Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Religion's war on science, Part 1

Christian libertarian Vox Day has just come out and openly declared sides in the war on science that Chris Mooney wrote about in "The Republican War on Science." - (find a sample chapter here)

Vox Day wrote "The case against science" for World Net Daily and he has declared there:
... there is real cause to doubt the continued benefit of science to modern society, or even its right to a respectable place within it.
Just what meaning of "science" is Vox Day talking about? There is no one meaning to this word "science," especially when coming out of the mouth of a Christian libertarian who writes for World Net Daily. Science is knowledge gained by testing ideas against reality. Is Vox Day really against that? Or will the meaning of science shift through a half dozen shades of meaning and metaphors?

Watch how he does it:
... the benefits of science are hugely exaggerated. Most of the advances in human technology are a function of the wealth produced by capitalism and human liberty, as may be seen in the retarded technological development in countries with no shortage of education and scientists, but handicapped by anti-capitalist, anti-libertarian ideology.
Is he talking about the anti-capitalist, anti-libertarian Soviet Union who beat us into space and started a space race that got us investing more government money in science and inspiring President Kennedy to announce the goal of landing a man on the Moon?

Most inventors are not scientists and most scientists are not inventors; whereas Oppenheimer and Einstein gave us the nuclear bomb, Steve Wozniak gave us the personal computer and Al Gore gave us the Internet. It's worth noting that the inventors of what is considered to be the most significant invention of the century, the silicon chip, were not scientists but electrical engineers.
Really? I thought Robert Noyce, who invented the silicon chip, was a physics major at Grinnell College as well as an electrical engineer. Isn't physics science?

Science, invention and business are far more intertwined than Vox Day wants you to believe. Technological change and the underlying body of growing scientific knowledge upon which it draws are so deeply interconnected that it's impossible to draw such clear lines between them and Vox Day's notions of a clear separation don't even qualify for the 17th century.

They may not even qualify for Archimedes, an ancient Greek who did pure science and invention before Christianity was born.

Consider that what James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, the guys who discovered the structure of DNA, did was pure science. Pure science that is now becoming several technologies, like genetic engineering, gene therapy and genetic medicine.

Follow the road that their pure science started into the territory that J. Craig Venter is exploring, where the lines between pure research and invention get blurred.

J. Craig Venter, who helped map the human genetic code, now has a new start-up called Synthetic Genomics and he plans to create new types of organisms that would produce hydrogen, secrete fuel or be able to break down greenhouse gases. He wants to create micro-organisms that could be used to create alternative fuel sources.

To get this idea off the ground the first thing he does is pure research. He started exploring the globe in a luxury yacht called the Sorcerer II on an expedition that updates the scientific voyages of Charles Darwin looking for undiscovered micro-organisms. The genomes of these micro-organisms will be sequenced and studied and used to form a body of knowledge that will allow us to better genetically engineer organisms that do what we want.

Is this the "science" that Vox Day objects to? He's certainly proved he doesn't understand it.

Now watch him shift definitions:

Sciencists (those who believe in science as a basis for dictating human behavior, as opposed to scientists, who merely engage in the method),...
Excuse me? Did the definition of science just shift? And what scientist is dictating human behavior? Where does that even come from? Is this behavior we're dictating merely our objecting to having restraints on stem cell research or something? Are Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett forcing Vox Day to become an atheist?

...like to posit that Man has evolved to a point where he is ready to move beyond religion. A more interesting and arguably more urgent question is whether science, having produced some genuinely positive results as well as some truly nightmarish evils, has outlived its usefulness to Mankind.

Man has survived millennia of religious faith, but if the prophets of over-population and global warming are correct, he may not survive a mere two centuries of science.
So, what exactly is the choice here? To move forward and learn what kind of universe we live in or to run away from scientific knowledge and live in stagnation until those societies that aren't afraid of scientific truth decide we'll make great cattle? I guess Vox Day would rather be an Eloi than a Morlock.

The aspects of Day's article I don't pick up on here are covered by PZ Myers.



guthrie said...

As a philosopher, what label do you apply to Fuller, the Sociologist who loves ID?
Using the man-in-the-street definition, I would call him post-modern, but some people disagree.

normdoering said...

You mean Steve Fuller who testified at Dover?

What label? Hmmm... I'm not sure I can do that justice just yet because my familiarity with Fuller comes from reading Panda's Thumb about Fuller and not Fuller himself.

They (Tara Smith?) really mocked him at Panda's Thumb for a few statements. But everyone says dumb things now and then.

From what little I know, I'd say "post-modern" or "relativistic" sound right.

Do you think there is any good reason I should pay more attention to Fuller?

guthrie said...

No. Just a question. I'm afraid I might have mixed you up with someone else, I'm looking for a philosopher to give me the lowdown on labelling FUller. I've m,et a couple of people who appear unconnected with the ID/ evolution debate, but think Fuller is not post modernist when I point out theres this crazy guy going around being all post-modernist.
thanks for your answer anyway.