When science becomes a religion

We are told that when ‘witches’ believed mouldy cheese could treat certain ailments they were mocked by the scientific community, but that it eventually became accepted that these witches were in fact correct; mouldy cheese contains what are now considered medicinally-useful antibiotics.   But what is to be learned from the apparent conceit of the scientific mind that it could mock such a correct idea?

It should be recognised that by conventional ideas of empirical science, the supposed ‘scientists’ were in fact not being empirical in the manner the witches were.   The witches were no doubt basing their assertion on prior experience, whereas the scientists seemed to feel justified in roundly dismissing the notion – presumably on the basis that the witches had no corresponding theory behind their claims.

Such a position is profoundly stupid.   Whereas our supposed understanding of the world may require theories, the world and its behaviour is not dependent on those theories.   Rejecting ideas due to lack of theoretical support is stupid – as stupid as refusing to accept the sun is hot because one has no theory to prove it so.   Notably, educated people can be that stupid when science blinds them.   The quasi-religious conviction in science as an infallible knowledge resource within today’s culture often causes that which cannot be substantiated by scientific theory to be rubbished reflexively – that is, without even bothering to test if it might be correct.

This sort of automatic denial of any ideas not validated via science’s accepted theoretical frameworks is a truly arrogant form of intellectual conceit.   As such, it also reflects another form of stupidity: a failure to understand that theoretical thinking is simply the mind’s attempts to succinctly encapsulate and provide something by way of explanations regarding whatever phenomena have been observed.   But theory is surely never justified in taking any sort of god-like stance by which it dictates that which can and cannot be observed – without even checking.   If only the aforementioned scientists had had the humility to understand such an issue, they would never have been so self-righteous as to dismiss the witches’ legitimate claims.   They would never have made such fools of themselves.

But within the modern culture of science, making a fool of oneself on logical grounds is rarely a problem; most people – scientists and laymen alike – are too blinded by their rabid scientism to notice any underlying stupidity in rigidly following what are mere beliefs.

An example of this unobserved stupidity concerns the recent photographs purporting to show black holes.   It can be reasoned that the claims made about such photographs are every bit as illogical as a discussion about the four sides of a triangle.

Whenever the mind deploys any concept at all, subsequent constructive thinking about whatever has been conceptualized relies on associations with one or more attributes.   As regards a triangle, one assumed attribute is that it has straight and wholly connected sides such that it can therefore only have three sides, given its three angles.   In simpler terms, we all know the common understanding of ‘triangle’ as being an enclosed area bounded by three straight lines and so we deem it nonsense to talk of a four-sided triangle.

Applying this same thought process to the concept ‘black hole’, it can be noted that the name ‘black hole’ was chosen to describe an entity from which no light can escape, and the name achieves this even more explicitly than the name ‘triangle’ specifies three sides, given that the number of angles in a triangle does not directly state its number of sides.   Therefore, it can be said that, given photography depends on light being emitted or reflected from whatever is photographed, the idea of a ‘black hole photograph’ is logically a total paradox.   When originally postulated, the main and defining characteristic of a black hole was in effect that it could never be photographed – and that attribute was considered so central to the concept that it actually birthed the name of the entity.   In short, by definition, a black hole cannot be photographed.

And yet, if confronted with this thoroughly logical challenge to ‘black hole photography’, many scientific minds will squirm their way around this obvious paradox.   They will likely try to explain that by some newly-invented theoretical add-on, black hole photography is indeed a possibility.   Of course, such minds would never dream of arguing four-sided triangles were possibilities, but with a concept as complex and ultimately mystical as a black hole, their powers of reasoning become compromised by a need to defend and bolster their belief system.   In this example, it is as if eagerness to believe in black holes causes a sort of intellectual blindness regarding the stupidity within that which is being presented as supposed proof of black holes.   Although they have learned that by definition black holes cannot emit light, their minds have no problem with the idea that light from black holes has somehow been captured on camera.

In reality, it may be that the photographs in question have captured some entity – or perhaps two entities colliding – and that those entities can be considered as having certain attributes in common with popular notions of black holes, but it remains only logical that the very existence of any such photograph dictates that whatever is on the photograph is absolutely not the image of a black hole as black holes have traditionally been understood.   In short, the scientist needs to relearn the absolute basics of logic if he cannot accept that whatever cannot emit light cannot emit light.

However, at this stage the scientific mind is likely to argue that, rather than being illogical, he is in fact quite logically embellishing the theory of black holes by specifying certain conditions under which black holes can indeed emit light.   But under close philosophical examination, such intellectual wriggling is quite remarkable in its attempt to present evidence wholly at odds with a theory as something that actually bolsters that theory.   Are there any other areas of culture where such illogicality would be deemed acceptable?

Something between naivety and mental trickery can be discerned among those religious minds that argue for a kindly god on the basis of wonderful worldly events, only to quickly invent the devil to explain the many happenings that turn out to be not so wonderful.   But the supposedly scientific mind can be even more ridiculous.   The scientist can in effect argue that evidence directly contradicting his ideas proves that he is on the right track and he is therefore all the wiser as a result.   Hence, one of the most pernicious aspects of the scientific doctrine is that any findings whatsoever – be they supportive or contradictory as regards currently-accepted theories and ideas – only render the doctrine ever more believable in the eyes of its followers.

Much as some have argued that the essence of scientific proof rests on the fact that scientific claims are testable and therefore potentially capable of falsification, the cult of science has exploited this test by insisting that even falsification nourishes the scientific doctrine.

There is however, some logic to this argument – at least in the basic sense that all observations inform the mind about the world it tries to interpret.   But as regards supposed photographs of black holes, this is an argument that invalidates previous theories every bit as much as it substantiates any new theoretical formulations.   Why are these photographs championed as ‘proof of black holes’ any more than as refutations of black hole theory?

The greater lesson to be learned in all this is that theories are nothing more than mere ideas that hold sway only until such times as they get debunked.   More exactly, it can therefore be stated that a theory can never be proven to be correct; at best, it can only be stated that a theory has not as yet been falsified or debunked.

On an even wider front, the real problem lies in a failure to distinguish between mere theory and empirical evidence – the two being too-routinely conflated under the general umbrella of ‘doing science’ when they are in fact profoundly different modes of honing ideas regarding the world.   Whereas the empirical approach is based primarily on sensory observation of changes in the surrounding environment, the theoretical approach has no immediate need of sensory input at all and is typically founded on a blend of mental reflections and other primarily-cognitive activities.

This failure to correctly assess the various strands of the overall scientific endeavor leads to a form of stupidity by which wildly speculative theories can be uncritically accepted as if they were the findings of empirical tests.   What too often happens is that the theory lurks within the scientific community waiting for some supposed proof, such that when some experiment provides the predicted result the theory is hailed as ‘the truth’.

A classic example of this concerns the theory of relativity itself.   An elaborate set of theoretical concepts and ideas – largely founded on mathematical work and therefore devoid of any empirical support – was put forward on the basis that a suitable test of those ideas would be to examine whether or not light was bent when it passed by our sun.   When it seemed that light was indeed bent on passing the sun, the whole raft of theoretical ideas was pretty well accepted hook, line and sinker by mainstream academic physics – all as if one single observation justified a complete rethink about how our universe is put together.

Notably, although the phenomenon of light being bent around our sun now appears thoroughly verified, the initial test results remain highly debatable due to the crude nature of the equipment involved, and it seems likely that the initial acceptance of ‘experimental proof’ was likely based on wishful thinking or so-called ‘confirmation bias’ rather than on any reliable scientific tests.

Furthermore, given that many thinkers in the field of physics believe the photons believed to constitute light possess some minimal level of mass, it would surely have been odd, even by conventional Newtonian physics, to discover that light was not bent as it passed through the sun’s gravitational forces.   Just why are scientists so eager to substantiate their ideas that they reflexively exaggerate the significance of whatever is observed?

Regardless of whether or not they actually exist, phenomena such as black holes, dark matter and evidence supporting relativity and the big-bang theories have all been actively searched out as enthusiastically as hard-to-find treasure is.   But it is easily argued that, not only are any findings that appear to support such theories given more credit than they truly merit, the very effort to validate the hypothetical postulates of any theory constitutes a perversion in terms of science being unbiased.   On the one hand, a finding which supports a theory only extends the field within which such a theory appears relevant; it does not validate the theory in any general sense.   On the other hand, choosing to hunt down supporting evidence, as opposed to evidence that might contradict a theory, clearly shows a bias in the scientist’s approach.

But at this point we really need to turn to something that underlies both science and religion – and perhaps all other fields of human activity: psychology.

The fact is that in many fields such as religion, science or even politics, whoever speaks at odds with the surrounding group’s ideals and belief systems is more than likely to face some form of social rejection, whereas whoever speaks to consolidate those ideals and belief systems is likely to enjoy elevated social status.   At a deep subliminal level we all have pragmatic knowledge of these group dynamics and we generally sense it to be in our best interests that we concur with the group rather than challenge it.   The radical thinker who questions his church’s doctrines is likely to meet the same sort of trouble as the radical thinker who argues that the theoretical acrobatics of modern physics are way too speculative, devoid of any meaningful empirical proofs, and therefore mostly the result of runaway group-think.   In both cases, those who enjoy social status and esteem as champions and leaders of the current ideas are likely to feel threatened by anyone undermining the group’s beliefs and values.

But if the ‘infidel’ finds himself highly unwelcome, it is rarely because his ideas have been debunked; ironically, his rejection more likely results from some potential credibility within those ideas.   And the scale of the group’s retaliation is generally proportionate to the gravity of the challenge laid against it.   For example, whereas it is quite easy with a little academic physics to bewilder and outsmart any layman refuting theories of relativity because he simply cannot believe some of the theoretical assertions, it is not so easy to outsmart someone who undermines relativity on the grounds that all human thought of any kind is inherently flawed – plus that in the particular case of cosmology empirical tests are effectively impossible.   Such challenges come from beyond what is conventionally considered the scope of physics and so they cannot easily be refuted by anything the learned expert in the field might have assimilated.   Moreover, they are not simply attacks on specific areas of theory; they are all-out broadsides on the very idea that physics is anything other than just another belief system in which the adherents’ attachment to their doctrines underlies a mindset that is only flexible to the extent that on rare occasions it has no option but to concede its previous errors.   And it should be noted that conceding errors is no measure of proof regarding whatever the human mind concocts to fill the resulting void.

It seems we are a species of believers and that bolstering belief itself generally takes precedence over any demonstrable proof regarding all the contradictory ideas in which we can believe.   How else could we be so confused?