awareness while denouncing the termination of a fetus that never had any knowledge of life. How can you expect them to see the irony of expressing anti-scientific views on the internet? They turn on their computer, and it goes. If it breaks, they take it to someone and say, “Make it go.”

At 1/28/2006 8:41 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

Mr. Neil:

Are you simply looking for a mutual admiration society? You are speculating on the supposed anti-scientific bent of "Christians". Who better to answers these questions than Christians?

At 1/28/2006 8:46 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

"They do not see the irony of sitting down to a dinner of pork chops that came from an intelligent animal that had some form of self-awareness"

Now this is funny!

At 1/28/2006 8:55 PM, Blogger Mr. Neil declaimed...

"Are you simply looking for a mutual admiration society?"

No. I want people to answer my questions. I get really cranky when people waste my time.

"You are speculating on the supposed anti-scientific bent of "Christians". Who better to answers these questions than Christians?"

Then do it!

At 1/28/2006 9:20 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

Mr. Neil,

Paul was asking for some specific examples of the anti-scientific views that you are encountering on the internet. This would certainly help sharpen the focus. I will attempt to give you my personal opinion in this area.

Sadly, many Christians have a tendency to assume that science is antithetical to the Christian worldview. Since Darwinian evolution "supposedly" provided a naturalistic solution to the origins of our species many Christians assume prima facie that the atheistic (naturalistic) worldview has the intellectual high ground. The paradigm shift in science occured shortly after the evolutionary theory began to take hold. Science (scientists) assumed that the world was a closed system where as prior to this scientist's such as Francis Bacon operated with the understanding (or assumption) that the world was an open system. Because science uses *induction and *deduction science deals in the realm of probability. Some Christians therefore view science through a very skeptical lens and see science as the antithesis of objective truth found in the scriptures.

Furthermore the Scopes trial set a sort of precedent that forced some Christians into believing that Christian faith must take a fideistic leap. Obviously, I don't believe this is the case. I believe Christianity is rational and further that science must presuppose an open system in order to progress forward.

At 1/29/2006 11:07 AM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...

"You know what, Paul? You're a worthless piece of shit."

Thank you Mr. neil.

"Do me a favor. If I'm such a lazy poster, then don't waste your time answering my posts."

Well, I didn't say you were a lazy poster as a general claim about you but I qualified it by saying "in that" you didn't cite sources for this apparent phenomena. "Lazy" was used technically and was not meant to be a shot against you.

"I'm clearly no threat to your philosophical superiority. Why write a refute to something that is no threat to you?"

I think you're going a bit overboard. I thought my question was interesting because if all these billions of people "don't get it" why is it their fault and not the scientific establishment (which I distinguish between "just science." The establishment is the religious wing, or, the militant right wing, of an otherwise good and God-honoring enterprise, i.e., learning about His creation)? I mean, Richard Dawkins even notes this:

"It is almost as if the human brain were specifically designed to misunderstand Darwinism, and to find it hard to believe.." -Dawkins

I mean, you guys spend billions on top of billions, have the top places in the universities, determine who get their paper published in journals, etc., yet the majority of people don't buy it. I'm not saying it's false or anything (though I believe it is) but just that that is an interesting piece of society.

"Unlike Franc, Aaron, and Zach, I don't really find you very interesting."


"I agreed to do Question Of The Day for the sake of my own learning. Since you seem to have a primary interest in attacking me and apparently little-to-no interest in helping me learn, nothing you say is of any value to me. You're basically useless."

Oh, I'm your Huckleberry. How can I help, though, unless I see your sources and where you're comming from. If your question is based on your opinion, or your "scientific study" of the 8 fundies you know, then I'll help you learn that you need to be not so lazy and actually do the tough job of studying on that which you speak or write about. Learning isn't always fun, especially when you're wrong. :-) The end it better, but the process isn't always fun.

"I'm not going to going to get baited into endless tit-for-tat arguments with you. This is not an argument post. It's a question."

But I can't answer your question because it is an overgeneralization and it is also false to think that all scientists hod, there beleifs tenatovely- pick up a good philosophy of science book, by a non-Christian. Maybe, Lauden from Berkely?

"And if the connotation in my post is that you happen to be ignorant of science, then that's just too god damn bad!"

Bravo good man. Ecellent learning attitude.

At 1/29/2006 3:15 PM, Blogger Hellbound Alleee declaimed...

So why do you Christians hate science so much? I've heard it from the mouths of christians, I've seen it on tv, I've heard it on the radio.From christians and from "laypeople." It's a damned colloquialism, not a hypothesis, you crazy monkeys. They whine about science changing, yet they claim their religion doesn't change. So what's the problem with science changing? Is it that you assume it's a dogma, and when it changes, it proves you wrong? I mean, it sucks being wrong. It probably really sucks for you that the bible got so many facts of the universe wrong, and religions have been changing all along, to fit with science.

So what's your damage? Being wrong, being lazy, or being frustratingly stupid?

At 1/29/2006 5:03 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...

Hellbound Allee said:

"It probably really sucks for you that the bible got so many facts of the universe wrong,"

This is the second post of yours that I have found interesting. You are making assertions without any "facts". Could you name a few universal facts (i.e facts pertaining to the universe) that the bible has wrong?

Secondly you have inserted a false dichotomy here:

"and religions have been changing all along, to fit with science."

Religions can include: Hinduism,Islam,Judaism,Sikhs,Paganism,Buddhism etc.

Dependent on which one of the above religions you are referring to I may be inclined to agree with you. I find it interesting that atheists don't point out this so-called inconsistencies with other world religions. Is this bias warranted?

At 1/29/2006 9:00 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


To answer your questions:

1) The NSF is keeping track of this phenomenon. It's unfortunate that so many people are ignorant of science, but there are a number of reasons why this is the case, despite the efforts to include science education in the public school system. By my best guess, the following reasons may help to explain this:
a) Science has traditionally been accessible to a small subset of the population. In times past, this was because scientific investigation was so incredibly expensive to undertake. Take a quick survey of scientists from the Renaissance until the twentieth century, by far most of them were independently wealthy, and financed their own investigations. Even into the twentieth century, as science became practiced by people of lower socioeconomic classes, the educational requirement was daunting to the average person, and only those individuals who maintained a genuine interest in the field were able to gain a full appreciation of scientific principles.
b) The average public school science curriculum is insufficient. I never attended private schools, so I can't speak for those, but even in the well-funded public high school I attended, there simply wasn't enough time devoted to science. A full four years of English and Mathematics were required, but not Science. And even within the science curriculum, it was not possible to take Physics, Chemistry, and Biology together, but only two of the three at most. Admittedly, this is understandable because science classes require a lot of practical time spent on conducting experiments. Even in my undergraduate studies of Biology, (and even though I crammed as many credits into my schedule as the administration would allow) for every Biology elective I managed to take, there were two more that I wasn't able to fit in. I'm glad for the liberal arts requirements of my degree, but I would have gladly traded Women's studies for another microbiology class.
c) Science is pretty hard to learn. Most people in my high school certainly shared this sentiment, and participation in the only advanced science class (a college-level chemistry class) was less than half a dozen in a student body of over 1000 (although eligible students were about half that). Of the natural sciences, Biology is probably the most difficult conceptually to learn, especially in the realm of micro and molecular biology, where crucial components of experiments can't be seen without sophisticated equipment. Physics is much more intuitive, I would think. In biology, you have things happening like jellyfish genes being expressed in mice, causing them to glow in the dark. Talk about noninutitive- most people don't believe me, even when I show them that picture!

Obviously, what we need is more and better efforts directed at increasing scientific literacy. There's a number of projects already existing to accomplish this. Aside from the obvious benefit of educating people about evolutionary theory, this will also help to decrease acceptance of pseudoscience, something which both theists and atheists should be able to agree on. The last thing we need in society are Ramtha movies, hexagonal water hucksters (as seen on TBN, no less!), and psychics. But in a society which lacks a sufficient scientific literacy, pseudoscience is as abundant as religion.

2) Evolutionary theory is, like many scientific theories, very nonintuitive to the layman (refer again to the green glowing mice above). It really does take a rigorous examination of the evidence to clearly convince oneself of the validity of the theoretical concept. Gravitational theory is just as nonintuitive- do we visually observe the distortions in the space-time continuum caused by massive bodies around us? Not really, but again, an examination of the evidence leads to that theory just as surely as with evolution.

Fortunately, there are scientific resources becoming more available online for the average person to examine (like So I would guess that understanding of evolutionary theory will increase in the future.

At 1/30/2006 2:35 AM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...


That's certainly a take on it, and some of what you say is true, to be sure.

Though we could debate many of the finer points and some of the larger points you make, I still think it is a bit odd that

(1) peple, like Dawkins and Mr.Neil, would blame Christians for not believing in evolution or certain aspects of the so-called scientific method when, as you admit, part of the parblem is "you" not "them."

(2) Evolution is taught as a fact in the public schools (and universities) from a very early age and still people don't believe. Science is still a mandetory class (at least 2 years) while other are not, but some of the others are more accepted as well as the teachings in the other mandetory classes. They are taught about gravity and evolution, yet most people believe in gravity, not macro evolution.

(3) Though the public school ciriculum is insufficient, more money is spent on teaching "the fact" of evolution that, say, on its problems. Yet most people still don't believe.

(4) Atheist will say, many times, (as they have on this blog) that god-belief defies common sense, but does that knife cut both ways? To the majority, the belief that: from the goo to the zoo to you, defies common sense.

(5) Anyway, we could keep going, my main point is that a question could be asked: "Why is it the Christians fault for misunderstanding science? Why are they berated? Why called idiots? Why?, when it looks like the lack of understanding this stuff is (a) not their fault and (b) counter-intuitive.

Anyway, it's an interesting phenomena...

At 1/30/2006 2:41 AM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...


You'd make a good christian wife. You're so submissive and you follow the lead of your husband quit nicely. It appears that you just rant and throw out opinions just like Franc.

Hey, I like your approach though. Try this: Why are atheists so against objective morality? I've heard it from the mouths of atheists. Why do atheists say that logic is mere convention? I've heard it from their mouths. Why are atheists communists? I've heard it from there mouths.

I don't have a problem wiht "science changing." The answer to your question, guys, is that the Christian is within his epistemic rights to mention the changing character of science when some atheist presents it as absolute fact. When they present it has invarient and having the final word. In cases like these, it is legit to point out that science cannot make these absolute claims dogmatically because, for one, the changing nature of science.

So, to everyone, if you'd give some context I could clear it up. It depends on the context why Christians would say this or why they "hate" science (they don't, anyway. They may hate *your dewfinition* of science, but that's another matter).

At 1/30/2006 10:23 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...


If you look at the original question, you can see that Mr. Neil didn't single out Christians as guilty of scientific illiteracy.

Though I've outlined already most of the non-religious reasons why this is the case, I should point out that I also do think that acceptance of Christianity makes one less likely to appreciate scientific concepts.

Let me tell a story- when I was in high school, as I've already mentioned, I took an advanced chemistry course. One of the subjects that we delved into was organic chemistry, which is typically regarded as difficult and confusing, even for scientists (it's usually the make-or-break course for pre-med students, too). One afternoon I was studying with a couple of my classmates, and we were reviewing the course of a particular reaction: A -> B -> C -> D, let's say. Although we were able to figure out the necessary steps to get from A to C, we just couldn't for the life of us understand how C got to D. After an hour of frustration, somebody suggested, "Well, let's just say that the Magical Chemistry Fairy comes along at that point and changes C into D." We all laughed, but of course non of us put that as an answer.

The reason why we all laughed is becuase the intervention of the Magical Chemistry Fairy into a chemicial reaction is the intervention of the supernatural into the natural. Scientific thought demands that the two be kept separate. It would be no less scientific to talk about the Magical Chemistry Fairy than it would be to talk about Theistic Creation.

Christians, as well as any individuals which accept supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, have a crippling defect in their ability to understand science. It's only with significant partitioning of one's faith from one's reason (almost invariably an imperfect arrangement) that one can reconcile the two enough to practice science and religion. There's Christian scientists, of course- I know some of them. But they're smart enough not to hypothesize God into their experiments.

At 1/30/2006 10:36 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

""They do not see the irony of sitting down to a dinner of pork chops that came from an intelligent animal that had some form of self-awareness"

Now this is funny!"

Allow me to clarify. I am not a vegetarian. Millions of animals are slaughtered daily so that the human race can stuff its collective face. The pig is probably more intellegent than a dog. If I shot your dog and ate it, you would probably be upset beyond mere concerns about private property. Why is this not a concern for "right to life" types? I find it ironic. In China, they eat dogs. Should not your ethical concern for the "right to life" spill over into that arena? Or, are you all xenophobic and zoophobic?

At 1/30/2006 10:44 AM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

Perhaps I am missing something. Does your "right to life" end as soon as you have actually had one? Is that way the slaughter of animals and soldiers and the starvation of a significant segment of the existing population is of less concern than the termination of a potential being that is in a non self-aware parasite stage of development?

At 1/30/2006 10:51 AM, Blogger Mr. Neil declaimed...

Uncle Zach sez:
"If you look at the original question, you can see that Mr. Neil didn't single out Christians as guilty of scientific illiteracy."

No, I most certainly did not. Thanks for pointing that out. I was just too exasperated with Paul's constant freaking out to even respond to anything he said.

I've encountered him before on Ex-C, and I've simply accepted that trying to reason with him is futile task, so I'm not even going to try.

For one thing, he brought up an issue about evolution. I wasn't even asking a question about why Christians don't accept evolution (or other specific theories). The question was much more general and had to do with the importance of tentative in scientific thinking.

At 1/30/2006 1:03 PM, Blogger Paul Manata declaimed...

And neil you would note, if you were a cautious reader, that a partial answer was that it is "so difficult" for laymen to understand "because the fault has been with the scientific establishments failure to teach science to the population."

Also, i asked for quotes to back up what you were asking. If most people don't believe how you implied, then why the question?

At 1/30/2006 3:48 PM, Blogger streetapologist declaimed...


I have responded to your comments here:



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