May 21, 2007
the relative objectivity of science and religion
As I tried to make clear in a previous posts, I don't think either religion or science are dispositive over political matters. I am free to take into account, ignore, or dismiss whatever argument I want -- whether based on reason, religion, or science -- as largely irrelevant to political concerns about freedom and the constitution. Some religions say homosexuality and alcohol evil, while some scientists say smoking and alcohol (and "unsafe sex") are dangerous. These religious or scientific positions say what they say, but they should not be controlling over matters involving personal or constitutional freedom.
Now, bearing in mind that I don't think either religion or science should be allowed to dictate how I live my life, I'll say this about religious positions: they are in general less subject to change, and therefore are more predictable.
Science can be notoriously fickle, subject to change according to newly discovered information, and I am not convinced that scientific opinion is not influenced by public opinion, especially the opinions of political activists. (The same argument could also be made about religious opinions, but they're generally stuck with what's been previously written in religious sources such as the Bible or the Koran, and the arguments for change often involve interpretations or translations, historical perspectives, etc.)
A good example of how science is subject to political change is the dispute over mercury. Now, just because (as I've argued many times) I don't give a rat's ass about the shifting "scientific" claims about mercury in my teeth, that does not mean that others don't. These others would declare my mouth a health hazard:
Are your teeth toxic? The mercury in 'silver' fillings would be hazardous waste in a river----yet it's sitting in your mouthThere's a lot more, but I say screw 'em.
I'm sick of being told what to do (and what I should worry about) in the name of some external authority, be it science or religion or whatever. I consider being told what to do to be inherently political, and what I have seen in the little more than a half a century that I have been on this planet convinces me that the reasons are all subject to change.
I think much of science is inherently political, whether the proponents say so or not. Ice core data is a perfect example. We are told to believe the IPCC report because a "majority of scientists" support it. Yet dissenting scientists like Zbigniew Jaworowski maintain that ice core data are unreliable:
Dr. Jaworowski agrees that CO2 levels rose in the last half century. Starting in 1958, direct, real-time measurements of CO2 have been systematically taken at a state-of-the-art measuring station in Hawaii. These measurements, considered the world's most reliable, are a good basis for science by bodies like the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the agency that is co-ordinating the worldwide effort to stop global warming.Do they or don't they?
The answer depends on your political position. Obviously, most "climate scientists" (and most world governments) have lined up in lockstep behind ice core reliability. But it just so happens that most of these scientists and governments are also lined up in favor of imposing government controls to "save the world." (And need I mention that many of these scientists are, by taking government money, in just as much of a conflict of interest as the scientists they accuse of working for Big Oil? And that many of these governments are tyrannical?)
I realize there are two sides to this dispute, but I think it's hopelessly political. Anthropogenic global warming advocates might say it isn't, but many of them are taking government money while advocating government controls. Call me a bigot, but I just don't trust scientists who take government money and then support more government controls. How could I feel confident that they might not ignore or discard data which didn't advance what they sought to prove? Because of some scientific notion of majority rule?
Earlier, a scientifically-oriented commenter touched on the conflict between science and the private sector earlier, but he only noted one side of it:
Given that the scientific societies are united behind the GW picture (and the scientific societies consist of the nerds who thought it was more fun to do science than to get rich doing mergers & acquisitions), whereas the GW-denying picture is promoted largely by free-market thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, I think that you could get a hint as to the relative influence of ideology vs. empirical science going into these points of view.While I'm not quite sure that I agree with the dichotomy between scientific "fun" and "getting rich doing mergers & acquisitions," I will say that if the free market is now an ideology, I'm inclined to go with free market non-control over than the ideology of ever-increasing science-based controls and limitations on human progress.
Unscientific freedom beats scientific control.
It is a political question.
Various public policy claims can be said to be based on "science," but what science? Whose science? (It was once considered "scientific" to sterilize human beings, and now certain activists demand that I sterilize my dog in the name of veterinary "science.") And whose religions? There are no more absolute scientific truths to be finally determined for once and for all than there are absolute religious truths to be determined once and for all. And even if there were, the political world (at least the political world in the United States) is not governed by external "truths"; it is government by the Constitution, which is there to prevent tyrannical abuses of power. To the extent there is any truth which will govern me or the reality of my life, I'll look for it there.
Science and religion are fine until (to paraphrase Jefferson) they threaten to break my leg or pick my pocket.
I consider my skepticism to be nothing more than an application of the Precauctionary Principle to scientific threats to freedom.
(But I don't need to be scientific about it.)
....unless we can agree upon the moral claims, scientific hypothesis and experimentation remains worthless.Excellent! But I'd add that even when we agree on the moral claims, that's not necessarily dispositive of legal (especially constitutional) issues.
posted by Eric on 05.21.07 at 06:06 PM
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