When science makes people stop asking questions

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If you haven’t heard, Richard Dawkins has a problem with religion. He says his primary complaint with religion is that it makes people stop asking questions. Dawkins:

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.

My religion never had this effect on me. In fact, every bit of science that i learn about feels like I am learning something about the character of God. That’s important to me.

It may be the case, and this is only a theory, that science in the modern day falls more in line with Dawkins’ assertion, than does religion, at least in Western countries. And by science I do not mean the scientific process, or empirical, direct evidence. I mean the mere label of science and its effect on the laymen. As long as the headline reads, “Study shows” or “scientists say”, there’s not a whole lot of consideration that goes into whether there are holes in the conclusions. Another problem is that much is lost in the translation between scientific journal and popular media headline.  Of course, many times the scientists are correct.

Humans, and thus scientists, are very good at producing tests and using empirical evidence to draw conclusions about specific, short term phenomena. They are not so good at extrapolating these observed phenomena far into the future or the past. Consider a game of chess between world class players. Chess involves no chance, and today’s best players have played so many games and studied chess to such an extent that they know the correct response to all opening moves. But they do not extrapolate dozens of moves into the future as is sometimes believed. They only consider the board as it is in front on them, and perhaps 5 moved ahead. The possibilities become so complicated as a player looks 10-20 moves ahead, that it becomes a waste of precious time, as the clock ticks in professional matches.

And so comes my major problems with the science of global warming and Darwinism: The extrapolations conducted by the most powerful chess minds on the planet are dwarfed by the extrapolations made by evolutionary scientists and global warming theorists. It’s not even close. Besides the obvious problem with looking millions of years into the past through the lens of theory, there are logical problems that are difficult to clear up, in the case of evolution for instance; ie irreducible complexity, the Cambrian Explosion, the problem of speciation etc. Really throwing a wrench into the works are recent studies that show Lamarckian Evolution is real. It seems the sins of the father really are laid upon the children.

MIT Technology Review:


These two new studies are unique in that the environmental change that triggers the effect–enrichment or early abuse–occurs before pregnancy. “Give mothers chemicals, and it can affect offspring and the next generation,” says Larry Feig, a neuroscientist at Tufts University School of Medicine, in Boston, who oversaw part of the research. “In this case, [the environmental change] happened way before the mice were even fertile.”

In Feig’s study, mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment–given toys, exercise, and social interaction–for two weeks during adolescence. The animals’ memory improved–an unsurprising finding, given that enrichment has been previously shown to boost brain function. The mice were then returned to normal conditions, where they grew up and had offspring. This next generation of mice also had better memory, despite having the genetic defect and never having been exposed to the enriched environment.

I’m not proposing we cynically disregard everything coming from the world of science. That would be foolish. I am asking that people use their own brains, and look at studies and articles in popular outlets with a critical eye. Scientists do not always adhere to scientific processes or thought. The classic case is outlined in this WSJ article, talking about the collapse of the fat consumption/disease dogma that was prevalent for 6 decades in America. In fact, it seems scientists may have had it exactly wrong. Animal may be good for us. And institutional and political momentum can play a huge role in science: Once a scientist, politician or pundit makes a claim, it’s difficult to go back on the issue. By the time millions of dollars and political capital are spent spreading “the truth”, the damage is done and no one wants to admit that maybe they contributed to damaging people.

But there was no turning back: Too much institutional energy and research money had already been spent trying to prove Dr. Keys’s hypothesis. A bias in its favor had grown so strong that the idea just started to seem like common sense. As Harvard nutrition professor Mark Hegsted said in 1977, after successfully persuading the U.S. Senate to recommend Dr. Keys’s diet for the entire nation, the question wasn’t whether Americans should change their diets, but why not? Important benefits could be expected, he argued. And the risks? “None can be identified,” he said.

In fact, even back then, other scientists were warning about the diet’s potential unintended consequences. Today, we are dealing with the reality that these have come to pass.

Then there are the problems inherent in positivism. The economist EF Schumacher explained:

The architects of the modern worldview, notably Galileo and Descartes, assumed that those things that could be weighed, measured, and counted were more true than those that could not be quantified. If it couldn’t be counted, in other words, it didn’t count.

Or Werner Heisennberg, the discoverer of quantum mechanics:

The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can any one conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.

In other words, science should be as much concerned, maybe more, with what is hidden, as with what is obvious.

In the case of global warming, I perceive a severe lack of consideration by scientists that there’s a lot they can’t know about what determines climate. These climate scientists boldly state their recordings (some of which they made up, as we know), plug their numbers into their computer models, see that the models don’t get the predictions correct, and then lay a guilt trip on us for questioning “science”. They fail to consider what they have not measured.

Darwin was a great scientist, and not only because of his powers of perception, but because he was an immensely honest man who wanted to see the truth. In his book, The Origin of Speiies, Darwin wrote two entire chapters (chapters 6 and 9) that addressed why he may be wrong. He calls the addressed arguments against his theory, “grave”, or in other words, powerful. Imagine that from Richard Dawkins. I’ve read these chapters, and indeed they are so powerful they actually strengthened my belief that Darwin’s theory is wrong. The foolish thing that many scientists like Dawkins do today, is make their opponents out to be unintelligent people, unthinking idiots. When Darwin synthesized his theory, he presented it to the most prominent biologist in the world at the time, Louis Agassiz of Harvard university. Agassiz is considered one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes him as follows:

Louis Agassiz,  (born May 28, 1807, Motier, Switz.—diedDecember 14, 1873Cambridge, Mass., U.S.), Swiss-born U.S. naturalist, geologist, and teacher who made revolutionary contributions to the study of natural science with landmark work on glacier activity and extinct fishes. He achieved lasting fame through his innovative teaching methods, which altered the character of natural science education in the United States.

Darwin had immense respect for Agassiz and hoped he would back Darwin’s belief. To Darwin’s dismay, Agassiz rejected the theory of evolution.

Louis Agassiz


Aggassiz quipped:

Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it has been discovered before. Lastly they say they always believed it.

Then there is also the recent evidence, discovered by world-renowned Chinese  JY Chen. Chen found that the fossil beds from the Cambrian era show that Darwin’s tree of life is upside down. That is, the number of species has not increased; the tree narrows at the top. Many Chinese scientists believe that the fossil record shows a sudden apearrence of complex life without an evolutionary lead-up. When Chen lectured in America on his findings, he asked his sponsor why none of the scientists in the audience asked any questions about how all this impacted Darwinism. His sponsor said it was probably because scientists in America are afraid to question Darwin. Chen responded: “In my country we cannot question the government. In America, you cannot question Darwin.”

The scientism of today is leading to the closing of our minds. In the areas of computer science, math, and engineering, we’re doing very well, because testing theorems in those fields yields immediate feedback. But the name-calling coming from some against alternate theories in biology and climate is really just subterfuge. The name-callers don’t want to debate the facts in many cases. They just want opponents to go away. The accusations that dissent stems from a hatred of science is just not true. Dissent stems from the knowledge that scientists and journalists are human, and that they have biases and are prone to misinterpret data just as are the rest of us.



17 thoughts on “When science makes people stop asking questions

    Bill said:
    May 4, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    @Magus – I can speak to this b/c I thought almost exactly the same way just a few years ago. In fact on my Facebook timeline within the last year and a half, I posted that I loved Hitchens for many reasons, was starting to really like Harris, but just couldn’t swallow Dawkins. As is the case when I don’t like something, I researched it a lot more (to either confirm or refute my beliefs). Since then, I became probably the biggest Dawkins fan on Earth. I’ll come back to that since I know that’s not the primary point here. Irreducible complexity was shown to be a complete sham in the Delaware trial. If you’re interested I’ll post links, but trust me when I say few things have been so thoroughly trounced as the IC argument. Dawkins has a whole chapter in the Blind Watchmaker about the Cambrian Explosion that actually deals with the issue up front, calling attention to it and deals with it, IMHO very well. But it’s a perfect example of him being intellectually honest. he didn’t run from it, he didn’t dodge it, he calls it out and along with Scientists like Gould, looked for more evidence. I don’t know what argument your’e referring to with speciation, but I’d be glad to take a stab at it.

    So look, let’s take the example of cops. Prior to talking to you and a few other friends that are cops, I had a pretty neurotic fear of them and thought ‘most’ , not ‘some’ were bad. I started out thinking they were all good, run into City of Miami cops and did a 180 and slowly came back to thinking that most are good, a few are bad, the system is pretty badly broken and have no idea what the answer is. At each point, my worldview comported with reality (rather the other way around). Dawkins in intellectually honest. He admits science doesn’t have all the answers and points to how much we’ve learned (increasingly each century) and now with computers, how much more we’re going to know about the universe. He doesn’t even say God doesn’t exist, mainly he says if you read the main holy books, those Gods almost certainly don’t exist as described. There are scientific frauds, ego , politics etc. And yes, people hear “A study says” and stop thinking , and in most cases, the reporters don’t have the background on the subject or the statistics to accurately report on it. The media pronounces things incorrectly all the time, from Military Strategy to implications of legal decisions to the results of clinical trials. They announce things before peer review and seldom go back to correct their reporting when it’s shown to be fraudulent, especially when what they report is in line with their agenda.

    During our lives, the whole Complex Carbs (High), Protein (low-moderate) , Fat (low as possible) diet was crammed down everyone’s throats without question. It supported the grain farmer’s, it supported the vegetarian’s beliefs – it was a perfect reflection of the power establishment’s view on food. Now it’s been seen as a complete fraud . But that’s not the scientific community’s fault. What frequently happens (and did here) was certain projects got funded. When the results turned out t in line with the agenda, viola, it got reported, when it didn’t, viola you never heard of it again.

    Science isn’t perfect and scientific educate in this country is terrible. But it self-corrects and when done properly, it increases understanding and makes people question more and more.

    Stem-Cell research is an interesting beast. When I started studying it, I found that yep, it’s a proxy war over right/left politics. But imagine for one second, that the deference shown to the fetuses was b/c of respect to an Aztec god instead of a Christian one, would people be ok with it? No, Christians and Atheists alike would be outraged. Each time you get something that politicized, extremists refuse to cede any ground (which is one reason you find ‘feminists’ [bad example b/c they end up being hypocritical about everything]) and taking up for Scott Peterson to an extent b/c they don’t want him charged with killing the unborn baby. Global warming almost certainly is happening and a lot is very likely attributable to man. Whether we can do anything about it is another story. But b/c political opportunists hopped on it to seize control, the backlash was more about people disbelieving what they were being told then the research – and the matter is damn complex – far above the understanding of most laypeople or anyone that hasn’t put a lot into understanding it. Again though, it became a proxy war – you can tell someone’s voting preferences with almost 100% certainty by asking their belief on Abortion, Stem cell research, evolution ro Global Warming. I personally , based on all the evidence I’ve read believe it’s real. I think it’s been hyped up way out of proportion and that many things may autocorrect but some damage is already being done. However we don’t ‘know’ the right temperature for earth and most of the remedies like carbon offset trading isn’t going to fix it. So you see hard core advocates living like it’s not real and way more interested in the political fixes than scientific ones (Freakonomics’ coverage from ID was a great example). Science tells us , convincingly IMHO, that a 5 year old chimp is way more human than a 1 year old human. Killing chimps doesn’t cause near the stir of abortion, nor does serious mistreatment of them.

    BTW, if you look around Chen’s work is what it is. However worldwide, it’s not gotten traction – not b/c we’re scared to talk about it in the US, but b/c the evidence for Evolution is so overwhelmingly strong.

    Lastly, YOUR Religion doesn’t cause you to stop asking questions. You aren’t typical. When you had back to SC some time, I’ll take you around and just in passing, you’ll see how ridiculously damaged so many are b/c of their religion – how many people believe the world if 10 years or less old. How many people believe Evolution means we descended from Monkeys. How many people think Time is the same for everyone (or Apollonian for that matter), how many believe praying really makes a difference for healing people. See how many people take the Bible literally but yet haven’t read most of it and never translated from modern to middle or old English let alone another language to see how fragile language is. See how many people believe there really was an Ark, and a Talking Snake. Science isn’t perfect and yes, it causes many of the problems you mentioned – but religion does so much more damage in that regard.

    Trust me on this one – I’ll send you Amazon credits if you’ll read them for any 2 of Dawkin’s books – and then any two that counter it – see if you don’t find the case for Evolution every bit as factual as you do Heliocentrism.

    WTP said:
    May 4, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    What Bill said, with a couple qualifications. I haven’t studied evolution closely enough in the last 15 years or so and the both of you are much deeper into the subject than myself, but I do have one terribly unscientific thing to add. From what I have seen/read of Dawkins in the past, there’s something a bit grandstanding about him that I don’t trust. And while Bill relates that Dawkins has admitted that science has some weaknesses I recall a hostility toward religion that from my perspective was uncalled for. I agree with the observation of the degree if backward thinking in much of the Biblebelt and have seen it myself. And there is much similar backward thinking in divinity schools great and small. But it seemed to me that Dawkins used such as a pseudo-strawman for some of his arguments, ignoring those of greater intellect in regard to religion.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 2:28 am

    I think the “unthinking” charge leveled against many religious charge is many times the result of how uncomfortable religious people make modern humans by merely being religious. It scares them. They are certainly no more unthinking than the average American who thinks about neither science nor religion. Nor the people who troll TMZ daily.

    Have you heard Chris Hitchens” brother, Peter, speak? He’s a dedicated Christian and speaks with every bit of eloquence that Chris did. I respected Chris actually. Not Dawkins, who seems to dislike me personally.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Bill, the best way to sift the different arguments is to watch debates. In books there is no one to argue points made by the one side, and lay people assume that there is no retort when an expert throws out some jargon. Other experts who may seem differently are likely to know where technical weaknesses in arguments lay.

    T. J. Babson said:
    May 5, 2014 at 3:29 am

    It never gets old.

    Bill said:
    May 5, 2014 at 3:58 am

    I watch debates too, but in my older age, I’ve fallen back in love with original research. I can’t look up footnotes and check the sources in debates, not without a whole lot of stopping, making sure I heard it right and hoping I am catching the right source. Footnotes aren’t perfect, but they let you do the groundwork if you’re willing to. I’ve watched several debates and glad that you’re posting them – my TL;DR; conclusions are this:

    1-There’s too much crap in the bible to take it seriously. Very few “Strong believers” believe everything in the bible even if they say they do. You have to pick and choose to have any kind of comfort level with it. And that’s necessarily arbitrary. There’s a lot that was taken very literal before science proved it wrong that is now said to be allegory
    2-Creationism is one thing and not totally ridiculous, young earth creationism is just insanity.
    3-There’s a distinct possibility that there is a God, that he’s ap erosional god, but that we have yet to know him – basically, all of our existing religions could be wrong, just like they were for most of history
    4-It’s very easy to believe in a Deistic god, it’s very easy to believe something much greater than us put it all in motion and used the laws of the universe and evolution to get us here today. It’s as reasonable a position as atheism..
    5-We don’t know what the Bible really is. It’s been through too many translations (and even from Old to modern English, things don’t translate). Biblical literalism is where most of my issues are with religion and I think engaging in Biblical literalism is a fools errand.
    6-If we evolved from a shared ancestor, then when did we get souls? On that note, if Adam and Eve story isn’t literally true, then there’s no explanation of original sin. If there’s no original sin, then we don’t lose by default if we don’t get ‘saved’. That changes EVERYTHING and literally wipes out most of the Bible Belt theology that’s running around today.
    7- If you had a treatable form of cancer at an early stage and were given the choice between a known effective therapy OR everyone on earth praying for you, one would almost certainly cure your cancer, the other would almost certainly lead to your death.

    Since I’ve had such a huge change in thought over the past few years, i’m willing to read all I can on the theistic side. In fact at some level, I desperately hope it’s true – that I can be forgiven of all i’ve done wrong, that I can effectively make things right, that I can spend eternity with my loved ones. I’m just terribly afraid it’s not so. Evolution was the deal breaker for me – I still believe (and hope) there’s a God, but it convinced me the Biblical account of things simply can’t be right. Noah’s Ark simply didn’t happen. We have a tail bone and a pancreas for a reason. There’s a reason that Dolphins and Whales are considered Mammals. And we see evolution every day in virology. I’m a Bayesian though – any time new evidence can be presented, I’m more than willing to change my mind. You’ve changed my mind about a lot over the years, or at a minimum led it in a completely different direction. I think this time, if you really dig, you’ll end up shifting your opinion – the best I can do at the moment is buy a Diestic god, or buy the notion that things got so distorted through translation and personal agenda that the real story is interspersed with the rest, but that most of the Bible is BS.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Bill, did you know there is no way to scientifically date a fossil? None. Radioactive isotopes can only be used to date igneous rock; fossils are sedimentary rock. Additionally, the furthest out carbon-14 dating works is about 10,000 years, though some have said longer. Stephen J Gould said 70,000 years. That’s still no where in the ball park of 65 million years like they put dinosaur bones at.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 6:16 am

    It’s interesting to note how easy it is to find info on the things that support evolution, but very difficult when it comes to things that I know are difficult for Darwinists to deal with, such as the carbon 14 problem I mentioned.


    One would think that perhaps they intensely desire Darwinsim to be true….

    T. J. Babson said:
    May 5, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    Evolution is a complex phenomenon that is not captured very by simple-minded ideas like natural selection.

    See: http://arxiv.org/abs/1011.4125

    VXXC said:
    May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Scientism is killing scientific advancement which has quite slowed down. We’re still coasting on 50s-early 70s on computing.

    The death of science is peer review in 1942. Prior it was “Show us the Proofs.”

    Peer review has turned this into a Progressive Union Shop/Scam. Closer to the Teamsters than the Age of Discovery.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    TJ, do you agree that Darwinism is as much a fact as the Heliocentric solar system? I don’t.

    And if it not the case, is it a good idea to monopolize the teachings in schools toward Darwinism? Do you think they teach the weaknesses of the theory? One thing I’ve found in my research, is that just like with the fat/disease theory of old, as you dig, you find that the theory is not as strong as some present it. There is a tendency to say to one’s self: “Oh, they’ve figured that out somewhere”. Then you find they haven’t. I mean, building entire displays of animals at museums out of two or three small bones, then deciding a few years later that the bones were human bones. Things like that have happened so many times. And people thinking that actual fossils can be carbon dated. There’s so many more problems. I’m actually shocked some of these people are called scientists.

    T. J. Babson said:
    May 5, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Magus:

    We know that a wide variety of life has existed on earth over a period of millions of years. We know that different species share bits of DNA and therefore have common ancestors. We know from experiments on bacteria that natural selection does work–that is why antibiotic resistant bacteria have developed. There is a large amount of data that needs to be explained.

    Clearly evolution is a complex phenomenon, and the paper I linked to earlier suggested that to fully understand evolution requires techniques drawn from the mathematical study of complexity. So, yes, I fully agree that Darwinism as it stands today is an incomplete, flawed theory.

    However, I don’t see that gaps in our knowledge or imperfect theories mean that we should abandon our attempt to explain things without invoking any supernatural causes.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Depends of your definition of supernatural. Quantum physics has many characteristics of what we call magic. A sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic.

    What bothers me, is not that evolution is flawed or incomplete, but that there are people that want to keep it that way. They desperately need evolution as much as the people whom they accuse of needing religion. Thus they see any questioning of aspects of the theory as an attempt to destroy their world view.

    magus71 responded:
    May 5, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    No less a figure than Eugene Wigner, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, claimed that materialism — at least with regard to the human mind — is not “logically consistent with present quantum mechanics.” And on the basis of quantum mechanics, Sir Rudolf Peierls, another great 20th-century physicist, said, “the premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being … including [his] knowledge, and [his] consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing.”


    T. J. Babson said:
    May 6, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Magus, modern ideas of complexity involve emergent behavior vs. reductionism.

    Check this out:

    magus71 responded:
    May 6, 2014 at 4:55 am

    This is good. See, this is exactly what I’ve been saying in other posts. The reductions, materialist view is wrong in my opinion. It is also dangerous for society. It is the Communist view. And if I am just my atoms, why are my atoms any more valuable than the atoms of the mud you stepped in. The reductionist view was perfectly in line with the view of the Nazis and Communists.

    Royce said:
    June 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Dawkins is an ASS. There is virtually no evidence for Evolution and what passes for evidence is really environmental adaptation with no speciation. Modern science is as faith based as religion and in my opinion more so. Emprical science seems to be vanishing but really never existed when it comes to Evolution. I have written essays on this topic for years and have just given up because academia is closed minded about any challenge to Dawkins or Darwin.

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