Monday, 16 January 2012

Science Vs. Fundamentalism

By Luke Kristopher Davis 

Originally written in 2011, July 

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” – Albert Einstein

 In the ancient battle between science and religion, evidence versus revelation and reason versus faith, many intellectuals and writers may have not explicitly highlighted who the mastermind behind religion and totalitarianism (dictatorships) really is. In this article I will introduce each position, explain its nature and effects on humans. I will also determine which position is more useful, less harmful, and more productive and most importantly… gauge which position is true. I will not merely show my opinion and say that such and such is true because I feel like it, but I will be as objective as I can, using evidence from research and surveys which are legitimate (readers can correct me).


“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” - Bertrand Russell 

Fundamentalism consists of believing, using and protecting an ideology without questioning it or supporting it with evidence. For example, if I never stop believing that walking under a ladder brings me bad luck even when there is evidence against this, then I am taking part in fundamentalism (There is no physical link between you walking under a ladder and say you getting fired from your job. You got fired because of what you did on the job). This type of belief system, one that is absolute and superstitious, has many different appearances. It wears the cloak ofreligion, indulges in the dress of superstition and dresses in the attire of dictatorship and monarchy.

In genesis, we witness the creation of Adam and then subsequently Eve. God tells Adam that he is not to eat an apple from the tree of knowledge which would give him reason (An analogy for learning about the world), Eve becomes tempted to do so and eats an apple from the tree. God banishes Adam and Eve and all their descendants from the garden of life. This story is at the start of the christian holy bible. It promotes ignorance of anything other than Gods word. This story is sending a message to Christians: If you; Learn science, question God, challenge preachers etc. you will go to hell (or something disastrous will happen). This is an example of fundamentalism in a religion. The whole bible, Koran and pretty much every religious scripture or text is said to be the words of a divine prophet or of God. To question any commandments or teachings is a sin. This again is fundamentalism. Believers and preachers do not accept people questioning their religion because their religion is infallible (always right).
What about superstition? Well firstly a superstition is a prejudice, that is, it is not based on use or logic but based upon an instinct or emotional reaction to something. The prejudice could also just be a random guess.
Here is a list of random common supersitions:
·                  Friday the thirteenth is an unlucky day
·                  A rabbit’s foot brings good luck
·                  An apple a day keeps the doctor away
·                  To find a four-leaf clover is to find good luck
·                  If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck
·                  If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck
·                  To break a mirror will bring you seven years bad luck
·                  To open an umbrella in the house is to bring bad luck
·                  To find a horseshoe brings good luck
·                  Step on a crack, break your mother’s back
·                  You can break a bad luck spell by turning seven times in a clockwise circle
·                  Garlic protects from evil spirits and vampires
·                  Our fate is written in the stars
·                  At the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold

I do not believe or make use (if there is one) of these sorts of superstitions. The reasons for this is that these superstitions have not been empirically verified. You could conduct an experiment… have 200 different sorts of people who live a set distance away from the other participants, have each person ‘step on a crack’ or ‘open an umbrella inside’ and test whether those who stepped on the crack have had their mothers backs broken or in the case of umbrellas whether they have had bad luck. The former is easy to test… see whether their mother's backs break. However… there is no specific allotted time for this to happen. Also how do we make clear the relationship between opening an umbrella and something bad happening… it is hard to rid the experiment of other possible causes. So it is non-demonstrable. Also it is more likely that a mother breaks her back due to a slippery floor or a prior slipped disk and a minor fall (at what point does luck play its part?). Yet people believe in superstitions. I tell my friends that this is nonsense and that no evidence supports it, yet some fundamentally believe in it.
Colonel Qaddafi, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and King Jon Il  are labelled as dictators. They ruled there territory through force and they dismissed any political opposition through force and fear. In North Korea there is a concerning concentration camp named No. 22. This camp is the size of small British town. It was designed to correct North Koreans who disagreed with King Jon Il and his establishment. King Jon Il believes that he is infallible and believes he is right without question… even his governmental advisers say he does not listen to any advice… even theirs. Hitler believed that he had found the perfect race and that his perfect race was absolute and unquestionable. Bin Laden believed that the Western secular establishment was spreading evil around the world, he believed this without giving it a second thought, without thinking ‘oh guys, let’s just check what the western world has achieved, lets make a poll and see if they really want the Middle East obliterated…  lets conduct tests before we enter into terrorism’.
Fundamentalism which has caused dictatorships has also bought lots of death and violence with it. Violence that can be avoided because bombing or shooting anyone doesn't solve problems… it only destroys. If dictators thought themselves fallible, if they were critical of their own beliefs and if they had used scientific judgement and evidence then their dictatorships would not have formed. They would have reasoned that a society full of questioning, inquiring, intelligent and politically active humans would be the most useful and efficient society to date (I do not fundamentally believe democracy is the best, we may, in the future, construct a more efficient political infrastructure). Fundamentalism in Religion has caused a lot of harm and unnecessary conflict. It has caused conflict over who gets to live in the holy land in Jerusalem, it has caused anti-homo-sexual, anti-black and anti-women attitudes which have caused grief and violence around the western and still in the Eastern hemispheres. Religion also continues to restrain scientific development as many believers may not vote in favor of science funding or a real scientific policy.
Fundamentalism does not work with how we as humans decide what is true. We decide what is true based on mathematical logic or through observation (yes, there can be no such thing as a vague moral truth based on feeling). Fundamental beliefs are not justified by observation or logic (which is quite trivial anyway). So it seems logically improbable to verify any fundamental beliefs, even it one has been verified over time science may prove it false yet he fundamental believer won’t accept the evidence against it.
Fundamentalism above all hasn’t brought us much good, it has briefly brought us reassurance when we where primitive beings who feared nature and the universe around us. However fundamentalism has bought us religion, which in this modern world brings us prejudice against humans who are ethnically and sexually different. The overall effect of Religion is bad. The overall effect of dictatorship is horrifically bad. Fundamentalism just isn’t good. Can science do better?
“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong”- Richard Feynman

Science is very different from Fundamentalism. Scientists do not believe in absolute notions or principles, they are willing to change or discard certain beliefs about the universe we observe. They do not just pick and choose however, they have a criterion which establishes which laws and models of nature hold true. This criterion is experiment, technically it is called empirical verification. A theory is false or incomplete if it does not explain natural phenomena detected by experiment. For example Newtons (classical physics) failed to explain the probabilistic nature of the subatomic world.  Quantum mechanics had to take its place for those sorts of problems. Evolution to this date has evidence for it, but more importantly has no scientific evidence against it so therefore it is a legitimate scientific theory. Researchers often delve into a new problem or area with certain predispositions and preconceptions about what will happen, which could be based on prior experiment or just intuition. Sometimes they get it wrong, experiment disagrees with their model. They must accept this and move on, if they ignore the experiment they will not make progress… they will not make good scientists.
Probing the atomic and quantum world through the physical and chemical sciences has given us the Godlike ability to manipulate our surroundings to prolong our lives and to increase our life quality. Through the curious inquiry into electrons and certain mechanical devices the television was invented. Through Edison’s practical science, the light bulb, telegraph and many more useful gizmos came into existence. Physics has also enabled minuscule things such as sunglasses (polarized lenses), remote controls, doors, locks and electrical wiring. Physics has changed how humans transport ourselves through airplanes, cars, rail and….. skateboard. Physics has landed man on the moon and it has enabled us to probe the vast cosmos that envelopes our small existence. Chemistry has revolutionized pharmaceuticals, steering away from useless and empirical falsified herds and weird ointments. Biology has helped humans progress in sport, in health and in medicine. Science has pushed humans away from what we used to be… a confused, superstitious and slow homo-sapien. Science has bought us the internet and the glories of digital entertainment. I could go on listing great achievements.
Some argue that science has bought us nuclear weapons and other hazardous equipment that humans would be better off without. The fact is, science has bought us the knowledge and humans have put this knowledge to erroneous use. Science is merely innocent and so are most scientists.
If we apply our scientific knowledge ethically, that is, to the best of the health of all humans, then we will get rid of any harm science could bring. However science itself is not at fault.
We also use scientific reasoning in our legal systems. Barristers accumulate empirical evidence for their case, they infer what happened in the crime scene or point towards a certain conclusion. You would not here a barrister say ‘My client is appealing for an ‘intervention of God’, that is, my client did not commit this crime but God intervened with my client during this crime and therefore… because God is the causation of everything my client cannot be guilty.’ judge- ‘Case closed’. It just wouldn’t happen. You need good evidence.
Many still think that science cannot answer moral questions… such as: how should we live? What is good? However such questions can be answered by science… we should live in such a way as to increase the chemical endorphin in our bodies, increase health and the health of other animals and to increase scientific progress. To fulfill each of these to the best of our ability, we make use of biology, medicine and the knowledge of other great sciences.
We do not need religion for our morals. We should live according to fact not fiction. To live critically and without superstition.
One must realize that fundamentalism and science clash on the practical level and the abstract level. They contradict one another and contradictions are not useful, they are a sign that one or both positions are false. From the evidence presented and from the utility and progress of science we should present science with the winning trophy. Science at present is the best method to explain the universe and everything inside it. Fundamentalism is not.  Fundamentalism has had its time in the spotlight for over 2000 years. It has been demonstrated as an idealistic and false belief system, that is, that no one human can be infallible about the universe and that not accepting this causes devastating consequences. 
It will take years for humans to collectively digest this. One cannot quickly eradicate a belief system, especially one as big as fundamentalism.
Let’s hope for the sake of curiosity, courage for discovery and for simple rational thinking that we will never hear someone say ” I am 100% correct” even on some mathematics problems (as Godel has proven).
Saying this… I am not 100% correct, evidence may go my way but I could be wrong. But the fact is… I can live with that.

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