Maybe science is my religion, after all

In a recent comment thread, I wrote that I am revolted by the corruption and politicization of science. After I wrote that, I experienced a moment of introspective surprise during which I realized that my feelings about people who commit scientific fraud for personal or political ends are in tone and intensity very much like a deeply religious person’s feelings about people who commit sacrilege.

This realization made me quite uncomfortable. I’m a hard-shell rationalist; what I have in my life that corresponds to religion I carefully chose to not involve me in faith-holding or the other kinds of emotional attachments that religious people form as a matter of course. I regard religion, in the sense the term is normally used, as a dangerous form of collective insanity – and I want above all to be sane.

Because I felt uncomfortable, I decided that I needed to perform the exercise I have elsewhere described as killing the Buddha – in this case, killing the premise that I am not like a religious person by examining and embracing all the ways that my relationship to science makes me like one.

I’m performing the exercise now. I’m going to write to clarify my thinking, as I think. I’m not sure where this will take me; if I were, it wouldn’t be killing the Buddha.

I should probably start by dashing one set of false hopes. I have some readers who are conventionally religious, and at least a few of them probably hope that I’m about to confess that science isn’t special – that it’s at least co-equal to or on the same epistemic footing as religion, if not inferior to it. Sorry, but no. Science is different in one vital respect: ‘belief’ in it cashes out as predictions about observables. Religion is mostly vacuous because it mostly fails to do this, and where it does make predictions about observables they are generally indistinguishable from delusional insanity.

However…human beings seem to be hardwired to have psychological needs that are fulfilled by religion. Or perhaps it would be better to invert that and say that religion is an invention fulfilling needs that arise from essential features of our psychology. So even while I still regard the belief content of religion as crazy, I perhaps should not be surprised – or even necessarily upset – to find that my mind falls into the sort of emotional grooves that usually go with religious belief content.

In sorting out these feelings, I start from the datum that scientific fraud feels to me like sacrilege. Plausible reports of it make me feel deeply angry and disgusted, with a stronger sense of moral indignation than I get about almost any other sort of misbehavior. I feel like people who commit it have violated a sacred trust.

What is sacred here? What are they profaning?

The answer to that question seemed obvious to me immediately when I first formed the question. But in order to explain it comprehensibly to a reader, I need to establish what I actually mean by “science”. Science is not a set of answers, it’s a way of asking questions. It’s a process of continual self-correction in which we form theories about what is, check them by experiment, and use the result to improve our theories. Implicitly there is no end to this journey; anything we think of as ‘truth’ is merely a theory that has had predictive utility so far but could be be falsified at any moment by further evidence.

When I ask myself why I feel scientific fraud is like sacrilege, I rediscover on the level of emotion something I have written from an intellectual angle: Sanity is the process by which you continually adjust your beliefs so they are predictively sound. I could have written “scientific method” rather than “sanity” there, and that is sort of the point. Scientific method is sanity writ large and systematized; sanity is science in the small personal domain of one’s own skull.

Science is sanity is salvation – it’s how we redeem ourselves, individually and collectively, from the state of ignorance and sin into which we were born. “Sin” here has a special interpretation; it’s the whole pile of cognitive biases, instinctive mis-beliefs, and false cultural baggage we’re wired with that obstruct and weigh down our attempts to be rational. But my emotional reaction to this is, I realize, quite like that of a religious person’s reaction to whatever tribal superstitious definition of ‘sin’ he has internalized.

I feel that scientists have a special duty of sanity that is analogous to a priest’s special duty to be pious and virtuous. They are supposed to lead us out of epistemic sin, set the example, light the way forward. When one of them betrays that trust, it is worse than ordinary stupidity. It damages all of us; it feeds the besetting demons of ignorance and sloppy thinking, and casts discredit on scientists who have remained true to their sacred vocation.

Even now I feel queasy using these religious metaphors and these analogies, because they are so pregnant with horror and oppression and mass death – Muslims screaming “Allahu akbar!” as they detonate suicide bombs, Christians with “Kill them all, God will know his own.” But this Buddha must be faced and killed for the sake of my own sanity. If I do not acknowledge and deal with the ways in which I feel like a religious person, I increase my risk that those emotions will sneak up on my thinking and make it unsane.

So I will say it out loud: science is the functional equivalent of worship for the rational human. In contemplating the wonder and vastness of the universe as it is, I find the equivalent of religious awe before the face of God. In struggling to understand the universe, scientists perform work as dedicated, heartfelt and ecstatic as religious devotion. Humility and self-discipline are even more proper to the scientist than they are to the believer; as the true believer seeks to know God’s will without the obstruction of ego, the true scientist seeks understanding of what is without the obstruction of ego.

Religion makes us the offer that if we believe, it will lift us out of ourselves – perfect us, teach us what is mere transient illusion and what is real and eternal. Science makes almost the same offer; that if we accept the discipline of rationality, we can become better than we are and learn what is really true. These two offers rest on very different ground, and religion’s offer is essentially false while science’s is essentially true – but psychologically, we receive both offers in the same way. They both plug into the same basic human fear of death and the unknown, and the same longing for transcendence.

So maybe science is my religion, after all. The question is definitional. Is it ‘religion’ if it duplicates the emotional constellations of religious feeling without investment in the supernatural, or faith, or revelation, or dogma, or any of the usual content of religious belief?

This is a question I, personally, have asked before about neopaganism and the aspects of Buddhist thought that attract me. Intellectually, I think my answer about science is the same; “is this a religion” is a question about map, not territory. It’s about the terms I use to explain myself to others, not what I think or do. The corresponding question about territory would “does this belief system support or hinder my rationality?”, and in the case of scientific method the answer is “it helps” because sanity and science are hardly even separable.

But this time around the question nevertheless has more sting. Because I’m not very emotional about my neopaganism or quasi-Buddhism; if someone tried to commit sacrilege against those in my presence, I’d merely laugh at the fool’s cluelessness. My quasi-religious feelings about science have more weight than my non-religious feelings about what passes for my religion.

Also, like all Western rationalists, I live at the near end of a long struggle to reduce the viciousness of Christianity to a tolerable level – one that is not yet finished while the Pat Robertsons of the world openly advocate witch-burning. And we face a lethal struggle with Islamism, one in which I have been personally threatened with assassination twice. Under these circumstances, even though I know don’t think anything like these fanatics it is disquieting to me to discover that I can feel like them.

This is why I began this stream-of-consciousness essay feeling uncomfortable with my own passion about scientific fraud, and why it was necessary for me to kill a Buddha. Having left the premise that I am not like a religious person dead on the road, where do I go next?

(By an eerie coincidence, Pandora just started playing Porcupine Tree’s “Halo”. Listen. The lyrics are frighteningly appropriate.)

I think I can only fear my religious emotions to the extent I don’t trust my own rationality. My fear of feeling like them springs from what a religious person would interpret as my sense of my own sinful weakness – in my terms, my fear that rationality is hard-won and easily eroded, that I could degenerate into believing and acting like them as well. That would be hell, to have become just another murderous fanatic or acquiescent sheep in the long bloody history of isms.

Also…if it’s true that we all have the same kinds of emotional attachments to the beliefs that matter most to us, it is also true that the content of belief really matters. I am neither a fanatic nor a sheep, because I have chosen a belief content that puts the highest value on thinking and questioning and evidence, and on the liberty of both conscience and action. I will hold to that, and I will trust in my strength, and I will not be afraid.

394 thoughts on “Maybe science is my religion, after all

  1. I’m not certain about your thoughts of Ayn Rand, but your post instantly reminded me of this quote.

    “Religion’s monopoly in the field of ethics has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Just as religion has pre-empted the field of ethics, turning morality against man, so it has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man’s reach. “Exaltation” is usually taken to mean an emotional state evoked by contemplating the supernatural. “Worship” means the emotional experience of loyalty and dedication to something higher than man. “Reverence” means the emotion of a sacred respect, to be experienced on one’s knees. “Sacred” means superior to and not-to-be-touched-by any concerns of man or of this earth. Etc.

    But such concepts do name actual emotions, even though no supernatural dimension exists; and these emotions are experienced as uplifting or ennobling, without the self-abasement required by religious definitions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal. Yet apart from the man-degrading aspects introduced by religion, that emotional realm is left unidentified, without concepts, words or recognition.

    It is this highest level of man’s emotions that has to be redeemed from the murk of mysticism and redirected at its proper object: man.” – “Introduction to The Fountainhead,” The Objectivist, March 1968, 4. http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/religion.html

  2. As one of your conventionally religious readers I found this essay very interesting. It may surprise you that as one who is religious and a believer in the scientific method, I argue a lot for separating science from Science! One is simply the acceptance of experimental results and logical conclusions from them, and the other is the acceptance of a world view which makes as many religious assertions as my religion. When scientists start with a certain assumption of no supernatural events, then everything has to be hammered into that mold whether that makes sense or not. No, I will not convince you of that so I don’t try. But how about a bargain. Not all religions are the same. Nor are all atheists. If you insist on lumping in all Christians with all bad religious actors throughout history, then am I justified in lumping you in with all atheists of the 20th century like Stalin, Mao etc.? I am sure you don’t think you are responsible for their actions, so how do you logically blame me for Islamic Extremists?

  3. I’m having trouble relating to you on this one. I doubt that we have any irreconcilable differences in our epistemology, yet I don’t share your special revulsion toward scientific fraud. Sure, it annoys me, but not more-so than any other kind of intellectual dishonesty. My bile toward people who use fraudulent science for political ends is on account of whatever form of tyranny they’re seeking to impose on me, not on account of the fraud. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m happy whenever it’s discovered that my political enemies have committed scientific fraud, as it provides me a powerful rhetorical weapon with which to resist them. Maybe, rather than trying to be at peace with your emotional attachment to the scientific method, you should be working to break that attachment.

  4. “Science is different in one vital respect: ‘belief’ in it cashes out as predictions about observables. …Science is not a set of answers, it’s a way of asking questions. It’s a process of continual self-correction in which we form theories about what is, check them by experiment, and use the result to improve our theories. ”

    That’s the key, I think. In a normal religion, “blasphemy” involves stating a contrary doctrine, while “sacrilege” involves dirtying or misusing a symbol.

    But what angered you was not stating a hypothesis contrary to accepted theory, nor even pouring colored liquids between beakers while chanting “Quant suff!”

    It was the claim that the given models are a “proven” theory, when in fact the necessary procedures had not been followed — procedures which are not empty ritual, but the core practices that define science. The right questions were not asked, the right experiments were not done, and the models were not corrected, but stubbornly held to and indeed imposed on others as a matter of law.

    And that last deserves our outrage. Not only has our religion been usurped by false prophets, but the false religion is being forced on us against our will, and used to destroy not only our true practice, but our economy and our way of life. It is right and proper that these things should engage the protective circuits traditionally engaged by religious blasphemy. This is what those circuits are for.

    Oooh, I like this. Obamacare, AGW, even gun control, all failing because they violate the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a state religion.

  5. I consider science to be a process, not an answer.

    It’s OK for a scientist to be wrong, even wrong real loud — so long as they accept that they might be wrong and are willing to consider evidence that they might have made a mistake. The process of making mistakes, discovering them and correcting them is a major part of how science works.

    So far as beliefs and faith, I believe in the second law of thermodynamics (adjusted for mass/energy) and Newton’s laws (at relatively low velocities, accelerations and gravitational fields — and recognizing that the far decimals will be a little bit off anyway). Most everything else is “Current accepted theory, which is almost certainly wrong to some extent.”

    Facts are facts and are only debatable at the level of observation and measurement.
    Relationships between facts, leading to useful predictions are the essence of science. Without predictions, of some phenomena that can be verified, one cannot usefully call it science.

    Answers are always approximations at best. The most you can do is minimize and quantize the degree of uncertainty.

  6. I have a problem with confusing “religion” and “faith.” If you look at the principles many religions state they hold, they often get it wrong. They account for this by pointing to the fallibly of humanity, but essentially, it comes across as a dodge to try hiding or forgetting all the evil done in the name of religion.

    But my opinion is that humanity often finds itself dealing with information, circumstances, etc., that it cannot grasp rationally. In the Bible, the writer of Hebrews “defines” faith as ” … being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This allows us one method of maintaining some sanity in the face of the unknown or unknowable. This is the aspect that I think science mirrors for many people; this is where science can become religion, or more specifically faith, for many people. When you offer up your opinion that “religion’s offer [to improve ourselves] is essentially false while science’s is essentially true,” you are expressing your faith in the scientific method. While I see a benefit to the scientific method, I think there are some problems with it. It presumes that all knowledge can be discovered, i.e., that there is no knowledge that we cannot discover on our own, given enough time. It discounts any knowledge that must be revealed to be transfered because it doesn’t follow the model – the epistemology.

    I don’t think anyone should be afraid to admit who they are and how they operate. If a person let’s fear of what others might say about them, then they’re giving up a part of their liberty/freedom to this fear. In that regard, I’d celebrate your last paragraph. Even if it seems too religious to others.

  7. Thanks for this esr, this is very insightful.

    But Christianity (which is very different from the evanjellyfish movement of today) is unique among all other religions in that it is not about “lift us out of ourselves – perfect us, teach us what is mere transient illusion and what is real and eternal”. That’s gnosticism, the heresy that dogged the early church. And I suppose eastern mysticism, and in various senses, all other religions which are indeed about self-improvement. But Christianity is not about self-improvement, or even self-perfection (which is unattainable from the get-go, due to original sin). It is about the imputation of the external perfection of another to ourselves, and propitiation for sin by a perfect sacrifice.

    “it is also true that the content of belief really matters.”

    This is also true, and Christian. Christianity is, by definition (assuming the bible defines Christianity) falsifiable. I Cor 15:14 “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Therefore Christianity cannot be merely true “in our hearts”, but is true (or false) outside of ourselves, tied to historical events.

  8. “In the end, most ‘scientists’ are button counters and bottle washers.” – Lazarus Long

    (This was the Lazarus Long quote at the top of this page when I read this essay).

    Eric, I don’t think you get offended by scientific malpractice (which is a better term than scientific fraud). You get offended by scientific malpractice being used as the Big Lie for social movement purposes. Very few instances of scientific malpractice can fit this mode of abuse.

    This is similar to the failure modes of Buddhism versus the failure modes of Christianity and Islam. Buddhism is very much about the journey and self discovery; the very idea of Killing the Buddha is a directive to avoid received wisdom. Both Islam and Christianity are built around acceptance of received wisdom and authority.

    “God Did It!” is an absolution that whatever bad things happened, they happened for a reason. “Im’shallah” is simply saying something is beyond the control of mere mortals, and an abnegation of responsibility for ones actions.

    Scientific malpractice is an attempt to suborn the “Trust not what others tell you, but trust only what results you can replicate.” meme of science. It is often born of a confirmation bias. I am a skeptic about many things; one of the things I am skeptical of is whether or not our Western high energy lifestyle is sustainable; I am also skeptical of the doom-criers. I can easily construct cases where someone researches something and gets their biases confirmed, and decides that This Is Important.

    Scientific fraud implies intent to deceive. Scientific malpractice implies persistent procedural errors. I don’t think there’s much scientific fraud out there, beyond tobacco company ‘research’.

    People using the results of scientific malpractice to further political aims? It’s been done since at least the 18th century. Science is difficult. It requires both a methodology of thought (which you and I share) and a willingness to do mind numbing work that may result in spending two years or more going down a blind alley, which is something both you and I avoid.

    Reading scientific literature in a field you’re not versed in the basics of is excruciating. Some fields do not have ‘pat digestible basics’ for them. I suspect that climate modeling is one of them, for example, and I doubt you disagree.

    Why would you expect better behavior of scientists than you would of politicians or investment bankers? Think about how they’re schooled and integrated into the fields of scientific inquiry….and remember that most of them are button counters and bottle washers.

  9. > And we face a lethal struggle with Islamism

    No, we don’t. We face a lethal struggle with mass-murdering states, including the U.S., which routinely commits more crime and violence (or the threat of it) against Americans than all other sources combined. Trumping up or at least greatly exaggerating an external threat is the oldest trick in the tyrant’s handbook; it’s an effective way of making the people think they need you as their protector even as you keep a dagger pointed at their hearts.

    Whatever threat Islamism poses would vanish in an instant were the U.S. to pull out of the Middle East, stop supporting its tyrants and stop murdering its people. Seriously — how could anyone with an ounce of empathy not intensely, viscerally hate people who would do things like this.

  10. You are a brave man, ESR.

    Thank you for a thoughtful post.

    C.S. Lewis, describes a similar struggle he had during his conversion from Atheism to Christianity.

    Please do not infer that I am suggesting you are undergoing a conversion to Christianity, just that the outlines of the struggle–the wrestling with things that “should not be” is very similar.

    Good luck, these deep things are a bitch.

  11. I said it before and I’ll say it again, everyone requires faith, it’s hardwired into us (probably because anybody who didn’t show the proper piety was burned at the stake). If you don’t chose that faith consciously, you will chose it unconsciously and it WILL bite you.

    I discovered this in my teens, and made a conscious decision to follow the teachings of Jesus (mind you, not the propaganda that the New Testament is clearly full of). He seemed to be a reasonable and well educated man of his time who had a solid handle on the human soul. But at the same time I rejected the Church, because it was the source of virtually all of the destruction that was done in His name.

    I’ve always felt that the proper way to honor God is to search for truth (not the wishy-washy stuff they teach in Sunday school, but the stuff that defines creation). In this way, science is an essential part of my belief. If at anytime scientific evidence conflicts with my faith, my faith MUST change to accommodate the facts. I will not warp my perception of the world to meet my expectations.

    So, Eric, not everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is an insane, fire breathing monster :^). You can be rational and religious at the same time.

    Any chance that this will change the almost seething disgust with which you hold those of us who have not abandoned the forms of traditional faith? You are at least as vehement in that regard as you are WRT scientific malpractice (though, admittedly, with quite a lot of justification).

  12. >Eric, I don’t think you get offended by scientific malpractice (which is a better term than scientific fraud). You get offended by scientific malpractice being used as the Big Lie for social movement purposes.

    No, I rally am offended by scientific malpractice even when it is not being used in that particular way. I explained why in the post.

  13. @RubeRad:

    >But Christianity is not about self-improvement, or even self-perfection (which is unattainable from the get-go, due to original sin). It is about
    >the imputation of the external perfection of another to ourselves, and propitiation for sin by a perfect sacrifice.

    If that’s true, why are there Commandments at all?

    I can’t claim to be any kind of expert in theology but I have done some reading… and I’ve always found the Christian (mostly certain strains of Protestantism) denominations that help doctrines of salvation through faith alone (not actions/thoughts/deeds or anything or the sort) to be deeply creepy and essentially masturbatory. (What’s the *point* of belief if it doesn’t inspire you to be more like God’s vision of what we can and should be?) Calvinists are even worse, with their notion of the Elect. (I find it interesting that everyone who professes that doctrine seems to assume THEY are one of the Elect. Always.)

  14. >So, Eric, not everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is an insane, fire breathing monster :^).

    No. Most of you are latent monsters waiting to be triggered by whatever charismatic nutcase utters the right key to activate the religious control mechanisms in your heads.

    This relates directly to why I began that essay by fearing my own religious emotions. I feared that they might give some nutcase the means to trigger me.

  15. I feel that scientists have a special duty of sanity that is analogous to a priest’s special duty to be pious and virtuous. They are supposed to lead us out of epistemic sin, set the example, light the way forward. When one of them betrays that trust, it is worse than ordinary stupidity. It damages all of us; it feeds the besetting demons of ignorance and sloppy thinking, and casts discredit on scientists who have remained true to their sacred vocation.

    If science is a religion, then this claim is heresy. The scientific method is supposed to be robust against fraud. That’s why it’s so important for experiments to be reproducible. If fraudsters are able to get away with their fraud for long, then the dupes have failed in their duty just as severely as the fraudsters have, by failing to apply appropriate skepticism to the claims of theirs peers.

  16. If that’s true, why are there Commandments at all?

    Two words: Crowd control.

  17. @esr:

    > And we face a lethal struggle with Islamism, one in which I have been personally threatened with assassination twice

    Islam’s history can probably be summarized like this: Long periods of tolerance interrupted by occasional bouts of extremist movements.

    Speaking of “assassination”, the famous order of assassins was one of these islamic movements. The word assassin itself comes from the name of that movement “Hashashin”. For some hundred years they terrorized the entire world. They were ultimately totally exterminated.

  18. For what it’s worth, this discussion fits nicely with (the parts I remember of) Paul Tillich’s definition of religious faith as “ultimate concern” in _Dynamics of Faith_. If we can separate a concept of “faith” from its (historical, justified, but unnecessary) association with belief, we’ll have an easier time understanding the ways people who have faith in Sanity are and are not like people who have faith in Love (which is how I characterize the subset of Christians who aren’t tied to metaphysical beliefs) and are and are not like people who have faith in other abstract concepts (Truth? Justice?) and are and are not like people who have faith in, um, false idols like Jesus or Allah or some written text.

  19. “charismatic nutcase utters the right key to activate the religious control mechanisms in your heads.”

    Yes.

    That “religious control mechanism” does serve a purpose, and has been properly triggered in your case (and for many of us), but most religions try activate it without your check: no religion other than science incorporates (indeed, is founded on) a mechanism to root out error, not in personal belief, but in the core revealed wisdom.

    I’ve said this before:

    The AGW conflict should go down as a textbook case of the error-pruning mechanism operating in the face of near-overwhelming social and political pressure.

  20. >Two words: Crowd control.

    Except the doctrine actually undermines the crowd control. Certain types of churches that hold that doctrine are heavily linked with cultures characterized by poor impulse control, lack of planning or foresight, inability to defer gratification, and all the social (crime, poverty, violence, illegitimacy, etc) ills associated with those traits.

  21. @DJMoore:

    > ” … no religion other than science incorporates (indeed, is founded on) a mechanism to root out error, not in personal belief, but in the core revealed wisdom.”

    I can only speak to my background, but that is a key role of the “community of believers.” If you claim to be Christian and claim “X is Christian”, it is the role of the rest of the community to support this. Similar in concept to scientists’ using peer review.

  22. esr> No. Most of you are latent monsters waiting to be triggered by whatever charismatic nutcase utters the right key to activate the religious control mechanisms in your heads.

    I have always believed such mechanism to be the manifestation of “the Church”. If you summarily reject such membership, then charisma or no, there’s nobody able to lead you down that path unknowingly. Oh well, I’ll take your response as meaning I might be one of the non latent monsters :^).

    I do, however, hope you get over that fear. It’s unnecessary, as long as you are a reasoning person, and you fanatical dedication to rational thought will likely warn you before you become unreasoning.

    Enjoy your newfound faith :^).

  23. … I might be one of the non latent monsters …

    Hmmm… not sure that came out correctly ;^).

  24. Hi esr,

    kudos to you for this quest.

    I have myself some deep anger at people travesting the truth, including most of all scientific truth. I thought i had a sound background for this, but your “killing the buddha” makes me want to do it too.

    First, as you did, some background : french atheist from a traditionally really atheist region of France, with a scientific background. Currently 32-year-old businessman with 4 employees, and my first job included writing code automatically put in production as soon as cvs’ed with 70 powerful users having my personal phone number.

    Now let’s see : the way i always envisioned this anger is a combination of things :
    – first, science is for me understood as a process named scientific method producing theories allowing to modelize reality.
    – second, i cannot know myself every bit of science (current theories and their drawbacks).

    In fact, scientific “knowledge”, the product of science, must be _for me_ a belief, based on the other belief that scientists did truthfully follow the scientific method.
    This belief is generally true, because of comparison of results, interests, replicability, and so on. It may nevertheless happen that a scientist do not follow the scientific method. It may be intentional or unintentional.
    First is error, second is lying.

    What is a scientist ? It is somebody at least implicitly (at most contractually) known by its community (the world for scientists) to commit himself to follow efficiently the scientific method.
    Then error (through incompetence) and lying both imply treason of the confidence of the community put in him.

    What’s this community ? Well, it’s the people having paid for the studies of this scientist, for his research. It’s the people giving him honor and status. It’s people giving him confidence. It’s the people having previously produced “science”. So generally, it’s the society, and by proxy the whole human species.

    Having posed that, where are we, now ? I have a deep anger against people travesting the scientific truth, because to me it sounds like a treason of the engagement they took to the humans. (What’s worse ?)

    — Question time… —

    So am i religious in my anger ? In this context, i translate this to : do i have unrealistic expectations ? What would be these unrealistic expectations ?
    “An engagement must be honored.”
    It’s ignoring lots of people way of dealing with engagement which is “i’ll do it if it isn’t too hard or if there is no easier way”.
    Am i too blind to accept i myself eventually does not follow this level of demand ?
    Am i too stoopid to accept to consider lowering the level of exigence could be the most efficient way to socially produce science ?
    And most important, why do i have this unrealistic expectation of honoring engagement ?

    There i am finally, confronted to my own denials and inner core.
    The first is probably produced by my everyday struggle to honor my engagements (business and others).
    The second, well yes i’m too stoopid. Too stupid to conceive a model of the production of science showing lowering the level of exigence would be the most efficient way to socially (i mean in a society) produce science while, at the same time when making public this model, not lowering the production of science by letting scientists strategize they could be the ones lowering their own level of exigence, aaarghh!!
    The third is education by my parents. So simple, really… I haven’t grown out of this particular moral teaching and don’t wish to.

    So… i don’t seem to be religious, i am too proud, limited, and this will continue.

    Finished, i hope i haven’t bored anyone.

  25. >If science is a religion, then this claim is heresy. The scientific method is supposed to be robust against fraud.

    It is robust. Quite robust. This discussion is an instance of that process in operation. It is not however, always quick, silent, and clean. In the long run it always works, just getting there isn’t always fun. And the long run can sometimes be decades.

    Us and others protesting that the emperor looks a tad chilly is a necessary part of the process.

  26. “I figured they might give some nutcase the means to trigger me.”

    Maybe there still really is a trigger. Can’t reject that hypothesis outright.

    The thing about that is that since you truly understand what science is, anyone who can pull such a trigger in you, by necessity, would need to be demonstrably ‘preaching’, so to speak, about true science and true rationality. Which would mean that this trigger-puller would be right to do so, and that entering zealot mode would be rational and good; the nutcase wouldn’t actually be a nutcase.

    I’m not saying this could necessarily be the case, but the argument presented doesn’t rule it out either.

    But at any rate, I’ve felt the same way about unscience for a long time. Few things make me angrier than reflecting on the fact that Intelligent Freaking Design actually gets taught in science classrooms. So, uh, preach on, Father Raymond.

  27. We could also explain your intuitions by suggesting that libertarianism is your religion. If AGW exists, it poses a very deep and unusual problem for libertarianism, since government intervention is clearly required to avert widespread disaster (and I say this as a person with fairly strong libertarian sympathies). If your libertarianism is indeed religious, you must necessarily reject AGW as a violation of the tenets of faith.

    Since you are a known libertarian but not a known scientist, I thought I’d throw that in the mix (now let the flames commence).

  28. No matter how hard you try to truly see the face of God, you will more than likely not find it.

    No matter how hard you try to figure out the science of universe you will never ever know how it all works.

    Yes, science is a faith.

    Great post.

  29. Maybe before the flames are unleashed I could ask the following clarificatory question: suppose for the sake of argument that the AGW hypothesis is completely correct, and that the correct projections are closer to the bad end of the scale. What does libertarianism dictate that we should do about it?

  30. Since you are a known libertarian but not a known scientist, I thought I’d throw that in the mix (now let the flames commence).

    Regardless of whether this was intended in good faith, I will respond to it as if it is.

    The obvious test here is whether violations of volition (yes, I just watched V for Vendetta recently) arouse the same sort of “religious” offense in ESR that the scientific fraud he refers to here does. I think I can infer that they do offend him, given his past expressed views on such things as gun control, but it is impossible for me to tell whether it’s a feeling on the same spectrum as the one explored here. ESR?

  31. Religion can fulfill many religious needs indeed. However, it’s important not to understand religion backwards.

    Ostensibly, people pick a set of axiomatic beliefs, from which they derive an ethics, which in turn determines who they’re socializing with. In reality, it goes the other way around: the group people want to belong to is given first; then, they have to vigorously and unconditionally defend this group’s core values, as an act of allegiance (think Christians and abortion, ecologists and nuclear energy…); finally, they pay lip service to the dogmas which have been reverse-engineered from the expected behavior.

    The unconditional support for the group’s idiosyncrasies wasn’t that hard to sustain until recently, when it was about defending catholic nonsense against Lutheran or muslim nonsense. Things got weirder when science entered the game, because science has this unfair and unique habit of delivering upon its promises. So sure, you can argue against Evolution, it won’t bring dinosaurs back to life. But if you have a heart condition, you’re going to put your faith in the surgeon, even if you also pay lip service to your god. And if things go wrong, you’ll target your malpractice trial against your hospital, not against your church. Same issue will stem cells: it’s harder to forbid something which might later save your life, whereas opposing condoms promotion in Africa won’t hurt you personally.

    Finally, preposterous dogmas are useful: the more ludicrous and gratuitous the claim, the more strongly it marks you as devoted to your group. It could be compared to some ritual body modifications, as practiced in many mafias, or to many other forms of hazing: something tough that you’d only do if you really, really wanted to belong to the group. Just listen to a Christian loony, painfully trying to put dinosaurs in Noah’s arch…

    Science can be a religion: there are congregations of people who’re united by their faith in it, and proper devotion to science can earn you respect in these circles. By being intransigeant in your respect of empiric methods, you show your dedication to the group. It certainly provides a sense of magic and wonder, puts the Universe into perspective, and makes sense out of the apparent chaos which surrounds us. As a bonus, it actually produces tangible miracles.

    Yet science is not a normal religion, for two reasons. The obvious one is that it is often right; when it isn’t, it corrects itself; and it delivers upon its promises: when other religions talks about flying men, science brings you an Airbus; when they talk about miraculous healing, science brings vaccines; when they explain how stars actually are gods, science checks with calculus and a telescope; etc.

    The slightly less obvious difference is that the concept of belief is instrumental to other religions, whereas it is central to science. Being right in any other religion is about staying consistent with the dogma, and coming up with socially acceptable conclusions; nobody cares whether you’re vindicated by reality: nobody will prove that Jesus’ conception wasn’t immaculate, nor check how many angels can dance on a pin’s head. Nobody will come back to tell you what grants a place in hell or in heavens, either.

    In science, the whole mystic experience is about being vindicated or proved wrong by empiric experimentation. Being proved wrong can kill a theory, but neither the scientific method nor belief in rationality. Actually, science wouldn’t even be destroyed by the Coming of another religion’s god: this is pretty unique among religions. So, scientific people have internalized a very intransigeant definition of “believing”, and are puzzled by people of other faiths, because they can’t understand that they don’t talk about the same thing: their definition of believing is much, much weaker.

  32. > Regardless of whether this was intended in good faith

    It is, although I expect it to offend anyone who is religiously libertarian, of course.

  33. “I think I can only fear my religious emotions to the extent I don’t trust my own rationality. My fear of feeling like them springs from what a religious person would interpret as my sense of my own sinful weakness – in my terms, my fear that rationality is hard-won and easily eroded, that I could degenerate into believing and acting like them as well. That would be hell, to have become just another murderous fanatic or acquiescent sheep in the long bloody history of isms.

    Also…if it’s true that we all have the same kinds of emotional attachments to the beliefs that matter most to us, it is also true that the content of belief really matters. I am neither a fanatic nor a sheep, because I have chosen a belief content that puts the highest value on thinking and questioning and evidence, and on the liberty of both conscience and action. I will hold to that, and I will trust in my strength, and I will not be afraid.”

    Concerning your religious emotions, I saw in your post some passive emotion (“contemplating the wonder [...] of the universe”, “ecstatic”), some moral positionning (“we can become better”) and some will/hope of escape/superiority (“the same longing for transcendence”).

    The passive emotion does seem dangerous with a risk of becoming a sheep.
    The moral positionning seems dangerous with a risk of becoming contemptuous of others without the same level of exigence, and following a risk of stopping constant rationality. (contempt implies no analysis)
    You adressed them in your two last paragraphs.

    But what of the longing ? Isn’t it a… weakness/problem waiting to araise ? It seems to me like a craving not fully recognized.

  34. @Bennett:

    We could also explain your intuitions by suggesting that libertarianism is your religion. If AGW exists, it poses a very deep and unusual problem for libertarianism, since government intervention is clearly required to avert widespread disaster (and I say this as a person with fairly strong libertarian sympathies). If your libertarianism is indeed religious, you must necessarily reject AGW and a violation of the tenets of faith.

    Maybe before the flames are unleashed I could ask the following clarificatory question: suppose for the sake of argument that the AGW hypothesis is completely correct, and that the correct projections are closer to the bad end of the scale. What does libertarianism dictate that we should do about it?

    This blog, which describes itself as “strongly leaning toward the shrinking libertarian wing of the Republican party” and which has taken note (as did I) of the large numbers of creationists who are anti-AGW, offers this opinion on the matter:

    The key issue that cuts through everything is freedom. An advocate of freedom should oppose both the theocracy of the creationists and the socialism of the GW gang. We’ll keep an open mind on the science of GW — it may be real. But even if there is an actual climate problem, we’re not open-minded about the proposed governmental “solution.” If free enterprise can’t solve the situation, then it can’t be solved — and we’re toast. So be it.

    That’s our position, which — although politically consistent — pretty much leaves us on our own. That’s okay. We’re don’t mind.

  35. >suppose for the sake of argument that the AGW hypothesis is completely correct, and that the correct projections are closer to the bad end of the scale. What does libertarianism dictate that we should do about it?

    That’s a good clarification, because my reaction to your previous comment was going to be that I felt this way about scientific fraud before I was a libertarian. This does not exclude the possibility that I am “religiously” libertarian (in whatever sense you might mean that) but it at least separates the political issue from the other components of my feelings about AGW.

    That being the case, I am not going to try to answer your question here and now. It’s a worthy question to ask, but it belongs in a thread about my politics, not my epistemology or my fear of the religious mindset.

    I will further note that I feel a little offended by being described as “not a known scientist”. I have published predictive theory with quite a lot of falsifiable consequences that have subsequently passed the reality test. Many people who are called “scientists”, the button counters and bottle washers another commenter referred to, cannot claim as much.

  36. (I acknowledge that I am here wandering afield from ESR’s original question.)

    @David Engel:

    ‘[a mechanism to root out error] is a key role of the “community of believers.” If you claim to be Christian and claim “X is Christian”, it is the role of the rest of the community to support this. Similar in concept to scientists’ using peer review.’

    Not the same. The ritual of experiment gives the scientist a method to test his own assertions or the assertions of other scientists independent of any authority other than the universe itself.

    It is not a method of verifying that a particular claim is scientific; it’s a method of verifying that the claims of science itself. (Here using “science” to mean the accumulated body of assertions acquired via the scientific method.)

    No non-scientific religion questions the correctness of the core scripture, only interpretations thereof.

    Gregory Bateson:
    “Two things, however, are clear about any religion that might derive from cybernetics and systems theory, ecology and natural history. First, that in the asking of questions, there will be no limit to our hubris; and second, that there shall always be humility in our acceptance of answers. In these two characteristics we shall be in sharp contrast with most of the religions of the world. They show little humility in their espousal of answers but great fear about the questions they will ask.”

    To return to Eric’s original question, I think a believer’s anger with traditional religious blasphemy arises exactly because there is no other check on heresy but one’s peers.

    Eric is talking about using that defensive emotion to protect a method of inquiry that has proved itself to be effective in prediction. Those who make predictions in the name of science without following the ritual of experimentation are, in the short term, parasitical on the reputation of science. But in the long term, scientific heretics damage that reputation.

    (And to be blunt, I think there is a more or less deliberate movement to do just that; to remove the ruthless pruning of the scientific method and replace it with allegations of heresy, assertions contrary to mere authority, which are suppressed with another, more brutal ruthlessness.)

  37. >The obvious test here is whether violations of volition (yes, I just watched V for Vendetta recently) arouse the same sort of “religious” offense in ESR that the scientific fraud he refers to here does.

    I don’t know what you mean by “violation of volition”. I could guess, but I’m pretty sure we need to be very careful about shared definitions here. Please explain.

  38. Shorter ESR: “So I guess I am sorta religious. The difference is that my religion (science and rationalism) is the One True Way to enlightenment and salvation, while all other ways are deceptions and heresies.”

    (Ha ha only serious.)

  39. >Shorter ESR: “So I guess I am sorta religious. The difference is that my religion (science and rationalism) is the One True Way to enlightenment and salvation, while all other ways are deceptions and heresies.”

    Just in case you didn’t get it, I’ll point out a real difference. Religious believers embrace religious emotion because they think it’s a virtue. My religious emotions scare me, because I think they’re toxic and dangerous. This difference matters.

  40. I’d also like to throw this out:

    We’re talking about replacing religions of faith with the testable religion of science.

    There is, however, another aspect of science as religion that has been the cause of much grief, the idea of scientism. This is the idea that science can distinguish between right and wrong. It cannot. It can only help you predict the consequences of your actions.

    AGW believers are a good example. They assert going against their gospel, indulging in actions they reject, is wrong, and that science proves those actions wrong. It does not. At best AGW shows that human activity results in general increased global temperatures, and it predicts certain consequences. But some of those consequences may well be “good” in the long run, from certain perspectives (for instance, increased plant growth). Is the loss of certain species “good” or “bad”? There have been numerous extinctions prior to the rise of humans; were they good or bad? Maybe human activity destroys humanity; I’ve known people who regard that as a positive outcome.

    AGWist pick and choose their consequences, and hand-wave their (often contradictory) assertions of moral value, and become religiously offended when questioned or disobeyed. What is consistent is their desire to use scientism as an excuse to control the behavior of others.

  41. @ESR: “Religious believers embrace religious emotion because they think it’s a virtue. My religious emotions scare me, because I think they’re toxic and dangerous. This difference matters.”

    In other words, you are saying you reject, or are at least cautious of, scientific righteousness. Is that a fair statement?

  42. >This is the idea that science can distinguish between right and wrong. It cannot. It can only help you predict the consequences of your actions.

    I think this position is wrong, or at best dubious. James Harris has done a good job of arguing the contrary. But I want to defer that discussion until I post my review of The Moral Landscape, his latest book.

  43. >In other words, you are saying you reject, or are at least cautious of, scientific righteousness. Is that a fair statement?

    It’s too vague. I’d need you to be much more specific about what you mean by “scientific righteousness” before I could answer.

  44. >I don’t know what you mean by “violation of volition”. I could guess, but I’m pretty sure we need to be very careful about shared definitions here. Please explain.

    By “violation of volition” (which is really not the best way of describing it; I was just feeling whimsical at the time) I mean actions taken from the assumption that it is not a fundamental right to determine your own actions if you wish to. For instance, every coercive policy suggested for the benefit of society or those coerced (which includes gun control, from which I am generalizing your likely reaction to other such policies). The purest case is one in which the policy suggested is unambiguously “good” for the people being coerced, in terms of life expectancy, wealth, et cetera, but also coerces them into a course of action which they would not ordinarily take, and whose alternative is not immediately harmful to others; my best example of an actual policy would be a ban on smoking cigarettes.

  45. Odd. I don’t see any similarity between religion and science. They are A and B. Two utterly independent things. One exists within the framework of unreality, the other within the framework of reality.

    Science is the lens through which we focus an image of reality in our minds. We strive to grind and polish this lens to refine the seemingly endless flaws and imperfections that warp and distort our view of reality…but at all times we testing the image we see against results we can quantify. The more affirmative this cycle of feedback becomes, the greater our confidence in our lens. There is no need for ‘belief’ when we are ever-vigilant witnesses – we don’t believe in gravity, we *consider* our understanding of the phenomenon to be correct…yet no understanding is sacrosanct – the moment it is defied, it is discarded.

    I don’t feel angry about scientific fraud because of any ‘religious’ feeling of sacrilege. I am angry because these people are stealing our lives with their misdirection. Every second spent unearthing their lies is a second closer to the grave. Those precious seconds should be spent furthering honest pursuits.

    I’m also angry because of the evil ideologies this fraudulent science is used to underpin. This is the kind of anger that is reserved for all enemies of my civilization. They are an existential threat, and should be treated accordingly.

  46. Greg>> If that’s true, why are there Commandments at all?
    Jeff Read> Two words: Crowd control.

    That’s one reason (traditionally known as the First Use of the Law, restraint of extreme, outward evil in society). The Second Use is to show us our sinfulness and God’s holiness and point us to the solution, which is Christ. The Third Use is to direct the grateful, forgiven Christian life in our ever-growing, never-perfected, quest for Sanctification.

    Greg>> What’s the *point* of belief if it doesn’t inspire you to be more like God’s vision of what we can and should be?

    That’s a great question, in fact the question you’re supposed to ask, which is why when Paul presents the gospel of sola fide (faith alone), he responds to this anticipated objection. For instance Rom 3:31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” or Rom 6:1-2 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” This brings us back to the Third Use of the Law. The point is not that *belief* itself inspires, but that forgiveness inspires.

    What if your wife caught you cheating, and you thought she was going to divorce you, so you apologized and asked for forgiveness, and she forgave you. Would that make you want to go back to cheating, or to stop cheating? Before you say, “Apparently I can get away with it, so it would make me more likely to cheat again,” let me qualify the situation. If you only didn’t want to get divorced because you like her housekeeping and cooking and don’t want to pay alimony, then probably you’re right. But if you actually saw how much your wife was hurt, hated yourself for how cruel you had been (i.e. your apology was genuine) then forgiveness would bring relief and gratitude, and you’d want to show it.

  47. >By “violation of volition” (which is really not the best way of describing it; I was just feeling whimsical at the time) I mean actions taken from the assumption that it is not a fundamental right to determine your own actions if you wish to.

    Ah, OK. I receive such violations as evil and oppose them, but they don’t have the emotional flavor of sacrilege that I was writing about. The anger I feel about them is not necessarily less intense, but it’s simpler. I don’t remind myself of a religious believer in that circumstance; it feels more like simple fight-or-flight activation, the response of a man defending his home and loved ones against criminals or predators.

  48. I think you are right to fear your own religious impulses. Stalin and Mao were fully atheistic, but on a mission from anti-god, true believers, making science into their own idol. The USA also had sterilization of the “feeble minded” up to 1970, you see, eugenics was very scientific.

    There is a qualitative difference between paleo-anything and physics. Yet the priesthood wearing lab-coats are saying that anyone who even asks questions, to see the data, to check the logic, are heretics for questioning them. Because it worked to declare anyone who doubts the earth is 4.5 billion years old, who finds no explanation (which is quite different than “god did it”) for abiogenesis or the cambrian explosion, or other historic things as “heretics”, they became braver so can use the labcoat priesthood and ecumenical councils to declare anyone who wants to see the code and raw data for global warming, excuse me, climate change, or gun control, or keynesian economics as heretics and outcasts.

    I am a skeptic, but there is probably a “survival of the fittest” advantage to craving power, no matter how much it corrupts. Even if the meme is a total lie and myth, as long as you command the jackboots and the torture chamber it matters little whether you claim you are on a mission from God or reason.

    And your scientists are literally killing people. Either Atkins and Gary Taubes are right that because of metabolism, carbohydrates cause obesity and the other things like diabetes. Or the government food pyramid (agribusiness lobbied and subsidized) scientists are right with their high fructose corn syrup sweetened words are right. Your heart depends on the right answer – literally.

    I would note both Christianity and reason itself hold humility as a virtue. Reason can say “I don’t know”. “I don’t have enough data”. “It isn’t repeatable”. The epsilon term representing error exceeds any signal.. Perhaps it is the public asking the scientific priesthood for certainty which it cannot provide, but can give whimsical or even informed opinion and it will be accepted as fact – until they are proven to be liars.

    If you disbelieve F=ma, you are insane, but if you disbelieve in some mythology of what happened 1 billion years ago, you are declared to be either insane or a heretic, although no one can do any experiment, or do anything to confirm the latter, while I can demonstrate the former using the objects on my desk.

  49. >Odd. I don’t see any similarity between religion and science. They are A and B. Two utterly independent things. One exists within the framework of unreality, the other within the framework of reality.

    I was afraid this would happen. Dude, drop down off that epistemic level; I agree with you there. I was writing about my emotional response; I was saying that even though science and religion are different in kind, I experience violations of scientific trust in the same emotional way that a religious believer experiences sacrilege.

    You and others are interpreting this into an argument that science and religion are fundamentally alike. I expect this error from the religious believers, because their fixations usually make them idiots in this area even if they are capable of reasoning at greater remove from it. You, on the other hand, should know better.

  50. esr> Most of you are latent monsters waiting to be triggered by whatever charismatic nutcase utters the right key to activate the religious control mechanisms in your heads.

    I’s a bit difficult for me to get from “the teachings of the Christ”–love your neighbor, pray for your enemies, etc–to “religions generate monsters”.

    And it could be claimed that atheistic Science-worshipers have perpetuated the most awful massacres of the 20th century, in Communist Russia and China, so you might as well say “most of US are…”.

    Therefore I submit for your consideration an alternate hypothesize: a large number of people are latent monsters, and it doesn’t matter what they putatively believe, they’re still monsters. Religions–including what I’m calling Science worship for lack of a better phrase–*may* act as a brake on the tendency to monstrosity.

  51. …and seeing the typos, clearly it’s time for my next caffeine fix.

  52. @esr:

    > I feel like people who commit it have violated a sacred trust.

    > it feels more like simple fight-or-flight activation, the response of a man defending his home and loved ones against criminals or predators.

    I could be way off base here, because I’m not sure I’ve felt exactly what you’ve felt, but to the degree I have felt what you are describing, I think there are degrees of anger based on the level of betrayal of trust. We all assume that there are certain people who will abuse us if possible, and want, no need, to be able to assume that there are others who we can trust. We go out of our way to try to build institutions that are trustworthy, and modes of interaction that insure that the minimum trust required is met, and then we go out of our way to deal with those institutions and people we deem trustworthy. When it turns out that trust was misplaced, and it further turns out that it matters — that the trust was abused in a non-trifling way, the anger will be far deeper and longer lived than if you simply find a random stranger trying to steal your stuff.

    And this escalation of anger, based on the amount we trusted somebody multiplied by the magnitude of the abused trust, is, evolutionarily, no accident. It helps to keep people in line socially, if we are allowed to express the anger in a positive fashion. Although you are right to worry about what happens when that anger gets multiplied in a crowd, it seems quite unlikely that you would actually become a member of such a crowd, because crowd anger is either immediate (a mob), or very carefully cultivated and maintained by very long term duplicity on the part of the thought leaders.

    One of my mother’s elderly neighbors recently had a fire, and an employee of the restoration company stole her antique harp and pawned it. If I were on a jury, I would probably be inclined to give a much harsher sentence for this sort of crime than if somebody had simply non-violently broken in and stolen the harp, because someone who can earn trust well enough to get that kind of sensitive job is a much more dangerous criminal than a common street thief.

    I don’t know about you, but when I hear a story like the one about the harp, I feel it much more viscerally than when I hear about, for example, shoplifting. It’s always worthwhile to examine these feelings, so that when we feel them in the future, we can more quickly determine exactly what about the current situation caused the feelings, and what the best course of action to alleviate them is.

  53. It seemed to me you were writing about more than just your emotional response…that you were internally conflicted because of a gnawing suspicion that religion – as an abstraction – may be a set of intellectual systems that includes science as well as Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc, and that this may be the underlying reason why you experience similar emotional responses.

    So yes, I did interpret your post as a concerned musing (not necessarily an argument) that science and religion are fundamentally alike…which didn’t fluster me at all – your ‘killing the buddha’ exercise was very interesting.

    English comprehension fail, perhaps…but I felt good about what I wrote anyhow ;)

  54. You and others are interpreting this into an argument that science and religion are fundamentally alike. I expect this error from the religious believers, because their fixations usually make them idiots in this area even if they are capable of reasoning at greater remove from it. You, on the other hand, should know better.

    Why the hell do you think I’m staying out of this one? There’s more thought required here than I’m prepared to devote.

  55. >The USA also had sterilization of the “feeble minded” up to 1970, you see, eugenics was very scientific.

    I think you’ve confused a large number of issues that don’t belong in the same box. And that is despite the fact that I agree with several of your target choices. Religious emotion explains a lot of evil, but it doesn’t explain everything.

    To begin with, eugenic sterilization was not a result of religious or quasi-religious thinking. It was partly the result of a rational concern about dysgenic risk and partly racism. It became discredited by association with Nazi racial theory, which is actually kind of unfortunate because it means nobody can talk about dysgenic risk any more. But you don’t see the kind of code words in the eugenics literature that signal a religious-type fixation.

    And, um, WTF? What makes you think evolutionary biology isn’t confirmable? It has all kinds of observable consequences. Even Urey-Miller abiogenesis is supported by the fact that you get the right sort of amino acids and RNA out of it, not a bunch of unrecognizable alternatives.

    Yes, the standard model of the obesity problem is utterly fucked up and the Atkins/Taubes group is almost certainly closer to right. Here I think you’ve got a point – a lot of what pins the standard model in place is a sort of religious asceticism that dare not speak its name. On AGW, again, you’ve got a point. The rhetoric of environmental alarmism in general is religious-flavored to a point of sinister absurdity – the resemblance to the stupidest forms of Christian eschatology is something I’ve written about before.

    But…much as I’d like to put that shoe on both Keynesian economics and gun control, it doesn’t fit. They’re both full of shit, yes, but it’s a different kind of shit. The signifiers of the religious mode aren’t present in their theory or rhetoric.

    It’s important to be careful about these distinctions. If you misdiagnose the kind of craziness that’s going on, your opposition will be ineffective.

  56. >It seemed to me you were writing about more than just your emotional response…that you were internally conflicted because of a gnawing suspicion that religion – as an abstraction – may be a set of intellectual systems that includes science as well as Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc, and that this may be the underlying reason why you experience similar emotional responses.

    So let me nail the coffin-lid down on this one. No, no, and hell no. That’s exactly the error the religious idiots saying “it’s all faith, there’s no ground there” are making. I may screw up, but I’m not going to screw up in that way.

  57. I must also disagree with your assertion that religion == insanity. You fail to define insanity satisfactorily.

    Personally, I view insanity as a spectrum of intellectual conditions that so warp our ‘lens’ that we are incapable of understanding the harm done to our real lives.

    Scientology == insanity.

    Simply believing in God does not seem to qualify…no more so than a child believing in Santa. Innocent, simple, cute…perhaps…but not insane. Of course, when that belief is taken to an extreme whereby it justifies slaughter, we’re well into insanity territory.

  58. …I may screw up, but I’m not going to screw up in that way….

    Fair enough. I truly take you at your word. Mea culpa.

  59. >I could be way off base here, because I’m not sure I’ve felt exactly what you’ve felt, but to the degree I have felt what you are describing, I think there are degrees of anger based on the level of betrayal of trust.

    Yes, you’re quite right. I’m not sure that’s everything going in my emotional response to scientific fraud, but it’s certainly part of the story.

  60. > Just in case you didn’t get it, I’ll point out a real difference. Religious believers embrace religious emotion because they think it’s a virtue. My religious emotions scare me, because I think they’re toxic and dangerous. This difference matters.

    This difference does matter, and it matters a lot. But I wonder whether you can really sustain it as a difference between science and religion. I could pretty quickly think of strands in Buddhism and Christianity where religious affections are presented as an obstacle to the true practice of religion, and conversely there are plenty of people who profess science and rationalism, but whose attachment to them is largely tribal and irrational. So while I agree that the attitude that you commend is valuable, I don’t think it’s inherently inimical to religious devotion.

    (And it’s still interesting that both you and several commenters mentioned that a difference between science and religion, if not the difference, is that the former is true while the latter is not.)

  61. >I must also disagree with your assertion that religion == insanity.

    You should look in the archives for some of my more philosophical postings on the topic. Summary: religion is insanity to the extent that it requires (a) belief in unfalsifiable propositions, (b) belief in miracles (that is, exceptions to causal regularity), and (c) submission to an internalized sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor. There are things called religions that don’t have these traits or have them only weakly, but in today’s America and Europe their mainstream visibility is approximately nil.

  62. The unbeliever who uses the system to milk and control the flock. The sociopath who uses the trust that must be inherent in science, because we can’t be experts in everything, to delude and control. These are vile, uncooperative, forms of fraud and aggression.

    Perhaps non-aggression is your true religion. One who does not believe in the initiation of force. I know that I find all of these acts reprehensible for the same reason. Somebody is initiating undeserved force against another. Worse yet in a sneaky way that actually turns their most cherished principles and beliefs against them.

    Any thought construct that trips the us/v/them thought short circuit is dangerous.

    Just about any *ism* will do. Viral corruption of many otherwise healthy memes will also work….including science.

    I find militant atheists just as annoying as militant snake handlers. I get the impression they could have jolly war over what is in the box over there that nobody can open. Of course the rest are always expendable as they fight to justify their programming.

    Sigh…

    Eff’n monkeys. I wish they’d all just get a life……Go eat a banana or something.

  63. I’m not sure that [anger over betrayal of trust] is everything going in my emotional response to scientific fraud, but it’s certainly part of the story.

    A small test. You find out that a unique significant archaeological find was stolen and subsequently recovered some time later, and that its presence now makes a huge positive contribution to our understanding of our world.

    Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime took place last year or 200 years ago?

    Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime was committed by a simple mercenary grave robber or by one who holds himself out the world as a scientist, has published in peer-reviewed journals, etc.?

    What about if the crime was committed by one of the local helpers hired by the archaeological team, who was a devout religious fundamentalist who barely understood, from the excited utterances of the archaeologists, just enough of its significance to be worried that its presence would confuse the masses?

  64. >(And it’s still interesting that both you and several commenters mentioned that a difference between science and religion, if not the difference, is that the former is true while the latter is not.)

    To put it more carefully, science makes predictive claims and is self-correcting; religion does not and is not.

  65. …You should look in the archives for some of my more philosophical postings on the topic. Summary: religion is insanity to the extent that it requires…[snip]…

    OK, nice summary.

    As I mentioned, it seems your view of insanity would condemn all children that believe in Santa.

    Unfalsifiable – check (if you wait for him to arrive, he won’t come down the chimney)
    Miracles – check (fat fucker zooming around planet earth delivering gifts to billions of kids with nothing but reindeer)
    Sin – check (naughty or nice?)

  66. …Eff’n monkeys…

    Indeed. The only species with the capacity for evil.

    Beware…that path leads to misanthropy.

  67. Bravo! Another outstanding blog post to get the juices flowing again.

    First, allow me to posit a few foundational concepts. Please agree or disagree as you see fit.

    “Truth should be an absolute. And as such, it can be thought of as the accurate perception and/or conception of reality. It is more like a Holy Grail than a premise to be revised based upon future knowledge.”

    “Religion exists in most human cultures simply because it works in an evolutionary sense. The existence of God need not be an actuality in order for the practice of religion to persist across time.”

    What does this have to do with the topic at hand? Intense indignation about scientific fraud is both justified and necessary because it promotes the survival of the species. Whether one does this out of rational analysis or blind faith is irrelevant to the macro-effect on population dynamics. If we adopt predictive tools that fail us, eventually this will harm our survival prospects and self-correct through species extinction.

  68. @DAN>>Beware…that path leads to misanthropy.

    Yes..I must constantly guard against that particular failing. Accepting the less skillful as they are is difficult. Even when a bear is trying to kill me…I don’t hate the bear. The bear is just doing what bears do. Doesn’t mean I won’t kill it in self defense.

    More is to be expected of creatures with the capacity to reason….My constant battle is to stay neutral in this matter…we are all where we are on our particular path.

    Even if it leads to…que evil english accent…”DEATH BY MONKEYS!!!”

  69. @Patrick

    Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime took place last year or 200 years ago?

    Yes. 200 years of wasted time > 1 year of wasted time.

    Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime was committed by a simple mercenary grave robber or by one who holds himself out the world as a scientist, has published in peer-reviewed journals, etc.?

    Yes. Mens rea.

    What about if the crime was committed by one of the local helpers…

    Yes. They understood something of significance was afoot, and acted to nullify it before it could be revealed.

    All of the above are guilty of acts that handicapped and retarded civilization.

    The next question is – is this a crime? (my vote is “yes, punishable by death”)

  70. …”DEATH BY MONKEYS!!!”…

    roflcopters

    I swear I was watching that movie about an hour ago with my daughter :)

  71. >Perhaps non-aggression is your true religion.

    Again, I was viscerally disgusted by scientific fraud and malpractice before I was a libertarian, and before “nonagression” was an important ethical category for me. That’s an intelligent try, though.

  72. esr> My religious emotions scare me, because I think they’re toxic and dangerous. This difference matters.

    So, if these emotional reactions and “fixation” (not sure if that’s the right word here) ARE a built-in part of how our brain works (more nature than nurture), then where does that leave you and your efforts to remain steadfastly non-religious? Can you come up with a way to direct this passion in a direction that is less likely to cause you to have such overwhelming feelings? Can you redirect that passion such that you can be as passive on scientific malpractice as you are for, say, a religious nut like me ;^).

    My own conclusion years ago was that I couldn’t change those feelings, but I could direct them. Kind of like pointing the loaded gun at the ground, rather than level. It’s still dangerous if you do something stupid because it’s loaded, but if it discharges accidentally into the ground, the danger is minimized.

  73. Religion as thoughtcrime monitor —

    Several people have pointed out the aspect of religion that constitutes group identification. That’s true, but it doesn’t go deep enough.

    Evolution isn’t causal, in the sense of hitting something that moves. There is no agent of evolution; there’s an agency, a process that works, but no agent. The process is invisible to the evolved.

    Societies evolve in much the same way species do. There have been many, many societies in the past, trying all sorts of behavioral patterns. The societies that chose less-favorable behaviors died out, or were so weakened as to be absorbed by another. The societies that chose behaviors favorable to societal survival, including survival of the individuals that make up the society (a sine qua non) survived and exist in the present day. Nobody in those societies knew where the behaviors came from, and in most cases we still don’t — perhaps an individual member of the society woke up one morning, thought “I’ll do it this way”, and was copied by his neighbors. New behaviors arise by a process analogous to mutation, in other words.

    Behaviors in human beings are to a first approximation taught. Members of a society have to teach their children the behaviors that constitute the essence of that society, which means that those behaviors have to be codified. Some of those behaviors are perhaps counterintuitive. Every society which has persisted to the present day puts greater or lesser limits on public sexuality. It’s not at all clear why that’s so — animals have sex without regard to a public/private dichotomy, and sex is necessary for reproduction. Nevertheless, every society which has survived over the long term employs some degree of sexual repression, and because it isn’t “natural” it has to be codified into the list of Things Not To Do that characterize that particular society.

    Inquiring minds will then wish to know where the rule came from, and there is no answer to that except that the society survived while following that rule. This, I believe, is one of the main vectors that support religion. Skeptics can be told, “Because God says so.” In fact, it’s a rule because of all the possible rules that one was followed and the society survived. It postulates an agent for the agentless process of evolution.

    Regards,
    Ric

  74. >A small test. You find out that a unique significant archaeological find was stolen and subsequently recovered some time later, and that its presence now makes a huge positive contribution to our understanding of our world.

    Oh goody! Thought experiment! I like this game!

    >Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime took place last year or 200 years ago?

    200 years ago would be worse, because it loses two centuries during which we could have built on that undertstanding.

    >Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime was committed by a simple mercenary grave robber or by one who holds himself out the world as a scientist, has published in peer-reviewed journals, etc.?

    Worse – much stronger element of betrayal, and at least some tinge of sacrilege – if done by the scientist.

    >What about if the crime was committed by one of the local helpers hired by the archaeological team, who was a devout religious fundamentalist who barely understood, from the excited utterances of the archaeologists, just enough of its significance to be worried that its presence would confuse the masses?

    Right, this is well formulated. This case is worse than the mercenary, but not as bad as the scientist. Suppression of knowledge for purposes of control adds an element of active evil not present with the mercenary, but it’s not sacrilege because the fundmantalist holds himself forth as one whose primary values are faith and obedience rather than truth. The scientist commits both betrayal of trust and sacrilege, to whatever extent those are distinguishable.

  75. @esr>Again, I was viscerally disgusted by scientific fraud and malpractice before I was a libertarian, and before “nonagression” was an important ethical category for me. That’s an intelligent try, though.

    Well, so was I. The response is after all, emotional, not a cold rational analysis. I hadn’t had time to think these things through at earlier times in my life.

    The sets of emotion and logic may overlap, but are not necessarily equal.

  76. >“Truth should be an absolute. And as such, it can be thought of as the accurate perception and/or conception of reality. It is more like a Holy Grail than a premise to be revised based upon future knowledge.”

    Disagree. That conception of truth leads to fixation, to an unhealthy attachment to “final” theories in which the believer becomes overinvested.

    >“Religion exists in most human cultures simply because it works in an evolutionary sense. The existence of God need not be an actuality in order for the practice of religion to persist across time.”

    Agree. Sociologists and evo-bio students of of religion are getting a pretty good handle on some of this.

    >Intense indignation about scientific fraud is both justified and necessary because it promotes the survival of the species. Whether one does this out of rational analysis or blind faith is irrelevant to the macro-effect on population dynamics. If we adopt predictive tools that fail us, eventually this will harm our survival prospects and self-correct through species extinction.

    Well argued. I think it is relevant what the motive is, because blind faith breeds more blind faith.

  77. >Can you come up with a way to direct this passion in a direction that is less likely to cause you to have such overwhelming feelings?

    Well, duh, yeah. That’s why I’m a Wiccan and occasional quasi-Buddhist. You must be new here. (Sorry, didn’t mean that as snark.)

  78. >As I mentioned, it seems your view of insanity would condemn all children that believe in Santa.

    Interesting idea. No, it wouldn’t condemn the children; we don’t expect them to have full adult comprehension. There’s a case that the adults who teach the myth are doing harm, though. The case isn’t open-and-shut, though, because we are expected to grow up. Learning not to believe in Santa Claus is part of the way the whole drama is expected to work.

  79. >Well, duh, yeah. That’s why I’m a Wiccan and occasional quasi-Buddhist. You must be new here. (Sorry, didn’t mean that as snark.)

    Ok, if Wicca/Buddhism is your outlet, how do you explain the reaction to the scientific malpractice being so much stronger than your reaction to say an attack on Wicca?

    This is a point I’ve tried to bring up with you several times over the last 2 years, and you always shut it down as, “I know what I’m doing.”

    I think the reason you’re surprised is because you thought yourself beyond the reach of religion by directing the PRACTICE of religion toward Wicca, but what I’ve always tried to tell you before is that it isn’t practice that matters, it’s belief. It’s faith. At our core, we all find SOMETHING that we hold deep inside our psyches as a universal truth. Perhaps if I’d grown up surrounded by deep thinkers as you did, I’d hold the same faith in science as you do, but I didn’t, I grew up around a bunch of red necks and Christianity was the only thing that was offered. When I considered my options (which appeared primarily as Christian or Atheist) I figured out that I NEEDED something to fill that void or something would take root there of its own accord, so I took Christianity, but I did it on my terms, rejecting virtually all the dogma and in fact whole sections of the New Testament that appeared for all the world like Church sponsored propaganda. 25 years later, I don’t regret that decision and still keep that faith. I keep my faith squarely in the realm of belief, and science squarely in the realm of reality, and if the two ever collide, the faith is the one that must change.

    Not trying to convert you here, just trying to figure out what is wrong with my decision from your point of view, and perhaps see if any of it helps you in any way. Calling me a latent monster, while entertaining, doesn’t really help either of us much.

  80. >(And it’s still interesting that both you and several commenters mentioned that a difference between science and religion, if not the difference, is that the former is true while the latter is not.)

    I disagree with part of this statement. A religion may be true — it may be false.

    The difference is that science makes testable statements. And encourages reasoned dissent if backed by facts. Almost by definition religion does not. Most of the religious dogma is neither provable nor disprovable. And dissent is classed as heresy and is punished regardless of merit.

    And yes, many treat science in the way I describe religion. It’s just that isn’t the way it’s *supposed* to work. And, in the long run, it doesn’t.

  81. Great post, I was nodding the whole way. While religion is a fraud, the emotional responses we associate with it are very real and, in many cases, positive and healthy. The problem is that religion has managed to monopolise concepts like sacredness, transcendence, awe and even “offence”. They have become tangled up with superstition and faith. Part of the rationalist project should be to acknowledge this and try to separate these real, and I would say necessary, emotional responses from superstition.

    And I very much understand your concern that you can share the same emotional responses with mad religious fanatics. I think this is nothing more that acknowledging that you are human, and the religious fanatic, for all his flaws, is no less human. But for the grace of God…

  82. >As I mentioned, it seems your view of insanity would condemn all children that believe in Santa.

    What it looks like to me is that yes, this view labels children who believe in Santa as non-sane, but so’s just about everyone else so big deal. ‘Sanity’, by this stronger definition, is something quite difficult to achieve, more to be striven for than to say you have already.

  83. …No, it wouldn’t condemn the children; we don’t expect them to have full adult comprehension…

    Much like children that question the existence of God.

    Where exactly is your definitive line between ‘adulthood’ and ‘childhood’ … the point at which we cease to uncritically dismiss opinions? I don’t uncritically dismiss anything my daughter (3) says….it’s always an adventure into understanding.

    Maybe the ‘religious’ don’t expect us to have ‘full spiritual comprehension’…

    …Learning not to believe in Santa CJaus is part of the way the whole drama is expected to work…

    Isn’t this the definitive route out of all forms of insanity? Learn the truth

    I’m not a religious person, but I’m not an ‘atheist’ because I’m honest enough to say “I don’t know”…so in many respects I am profoundly aligned with you, ESR….yet I find your rationale for rejecting religion rather unsatisfacory and disturbing. I think you need to think harder about it, and I think you have the intellectual horsepower to do so.

  84. There’s a difference in the drives felt by the religious people and the scientists. Both want to KNOW, but seek different ways to do it.

    The religious think that all was revealed in the holy texts, and they only have to read and believe. They don’t want to have think and be original. Originality is a sin….

    Scientists go to great lengths to question how things work, and spend hours designing mathematical theories, or elaborate experiments, maybe working on a problem for years before they get any answers at all. They don’t know, or think they know (but aren’t sure) and try like hell to remedy the situation. You can be sure that any scientist who goes through theoretical or experimental hell for a few crummy datapoints is going to be really pissed at anyone who shortcuts his way to fame with phony data.

    Maybe this isn’t the whole reason esr hates scientific fraud, but that’s what the scientists feel.

    I would remind everyone of the Garden of Eden story; it’s relevant here. Adam and Eve wanted to KNOW what good and evil was. They were human, and so were naturally curious and performed the experiment. The religious brand this as disobedience to God, and worthy of eternal punishment.

  85. Hi Eric. I don’t really understand your revulsion at the simple act of scientific fraud (intentional or otherwise). Science is immune to fraud in the long-term: results that cannot be replicated are irrelevant, contrary findings are given credence, etc. The system identifies and corrects errors whether or not they were malicious.

    Scientific fraud can be perpetrated in ways that facilitate horrific abuses (application of eugenics in Nazi Germany, and similar), but the issue here is surely with the intentions of the perpetrators – they meant to justify acts of inhumanity, not to pervert the forward progress of science itself. Such a misuse of science is a societal issue, not a scientific issue. It should make the observer equally offended, whether the pretext for such inhumanity was scientific or religious.

  86. > “Truth should be an absolute. And as such, it can be thought of as the accurate perception and/or conception of reality. It is more like a Holy Grail than a premise to be revised based upon future knowledge.”

    Disagree. That conception of truth leads to fixation, to an unhealthy attachment to “final” theories in which the believer becomes overinvested. <

    My comment was intended in a strictly literal sense, i.e. if you have a conception of reality that is accurate, then the label "truth" is an appropriate descriptor. However, I agree with the sentiment of your comment that we should be both humble and rare in our use of the word truth.

    I would also add that this topic is far more important than most people realize. It's not just a pissing match over science versus religion, but rather that science fraud can become a debilitating societal cancer if unchallenged and unchecked.

  87. @TomA>I would also add that this topic is far more important than most people realize. It’s not just a pissing match over science versus religion, but rather that science fraud can become a debilitating societal cancer if unchallenged and unchecked.

    Science is but a tool.

    Science is cold, calculating, without emotion. Applied in the wrong way bad things can happen. Per my discussion with Dan….the dark side is present in following this without..dare I say it guidance.

    To twist or misrepresent science gives an emotional and visceral reaction to anybody who is serious about progress. I share this reaction.

    However, if you really want to kill the Buddha you must consider what happens if you follow science…..fully adhering to the method, actually doing *good* science….but doing so to *evil* ends.

  88. “There are plenty of people who profess science and rationalism, but whose attachment to them is largely tribal and irrational.”

    That’s because there are plenty of people who don’t understand what science is, not one whit. I would guess that a large minority and possibly a majority of Americans today think of scientists as smart people who wear white lab costs, spend many years in school, and can do things with technology that seem like magic to them. Of course, this bears no resemblance to science as it is actually defined by its history.

    Notice how often we hear the phrase “science and technology”? To many, I suspect the hear this as “scienceandtechnology,” all in one breath. There is little public understanding of where the transition from pure science to applied science to engineer occurs.

    Inside the scientific ivory tower, the opposite problem exists. There is a certain suspicion of applied science, indeed of any science that takes place outside academia.

    In any discussion of science, we need to firmly separate the group that sees science as modern magic from the group that understands both its potential and its limitations.

  89. Ken Burnside — You words belie an ignorance of Quakerism. At least in theory its aim is to avoid received wisdom. Alas, these days, the received wisdom is environmentalism, which is examined by only a small minority of Quakers. Still, you should look at the theory, even if the practice doesn’t live up to it.

  90. It seems the issue is means vs. ends.

    The means of “religious feeling” toward the end of rationality and scientific truth, vs. the means of “religious feeling” toward the end of irrationality and delusion. Isn’t this basically “extremism in defense of the truth is no vice”?

  91. @TMR > However, if you really want to kill the Buddha you must consider what happens if you follow science…..fully adhering to the method, actually doing *good* science….but doing so to *evil* ends. <

    I'm not sure what this means, but I'll take a guess. Perhaps you are suggesting that it is acceptable and appropriate to commit science fraud if you believe that the science is causing "evil ends." As an example, there are some who believe that certain AGW scientists were justified in falsifying data because they believed that they were defending the planet against catastrophe. This is another version of the ends justify the means.

    History tells us that this is a very dangerous path to take. During the Dark Ages, religious dogma stifled scientific advancement because it was viewed as evil. Nevertheless, the Enlightenment Period that followed brought with it an unprecedented advancement for our species and culture.

  92. I have yet to read all the comments. But when reading the original post, I saw an omission.

    A scientist who commits fraud, betrays everyone. I am personally affected when some guy, somewhere, fabricates data. He lies to me, personally. People are generally emotional when betrayed.

    If you look at how (informal) scientific institutions react to fraud, their main argument is that anyone who commits fraud causes (many) other researcher to waste their time and resources. Their research efforts will fail because they trust corrupted data.

    Scientific fraud is treason to humanity. I think feeling rage against it is warranted.

    Personally, I do not have to involve “religion”. Because morality is not the sole province of religion.

  93. @Jim Hulburt
    “I believe in the second law of thermodynamics (adjusted for mass/energy) and Newton’s laws (at relatively low velocities, accelerations and gravitational fields — and recognizing that the far decimals will be a little bit off anyway). ”

    So you might be interested to learn that both have been unified last year:

    On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1001.0785

  94. @Day
    “In fact, scientific “knowledge”, the product of science, must be _for me_ a belief, based on the other belief that scientists did truthfully follow the scientific method.”

    Try “trust”. Science is in the end about trusting others to be honest.

  95. @esr
    “I will further note that I feel a little offended by being described as “not a known scientist”. I have published predictive theory with quite a lot of falsifiable consequences that have subsequently passed the reality test.”

    You might be on the verge. It is the part of “standing on the shoulders of giants” that is missing.

    The one thing missing would be embodied in a reference list. The books and articles by your hand that I read combined observations, theory forming, with falsifiable predictions. But, in my fallible memory, you did not refer much to other research into anthropology and history. This link into the “literature” would connect your work to the rest of the scientific community. (furthermore, your methods and approach were eclectic, but that is less relevant)

    One of the important criteria for the review of scientific articles is how the authors position their paper in the scientific field, ie, literature. But your works were directed to programmers, a different community.

    The nice thing is that you books have been used as the basis of scientific work. Academic anthropologists actually base studies on your findings. So in that sense, you have become part of the scientific community. But more like the “Prince from Another Country”. Or an “amateur” in the original good sense:
    Someone who contributes for love, and from whom it is accepted that they stand outside accepted practice.

  96. I will further note that I feel a little offended by being described as “not a known scientist”. I have published predictive theory with quite a lot of falsifiable consequences that have subsequently passed the reality test. Many people who are called “scientists”, the button counters and bottle washers another commenter referred to, cannot claim as much.

    Where is your publishing record? It’s impossible to verify this claim unless you actually list all of these objects in the one place. And no, your rambling essays do not count. You have to put forth a relatively specific proposition in a sensible format.

  97. Also, like all Western rationalists…

    There is a need to replace the word “Western” with something more appropriate and less misleading.

  98. I’m a computer scientist, a physicist and a rationalist.

    I’m the son of Catholic missionaries and given that they wanted to become a priest and nun respectively, the odds were against me even existing in the first place.

    I’m a badly damaged ex-Catholic and no amount of rationality seems to be able to shake the crap/guilt that was injected into me from age 4 onwards – despite years of education – whether self or tertiary.

    And frankly – that fucking sucks.

    We need to protect children from the affects of imposed religion until they are old enough to make up their own minds.

    Educate – not indoctrinate.

  99. @esr:

    >>Does it make a difference to your anger if the crime took place last year or 200 years ago?

    > 200 years ago would be worse, because it loses two centuries during which we could have built on that understanding.

    True. And that would make me, personally, sad. I have a hard time working up anger about someone who is long dead. Perhaps I didn’t do the set-up well enough. What if it was done last year, but when the artifact was recovered, it was under circumstances that make it clear that the recovery was an extreme fluke, and we’re very lucky to have the artifact back — that in all probability the artifact would have been destroyed or missing for at least 200 years?

    Several others here have alluded to the same issue. Part of science is that any scientist must be prepared to present his case to everybody else — to let others judge. And a responsibility that goes along with that is evidence preservation.

    Ask your wife what a real judge would think when he finds that a lawyer has committed spoliation of evidence that changed the outcome of a case. And remember that that judge’s anger, no matter how fierce, is tempered considerably by the fact that he is empowered to do something about it. When you don’t have that kind of immediate control, the anger is fed by feelings of helplessness and despair.

    FWIW, I think science needs to handle spoliation somewhat differently than a real court. A real court gets to assume things about the motivation of the spoiler and the contents of the spoiled data. In science, we should certainly assume, a posteriori that the spoiler is actively working selfishly, in a manner against humanity’s interest in science. But it’s much harder to make inferences about the spoiled data. Given that the perpetrator was a bad scientist, it’s quite possible that what he destroyed didn’t even show what he thought it did…

  100. >It is the part of “standing on the shoulders of giants” that is missing.

    Well, in my case that was mainly Fred Brooks and Richard Weinberg (both of whom I did cite). It’s hard to have a long cite list when you’re writing about things that have barely been thought about before. And it’s a little perverse to consider people who do that “not scientists”; it puts a sort of penalty or exclusion on people who are doing really innovative thinking. Was Albert Einstein not a scientist because his papers tended to be very thinly sourced? His groundbreaking 1905 paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies, the one that copped him a Nobel, had no cites at all.

    >The nice thing is that you books have been used as the basis of scientific work. Academic anthropologists actually base studies on your findings.

    Yes. I get a pretty good number of cites from economists and people studying large-scale software engineering, too. In general I think a forward-looking predicate for “scientist” makes more sense than a backward-looking one; the case of Einstein is a strong argument for this. More generally, the pattern of few sources together with a lot of cites is going to be characteristic of theoreticians, as exposed to experimentalists. While I don’t suffer from any delusion that I’m as important as Einstein, my work resembles his in that I’m a theoretician who relies heavily on thought experiments.

  101. Part of science is that any scientist must be prepared to present his case to everybody else — to let others judge. And a responsibility that goes along with that is evidence preservation.

    Again, what about private research labs? Are they incapable of doing science? Furthermore, withholding evidence from others is necessary for science in many cases. “Science” is not cleanly demarcated by any criterion. Even the wrongly-vaunted criterion of falsificationism has been refuted by history.

    Ask your wife what a real judge would think when he finds that a lawyer has committed spoliation of evidence that changed the outcome of a case.

    This is a fundamentally wrong-headed comparison.

  102. Great post Eric!

    (please excuse the imperfections of my written English, as I am not a native English speaker, and I was too lazy to do a spellcheck.)

    Firstly, thank you for the remarkable candor and generosity you display. It’s very refreshing and displays real strength, and so it’s in the spirit of that I make my reply. I love the “thinking man’s forum” you’ve got going here, and whilst, at the outset, I’ve started reading your posts from a fellow techie standpoint, I really love it when you venture far around into the “everything that matters” territories. I definately do not agree with all your points of view about different things, but you’re highly intelligent, quite rational, and somewhat open, which already sets you apart from many.

    A slight disclaimer about my personal background and biases, because we all have them (cannot not have them), and they have a (big) impact on the subject at hand:

    – I’m born and live in a so called western-world country/society.
    – I was raised in a fairly normal and average family, of decidedly non-religious persuasion (not anti, just non).
    – 46 year old male.
    – Not belonging or subscribing to any established or traditional church or religious system.
    – I am not a scientist by training or education.
    – I am not a new-age guy or any other kind of “naive treehugger” (pick your slurs).

    So, about religion and science…. oh boy!

    A couple of abbreviations to avoid repetions:

    SC = So called
    SCR = So called religion (mostly what people mean when they talk about religion)
    SCS = So called science (mostly what people mean when they talk about science)
    RR = Real religion
    RS = Real science

    As you can probably already tell, I hold the view that SCR is hugely different from RR, and that quite often SCS is somewhat removed from RS. I quite like your take on what science is, and mostly agree with it. For the case of argument, I’d like to try and simplify my views somewhat to start with, and then dig in. So here we go:

    – I believe that there is no fundamental conflict or schism between between religion (RR) and science (RS). This is the biggie for the “modern thinking man”, (and please, when I say “man” it’s the genderless term) around which most of the pointless arguments take place, and around which most of the profound confusion center.

    – RS is the natural, inborn urge in humans, to grapple with the questions of HOW, WHAT and WHICH. The mechanics of things, how everything works. It’s an itch we are all born with, and part of the design. The primary faculties are thinking, reasoning and discovery.

    – RR is the natural, inborn urge in humans, to grapple with the questions of WHY, WHAT FOR, and ORIGIN. The meaning and purpose of things, the real intrinsic value of things, the bigger and deeper background context of things. The primary faculties are feeling, knowing and understanding.

    – “Proof” (so called) is the soma of the lazy, and the addiction to it will breed ignorance. It is a shallow word (please prove to me right now that you love your wife; it doesn’t work that way, does it?).

    And now a bit more meat to follow on….

    I belive that to the natural human, RR and RS is as natural and necessary, as the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, or man and woman, or night and day. It’s two complementary systems, built in to everyone of us, with a distinct purpose. They are different but work together (or meant to anyway), hand in hand. And please do the analysis to the effect that most of us are decidedly not NATURAL humans; and in fact most of us are pretty screwed up, in each our wonderful ways. Hence the professions of the medical industry, shrinks and the like. It is interesting, if you will do the research, that many of our finest and most enlightened theologians, scientists and philosophers, came to views to the effect that science and religion are fundamentally not at odds, and can co-exist quite peacefully. I’m too lazy to dig up the references right now. So what I am saying here is, that the dichotomy, schism, antagonism and seeming disharmony, between science and religion, is false, not real, and is human fabricated, fueled by (often systematized) ignorance, sometimes towards sinister ends (but I wont go there, that’s too dark).

    So why am I making the distinction between RR and SCR? Because I belive that where we are today, the two have very little to do with each other, and that’s very understandable. What many people today understand religion to be, from the observation of how it is practized, organized, advocated and used, has, in my view, very little to do with what RR is. At the really bad end, it is used for totalitarian purposes, of control, conformance, or down right evil deads. Even a moderately thinking person should conclude, that surely that cannot be what religion REALLY is? Please observe by research, that many/most of the SC religious writings and practices, have become perverted and manipulated by people, into something unrecoqnizable or downright sinister. I find it hard to blame most normal people uttering “who needs THAT?”, upon their casual and easily available observation of SCR, as it can be observed today. Or even blaming SCR for all the ails of the world (as an astonishing number do), although I think that is a very shallow and ignorant conclusion.

    I belive that religion (RR) at it’s core, is utterly human, utterly natural, and will never go away, no more than left hands will go out of fashion.

    Similarly with science, so called. As you observe Eric, SCS today is not exactly always an honest and intact profession. It too has often become corrupted, by the powers at be, simple greed or hunger for recoqnition, ignorance, or down right the need for control or optimized production. SCS today, is very often employed as the simple and effective tool of the continuation of the industrial revolution, with all it’s upsides and downsides. It is often, as observed on the public arena, heavily politized, bent towards a particular agenda (mostly monetary), and in it’s worst manifestations, down right ridiculous and mindbendingly ignorant in it’s contradictory and utterly unhelpful sidetrackings.

    Real science and real religion are simple (at their core), natural and beautiful things. They can be observed in any child as they question “mummy, how does the car work?” or “daddy, why are the cats here?”. They are easy to pervert and shut down (“stop asking silly questions”), and at this point, for most of us, backtracking into their truer core, and real meaning and function, is a personal and laborious journey, although I might add, a very rewarding one. Ignorance is by default very easy, but reality is a hard taskmaster.

    So why am I writing this in the first place? I don’t have an agenda, and I’m not out to recruit you, so be at peace :-). I respect anyone’s right to believe whatever they want, and hold whatever view they will. I simply wanted to share with you a little snapshot of my personal beliefs, in case they might be any food for further thought to someone, in this very worthwhile (to me anyway) discussion and examination, that you Eric started (well, continued) with this post.

    Where I have come to, in my own personal journey so far, with these questions, can perhaps be summed up (rather simplistically) like this:

    – You have to think and investigate for yourself. If you don’t you WILL be ignorant. There’s no way around it. Deeper truth IMHO exists only in fragments today, scattered all over the place, and you have to put it together yourself. You can believe even less of what you hear or see, than you might think. The key is to rediscover the simple and profound laws of nature, humans and the universe, which we are all equipped to do. We just get sidetracked easily, because everything around us wants to recruit into something. The good news is that it’s easier than you might think. The bad news is that the opposition you will face is overwhelming, both from inside and outside. Being below the radar is often tempting or even wise (ESR knows a bit about this, I’d imagine).

    – Science and religion (the real kinds) are at their core, simple, natural and beautiful things. They are gifts we have been endowed with, not burdens to overcome. Again – make up your own mind, and discover for yourself. A good mentor helps though, but they are in short supply these days, and insanity is widespread.

    – My view of real working religion now and into the future is, that it’s first and foremost a PERSONAL religion, formed from within, and you cannot get it from organizations or groups, as a first principle. Having said that, companions on the way greatly helps, and you are lucky if you can find them. It does not live in dogma or history, but it CAN live and grow inside you, as you live your life. RR is not something you get recruited into, it is something you quetly grow and deepen. If you are so lucky to have sane friends, it is a marvellous thing to discuss, ponder and kick about, and is quite scientific in nature; it really is. It can be understood, touched and refined. After all, as an example, we have the capability to understand our own feelings, yes?

    – My view of real working science now and into the future is, again (surprise), it starts with you and inside you. Don’t betray your natural instincts of inquisitiveness, discovery and the exitement of understanding. It’s like a muscle – the more you use it, the more it naturally grows and lends itself to you. If you are open and regular in your exercise of that muscle, your powers of deduction and understanding can grow exponentially throughout your life. Be very wary of “experts” (so called). Have you noticed today, how none of them agree with one another, and often simply do not make sense at all? And yes, many of them are down right morons.

    – A truly wise human, embodies the living accumen of both science and religion, in marriage, as a living working tissue, working for them as they journey through life. You do not want to go through life, with only the left or the right hemisphere of your brain. You have them both for a REASON. Use them! It’s an amazing thing.

    To conclude, sorry about the number of chars and lines here, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart, and I loved that you are touching on it Eric.

    A little PS: For those of you who get the impression that I’m arrogant, or think that I think that I’m a “someone”: That’s just my style. I’m a bit abbrasive by nature. I’m a nobody really, and you shouldn’t take my word for anything. Just pick out whats interesting (if anything), and throw the rest away. As a person I’m pretty irrelevant. It’s the message or the idea, not the guy.

  103. @esr
    “And it’s a little perverse to consider people who do that “not scientists”;”
    “His groundbreaking 1905 paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies, the one that copped him a Nobel, had no cites at all.”

    These were different times. And the point was not so much the citations, but the embedding. It was immediately clear where Einstein was posited wrt the rest of physics. It is much less clear where your works fit in.

    Opening a new field without connecting it to the existing body of knowledge prevents readers from seeing the giants on which shoulders you stand. Which makes your work floating in the air, so to say. There are no rules in science, except honesty and full disclosure. But to be able to get your message across, you will have to help your readers. References do help here. And I would like to add that the principle worth of many journal papers is their reference list.

    My point could be better made as a more general remark that your books were not embedded (then) in any running discourse. And they were mainly targeted at people outside the research community. That makes you standing mostly outside of the scientific community.

    But with “Scientist” it is like with “Hacker”. You have posted about what makes someone a “Hacker”. You can write parallel posts what makes you a “Scientist”. And just like Hackers don’t care whether you are officially recognized as a Hacker, but want to see your code, Scientists do not care much about your credentials, they want to see your “Science”.

    As such, the follow up on your books are more worth than any official Seal Of Approval. If you want, you can lobby some university for a “Honorary PhD”. But that is mostly not worth the effort.

  104. @Roger Philips
    “Again, what about private research labs? Are they incapable of doing science?”

    If they do not publish, they are not participating in science. They do research (& development), but that is something different.

    @Roger Philips
    “Furthermore, withholding evidence from others is necessary for science in many cases. ”

    “Science” is becoming less and less patient with those who withhold relevant data. There are many fields where you cannot get anything published without putting the underlying (raw) data in a public repository. And the number of fields where this is required is growing. And if you mean privacy related data, there are procedures for that.

    See it as the difference between proprietary and F/OS software.

  105. Now, this is completely Off Topic, but a major Hack:

    Linux kernel runs inside web browser
    JavaScript mimics 486 PC
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/18/javascript_pc_emulator/

    French hacker Fabrice Bellard says his JavaScript PC Emulator can run the 2.6.20 Linux kernel inside Mozilla’s Firefox 4 and Google’s Chrome 11, two browsers designed to significantly advance JavaScript speeds. “I did it for fun, just because newer JavaScript engines are fast enough to do complicated things,” Belllard writes. But he believes the emulator could be used to benchmark JavaScript engines.

    What would be the Science equivalent? Maybe this:

    On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1001.0785

  106. >These were different times.

    These are different times. Until recently, one could reasonably have proposed that being a “scientist” required publication in a peer-reviewed journal. But…arxiv.org. Oops, there goes that criterion up the spout! :-)

    >It is much less clear where your works fit in.

    It doesn’t seem mysterious to me. My stuff is the near end of a line of thinking that reaches back through Fred Brooks (in The Mythical Man-Month) to David Parnas’s pioneering work on modularization in software systems. Perhaps more to the point than my own evaluation is that this is how Fred Brooks seems to view the matter.

    >And they were mainly targeted at people outside the research community. That makes you standing mostly outside of the scientific community.

    That’s probably the soundest point you’ve made yet. But it reveals a problem, which is the implicit identification of “scientists” with “members of the research community”. I think this is philosophically troubling, because it seems to me the criterion for who is a scientist should be primarily methodological – who applies the scientific method? – rather than a sort of social or guild status.

    >As such, the follow up on your books are more worth than any official Seal Of Approval. If you want, you can lobby some university for a “Honorary PhD”. But that is mostly not worth the effort.

    I agree. I don’t have that kind of ego.

  107. >Linux kernel runs inside web browser

    You beat me to it. Ken Burnside informed me of this yesterday; I had been planning to blog about it. Pretty awesome – I think this qualifies Fabrice Bellard as a god of hacking.

  108. “I feel that scientists have a special duty of sanity” reminds me of that Feynman speech.

    …we never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid…

    Even the slightest omission or dishonesty constitutes sacrilege.

  109. @esr
    “But it reveals a problem, which is the implicit identification of “scientists” with “members of the research community”.”

    I think we are talking about two types of “scientists”. You have the classical “Scientific Method” which would be identified today with “Research” or “Investigation”. Such work can be done in private.

    The other is the “modern” late 19th/20th century view on Science as a public activity (following Popper). In this second meaning, being a Scientists means participating in a public debate. More like being a journalist. You can write and investigate as a journalist, but it starts being journalism only when you actually publish. Being a scientists is not so much about membership, but about participation.

    And just like Journalism got extended by bloggers etc, Science got extended by alternative publication platforms. But note that even arXiv is about communicating and debate. Think of arXiv as a global Conference (conferences mostly did not use peer review). And not withstanding arXiv etc, people do like work to be peer reviewed.

  110. @Rob Fisher
    “Even the slightest omission or dishonesty constitutes sacrilege.”

    And I would most empathetically stress that. People get fired and their PhD’s retracted if they do not mention that they dropped possibly relevant data. I have seen that happen.

  111. @TomA>”I’m not sure what this means, but I’ll take a guess. Perhaps you are suggesting that it is acceptable and appropriate to commit science fraud if you believe that the science is causing “evil ends.” As an example, there are some who believe that certain AGW scientists were justified in falsifying data because they believed that they were defending the planet against catastrophe. This is another version of the ends justify the means.”

    No that is not what I meant at all. That sort of thing angers me greatly. What I meant was, I could perform genetic experiments on children. The science could be stellar, but it would still be evil, because I initiated aggression against another.

  112. This is an interesting essay and discussion.

    It seems safe to assume that this essay has been triggered at least in part by what Eric (and, to be fair, it appears a number of other commenters here) seem to think about climate science.

    I think a key question that has gone unasked in Eric’s self examination is whether or not Eric’s assessment of that science as fraudulent is justified.

    I acknowledge that this question is unlikely to be favourably received in this forum. I think that in itself is worthy of note.

  113. ESR,

    Let’s approach this from another angle.

    1. We hear, learn and use an enormous amount of statements in our lives, and we can check and verify or falsify only a tiny fraction of them. For checking the rest of them we simply lack the time, and usually the knowledge and equipment too. So basically we just take them on faith, hope the experts know what they are saying, and hope for the best.
    2. A life of 100% skeptic would be extrely difficult. He would carry wintercoats in July because he does not trust weather forecasts he personally haven’t checked, he would self-medicate if he is ill and ignore doctor’s opinion he personally cannot check etc.
    3. By contrast, the life of a perfect little gullible sheep who always believes what the experts say is easy and comfortable, if boring.
    4. Thus, we are helped a LOT by our ability to believe and we are helped comparatively little by our own rationality and critical thinking.
    5. This is counter-intuitive, but it is a simple sampling bias. People notice perfume but oxygene not – they only notice it when they lack it. Similarly we do not notice the service we are doing to ourselves by believing things like a hundred times a day, but notice that one time when thinking for ourselves would have been more useful. While believing is like oxygen, our own rationality is like perfume: it actually does only a comparatively little help in our life, but we notice and praise it because whenever it is applied just right, it is simply awesome.
    6. Give what a huge help our ability to believe is, it is a small wonder that we crave to believe someone – if not the black frock then the white coat.

  114. About your revulsion about scientific fraud: perhaps one part of the reason you feel so strong about is that it takes precisely that one thing out from science that makes it valuable, namely truth. If we just want to believe something, regardless of whether it is true, then it is of course a lot nicer to believe having a benevolent creator about, an immortal soul and an everlasting party after death preferably with huris included. Science would make a spectacularly bad religion: it offers little comfort and little hope. We just die and there it ends and the universe does not give a damn about it. If I would make up a religion, it would obviously not be like science. So science’s only saving grace is that it is actually true, it loses against religion in almost every other measure (such as consolation and hope offered etc.). So scientific fraud attacks that only one reason why we care about science. If frauds managed to discredit science enough that people would think science is not really more reliable than any religion, then people would lose interest in science and go back to the churches. Because, if your only apparent choice is choosing from different unreliable religions then of course you will take the one with the immortal soul and everlasting party. Choosing from two equally improbable ideas every good optimist chooses the more pleasant one.

  115. Shenpen,

    Choosing to believe the “experts” (whether black frocked or white coated) is a conscious choice that should not be made uncritically. I think we also have a priority filter, making the decision on skepticism or acceptance not just on the expertise of the “expert”, but also on criticality of the decision. For instance, I might take the word of my neighbor on what might be wrong with my car because I know he tinkers with his car all the time. On the other hand, I’m not going to take his word on how to cure my cancer or resolve my childs drug problems even if he successfully fought off cancer or got his kid in rehab, I’d want somebody with a lot more expertise for that.

    What irritates me most about many people is that this priority filter seems to be broken. They take the word of Hollywood actresses on whether or not they should have their children immunized, or whether we should sink a trillion dollars into some new “green” technology, without looking at the true cost/benefit of either, and they ignore the true experts’ opinion because they get paid form those opinions. A hundred years ago, these people would be called “victims” and would be removed from the gene pool (and meme pool) by their own stupidity, but today we not only tolerate this behavior but celebrate stupidity, rewarding it with research grants and court awards for the purveyors of this trash.

    This is the reason I enjoy reading the writings of the folks around here. Among this group, stupidity is seldom tolerated.

  116. @TWR > No that is not what I meant at all. That sort of thing angers me greatly. What I meant was, I could perform genetic experiments on children. The science could be stellar, but it would still be evil, because I initiated aggression against another. <

    In the example you provide, I would think that the "evil" part derives from decisions and actions of the practitioner and not the tool (scientific method). This brings to mind the old adage that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." If your point is that the scientific community (and by extension the law enforcement community) should oppose the misuse of scientific methods by wrong-headed practitioners, then I agree with you. I would also like to see science fraud practitioners receive a serious sanction for their misdeeds.

  117. “I may screw up, but I’m not going to screw up in that way.”

    No, most likely you are screwing up the other way around :-)

    Facts without value judgements can exist only as unreflected-upon, undigested, raw data. Once you begin to actually draw a map you must make value judgements all time regarding what data to include as something important and what data to ignore as irrelevant detail. At the end of the day you see a human purpose for making that map, and its accuracy and the objective verifiability of its accuracy depends of that. Often even raw data is dependent on value judgements. Tourist and geographical maps disagree in the height of tall mountains, because they define mountains differently. For the maker of the tourist map, that thirty metres of compressed snow on top of it is part of the mountain, because tourists are standing on it. For the geographist, it is not part of the mountain, it is basically weather. (The good ol’ departamental vanity: “MY mountains are made of ROCK, b*tches!” :-) ) So if cannot even friggin’ in defining what a mountain is and what is part of it and what is not, how are we supposed to verify the accuracy of our maps objectively.

    Oh and of course the only thing that should not matter in science is popular opinion and yet it matters a lot. If a given field is popular, more people will study it and it will receive more funding and will thus produce more spectacular results which will reinforce in the popular opinion that it is indeed awesome, creating a feedback loop. Such are space research, astronomy, physics – generally their popularity was launched by SF novels and getting this feedback loop ever since. OTOH if I want to know whether Rhodiola Rosea is indeed the most awesome food supplement ever for the brain and mood or yet another unfounded fad? I am mostly at the mercy of unreliable newageist websites because very little peer-reviewed research was done. Because, you know, something that has the potential of making pretty much everybody’s life significantly better is not as awesome as spaceships and lasers and antimatter and does not deserve even a fraction of their funding. I am a bit bitter about it and I think SF fans like yourself are quite a bit responsible for this problem. Anyway. The point is, culture influences the general outcomes of science a lot, both on the level raw data, “maps”, and the general landscape: what do we spend a lot of time and money researching and what not.

    Having said all that, science at the end of the day is more objective than religion, but it is wrong to fall in the other extreme and consider it some Platonic truth that has cultural or subjective elements in it. I think the best way is maybe comparing it to toolmaking, or even programming. The most we can say about a geographical map is that it is accurate enough for the purposes geographists want to use them for. The purposes themselves however come from culture and value judgements. And we can say the same about hammers and software.

  118. @Shenpen
    “OTOH if I want to know whether Rhodiola Rosea is indeed the most awesome food supplement ever for the brain and mood or yet another unfounded fad?”

    I think with a little work, I can get you another ten thousand of such questions. If we make it a team effort maybe even a hundred thousand. Given limited resources, some sifting might be done. Say, based on what is felt to be interesting and promising?

  119. @Roger Phillips:

    Part of science is that any scientist must be prepared to present his case to everybody else — to let others judge. And a responsibility that goes along with that is evidence preservation.

    Again, what about private research labs? Are they incapable of doing science? Furthermore, withholding evidence from others is necessary for science in many cases. “Science” is not cleanly demarcated by any criterion. Even the wrongly-vaunted criterion of falsificationism has been refuted by history.

    I hope this is only a terminology issue. We’ve been discussing “science” as in the traditional sense where you publish a finding, and it’s good science if somebody can replicate your results. Nobody cares if your crank neighbor believes or disbelieves in AGW. But, for example, someone who calls himself a “scientist” and who publishes a paper that says that AGW will obliterate all life on the planet unless we as a species take these drastic steps really needs to have reproducible results. And if he is the sole curator of huge dataset that was used to generate the results and is unwilling to share raw data, then that can be a difficult proposition.

    Engineering and science are heavily interrelated at the margins, but the outcomes are different. If you produce a useful widget, you have no responsibility to explain all the steps you took to get there. Perhaps you wrote a computer program to design the antenna. Nobody’s business. But the minute you argue that yours is the only antenna on the market that won’t cause cancer at 2.5 GHz, the FTC, the courts, and your competitors will slap you pretty hard unless you can show reasonable evidence of this “fact”.

    Ask your wife what a real judge would think when he finds that a lawyer has committed spoliation of evidence that changed the outcome of a case.

    This is a fundamentally wrong-headed comparison.

    Bearing in mind that we were discussing emotions related to feelings of betrayal, and whether those emotions caused when we are betrayed by high-ranking members of our “religions” are somehow qualitatively different than those emotions when we are betrayed by others we have placed in a position of trust, why?

  120. You beat me to it. Ken Burnside informed me of this yesterday; I had been planning to blog about it. Pretty awesome – I think this qualifies Fabrice Bellard as a god of hacking.

    He qualified long before this. The man drops nifty hacks as a tree drops fruit, but documentation and maintenance are not his strong suits. Integrating ffmpeg — which, like qemu, has passed into other maintainers’ hands — is a royal bitch. But what else are you going to use? A proprietary codec? *snorts*

    (Although, having said that, Microsoft’s video APIs are probably pretty clean and easy to use.)

    Also, here’s something else to slap the fanboys with.

    To me, it’s just another symptom of late-stage capitalism: megacorps exploiting our neurological vulnerabilities to turn us into profit-generating machines.

  121. About your revulsion about scientific fraud: perhaps one part of the reason you feel so strong about is that it takes precisely that one thing out from science that makes it valuable, namely truth.

    Since we perceive the world indirectly via neuronal impulses, “truth” is inherently unknowable. Scientific knowledge derives its truth value from utility: if this set of theories produce results that we can use then we can pretend they are true. This isn’t just metaphysical Cartesian-theatre nonsense: We can (and do) pretend that Newton’s laws of motion are true at vastly sub-light speeds even though they break down and get buggered up completely as you approach c.

  122. “Say, based on what is felt to be interesting and promising?”

    I just think more focus should be put on researching stuff that could have this immediate type of utility of make our body or mind function better and less focus on things that are mostly a theoretical curiosity with little short-term utility at hand like this recent keeping antimatter for 15 minutes.

  123. Bennett, way up there

    >If AGW exists, it poses a very deep and unusual problem for libertarianism, since government intervention is clearly required to avert disaster. . .

    Why ‘clearly’? Why isn’t L Neil Smith out there with an impassioned libertarian appeal? Giant Tidal Waves of DOOM are coming! Free citizens! Don’t drown in statist chains! Emergency! We must cancel the whole post-1799 regulatory burden to survive!

    Sometimes I troll liberals by asking them how far they’d believe the AGW bait and switch if it came from the right:

    1) Bait: The world has probably gotten 2% C hotter in the last 200 years. (That’s scientific fact, Jack).
    2) Manifold switches:
    a) Switch to: It could get lots hotter, and could cause wild changes in climate. So anyone who doubts that wild changes will inevitably happen can be accused of doubting 1), and by extension doubting all Science.
    b) Switch to: In this emergency, we must islavishly follow whatever right-wing economic plan the Republicans have been bribed into supporting this week. Anyone who doubts this can be accused of doubting 1), and by extension doubting all Science.

  124. Jeff, I’d want to see more experiments before I jumped on that particular explanation. Does a young car guy who loves ’57 Chevys have the same reaction upon seeing one? How about someone looking at a painting by their favorite artist? Or a teenybopper listening to the boy singer of the moment? Are we seeing affection, esthetic appreciation of design, or a “religious” response, or some combination, or what? In any case I think it’s far more than “clever marketing.”

  125. …reveals a problem, which is the implicit identification of “scientists” with “members of the research community”. I think this is philosophically troubling, because it seems to me the criterion for who is a scientist should be primarily methodological – who applies the scientific method? – rather than a sort of social or guild status.

    I feel that scientists have a special duty of sanity that is analogous to a priest’s special duty to be pious and virtuous. They are supposed to lead us out of epistemic sin, set the example, light the way forward. When one of them betrays that trust, it is worse than ordinary stupidity. It damages all of us; it feeds the besetting demons of ignorance and sloppy thinking, and casts discredit on scientists who have remained true to their sacred vocation.

    I think these two quotes reveal an inconsistency, and that the first one is right and the second is misguided. Science isn’t supposed to have a priesthood. You’re a scientist when you act like a scientist; being a bad scientist is indistinct from not being a scientist at all. Does the time cube guy provoke in you the same kind of visceral disgust that frauds in mainstream academia do? If not, why not?

  126. These days, any group of mediocre people can start their own “Scientific Journal” and start cranking out their junk. The standards are simply low. A few years back a group of people wrote SCIgen (a computer program which generates nonsense papers with graphs) and some of these papers were accepted.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCIgen

    ESR’s religion is the science upon which SCIgen was written. Not the science upon which the output of SCIgen was accepted in academic publications :-)

  127. >I think these two quotes reveal an inconsistency, and that the first one is right and the second is misguided.

    You are perfectly right that they are inconsistent. The first one is a rational evaluation; the second is a report of the feelings that surround my reception of scientific fraud as sacrilege. We do not always feel as we think we should feel.

  128. Something else to consider: perhaps your reception of scientific fraud as sacrilege does indeed allow charismatic nutcases to provoke you to rage, but not in the manner that you think: maybe in the scientific world, the likes of Al Gore or Michael Bellesiles are exactly what a charismatic nutcase looks like. How does your emotional reaction to Bellesiles compare to your emotional reaction to Pat Robertson? I know the analogy is imperfect since you’re a scientist but not a Christian, but what common elements are there?

  129. >How does your emotional reaction to Bellesiles compare to your emotional reaction to Pat Robertson?

    Oh, good question. Because it caused me to realize something interesting by comparing my reactions to Pat Robertson, Michael Bellesiles, and Phil Jones (Jones is standing in here for any scientist participating in fraud and misconduct).

    Of the three, Pat Robertson angers me the least. Yes, he wants to burn me at the stake, and yes, I would cheerfully kill him for that if I could get away with it. But his ability to reason and make sound choices is so damaged by the belief system he has internalized that it would be like killing a dangerous animal or a violent lunatic. One does it if one has to, but hatred is reserved for creatures that are more nearly one’s equal.

    Belleisles angers me more because he holds himself out as a man of reason. But since I rather expect humanist academics to be political shills and moral cretins after so many decades of Gramscian damage, I can’t summon up much feeling of hatred or betrayal towards him as an individual. It’s the entire subculture that produced him, and then feted him with glowing reviews and prizes, that’s rotten.

    Phil Jones fully enrages me, because when scientists hold themselves forwards as men of reason and honesty I expect to be able to believe them.

    The interesting thing you caused me to realize is that my reaction to Bellesiles is more like my reaction to Robertson than my reaction to a scientist committing fraud.

  130. The interesting thing you caused me to realize is that my reaction to Bellesiles is more like my reaction to Robertson than my reaction to a scientist committing fraud.

    Interesting, because while the humanities are not sciences per se, they still share a lot more in common with science than they do with divinity, and at least in principle their standards of scholarship and intellectual honesty ought to be similar. So what’s the distinction between the two that allows a fraudulent scientist to get under your skin so much more deeply than a fraudulent humanist?

  131. Eric, it may be because I’ve known FAR more graduate students grinding out their Ph.Ds than you seem to have met – and known them on a day-to-day/housemate/girlfriend/roommate basis than you, but I got the “scientist as object of veneration” thing kicked out of me fast.

    I no more expect scientists to be ‘paragons of rational virtue’ than I expect that of lawyers or elected officials.

    Most of the “nuts and bolts” of doing research becomes the equivalent of scooping turds out of the cat box and cataloging them by texture, color, firmness and how high they bounce off of the floor when used as a rubber ball substitute….and being thankful that this time, the committee decided that ‘flavor’ was considered to be too subjective a measure to be useful.

    Coming up with testable hypotheses and predictive models is the fun and easy part of being a scientist. Actually gathering the data, over the course of years, while fighting for grants, herding graduate students who rapidly go from enthused to “Oh, God, I’ve made a mistake, but it’s too large of a chunk of my life to throw away now…” is where it becomes a job.

    I understand being upset at scientific malpractice. I have known too many scientists and graduate students to hold many of the breed in any particular reverence; I figure they’re worthy of reverence for what they’ve accomplished, not the initials at the end of their name or their faculty.

    In some ways, I think you have an SF-nal mythologized view of research scientists.

  132. >So what’s the distinction between the two that allows a fraudulent scientist to get under your skin so much more deeply than a fraudulent humanist?

    Like I said, I regard the culture of the academic humanities as deeply corrupt. This makes it more difficult for me to feel particular hate for individuals in it who act out.

  133. >Eric, it may be because I’ve known FAR more graduate students grinding out their Ph.Ds than you seem to have met – and known them on a day-to-day/housemate/girlfriend/roommate basis than you,

    Considering our life histories I think this is unlikely to be true. While I haven’t been in academe for a long time, it has always been the case that many of my friends are scientists and engineers in close association with research groups, academics or otherwise.

    >In some ways, I think you have an SF-nal mythologized view of research scientists.

    If that is so, the ones I know personally haven’t done a bad job of confirming it.

  134. I wrote: “If that is so, the ones I know personally haven’t done a bad job of confirming it.”

    It occurs to me that one reason Ken and I have had different experiences is that my connections to research have mainly been through top-rank engineering schools and Ivy League universities – Penn, Stanford, MIT, CMU, Princeton, Harvard. Just from where Ken has lived it seems unlikely that he’s had routine contact with a population quite so ruthlessly selected for merit. I say this knowing that you can find large swathes of bullshit at even first-rank schools – but not, usually, in STEM departments which is where all my friends are.

    It may also be relevant that most of those friends are SF fans who could be expected to be trying to live the life of the ideal SFnal research scientist because who they’ve wanted to be all their lives. Not unlike, er, me.

  135. esr,

    I was going to skip this but it still seems somehow germane.

    You are a prophet of doom for closed source. You are a prophet of redemption through open source.

    I think Some Guy thinks you are a false prophet since Linus hasn’t achieved world domination yet.

    You promote one really good idea: open source.

    Generally you are correct about the utility of open source. I will admit, however, that I do think you dramatically underestimate the utility of closed source.

    James Hansen (especially among all those you have mentioned) is a prophet of doom for humanity. He is a prophet of redemption through renunciation of carbon.

    Hansen has had one really good idea: that the Earth might be like Venus.

    This really was an interesting and good idea, but it appears to be completely wrong.

    However, Hansen is just as invested in his idea / prophecy as you are in yours.

    If he admits that he is wrong his entire life becomes meaningless.

    Shackleton, by contrast, gave up his life’s goal of reaching the South Pole and settled for saving the lives of his men. That’s pretty meaningful.

    I think you could give up open source in order to save scientific integrity, since your life has so many other meanings.

    I don’t know if Hansen has those other things. I hope so.

    I’m not sure if the attractions of being a prophet go along with your discussion of science as your religion. You might even be insulted, although I really hope not, since I am not trying to be insulting.

    Would exploring this nuance help you to kill any Buddhas?

    Yours,
    Tom

  136. >I think you could give up open source in order to save scientific integrity, since your life has so many other meanings.

    I have extreme difficulty imagining any scenario in which that would present itself as an either/or choice. However, your psychological point is sound; not only could I give up being the prophet of open source because my life has other meanings and values in it, I already have.

    Back in the late 1990s there were so many people who wanted to erect a cult of personality around me that I could have become a revered guru surrounded by a cloud of disciples just by letting it be known I was willing to play the role. I rejected that option because I thought that it would be bad for the movement in the long run. I had the psychological room to reject it because my life means other things, too. ESR the famous computer geek is only part of me, not my whole identity.

    >I’m not sure if the attractions of being a prophet go along with your discussion of science as your religion. You might even be insulted, although I really hope not, since I am not trying to be insulting.

    Oh hell no. Remember, my religious emotions frighten me. The role of prophet frightens me – especially because I’ve seen what it’s done to Richard Stallman – and it only frightens me more because I’m certain I can play it very compellingly. Receiving science with religious emotion is not a response I want to have, it’s a response I seem to be stuck with.

    >Would exploring this nuance help you to kill any Buddhas?

    I haven’t spotted one yet in this thread that I hadn’t already murdered pretty thoroughly. If you think you see one that I’m blind to, speak up.

  137. We’ve been discussing “science” as in the traditional sense where you publish a finding, and it’s good science if somebody can replicate your results.

    This is a No Good Scotsman defense. People do “science” in private research labs all the time, and it is not less valid than science done in public through the peer review process.

    But, for example, someone who calls himself a “scientist” and who publishes a paper that says that AGW will obliterate all life on the planet unless we as a species take these drastic steps really needs to have reproducible results.

    That may well be the case. Now you’ve qualified yourself even more narrowly. Yes, of course if the public is going to be led around there needs to be replication.

    And if he is the sole curator of huge dataset that was used to generate the results and is unwilling to share raw data, then that can be a difficult proposition.

    This is true. So what? I can withhold all the data I want and it’s still “science”. Making it difficult for you to replicate my results enhances the power of your replication.

    If you produce a useful widget, you have no responsibility to explain all the steps you took to get there.

    If you produce a useful theory, you have no responsibility to explain all the steps you took to get there. In fact, people seldom do. Where do you get this nonsense? Lots of academics think they do these things. They don’t. A research paper is usually a story told to convey an idea, not raw fact.

    But the minute you argue that yours is the only antenna on the market that won’t cause cancer at 2.5 GHz, the FTC, the courts, and your competitors will slap you pretty hard unless you can show reasonable evidence of this “fact”.

    So you’re saying one is science, and the other isn’t? You say the motivations of science are the separation from engineering, but the motivation here is clearly to sell antennas. The reality is that these issues are complex.

  138. > The role of prophet frightens me – especially because I’ve seen what it’s done to Richard Stallman

    I think it’s done a job on Hansen (and Gore), too. Is there any sympathy to go with the rage? Is that a Buddha?

    Yours,
    Tom

  139. “Science” is becoming less and less patient with those who withhold relevant data. There are many fields where you cannot get anything published without putting the underlying (raw) data in a public repository. And the number of fields where this is required is growing. And if you mean privacy related data, there are procedures for that.

    So what? You’re now talking about peer-reviewed research. That is not the same thing as “science”. Simply reclassifying certain kinds of science as “R&D” because it suits your argument is asinine. Research and development isn’t even the same kind of category as “science”.

  140. Well, in my case that was mainly Fred Brooks and Richard Weinberg (both of whom I did cite).

    Again, you need to actually have a list of publications somewhere. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is not an example of “science”, no matter how badly you want it to be. Your prattle about “prediction” and “falsification” is cargo-cult nonsense that indicates you are simply a bystander who reads too much bad philosophy.

  141. Roger,

    I think esr can confirm that open sourcing a closed source project is a lot of work. It is particularly difficult to open source all the original and intermediate work products. When we ask scientists to open source a bit of scientific research after the fact it does sound like a demand for more free ice cream from people who gain nothing from giving away that ice cream, doesn’t it? That is why I suspect it would be much easier to do open source science from the beginning. That’s not nearly as hard although it does take some planning. However, it messes up the incentives. Revealing one’s scientific insights too soon is a good way to have credit stolen. Therefore one would need to plan for it like those companies which open up the source a couple of releases back. I think this could be made to work, but first you would have to change (a portion of) the scientific culture to get those kinds of results.

    And there will still be a significant number of good scientists who see no benefit at all to that sort of complete openness. Issac Newton comes forcefully to mind.

    Yours,
    Tom

  142. Roger,

    > Again, you need to actually have a list of publications somewhere. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is not an example of “science”, no matter how badly you want it to be. Your prattle about “prediction” and “falsification” is cargo-cult nonsense that indicates you are simply a bystander who reads too much bad philosophy.

    No way. Science is just a normal portion of human behavior. Babies do science in order to figure out the world. You can’t say the stuff in private research labs is science and what esr does isn’t science. Both are science.

    And what Winter says that science must be done in a community is incomplete too. Science does not require a community.

    I think people need to acknowledge that there is more than one way to do science. Historical sciences are different from experimental sciences, for example.

    Science is pretty darn big. Like religion.

    Yours,
    Tom

  143. >I think it’s done a job on Hansen (and Gore), too. Is there any sympathy to go with the rage? Is that a Buddha?

    RMS has my sympathy because he has become consumed by the role of a prophet who is trying to do good things. I think he is mistaken about some matters, but I cannot imagine him committing fraud; he’s a man of absolutely rigid integrity. Why should I sympathize with prophets who commit fraud and intend things I think are evil?

  144. >The Cathedral and the Bazaar is not an example of “science”, no matter how badly you want it to be.

    You are entitled to that opinion. A good many scientists think otherwise.

  145. You can’t say the stuff in private research labs is science and what esr does isn’t science. Both are science.

    Of course I can. There is no strict demarcation between what is generally agreed to be pseudo-science and actual science, but that’s not going to stop me from labeling it as such. Your argument seems to be that I have to accept your criterion. I do not. Show me something I can do better by using his “results”. The practice of writing a bunch of poorly substantiated essays/blog posts and then cherry-picking bits that have come true is not generally recognised as scientific. Because he has read too much philosophical trash (and badly at that), he believes that if he can dress something up as “predictive” in retrospect then that is enough. He is sorely mistaken.

    I think people need to acknowledge that there is more than one way to do science. Historical sciences are different from experimental sciences, for example.

    I am not suggesting there is only one way to do science. I am suggesting that I know bullshit when I smell it.

  146. You are entitled to that opinion. A good many scientists think otherwise.

    It’s gratifying to me that this is your only defense. What a laugh.

  147. > RMS has my sympathy because he has become consumed by the role of a prophet who is trying to do good things.

    Yes, he is trying to do good things. So is Hansen. I think Stallman has carried it too far and is turning copyleft into an oppressive force. Sure, Hansen, has carried it way, way, way too far. However, if he really believes Earth could end up like Venus, well, what do you do when the sky is falling and duplicitous oil barons convince people not to listen? I don’t think he thinks he is committing fraud. I think he truly believes his own stuff.

    Right now, closed source has a lot of life. I don’t think it is going away, ever. Can you live with that? Is it OK if the Bazaar you described isn’t the utterly dominate behavior? What if it isn’t even the dominate behavior, but merely a common one? Is that enough?

    I think your answers are all yes. I think you are a much better man than Hansen, or RMS. But even really great guys can sometimes understand the temptations lesser men fall prey to. As far as RMS goes, I think he is Hansen’s twin. The whole control freak save the world at any cost vibe comes off RMS at least as strongly as it does off Hansen. I just think RMS’s situation as an oracle does not afford him the opportunity to accidentally do as much evil as Hansen.

    Yours,
    Tom

  148. We’ve been discussing “science” as in the traditional sense where you publish a finding, and it’s good science if somebody can replicate your results.

    People do “science” in private research labs all the time, and it is not less valid than science done in public through the peer review process.

    I didn’t say it was. But it is a slightly different process. As I alluded to when I said “I hope this is only a terminology issue.”

    So what? I can withhold all the data I want and it’s still “science”. Making it difficult for you to replicate my results enhances the power of your replication.

    Absolutely true. OTOH, if you do have valid results and you want to be thought of as a scientist, rather than a quack, it would be good to leave enough breadcrumbs for others to follow. Otherwise your name will be inextricably linked to a term that is listed on the same page as “cold fusion” and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll be vindicated decades or centuries later.

    If you produce a useful theory, you have no responsibility to explain all the steps you took to get there.

    Sure, but there is a difference between throwing a theory out there and saying “what do you think?”, and throwing a theory out there and saying “I have data that indicates this is the only plausible explanation for what is about to happen, but I’m not going to share it with you.”

    In fact, people seldom do. Where do you get this nonsense? Lots of academics think they do these things. They don’t. A research paper is usually a story told to convey an idea, not raw fact.

    Yes, a research paper can be useful without giving away too much. But at that point, it is just the starting point in a wider conversation. At some point, either the results will be replicated, or the researcher should lose stature (and usually will in hard science fields).

    Having said that — if you manage to ship millions of black boxes all over the world that explode when opened, and each generate many megawatts of power for years if left undisturbed, then I think that anyone would agree that you had done science.

    But the minute you argue that yours is the only antenna on the market that won’t cause cancer at 2.5 GHz, the FTC, the courts, and your competitors will slap you pretty hard unless you can show reasonable evidence of this “fact”.

    So you’re saying one is science, and the other isn’t? You say the motivations of science are the separation from engineering, but the motivation here is clearly to sell antennas.

    The motivation of engineering is always to build useful stuff. Marketers long ago noticed this and learned to domesticate the wild engineer.

    The reality is that these issues are complex.

    Which is why I wrote “Engineering and science are heavily interrelated at the margins.”

  149. >It’s gratifying to me that this is your only defense. What a laugh.

    Roger, you’re a bright person, but your compulsive bitchiness makes you very silly sometimes. I don’t feel any actual need to ‘defend’ myself against your charge that I’m not doing real science, because I think my work stands quite firmly on its methods, its results and its impact on the fields it has touched. You can bite at my ankles all you like without changing that impact one iota.

    It’s not the social standing or guild status of a scientist that makes me want to be thought of as one, so whether you think I’m a scientist in the social-network sense doesn’t signify much to me either. If that sort of approval did, I could collect reassurances from computer scientists a good deal more eminent than you.

    No. I want to be thought of as a scientist because I want people to associate me with the virtues of a scientist – the dedication to seek truth, honesty, rigor of thought and method, and a ruthless willingness to follow the evidence where it leads (killing whatever Buddhas I have to on the way). In your own cramped, angry, unhappy way I think you try to live up to that ideal as strenuously as I do. Despite your hostility, I rather like you for it.

    My reaction to your sniping isn’t to feel threatened, it’s to feel sad that you have such difficulty recognizing that quest for excellence in others. I think that difficulty makes you more lonely than you need to be.

  150. Roger,

    Why are you so passionate that what esr has done is not science? It’s not formal science. It’s not rigorous science. Me, I recognize that those things greatly improve the value of science. I would expect a professional scientist to use them to add value to their daily work. But even when professional scientists aren’t doing formal and rigorous science, they are still doing science. And sometimes the formality and rigor does not add sufficient value to be pursued. It’s the same way with computer programs we write.

    > I am suggesting that I know bullshit when I smell it.

    We all believe that. I believe you are pumping out something I don’t want to step in right now. I don’t buy this elitist claptrap that only scientists do science and only rigorous papers whether published in private or peer reviewed is science. I believe that politics is not the sole province of professional politicians, law is not the sole province of professional lawyers and science is not the sole province of professional scientists. They belong to mankind and are practiced by mankind. All mankind.

    If you believe otherwise I’d like you to try an experiment. Take whatever framed credential has given you those airs and attempt to place it where it will block what you are pumping out. And write up the results.

    Luckily I don’t think you think that. But I want you to understand why I am so passionate about this.

    Yours,
    Tom

  151. @Tom G: “No way. Science is just a normal portion of human behavior. Babies do science in order to figure out the world.”

    You’ve got to be kidding. Science was invented by precisely one culture in all of human history, and you consider it a normal part of human behavior? On the contrary, it is difficult to do science well precisely because humans are not wired to do it. Instead, human mentalities see assocations where they don’t exist (“I needed rain and danced a dance, and it rained the next day, so next time I need rain I’ll do that dance again”) and struggle mightily to separate causality from causation. They develop emotional investment in irrational beliefs, and fight hard against attempts to demonstrate the falsity of those beliefs.

    Saying that babies do science is to seriously misunderstand what science really is. It’s far more specific than just observing the world and trying to learn from it. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t be so many profoundly anti-scientific cultures on Earth today.

  152. Cathy,

    No, it’s normal human behavior. It’s not the only normal human behavior. It’s not always the most valued human behavior. If you want to see human beings act consistently like scientists, have them go to war. You will observe people learning rapidly in a scientific fashion. This even changes the behavior of such notably irrational folk as the Taliban.

    Yours,
    Tom

  153. >Yes, he is trying to do good things. So is Hansen.

    I’m not convinced of that in Hansen’s case. He smells to me like a ruthless careerist who decided that ginning up an environmental panic was his most effective path to riches and fame. It would be quite difficult to put that interpretation of RMS’s behavior even for someone who doesn’t know him as well as I do.

    >I think your answers are all yes.

    Confirmed.

    >But even really great guys can sometimes understand the temptations lesser men fall prey to.

    Oh hell yes. There are many reasons I ran from the role of prophet. To put it in terms I think you will understand, I felt peril to my soul on that path.

    >The whole control freak save the world at any cost vibe comes off RMS at least as strongly as it does off Hansen.

    I think that’s not a fair evaluation of RMS. He doesn’t have the emotional stance I associate with “control freak” – he’s laser-focused on one issue, without the control-freak’s urge to expand his prescriptiveness to a total system.

    I also think there is insufficient evidence to convict Hansen of being a control freak, as opposed to an amoral careerist who’s willing to traffic in evil for gain. The contrast with Gore, who really is a crypto-totalitarian control freak, is instructive. All Hansen seems to want is tenure and fame; Gore wants to impose a sort of weak-tea-socialist Utopia on everyone.

  154. > Science was invented by precisely one culture in all of human history

    Oh and BTW I think the Sumerians, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Babylonians, Persians, Mayans, Aztecs and plenty of others would be quite justifiably pissed by this utterly unfounded and slanderous assertion. Do you have any idea how much science it takes to build a freaking civilization? Don’t let your modern perspective cloud your judgement.

    Yours,
    Tom

  155. > I think that’s not a fair evaluation of RMS. He doesn’t have the emotional stance I associate with “control freak” – he’s laser-focused on one issue, without the control-freak’s urge to expand his prescriptiveness to a total system.

    Granted. And you know him and I don’t. I back off my hasty mischaracterization.

    > All Hansen seems to want is tenure and fame

    He also wants to throw AGW denialists in jail. I stick by control freak for now.

    Yours,
    Tom

  156. @Cathy: “Science was invented by precisely one culture in all of human history.”

    @Tom G: “Oh and BTW I think the Sumerians, Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Babylonians, Persians, Mayans, Aztecs and plenty of others would be quite justifiably pissed by this utterly unfounded and slanderous assertion. Do you have any idea how much science it takes to build a freaking civilization? Don’t let your modern perspective cloud your judgement.”

    Again, I think you are abusing the word “science”. No, I don’t believe that it takes any science at all to build a civilization, not even a sophisticated civilization. It’s only necessary to have science if you want to get your technology past a certain point of cut-and-try, a level that wasn’t really achieved until somewhere arond the 18th/19th century in Europe (I refuse to quibble over the exact location of the line). If science is as culturally ubiquitious as you claim, why have so many of the world’s cultures struggled to catch up to the West’s level of technology and economic wealth?

    It’s clear that your definition of science is very different from the one that I — and most books on the subject — use. Perhaps you’d care to give your definition of “science”?

  157. @Cathy:

    > Science was invented by precisely one culture in all of human history.

    If you are referring to the “scientific method”, the scientific method most definitely pre-dates european renaissance. It was “re-invented” in Europe.

    > It’s only necessary to have science if you want to get your technology past a certain point of cut-and-try, a level that wasn’t really achieved until somewhere arond the 18th/19th century in Europe

    If you look at the Astrolabe it is a magnificent piece of technology. Paper-making too. It took warfare to extract paper-making know-how from the chinese. You maybe referring to the industrial revolution and the economies of industrialism which followed, which is really another development in human history.

  158. Cathy,

    > Again, I think you are abusing the word “science”.

    No, I think that’s you. Consider all sophisticated mathematics and astronomy in the cultures I mentioned. In astronomy especially, observation led to accurate predictions.

    > If science is as culturally ubiquitious as you claim, why have so many of the world’s cultures struggled to catch up to the West’s level of technology and economic wealth?

    Science is not responsible for economic wealth. If that was true, the Soviets, who had truly excellent scientists, would have done much better. Our legal and educational systems are responsible for our level of technology and economic wealth. In addition, as I think I’ve mentioned, we value science more than other cultures.

    Yours,
    Tom

  159. @Tom:

    > Science is not responsible for economic wealth

    Very true. Even if you were to measure the entire technology sector and its contribution to America’s GDP it will be relatively small. If you narrow it down to the advanced technologies it will even be smaller.

    Experience suggests that a country can go from rags to riches in a couple of generations timespan if they have good economic planners and good policies.

  160. >He also wants to throw AGW denialists in jail. I stick by control freak for now.

    Unbelievably, I find you have backed me into a position of defending James Hansen, the person I consider singly most responsible for perverting climate science.

    You were right to remind me that Hansen has called for “denialists” to be jailed. This is still not quite sufficient in my mind to establish that his central urge is to control the lives of others using AGW as a pretext. The least hypothesis that I think fits the facts is that he is an amoral careerist who has called for denialists to be jailed as a means of suppressing critics who might further expose his fraudulence.

    I would put Hansen in the “control-freak” category if his past speech and behavior revealed a general predisposition to seek coercive control over others – as definitely is the case for Al Gore. But what I know of Hansen’s record is not sufficient to establish this.

    I have no love for James Hansen. I think he has done considerable evil, and we will not be done struggling with that evil for a long time. But I think it is important for both tactical and ethical reasons to be careful about how we characterize the motives of people like him, and not to go beyond what the evidence warrants.

  161. > Unbelievably, I find you have backed me into a position of defending James Hansen, the person I consider singly most responsible for perverting climate science.

    Hmmm. I think you are attacking him and I am defending him, even now.

    > But I think it is important for both tactical and ethical reasons to be careful about how we characterize the motives of people like him, and not to go beyond what the evidence warrants.

    OK. I think it’s worse to be an amoral careerist than to be a control freak who wants to save the world at any cost. I can’t sympathize with an amoral careerist. I can sympathize with someone who wants to save the world.

    In addition, I am taking him at his word, and saying that he believes what he says, but just that he is wrong. He says he wants to save the world. He says he thinks we should pay a very high price to do so. He says that people should be jailed for denialism. Really, esr, I’m going by the evidence: his words. You are reading something into his motives having given no evidence at all.

    Yours,
    Tom

  162. >No, I think that’s you. Consider all sophisticated mathematics and astronomy in the cultures I mentioned. In astronomy especially, observation led to accurate predictions.

    There’s some right on both sides here, I think. I would say that the scientific method has appeared sporadically in cultures going all the way back to Sumeria, most notably in conjunction with astronomy and land surveying.

    I would further say that we can identify at least three cultures in which scientific method began to be systematized in a way recognizable to modern scientists; early Islamic civilation c.622-1100CE, India around 1000CE and Ming-period China in the late 1300s CE. In all three of these cultures, however, the initial impulse failed. The suppression of the Mut’azilite school by the followers of al-Ghazali and the policy of retrenchment by the neo-Confucians of the late Ming era ended those experiments; I am much less clear on what happened in India.

    The unique thing about European civilization is that the systematization of scientific method both occurred and was not suppressed before it became unsuppressable due to the effects of the Industrial Revolution. I don’t think Joseph Needham’s explanation has yet been improved on; it was the lack of centralized political power over the whole European revolution, leading to competition between warring states, that led to science being embraced as a competitive edge rather than suppressed as a threat to religion and social stability.

    As a result, the systematization of scientific method proceeded faster and much further in Europe than elsewhere. We live in the results.

  163. @ esr: I must take issue with your summary of “religion” as follows:

    Summary: religion is insanity to the extent that it requires (a) belief in unfalsifiable propositions, (b) belief in miracles (that is, exceptions to causal regularity), and (c) submission to an internalized sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor.

    I agree with (a) and (b). As framed, your statement (c) implies that there is something intrinsically wrong with having an “internalized” behavioral monitor.

    Not at all. People who lack such an internalized monitor do a great deal of harm, whether they espouse any religious beliefs or not. We call them sociopaths.

    I think what you meant by (c) was something more like “an internalized sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor based upon the sort of unfalsifiable beliefs referred to in (a) above”, no?

    ESR says: That is correct.

  164. >OK. I think it’s worse to be an amoral careerist than to be a control freak who wants to save the world at any cost. I can’t sympathize with an amoral careerist. I can sympathize with someone who wants to save the world.

    That’s interesting. I think people who want to save the world through coercive control are far, far worse than amoral careerists. They tend to pile up a much larger body count.

  165. That’s interesting. I think people who want to save the world through coercive control are far, far worse than amoral careerists. They tend to pile up a much larger body count.

    Maybe that’s what makes you not religious in the traditional way. The typical religious hierarchical power structure was built to save the world through coercive control.

  166. > I think people who want to save the world through coercive control are far, far worse than amoral careerists. They tend to pile up a much larger body count.

    Except for the ones, like FDR, who actually save it. His economic policies were horrible, I hate, hate, hate them, but he did save us from Hitler. He wasn’t the first whacko control freak who was just crazy enough to want to lead a free and democratic country and yet not wrack up a body count.

    Frankly I think the body counts are the result of lack of freedom and democracy combined with the inevitable control freak world savers. Do you really think Gore is unique among American politicians? He’s not even close.

    Yours,
    Tom

  167. A general thought from a similarly-minded Wiccan for everyone that might help clear up some mysteries:

    Wicca is a religion of shared practice and not necessarily shared belief. Therefore, it’s easy to say for esr and myself to say “science is my religion” from the standpoint that we believe almost dogmatically in the scientific method. This is actually not an unusual stance for a Wiccan to take; after all, Wicca is an experiential religion and the scientific method stresses that there is no better source for data than direct observation — well, at least until we get down the quantum level anyway. Then when particles act like waves and waves like particles, we can scratch our heads, shrug, and say well, hell, it’s both! ;)

    In any respect, concepts such as “faith” do not apply to Wicca. They might apply to some Wiccans, but it is not actually necessary to believe or have “faith” in anything.

    Just my 10 cents, adjusted for inflation.

    ESR says: Morgan’s summary is concise and correct.

  168. esr:

    > The suppression of the Mut’azilite school by the followers of al-Ghazali and the policy of retrenchment by the neo-Confucians of the late Ming era ended those experiments; I am much less clear on what happened in India.

    You’re well informed on this. Ironically, it was the very Mutazillite school that re-emerged in Renaissance Europe by the disciples and followers of its most famous philosopher -> Averroes.

    Regarding India: India was under the control of non Arab muslims for much of its recent history up until the british colonialists arrived. The non Arab muslims and their rulers were Ghazali followers and rejected the Arab-dominated Mutazilite school outright.

    As for the scientific method, it was never really suppressed in the Muslim world after its development by Alhazen. What retarded progress in the muslim world (aside from the crushing of the Mutaazilite) is how the writing system evolved. The arabic writing system (an alphabetical yet-cursive calligraphed script) evolved into a artform. It also evolved into a fast-to-write cursive script that suppressed the letter-after-letter writing system of alphabets like the latin, greek, and their parent phonecian alphabet. The arabic script is 3x to 4x faster to write than the latin script.

    The cursive script of the arabs is what prevented them from coming up with something like the printing press inspite of their technological advancement. Even after the invention of the printing press in Europe, the arabs and muslims rejected the technology for 3 centuries because it could not create their beautiful script. It was Napoleon Bonaparte who introduced the printing press in Egypt by force of Arms. Even till this day the arabic typesetting remains one of the most challenging problems in computer science. While the script is alphabetical (with straightforward alphabetical unicode representation) the typesetting is far from easy. You need an algorithm that can pick letters and glyphs out of something like half a million possibilities to result in acceptable-looking script let alone something that remotely compete with the beauty of the calligraphed script.

  169. >Ironically, it was the very Mutazillite school that re-emerged in Renaissance Europe by the disciples and followers of its most famous philosopher -> Averroes.

    I think characterizing the Scholastics as Mu’tazilites is going too far. Granted ibn-Rushd had a significant influence on several areas of scholorship in the Islamic world, but in Europe he was influential primarily as a translator and commentator on Aristotle and Plato. The one area where his original thought influenced Europeans was in medicine (something the Wikipedia article on him curiously fails to mention).

    >Even after the invention of the printing press in Europe, the arabs and muslims rejected the technology for 3 centuries because it could not create their beautiful script.

    You left out the really fun part. The reason reproducing the script was a big deal is because several schools within Islam developed a doctrine that the sacredness of the Quran was tied to its expression in classical Arabic and its script. The Sufis even developed a school of mysticism around the letterforms! As a result, the idea of using the printing press to run off copies in a separate-letter variant of Arabic (and some did exist) was viewed as sacrilege – and the whole cultural complex around literacy had become so centered on the Quran that this was enough to make the printing press blasphemous as well!

  170. > I think characterizing the Scholastics as Mu’tazilites is going too far

    I am not sure because they both attempted the exact thing. The only differences were differences that emerged from the different theologies involved: Islamic vs. Christian. Averroes’s commentary on Plato and Aristotle is where he injected his ideas about religion, theology, and reconciling all that with the philosophy of plato and aristotle. Of course in Averroes’s context the theology was Islamic not christian and that is the main difference.

    > You left out the really fun part. The reason reproducing the script was a big deal is because several schools within Islam developed a doctrine that the sacredness of the Quran was tied to its expression in classical Arabic and its script.

    Absolutely. How could I have missed that! It is true. It’s called the script of Osman (the 3rd caliph). It took ~1400 years for the arabs to get a “spelling reformation” of their language by the Sorbonne-educated Taha Hussein, who himself was accused of sacrilege, blasphemy and every hideous thing in the book.

  171. >Taha Hussein, who himself was accused of sacrilege, blasphemy and every hideous thing in the book.

    As the logical endpoint of the literalist interpretation – which means al-Ghazali has a lot to answer for. Clearest case I know of in the historical record of one philosopher effectively wrecking an entire civilization. Likely he’s got more blood on his hands than any other intellectual save Karl Marx.

  172. @esr:

    > Clearest case I know of in the historical record of one philosopher effectively wrecking an entire civilization. Likely he’s got more blood on his hands than any other intellectual save Karl Marx.

    I would rank Ghazali to be even worse than Marx. He is singlehandedly responsible for retarding human progress by 700 years.

    One of Ghazali’s opponents in Afghanistan (of all places) came up with this poem. The language may be rusty (translations never do justice to the original) but the idea comes through. You can pretty much fill in the blank and imagine for yourself the world that would have been, had the opposing school of the muatazilites triumphed:

    Poem:

    My Christian loving Friend
    We all are one at the end

    Either come with me and Muslim be
    Or into a Christian .. do turn me

    Accompany me to the Mosque
    And become faithful without Ask

    Or take me with you … unhesitant
    so as to become the church resident

    My head skull would be your ship
    Both my eyes the storm would clip

    You are the Capitan, come here and sit
    an watch the storm the ocean waves hit

    Oh Soulmate!

    Torah, Koran, Talmud or Bible …
    just leave them aside
    and open the pages of my heart …
    open them wide.

  173. “I don’t think you get offended by scientific malpractice (which is a better term than scientific fraud). You get offended by scientific malpractice being used as the Big Lie for social movement purposes. Very few instances of scientific malpractice can fit this mode of abuse.”

    Science has been political since 1947, and grossly political since 1972. You cannot investigate the mechanism of speciation without being suspected of racism and accused of plotting genocide. You can get in big trouble investigating speciation in three spined sticklebacks, because people suspect what stickleback races might imply about human races. Even speciation in Foraminifera is apt to be a little bit delicate, ever since Nei and Takezaki casually observed that not all populations evolve at the same rate, and immediately found themselves before the inquisition.

  174. >Except for the ones, like FDR, who actually save it. His economic policies were horrible, I hate, hate, hate them, but he did save us from Hitler.

    Do you really think that FDR was more effective as a wartime president than virtually any other possible president we could have had? Especially after his disastrous economic policies had reduced the US economy enough that it took years to recover enough to stop getting US servicemen killed? True, he wasn’t as bad as Wilson, Hitler, or Stalin, but he was still one of the most evil bastards of the 20th century.

  175. >I would rank Ghazali to be even worse than Marx. He is singlehandedly responsible for retarding human progress by 700 years.

    Not really. He only started to screw up the world after about 1100; while that does mean he cost the Islamic world about 700 years of progress (e.g. until the first reforming Ottomans), the Europeans got their party started with the High Scholastics around 1300. So he cost the world as a whole maybe two centuries, and that’s making the absolute best-case assumptions about what Islamic rationalists would have done.

    Besides, I think Marx’s body count was a lot higher. We’d need to do some research to estimate deaths in the Islamic expansion wars to be sure, but given the general curve of world population growth I doubt there were enough victims within reach of Muslim swords to come anywhere near matching the Communist 20th-century genocides.

  176. I think what you meant by (c) was something more like “an internalized sin/guilt/thoughtcrime monitor based upon the sort of unfalsifiable beliefs referred to in (a) above”, no?

    Which answers the earlier complaint(thought experiment?) that applied this definition to Santa. While there is a sin monitor inherent within the Santa mythos (“naughty or nice”) it’s not based on any unfalsifiable beliefs within the mythos itself but rather an ephemeral “have you been a good boy/girl” which is more likely based around the moral zeitgeist the Santa believer exists within (e.g. If we posit a hypothetical race that believes that cannibalism is good and right, Santa would be checking his list twice for all those bad girls and boys who didn’t finish their brains).

  177. @esr:

    > So he cost the world as a whole maybe two centuries,

    I think your calculation is valid too. I have based my calculation on the “critical mass” of the movement as measured within society at large. The Mutazilite have become the dominant school in the muslim world and were so prevalent in society up to the point where they were suddenly and brutally wiped out. If you apply the same critereon to Europe you’d probably have to go to 17th/18th centuries before the same critical mass could be measured within european society for the very same ideas.

    > Besides, I think Marx’s body count was a lot higher.

    This is true. I basically blamed the black plague of europe on the lost centuries of Ghazali.

  178. Besides, I think Marx’s body count was a lot higher. We’d need to do some research to estimate deaths in the Islamic expansion wars to be sure, but given the general curve of world population growth I doubt there were enough victims within reach of Muslim swords to come anywhere near matching the Communist 20th-century genocides.

    Wouldn’t that then suggest that numerical body count is a poor indicator then? I would have thought that if the metric to have any validity it would have to be scaled by opportunity in some way.

  179. “Science was invented by precisely one culture in all of human history, and you consider it a normal part of human behavior?”

    I would say it was precisely one *person*. For both in the Western culture and others there have been gurus, philosophers, who have said a lot about the “higher things” like metaphysics or geometry or math or ethics. And it was precisely one person, namely Aristotle, who could go on about ethics or logic or metaphysics as well as any other philosopher and could therefore be treated by later ages as a “guru”, and OTOH he wrote books about the anatomy of fishes too, and cracked open chicken eggs at regular intervals in order to observe the development of organs, and writing books about it. This was precisely what most gurus, philosophers and holy men just would not do – it was seen just messy and lowly, caring about all these earthly things. This is why it depended on one person: one person, who was good enough in the “high” things to be considered a guru and yet his interest in the “lowly” things convined people it is OK to care about them. In the Middle Ages, the turning point from which science have developed was exactly that if the very respected The Philosopher cared about such things as chicken organs and fish stomachs, then maybe that messy, lowly science of this Earth is actually OK and worths studying. Everything depended on this, without him, we are still stuck in Neoplatonistic speculations.

  180. I agree with Cathy. Science is not normal and not natural. Making unwarranted associations *is* natural because it helps individuals avoid fatal traps.

  181. I’d say science normal and natural because people have no trouble doing it, and in fact they seize it with both hands as soon as they see it can be useful to them. An example is the way that hand loaders develop good loads for their firearms. Another is the way mechanics fix troublesome cars. Yet another is the way that photographers work with developing photos and light. And what about cooking? There are so many notebooks filled with observations. These folks start with hypotheses, test them, modify them, and abandon the ones that fail. Many folks develop their own fairly formal process.

    This is a call out to the thread: Do you observe people doing informal science in their everyday lives?

    Yours,
    Tom

  182. He also wants to throw AGW denialists in jail. I stick by control freak for now.

    This is false and FUD. Hansen has no beef with the denialist on the street. He specificall called for the arrest and trial for crimes against humantiy of energy company CEOs who deliberately and knowingly spread disinformation and propaganda on the issue.

    Look, TPTB know exactly what’s going on. They know that AGW is a problem. You’d be hard-pressed to find an honest denialist in the upper echelons of American society. Even Bush knew; in 2004 The Guardian got hold of a leaked DoD memo specifically indicating climate change as the greatest threat to national security. It’s how they choose to react that incriminates them, not what they believe. And oilmen have chosen to react by funding and promoting the Big Lie, even if their mouthpieces were believers in the lie. It is these people whom Hansen felt should be jailed; not the mouthpieces and not the man on the street who has been led to doubt because of the lie.

  183. Jeff,

    > This is false and FUD. Hansen has no beef with the denialist on the street. He specificall called for the arrest and trial for crimes against humantiy of energy company CEOs who deliberately and knowingly spread disinformation and propaganda on the issue.

    No. No. NO. This is a real Danger Will Robinson moment.

    If it helps Jeff, please imagine my arms failing inside of some kind of flexible clothes dryer duct work.

    Not false. Not FUD. You just confirmed it. Trying to draw a false distinction between “energy company CEOs” and the rest of us is your own crime against humanity, Jeff, and I’m calling you out on it. This is not good. It’s awful. You need to walk this back. You are advocating for the implementation of thought crime. Danger! Danger! Danger!

    esr,

    We just saw an example of why you should still worry about yourself.

    > Most of you are latent monsters waiting to be triggered by whatever charismatic nutcase utters the right key to activate the religious control mechanisms in your heads.

    The Milgram experiment, the Stanford Prison Experiment, the FDR, Wilson and Churchill vs Hitler, Stalin and Mao experiments indicate to me that it is not religion that is the activates control mechanisms, it is political power.

    Yours,
    Tom

  184. >You are advocating for the implementation of thought crime. Danger! Danger! Danger!

    Indeed.

    I don’t use use phrases like “crypto-totalitarian” about people like Al Gore without a reason.

  185. esr,

    But did Al Gore ever call for energy company CEO’s to be jailed? There were plenty of ambitious career bureaucrats in totalitarian states who were very happy working for the Stasi and it’s equivalents.

    http://www.climategate.com/james-hansen-is-a-nutter

    “Last year, Hansen, a federal employee, was arrested for protesting at a coal mine in West Virginia. He has endorsed industrial sabotage as justified by the climate crisis we are facing and said that oil company executives should be put on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature.””

    Dunno. Sounds like a watermelon thug to me.

    Yours,
    Tom

  186. >I’d say science normal and natural because people have no trouble doing it, and in fact they seize it with both hands as soon as they see it can be useful to them.

    On the other hand, the scientific method didn’t really take off until the last few centuries. I expect that the printing press is a large factor in this — spreading knowledge got much cheaper when it took off.

    We are so steeped in the meme complex of the scientific method that we can’t imagine a world without it. On the other hand, I did a paper on the history of metal smelting technology for a class. It took the human race 3000 years to go from smelting lead to smelting copper. Native copper was known during that time, but creating copper from ore was not.

    It took another 1500 years to move from smelting copper to smelting iron. These time lags suggest to me that knowledge was gained by pure chance, and most of the chance progress was discarded because that wasn’t the traditional way of doing things. ‘Not invented here’

    Systematic investigation of knowledge is very recent in human history. Having anyone but the very top of the elite doing it is even more recent. A few hundred years out of the hundred thousand or so that humans have been recognizeable as such.

    All of this has been memic and social evolution. There just hasn’t been time enough for significant physical evolution to have changed us much in the last 10-12k years since the first evidence of lead smelting.

    Weapons technology shows a similar sort of progress rate if you think of it.

  187. >Dunno. Sounds like a watermelon thug to me.

    You make a pretty strong case. I guess I have to change my evaluation of Hansen.

  188. > You make a pretty strong case. I guess I have to change my evaluation of Hansen.

    And arguing it has made me decide I also prefer amoral careerists over world saving control freaks.

    Yours,
    Tom

  189. Jim,

    > On the other hand, I did a paper on the history of metal smelting technology for a class. It took the human race 3000 years to go from smelting lead to smelting copper. Native copper was known during that time, but creating copper from ore was not.

    Well, you have take into account improvements in our tools and our theories. That’s why land surveying is a good example. We figured out how to measure land much sooner than we figured out how to measure temperature (and to a much lesser degree humidity, air pressure, etc.). The theory was also much simpler. Even a great scientist with no knowledge of chemistry would have a hard time coming up with a good theory for smelting. But given a good theoretical basis on which to stand, just about any human can, and happily will, do simple science.

    Let’s be clear. Professional scientists really are better at science than most of us. And science is not like cab driving or house painting, where a fairly large group of people can do it well enough to be paid for it. It isn’t a tiny group though. Science in general is not inaccessible. Estes has made good money off … rocket science, haven’t they?

    Yours,
    Tom

  190. @Tom DeGisi:

    World saving control freaks are dependent on the existence of enormous state power that they can theoretically attain and use to save the world.

    The fundamental problem to me is something like this: Power is more like energy and conservation of energy in physics. If the state loses power something else is going to gain that power. If you take state power and push it outward and downward and give it back to the people you might easily create conditions for a power vaccum. And power vaccums often result in worse world-saving control freaks plugging the vacuum. It is more like a catch 22.

    This very problem, and the problem of how to eliminate bullshit from society are the two problems that I continue to struggle with the most. No answers.

  191. I had to read all the way down to Winter to get to what makes me angry about scientific fraud, though it’s straight anger rather than a feeling of sacrilege. Science is cumulative– fraud makes it harder for other scientists to do their work. Honest mistakes are enough of a burden.

    Patrick Maupin: I agree– I’ve thought for a while that there should be a special legal category for those who abuse trust. My first example was drivers who attack hitchhikers or vice versa, but the principle extends pretty well.

    Sam, I was going to mention Reconceiving My Body by Gil Hedley anyway, because Eric’s “Science is sanity is salvation – it’s how we redeem ourselves, individually and collectively, from the state of ignorance and sin into which we were born. ” strikes me as not religious in general but certainly Christian and possibly Catholic in particular.

    The book is a memoir by a man who recovered thoroughly from the disembodiment (habits of ignoring physical sensations) which had been taught to him as virtue.

    Part of what caught my eye in the quote from Eric is the difficulties of taking on impossible but worthwhile tasks without making yourself crazy– more my issue than Eric’s, I think.

    In re religion as insanity: The thing is, religion simply isn’t generally as incapacitating as severe insanity. People’s ability to “believe” things without damaging their lives too much is probably worth an essay in itself.

  192. >[Original sin] is not religious in general but certainly Christian and possibly Catholic in particular.

    Catholic and almost all Protestant dominations (the Mormons are perhaps the most notable exception). The Eastern Orthodox position is kind of odd; formally they reject the Augustinean notion of original sin and deny inherited guilt, but they have a functionally equivalent notion of the fallen nature of man. Islam derives from a version of early monophysite Christianity that had not incorporated the Augustinean theory of inherited guilt, but it too has a functionally equivalent doctrine – to be saved on the Islamic version of Judgment day it is not sufficient to have lived a virtuous life, but necessary to have acknowledged Allah as God and made submission (islam) in your heart.

  193. I was talking about the emotional tone and/or specific language, not just the doctrine.

    I don’t have the foggiest idea how their version of original sin is apt to play out for Muslims.

  194. @esr:

    “Allah” is the word for God in Semitic languages (Babylon = Baballah = Gate of God). In Iran, they don’t use “Allah” they use “Khoda”. Khoda = God (same indo-euro root).

    Sumbission concept is somewhat independent from the faith itself. Islamic doctrine requires submission but does not necessarily require following the faith or following Muhammad per se. Hence, the islamic belief that jews and christians (what is referred to as “people of the book”) end up in heaven if they lived a virtuous life. Hence also, the pluralist multi-faith nature of Islamic civilization.

    Islam also took the opposite point of view on original sin. Strangely, the islamic doctrine believes in “original goodness” as opposed to “original sinfulness” of man. Islamic doctrine on this can be summarized like this: “Man is inherently good. It is only the environment around him that might might ultimately corrupt him”.

  195. >I was talking about the emotional tone and/or specific language, not just the doctrine.

    You should expect to find the same emotional tone in any orthodox (that is, as opposed to orthopractic) monotheism. Reason’s pretty simple: if you don’t start out broken, you don’t need the church to fix you. And that would never do.

  196. Tom,

    Not false. Not FUD. You just confirmed it. Trying to draw a false distinction between “energy company CEOs” and the rest of us is your own crime against humanity, Jeff, and I’m calling you out on it. This is not good. It’s awful. You need to walk this back. You are advocating for the implementation of thought crime. Danger! Danger! Danger!

    If the BP CEO came out and stated that there was no envrionemtal danger from the Deepwater Horizon spill, even though he knew there clearly was, would he not be rightly held criminally liable for his actions?

    Hansen wasn’t singling out oil CEOs as bad just because they’re oil CEOs. He was advocating for the criminal prosecution of fossil fuel execs WHO DELIBERATELY LIE in order to continue with business as usual, putting human and various other forms of life at risk. And that should be a jailable offense.

  197. >He was advocating for the criminal prosecution of fossil fuel execs WHO DELIBERATELY LIE in order to continue with business as usual, putting human and various other forms of life at risk.

    And in Hansen’s ideal world, who gets to decide if they’re deliberately lying? Oh, yeah. That would be Hansen, the same guy whose former boss says he fucked with the GISTEMP data (not that this wasn’t fairly common knowledge already).

  198. > If the BP CEO came out and stated that there was no envrionemtal danger from the Deepwater Horizon spill, even though he knew there clearly was, would he not be rightly held criminally liable for his actions?

    There clearly wasn’t much environmental danger from the Deepwater Horizon spill. But, even if there was, NO.

    > Hansen wasn’t singling out oil CEOs as bad just because they’re oil CEOs. He was advocating for the criminal prosecution of fossil fuel execs WHO DELIBERATELY LIE in order to continue with business as usual, putting human and various other forms of life at risk. And that should be a jailable offense.

    NO. NO. NO. You are advocating for fascism. People have the right to lie. It’s how we protect the right to tell the truth.

    Your silly statements about The Powers That Be are also awful. You sound like you think you can read minds.

    Danger, Jeff Read, Danger!

    Yours,
    Tom

  199. @Nancy:

    > I don’t have the foggiest idea how their version of original sin is apt to play out for Muslims.

    It is non-existant and replaced by the diametrically-opposed concept of “original goodness” or what the Muslims called “Fitrah” (innate inclination in the belief of the oneness of God/Allah and doing good).

    Muslims believe that all humans are born with this Fitrah, it is only the environment around them that leads them in other directions.

    The Quranic version of the Adam and eve story of sin is different from the biblical one and reflects the islamic doctrine and blames the whole thing on Satan and forgives Adam and Eve for the whole episode.

    There are no obvious explanations why islam took such an opposing view on this particular question, given that the faith itself is in reality nothing but V3.0 of the semitic faith that was before it (ie V1.0 and V2.0 being judaism and christianity).

  200. You are advocating for fascism. People have the right to lie. It’s how we protect the right to tell the truth.

    But if they lie about me, I have the right to sue their asses off. Note that this is a CIVIL remedy, not CRIMINAL.

  201. Islamic doctrine on this can be summarized like this: “Man is inherently good. It is only the environment around him that might might ultimately corrupt him”.Right. As long as you cover up everything on a woman other than her eyes, hands, and feet, men are inherently good about respecting her body. But if she creates an environment in which they can see her hair, or maybe an ankle, the “uncovered meat” will corrupt those men into gang-raping her, which is, of course, her fault entirely.

  202. >Islamic doctrine requires submission but does not necessarily require following the faith or following Muhammad per se.

    That differs from what I have read about the matter, but I suspect you could be more accurate than my sources. Is this a matter on which there is variation among Islamic subgroups?

  203. but does not necessarily require following the faith or following Muhammad per se.

    I’m calling bullshit on it.

    The Shahada is the Islamic profession of faith. This is supposedly the Sunni form (the Shi’a apparently sometimes add a few words about Ali being the viceregent of God):

    ?? ??? ??? ???? ???? ???? ???? (l? ?il?ha ?illall?h, Mu?ammad ras?lu-ll?h) (in Arabic)
    There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God. (in English)

    It’s clear from this that a belief specifically in the teachings of Muhammad’s “messages” from God is an essential element of the faith.

  204. @Monster:

    > As long as you cover up everything on a woman other than her eyes, hands, and feet, men are inherently good about respecting her body. But if she creates an environment in which they can see her hair, or maybe an ankle, the “uncovered meat” will corrupt those men into gang-raping her, which is, of course, her fault entirely.

    There is no doubt that this happens in this day and age. Historically, this dress code gradually came into being well after Muhammad. Women who exchanged hands (war booty) were not required to wear it throughout history.

    Anyhow, there are some really hilarious debates that Gertrude Bell (British lady founder of modern day Iraq, revered by all Iraqis) had with the Baghdad clergy on this in the early 20th century. She smacked their rear ends on this, and liberated Iraqi women in the process in the wittiest of ways. When she died she was given a royal burrial in Iraq, and her funeral was among the largest in the history of modern Iraq.

  205. @The Monster:

    > But if they lie about me, I have the right to sue their asses off.

    Which is sometimes a good idea, and sometimes just more proof of the power of the Streisand effect.

    > Note that this is a CIVIL remedy, not CRIMINAL.

    If they do it in court under oath, it could be criminal.

  206. >Historically, this dress code gradually came into being well after Muhammad.

    Yes. Veiling, and associated customs such as purdah, did not become common in the Arab part of the Islamic world until after 1000 AD. Purdah was originally a Persian practice predating Islam; I don’t know, but I’m guessing the veil was imported with it.

  207. > I’m calling bullshit on it.
    > The Shahada is the Islamic profession of faith.

    The “Shahada” is the declaration of entry into islamic faith. Or its the declaration of reaffirmation by Muslims.

    It has nothing to do with the concept of submission in Islam. Islamic civilization from its beginnings was a supra-national multi-faith civilization. Jews and christians (especially nestorian christians) played a key role in Islamic civilization. The “house of wisdom” institute in baghdad was headedby nestorian christians for much of its period during the golden age.

    The most recent islamic empire (Ottoman empire) remained a multi-faith empire throughout its history. It is was european-style fascism that resulted in the Armenian genocide at the hands of Turkish nationalists.

  208. >I’m calling bullshit on it.

    Slow up, Monster. uma’s assertion is that Islamic doctrine does not make it necessary for virtuous persons to make the Shahada in order to enter heaven. This contradicts my sources, but I’m pretty sure he was born in that culture and is a reliable source.

  209. Just so everyone is on the same page:

    Dr. Hansen’s words are available in print at http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TwentyYearsLater_20080623.pdf

    This is testimony he presented to U.S. Congress in 2008. The portion of interest was:

    Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of
    moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global
    warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated,
    including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming.

    CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term
    consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for
    high crimes against humanity and nature.

    Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on
    a runaway climate to our children. Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually
    shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes. Loss of countless species
    would leave a more desolate planet.

  210. Sorry. I think I see what you’re saying now:
    “The Shahada is necessary to BE a Muslim, but not necessarily to enter Paradise.”

    Jewish doctrine holds similar rules about those gentiles who obey Noahide law.

  211. Islamic civilization from its beginnings was a supra-national multi-faith civilization. Jews and christians (especially nestorian christians) played a key role in Islamic civilization.

    Yeah, they really were all multi-faith when they converted a Christian church into the Hagia Sophia mosque, just to name the most famous example of the respect Islamic civilization had for the other Peoples of the Book.

  212. > Slow up, Monster. uma’s assertion is that Islamic doctrine does not make it necessary for virtuous persons to make the Shahada in order to enter heaven. This contradicts my sources, but I’m pretty sure he was born in that culture and is a reliable source.

    I grew up in the ME ( 5yrs old till 18yo). I am a native speaker of arabic. I also wasn’t educated in the formal education system of the countries I grew up in. I mostly went through private education that foreigners, wealthy people, children of diplomats etc, go through. I also out of fun know other semitic languages (especially Syriac – language of the Aramaic church). In summary, I know what I am talking about :-)

    > uma’s assertion is that Islamic doctrine does not make it necessary for virtuous persons to make the Shahada in order to enter heaven.

    Absolutely. Mainstream Islam does not require one to be muslim to enter into heaven. The only place where muslims differ in major ways among one another is whether people who do not belong to the abrahamic faiths (e.g. Zoroastrians) can enter heaven. Jew and christians, while deviant in some doctrines according to islam, are considered “people of the book”.

    Muslim men, for example, are allowed to marry christian and jewish women. They are not allowed to marry hindu or Buddist women. This has been the case throughout history. How could that have been possible if the doctrines of islam excluded jews and christians from heaven and salvation ?

  213. How could that have been possible if the doctrines of islam excluded jews and christians from heaven and salvation ?

    Oh, that one’s easy. I can see allowing marriage to people whose faiths have enough in common that conversion is a reasonable goal, or that the wife’s faith wasn’t perceived to have a corrosive influence on the children, who presumably would be raised Muslim. The thinking is that Hindus and Buddhists are polytheistic, while the Abrahamic faiths are monotheistic. (I realize Muslim scholars often call the Christian notion of the Trinity a polytheistic doctrine, but also allow that Mohammed might have understood it to be otherwise)

    None of that necessarily says anything about who gets to go to Paradise.

  214. > Oh, that one’s easy. I can see allowing marriage to people whose faiths have enough in common that conversion is a reasonable goal

    Only that in islam proselytization is strictly forbidden to strictly comply with the quranic order “There is no compulsion in religion”.

    > None of that necessarily says anything about who gets to go to Paradise.

    The quran itself does in countless places.

    “Verily! Those who believe and those who are Jews and Christians, and Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and do righteous good deeds shall have their reward with their Lord, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve [2:26]“

  215. > they really were all multi-faith when they converted a Christian church into the Hagia Sophia mosque, just to name the most famous example of the respect Islamic civilization had for the other Peoples of the Book.

    Hagia sophia is now a museum and has been a museum for almost a century. I haven’t heard any Muslims throwing a fuss about it. I have my explanation for the history of Hagia sophia but that is a lengthy discussion.

    But, how would you explain that the keepers of the keys of the holy chruch of Sepulcher has been a muslim family for > 1000 yrs? Not one of the churches in jerusalem, nazareth, bethlehem etc were ever desecrated or converted into a mosque. How would you explain that ?

    How would you explain that the chief assistant of Saladin (the famous muslim leader who defeated the crusades out of the ME) was a jew (Maimonides) who is considered the most important figure in jewish philosophy and thought ?

    The conflicts in the ME is a political conflict that resulted from the trajedy of the holocaust in WWII. Religion is only used as a tool in that conflict. Baghdad up until the 50s was a 40% jewish city !!

  216. > But if they lie about me, I have the right to sue their asses off. Note that this is a CIVIL remedy, not CRIMINAL.

    Yes, and we do criminalize lying under oath, fraud and some failures to tell the truth when performing a fiduciary duty IIRC. But, in general, freedom of speech protects the freedom to lie. It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO or James Hansen.

    Yours,
    Tom

  217. > The conflicts in the ME is a political conflict that resulted from the trajedy of the holocaust in WWII.

    Zionists were moving to Israel and buying land there before WWII. There was much conflict and many anti-Jewish riots and even the Hebron massacre in 1929. In addition the Germans heavily propagandized Arabs during the war with anti-Jewish propaganda in order to get them to fight the British. This propaganda was cleverly done to take advantage of existing memes among both Muslim and Christian Arabs. The propaganda worked. It created new Jew haters (and some resistance to the British as well). The post-war conflict with Zionists gave the Jew haters more scope for their activities. They produced more anti-Jewish propaganda. It worked. The vicious cycle continued. Now many Palestinians are, by heritage and function, effectively Hitler’s children.

    Boy is that sad. Consider this, about the massacre in Hebron:

    “67 Jews were killed and Jewish homes and synagogues were ransacked; nineteen local Arab families saved 435 Jews by hiding them in their houses at great risk to themselves.”

    I don’t think those Jews would be saved today. Vicious propaganda in a vicious cycle has done it’s awful work.

    Yours,
    Tom

  218. Hagia sophia is now a museum and has been a museum for almost a century. I haven’t heard any Muslims throwing a fuss about it.

    So they wouldn’t “throw a fuss” if it were turned back into a Christian church, as it was originally built to be?

    But, how would you explain that the keepers of the keys of the holy chruch of Sepulcher has been a muslim family for > 1000 yrs? Not one of the churches in jerusalem, nazareth, bethlehem etc were ever desecrated or converted into a mosque. How would you explain that ?

    On October 18, 1009, under Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, orders for the complete destruction of the Church [of the Sepulchre] were carried out.” It wasn’t until 1048 that the church was rebuilt. Nice “keeping” there.

    The Cave of the Patriarchs was turned into the Ibrahimi Mosque, and Jews were forbidden to pass beyond the seventh step of the entrance stairs until after 1967, when Israel took control of the site. Under the Wye River Accords, Israel gave control of most of the site to the Muslim waqf, and Jews still are not allowed into much of it except for ten days a year of special religious significance to Jews.

    Many churches and synagogues have been converted into mosques. I’m sure you’ll discount all the Orthodox churches turned into mosques by the Turks; your position is that they’re tainted by European ideas of how to humiliate a conquered people in this way. And I’m sure you can give the exact count of Iberian mosques turned into churches as the Reconquista rolled on.

    Only that in islam proselytization is strictly forbidden to strictly comply with the quranic order “There is no compulsion in religion”.

    Why do you assume that “proselytization” equates to “compulsion”?

    So that pesky Conversion by the Sword was in violation of the Qur’an? The levying of the jizya tax on those honored People of the Book isn’t “compulsion”? And people who wish to leave Islam to convert to, say, Christianity shouldn’t be sentenced to death for apostasy, if there’s no compulsion. And yet we know this happens all the time. One can conveniently quote only those Qur’anic verses that paint Islam as a religion of peace, while forgetting those passages that implore the Faithful to war against the kufr, or those that proclaim that the day will come when the Muslims will finally slaughter the Jews.

  219. @Monster:

    > So they wouldn’t “throw a fuss” if it were turned back into a Christian church, as it was originally built to be?

    I wouldn’t expect them to. The place carries no religious significance to Muslims. It carries mainly a nationalistic significance to Turks as it symbolizes the triumphs and glories of their ottoman empire.

    > “On October 18, 1009, under Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, orders for the complete destruction of the Church [of the Sepulchre] were carried out.” It wasn’t until 1048 that the church was rebuilt. Nice “keeping” there.

    The fatimids were a deviant shiaa sect according to mainstream sunni muslims who represent the vast majority of Muslims (> 90% ). Even mainstream shiism considers the fatimids to be deviant. They were ultimately defeated by Saladin who represented mainstream Islam. The same Saladin who defeated the crusades.

    > I’m sure you’ll discount all the Orthodox churches turned into mosques by the Turks

    I don’t know what you are referring to here. The orthodox church survives and thrives in the ME. If you are referring to Turkey proper, Turkey is a 99% muslim nation. The arabs are a religiously diverse population and have all through their history been so. Please understand that I have less knowledge of Turkey than I do of Arabs or Persians simply because I don’t speak Turkish. So I may not be able to answer your questions about Turkey or the excesses of the Ottoman empire. Religion aside, the Arabs in general are closer to Greeks than they are to Turks.

    It is also worth mentioning that the bedouin Arabs (Muslims) saved Armenians who were pushed into the syrian desert by the Turks during the Armenian genocide. As a result you have all these thriving Armenian communities all over the the ME.

    > So that pesky Conversion by the Sword was in violation of the Qur’an?

    This is very likely a myth propagated by 18th and 19th century fundamentalist christian western orientalists, and refuted by non fundamentalist western orientalists. I haven’t myself made up my mind on this because I haven’t read that much of the primary sources (the books by arab historians written > 1000 yrs ago). It’s a vast amount of material to read. The most bloody episodes were probably in places like Iran where the caste system was successfully destroyed by the sword, and in India where the destruction of caste failed. 90% of Islam spread through Sufi orders and trade and lowering taxation by an order of magnitude by the advancing muslim empire. Wherever the muslim armies went they slashed taxation and encouraged trade. That is why you find non-Arab countries who are 100% muslim while arabs themselves are not. At the turn of the 20th century Lebanon was a majority christian population. Palestine had 25% christians. Iraq 20%. Syria 20%. All those are arab countries. Why weren’t those people converted by the sword ?

  220. uma, you say “The quran itself does [say who goes to heaven] in countless places.” Since there are a finite number of words in the quran, this surely cannot be correct. Possibly you are arguing that the quran is written ambiguously, and so while the number of potential occurences can be counted, nobody agrees on exactly how many are legitimate. Either way, you’re not making your case that you understand the quran better than do the minority of muslims willing to kill and maim based on their understanding of the quran.

  221. @Monster:

    > And I’m sure you can give the exact count of Iberian mosques turned into churches as the Reconquista rolled on.

    Reconquista catholicized all of Spain. Ottoman Turkey did not Islamize all corners of the ottoman empire. While the Hagia sophia was turned into a museum almost a 100 years ago, the grand mosque of cordoba still functions as a cathedral.

    > The levying of the jizya tax on those honored People of the Book isn’t “compulsion”?

    It isn’t because: a) it was a very small tax b) it was levied in return for relieving those people of the book from having to serve in the Muslim Armies c) it was not universally practiced at all. When the jews of Granada fought the reconquista alongside the Muslims it was more an exception to the rule and possibly also an act of desperation on behalf the those jews.

    > And people who wish to leave Islam to convert to, say, Christianity shouldn’t be sentenced to death for apostasy, if there’s no compulsion.

    These apostasy punishments of Muslims who wish to leave their faith, were introduced long after Muhammad died. They are largely a biproduct of something called Islamic Jurisprudence, which has taken root some 200 yrs after Muhammad’s death.

  222. Either way, you’re not making your case that you understand the quran better than do the minority of muslims willing to kill and maim based on their understanding of the quran.

    Thats not that much of a stretch for me.

    Assuming that your average Muslim is much the same as your average Christian in terms of their religious knowledge, the sum total of their understanding usually comes from listening to what the guy up the front rants about rather than a more than cursory examination of the mysteries. Thats one of my fundamental issues with organised religion even outside of the whole “believing in a bearded guy in the clouds” thing.

    So if you have some Imam ranting about how the apostate americans are all evil infidels and thus by killing and maiming them you secure your place in paradise it wouldn’t surprise me if thats what his flock believe regardless of what the holy book says.

  223. @Russel Nelson:

    > uma, you say “The quran itself does [say who goes to heaven] in countless places.” Since there are a finite number of words in the quran, this surely cannot be correct.

    That is a metaphorical use of the English language. It wouldn’t be acceptable to a literalist like yourself :-). What I meant to say is that there are numerous places where this is clearly and unambiguously expressed in the Quran.

    > Possibly you are arguing that the quran is written ambiguously

    The quran is a book of unusual literary quality. It’s considered by most Arabic speakers to be at the very peak of Arabic literary quality. So it definitely relies on ambiguity as do all good literary texts. Yet, there is no ambiguity in stating the doctrine that Jews and Christians are just eligible for Heaven as muslims – which was the subject of the discussion.

    There is clarity in the Quran when it criticizes christian and jewish doctrines. There is also clarity when it states that they are just as elegible for Heaven.

  224. Many folks develop their own fairly formal process.

    Cooking is science? What next? Painting? Painters apply trial-and-error, but that doesn’t make their process scientific. You might as well redefine everything as science, since nearly everything is done with some element of trial-and-error. What constitutes a good painting would not generally be considered a scientific question, because there’s simply no reason to think experiments can determine how to paint a good picture. One can answer simpler, mechanical questions about materials, paint and replicating certain forms of effects on a canvas, but that doesn’t tell you whether it’s good.

    The habit of trying to view everything through a scientific lens is dangerous. The best quantative methods estimated that the Fukushima plant would take millions of years to experience failure. Reality disagreed. There are plenty of economics geniuses working hard to prove the safety of various investments and macroeconomic gambles. If these problems were actually amenable to scientific problem solving we would not have exploding nuclear plants and crippling financial crises.

  225. >Cooking is science? What next? Painting? Painters apply trial-and-error, but that doesn’t make their process scientific. You might as well redefine everything as science, since nearly everything is done with some element of trial-and-error [...] What constitutes a good painting would not generally be considered a scientific question, because there’s simply no reason to think experiments can determine how to paint a good picture. One can answer simpler, mechanical questions about materials, paint and replicating certain forms of effects on a canvas, but that doesn’t tell you whether it’s good.

    This objection is sound, but it is also worth noting that Roger has confused at least three different issues here, and considering as a hypothetical what circumstances would make some of these questions scientific. Short course in Philosophy of Science 101 follows :-).

    It is in principle possible that we could identify a set of neurons or neural subsystem activation of which is reliably correlated with the subjective experience of aesthetic beauty. FMRI studies of a sufficiently large sample of people rating the beauty of images might yield correlations sufficiently strong to be usable. If that were the case, it would then be possible to use FMRI imaging to say with confidence when a person looking at a painting is experiencing it as good. We would then have repeatability of an experiment testing a falsifiable prediction, which is the essential criterion distinguishing “trial and error” from “scientific method”.

    But “how to paint a good picture” is a crucially different question. It would require not only an objective measure of the experience aesthetic beauty, but a generative theory of how to produce paintings that induce that experience. This is a much more difficult question, because it’s likely to be tied in with very subtle and complex reactions to the semantic content of paintings as well as matters like form and use of color. I think, however, we might be able to gain some insight by freezing content-related variables. That is, even if we can’t answer the question “how can I paint beautifully?” with repeatability we might be able to generate an answer for “how do I paint a beautiful sailboat?” that leads to a replicable method.

    So Roger is right: trial and error is not scientific method. To have scientific method you need two elements: (a) A theory which yields falsifiable predictions, and (b) refinement of the theory by repeatable experiments. It isn’t required that the same people be doing both things. Thus, a theoretical physcist who never does experiments is a scientist even if he never does an experiment, provided he generates theory with falsifiable predictions.

    But there is also a distinction that Roger is unaware of or fails to express here between a descriptive theory and a generative one. A descriptive theory merely tells us how to recognize a phenomenon that has consequences for our model of the world, like “an electron flow” or “beauty in a painting”, and predicts some consequences of that phenomenon. A generative theory provides a causal account of a phenomenon; it tells us why electrons flow and how to make them do it, or what elements in a painting produce the experience of “beauty” and how to paint that way.

    >If these problems were actually amenable to scientific problem solving we would not have exploding nuclear plants and crippling financial crises.

    This, on the other hand, is seriously mistaken. Sometimes scientific problem solving leads to theory which is correct but engineering that has a significant failure rate because our ability to execute on the theory is limited by intrinsic uncertainties in the natural system under study. For a less emotionally fraught example: the applied solid-state physics of semiconductors remains a science even though fab lines have significant defect rates.

    There’s a contrast between Roger’s two examples that is instructive. On the one hand, the physics of nuclear-power generation is not actually very complicated, and scientific problem-solving easily leads us to designs that are reliable to however small a chance of catastrophic failure we are able to pay for. The problem at Fukushima arises from the fact that that probability of catastrophic failure can never be reduced to zero; black swans always lie in wait somewhere sufficiently far down the tail of the probability distribution.

    The failure of quant modeling in the 2008 financial crises looks superficially similar – it’s why the term “black swan” has entered English – but there is an important and underappreciated difference. The financial markets, unlike any given nuclear plant, are an intrinsically chaotic system (in the formal sense of unpredictability due to sensitive dependence on initial conditions). Thus, it may well be that it is not possible for us to have a generative theory of their behavior, and therefore not possible to buy our way down to an arbitrarily low probability of catastrophic failure with good engineering.

  226. Slow up, Monster. uma’s assertion is that Islamic doctrine does not make it necessary for virtuous persons to make the Shahada in order to enter heaven. This contradicts my sources, but I’m pretty sure he was born in that culture and is a reliable source.

    I can confirm that what Uma is saying about this is true for mainstream practitioners of Islam. I grew up not far from Dearborn, Michigan, which has a very large Islamic community. Most muslims believe that all virtuous practitioners of Abrahamic religions will go to heaven, as they are all worshipping the same God.

    OTOH, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, and Wiccans are all going to hell.

    The Shahada is simply a statement of belief: it says that there is no god but Allah (God), and that Muhammed is his messenger (prophet). It’s similar to the Christian Apostles Creed.

  227. > This objection is sound

    Sound, but incorrect.

    Cooking is applied chemistry.

    > To have scientific method you need two elements: (a) A theory which yields falsifiable predictions, and (b) refinement of the theory by repeatable experiments.

    > A generative theory provides a causal account of a phenomenon; it tells us why electrons flow and how to make them do it, or what elements in a painting produce the experience of “beauty” and how to paint that way.

    An example of applying a generative theory in cooking was the hypothesis that much of the sugar in some pies was being used to cut the acid in the fruit, and that therefore you could reduce the number of calories in the pie by using baking soda in place of sugar. This theory explained why it would work. Experiments were tried, and were ultimately successful.

    Has Roger thought about how many professional scientists work in the food industry? What professionals do on a large scale, individual do on a small scale.

    Yours,
    Tom

  228. P.S. When I was young I tried improving the taste of things through trial and error. Way too much error in a clean your plate house. Now I prefer to stand on the shoulders on giants with a good theory first.

  229. >Has Roger thought about how many professional scientists work in the food industry? What professionals do on a large scale, individual do on a small scale.

    I don’t think so. I agree that cooking can be investigated scientifically, but most individuals don’t do this. It’s not just a difference of scale but of method – lack of objective metrics, weak or nonexistent generative theory.

  230. >P.S. When I was young I tried improving the taste of things through trial and error. Way too much error in a clean your plate house. Now I prefer to stand on the shoulders on giants with a good theory first.

    Yes, but note that a recipe is not a theory. It doesn’t generate predictions.

    A recipe stands in relation to the scientific theory of cooking as a blueprint does to the aspects of applied science that constitute engineering.

  231. > I agree that cooking can be investigated scientifically, but most individuals don’t do this.

    Certainly not most, but it’s very common. All the crazy cooking shows are a real phenomenon and so was Julia Child. She, and those like her, teach the theory of cooking. I like Chopped.

    > Yes, but note that a recipe is not a theory. It doesn’t generate predictions.

    I know. I’m not talking about recipes. I’m talking about learning techniques and why they work. They generate predictions. On Chopped the chef’s talk about why they think their hypotheses will work as they use their mystery ingredients. I know that at least some of their hypotheses can be falsified because they are.

    Yours,
    Tom

  232. I don’t think so. I agree that cooking can be investigated scientifically, but most individuals don’t do this. It’s not just a difference of scale but of method – lack of objective metrics, weak or nonexistent generative theory.

    I investigate cooking semi-scientifically. Cooking is part science and part art. In order to get repeatable results in cooking, the scientific method is absolutely required, however. OTOH, getting repeatable results is often not enough. Presentation counts and I’ve also found that some variability is actually a good thing.

  233. This objection is sound, but it is also worth noting that Roger has confused at least three different issues here, and considering as a hypothetical what circumstances would make some of these questions scientific.

    I disagree. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to paint the question of artistic merit as being ‘predictable’, there is no reason to think science can answer it. The reason in the case of painting is that the question is inherently subjective. My advice is to stop trying to escape the “philosophical prboems”. The philosophy of science has failed miserably to do so and I doubt you or I will do any better. Just use the best heuristics available.

    So Roger is right: trial and error is not scientific method.

    This is straight out of Popper, and it’s dead wrong. Scientists use trial-and-error all the time. Techniques are not evaluated according to “demarcation” criteria, they’re evaluated on the basis of whether they seem to work.

    To have scientific method you need two elements: (a) A theory which yields falsifiable predictions, and (b) refinement of the theory by repeatable experiments.

    These rules of thumb are common because they generally work well (in conjunction with many others), not because they’re necessary or sufficient for science. For a start, I am still doing science if I conjecture on individual statements, and some of those statements are perfectly scientific without being falsifiable (e.g. “there exists a black swan”).

    Thus, a theoretical physcist who never does experiments is a scientist even if he never does an experiment, provided he generates theory with falsifiable predictions.

    You’ve been reading too much Popper, which is probably why you’re so precisely and eloquently wrong. There’s no reason to think I can’t take a falsifiable theory and embed trojan horse elements that are hard to discern by experiment, but encode some truth I would like people to believe. People sometimes try to escape this problem by forbidding ad hoc additions. There is no objective criterion for “ad hoc”, and in fact theories are modified ad hoc all the time.

    If the physicist tries to form a theory about artistic merit then it doesn’t matter how “falsifiable” his tests are, they are always doomed to fail to answer the ultimate question because it is subjective. If you think this makes all genuine theories regarding the question unfalsifiable then I agree. That didn’t stop you from suggesting that you could make predictions about it, which is exactly the point. Absorbing utterly refuted and internally inconsistent philosophy (which covers just about everything that’s more than rules of thumb) just makes the error subtler and more insidious.

    This, on the other hand, is seriously mistaken. Sometimes scientific problem solving leads to theory which is correct but engineering that has a significant failure rate because our ability to execute on the theory is limited by intrinsic uncertainties in the natural system under study.

    You have missed the point completely, and I’m not even sure you disagree with me. I’m not saying science has no place in constructing a plant. I am suggesting that the problem of determining how often your plant will blow up is not a question science can answer. There is simply no method to compute this quantity. If I am mistaken, please name it.

    For a less emotionally fraught example: the applied solid-state physics of semiconductors remains a science even though fab lines have significant defect rates.

    You have completely missed the point. I am not talking about discrepancies between theory and practice. I am talking about the application of various kinds of science for things it has now proven itself to be useful for, e.g. attempts to express risk in terms of numerical probabilities.

    On the one hand, the physics of nuclear-power generation is not actually very complicated

    I’ll say this again, since I might not have been clear. I was talking about risk management of plants. I’m not sure why you think I’m talking about nuclear science per se, since I didn’t mention conjectures from that field.

    The problem at Fukushima arises from the fact that that probability of catastrophic failure can never be reduced to zero

    Sorry, but if your plant explodes after 8 years that is not a case of never reaching “zero” probability. It is a case of grossly miscomputing the probability, if such a thing even exists as a numerical quantity.

    Thus, it may well be that it is not possible for us to have a generative theory of their behavior, and therefore not possible to buy our way down to an arbitrarily low probability of catastrophic failure with good engineering.

    It may well be that it is not possible to have a theory that allows us to compute the probability of a nuclear plant exploding. Whether it can be engineered sufficiently safely is a completely different question. You have missed my point. I am not saying nuclear plants can’t be safe, nor am I saying that faulty nuclear science is to blame. I am saying you cannot compute the probability of a plant exploding. No such method exists (I am dying to see one if you know of it). Similarly, there is nothing to say you can’t have some macroeconomic heuristics. You just can’t compute what the probability of a major failure in the resulting system will be. This is true whether or not I have a “generative theory” that delivers some useful predictions. Probability is glorified counting; it’s for getting magnitudes right, not calculating risk.

  234. Cooking is applied chemistry.

    This statement is on the same level as claiming that poetry is applied physics because the laws of motion are needed to move the quill. That is, it is completely asinine.

    Experiments were tried, and were ultimately successful.

    So what you’re saying, is chemistry done over a stove is “cooking”. No doubt the means of cooking are amenable to science. In the end, someone has to taste the food and make a subjective judgment. Everything up to that point is separable from the specific activity of cooking. See above point.

  235. kinds of science for things it has now proven itself to be useful

    “now” should be “not”. oops

    ESR says: Yeah, I got that.

  236. I would have to say, as a math and science gal, that while we may approach the passion and devotion that a religious person might feel towards its chosen deity, there is still a fundamental difference in that religion purports to have all the answers and you just have to have “faith” in their particular “truth” while science says, we have no answers, now let’s get out there and start observing.

  237. For the sake of Science which I care for a lot I must, against my habit, comment on this blogppost, even if it’s a fight against windmills here.
    When I was in school,and knew very little, I couldn’t understand why people hat political arguments. I thought it was obvious, that there is always a best way to do things, which everybody would be striving for. All we had to do is ask science, what the optimal path of action would be – surely nobody could disagree with that, so I could not see the point of all this pointless fighting about good policy, when humans have such a undisputedly superior tools of decision making. And of course it was trivial to see free markets would always guarantee the optimal outcome for everyone, so why was everyone so ignorant?
    This memory still makes me very humble and, sometimes, ashamed of myself. I wish I could go back and give my old self a good smack on the head, but at least there was no usenet yet, and the Ghost Of Usenet Postings Past had thankfully not yet started its ugly work.
    Some of the most directly useful scientific results come from experimental psychology. One can show, for example, that contrary to religious intuition it is not religion that prescribes us irrational rules of morality and behavior, but the other way around: we are disgusted by things like homosexuality or blasphemy, and accordingly develop the idea it is god who wants us to extinguish them. It is not god who abuses us to act out his narrow minded worldview, but rather us who like to belive that our tastes only follow some divine and universal law.
    Another recent remarkable result is the answer to the question how we know which scientists and scientific claims are dubiuos and not to be trusted, when we lack deep knowledge about the field and have to rely on intuition and trust for our judgement: we suspect academia is wrong when it comes to conclusions that contradict our deepest beliefs and tastes – after all scientists are only human and have their own agendas, so we’re not really doubting science, only those imposters who lurk like parasites in their academic caves, usually in the humanities, embezzedling public money. They probably manage to get there with the help of a cabal of their imbecilic and criminal peers, the thirteenth apostels of science.
    A third thing I have learned from trying to understand the PR business: No matter how absurd or wrong a political position or personal taste is, one will always find a study supporting it. Always.
    I wish someone had told me all this while in school, thus saving me from making embarrassing statements about the world would be a better place if only people could accept that Star Trek showed us, what an ideal society looks like – if only the Vulcans would show themselves earlier and help us grow up!
    I remember religious textbooks in school that set out to prove that boys having long hair did long term psychological damage, and god’s disapproval only shows that he knows best..But surely after school the world of grownups would have a backbone of cold logic and scientific progress.

    But to my critique of your blogpost, you already know where I’m going with this.

    – You have often enough shown an almost pathological hatred for environmental activism and the people who supposedly stand for it. The betrayal of scientific principles seems to be as close to sin as you would ever admit. But the big difference between you and these dangerous religious nuts is that you are obviously and rationally right – after all, thats what science is about, having a method to be _really_ right. That, and the dead Buddhas.
    – Despite all I said above Science has still remained my best friend, no matter where I went. And I owe Science to tell you what you are doing is definitely Journalism, not Science. Even Children make theories and verify them experimentally in their sandbox, and even make them explicit. I’ve seen apes do that. Such a definition of Science misses the point. I won’t try to give a better definition here, but I guarantee you that outside this blog what you publish is called journalism. This does not mean that your work is somehow “below science” or that you could not do “real science” or even that science can only be done by the guys in white coats, but let’s call things what they are.

    Sorry for intruding in this circle here and playing the heretic, but I’m sure you can take it, and I know that enough people who read this will agree with me.
    I’m also not saying that Science = Religion. But both make excellent final justifications for about anything you could ever wish to justify.

  238. Roger,

    > This statement is on the same level as claiming that poetry is applied physics because the laws of motion are needed to move the quill. That is, it is completely asinine.

    You are utterly and completely wrong. Poets do not benefit from studying the laws of motion. To be truly good, cooks, however, need to consider the chemical properties of the food they cook. Truly good cooks do not follow recipes, they modify and create recipes.

    > In the end, someone has to taste the food and make a subjective judgment.

    Wrong.

    “Browning, or the Maillard reaction, creates flavor and changes the color of food. Maillard reactions generally only begin to occur above 285°F (140°C). Until the Maillard reaction occurs meat will have less flavor. Shown above are two identical dishes cooked (left) below (140°C) and right at much higher temperatures. Both caramelization and the maillard reaction only occur on the right producing the noticeable brown color.”

    Both the color and the amount of flavor can be measured, Roger, just like the temperature. Flavor comes from known chemical compounds, which, can be and are measured. Most people, in their kitchens, use their taste buds. This is not subjective. People accurately tell whether things are lighter or heavier by lifting them, whether lights are brighter or dimmer, whether temperatures are hotter or colder via their senses. The question of whether there is more flavor or less flavor is objective. The question of whether or not you like the results is subjective.

    Professional scientists in the food industry don’t have to use their taste buds, although I’m sure they do. They have labs, and can isolate the chemical compounds when needed.

    I’m on really strong ground here, Roger. Poetry is not like cooking. There are no industrial poets.

    Yours,
    Tom

  239. The fatimids were a deviant shiaa sect according to mainstream sunni muslims

    So the Fatimids and the Turks are deviant. I guess the Taliban is deviant too. I guess that the Pew Research poll of Muslims in various countries, that showed 86% of Jordanians, 84% of Egyptians, 76% of Pakistanis, and 51% of Nigerians support the death penalty for people who leave Islam just shows how many “deviants” there are in those countries, since you’ve assured us there’s “no compulsion in religion”.

    It seems like, whenever Muslim armies conquer a new territory, so long as they leave one or two churches or synagogues functioning, they can convert the rest of them to mosques and you consider that “respecting” the other People of the Book. And whenever I point out any specific instance where they didn’t, the specific Muslim government that did it is a “deviant”.

    I’m calling this No True Scotsman.

  240. I really, really want that Preview feature. Somehow Jeff Goldstein managed to get one at proteinwisdom.com, another WordPress blog.

  241. @esr

    > agree that cooking can be investigated scientifically, but most individuals don’t do this. It’s not just a difference of scale but of method – lack of objective metrics, weak or nonexistent generative theory

    It is investigated scientifically by all those 3-Michelin-star restaurants who practice molecular gastronomy (e.g. El Bulli, Spain)

  242. Monster,

    > Other than Vogons, of course.

    My wife and I both got a chuckle out of this.

    uma,

    Yes. And it goes back even further.

    “Chemists have been interested in meat stock preparation and, more generally, food preparation since the eighteenth century (Lémery, 1705; Geoffrey le Cadet, 1733; Cadet de Vaux, 1818; Darcet, 1830). Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier is perhaps the most famous among them—in 1783, he studied the processes of stock preparation by measuring density to evaluate quality (Lavoisier, 1783). In reporting the results of his experiments, Lavoisier wrote, “Whenever one considers the most familiar objects, the simplest things, it’s impossible not to be surprised to see how our ideas are vague and uncertain, and how, as a consequence, it is important to fix them by experiments and facts” (author’s translation).”

    Yeah, that Lavoisier. Somebody is going to show up and claim he’s a hack, aren’t they?

    Yours,
    Tom

  243. Sorry, but if your plant explodes after 8 years that is not a case of never reaching “zero” probability. It is a case of grossly miscomputing the probability, if such a thing even exists as a numerical quantity.

    That has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen anyone write on this site. The people who comment here tend to have a clue or three about how probability and statistics work.

    The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 195,249,054; or 5.12E-9. If I play every drawing (Wed and Sat), I should hit that jackpot once in every 1,877,394 years, 9 months or so. And yet several people win the jackpot every year. Some of them may even win the very first time they play. Others may play for 8 years before they win. Does the fact that someone won so soon mean that the stated odds were “miscomputed”?

    If the plant had been built over the past few years, and gone on line the day of the tsunami, or if it had been built decades ago, with precisely the same design, it would have made no difference in the probability of failure, but the actual amount of time until that failure actually occured would have been radically different. The design of the plant left it vulnerable to having no power source for the cooling system. Despite the designers’ efforts to build in redundancy to protect against a loss of power, the tsunami took out all of that redundancy. The probability of all of those failures coinciding is the same; the only question is when that massive wave would crash down on Fukushima: It could have been 8 minutes after the plant went on line, or 8 centuries.

    But even as bad as Fukushima turned out to be, no one has died from the nuclear plant failure. At most, 50 workers there have had elevated radiation exposure (that is dwarfed by what people willingly receive having an MRI) that has a small chance of leading some of them to have a disease that ultimately shortens their lives. But the earthquake and tsunami themselves killed about twenty thousand people. We’re talking orders of magnitude less deaths from the nuke mishap. Even if all 50 of those workers died, it would be statistically insignificant by comparison.

    The question is not whether people will die from nuclear energy; it’s how many more will die because we’re scared of nukes, and use other energy sources that kill even more people. When people are ignorant of probability, they cannot make rational decisions about cost/benefit tradeoffs. The decisions they make will kill people.

  244. >This is straight out of Popper, and it’s dead wrong.

    Well, no it isn’t, because I’ve never read Popper. :-) I learned how to think about scientific method from earlier philosophers, notably C.S. Peirce and Hans Reichenbach with some assist from A. J. Korzybski. What I know of Popper via secondary sources suggests he’s kind of a lightweight by comparison. It’s true I use the word “falsifiable” in what I understand to be Popper’s sense, but that’s because my teachers used the same idea without having as compact an expression for it.

    >Techniques are not evaluated according to “demarcation” criteria, they’re evaluated on the basis of whether they seem to work.

    I don’t know what a demarcation criterion is. I do know that you can only evaluate “seems to work” by observables, so a prediction about the observable results of the technique is implied. Hey, we’re right back at Peircean fallibilism and the predictive criterion! There’s no escaping it, really.

    >I am still doing science if I conjecture on individual statements, and some of those statements are perfectly scientific without being falsifiable (e.g. “there exists a black swan”).

    Yes. Korzybski is an excellent antidote to confusion here. He and Peirce would agree that “there exists a black swan” is unfalsifiable, but also useless (conveying no information) for the exact reasons that it’s unfalsifiable. There are two cases: either the existence of the black swan implies an observable or it doesn’t. In the former case you can do science about it; in the latter you can’t, but that’s OK because it’s vacuous.

    >There’s no reason to think I can’t take a falsifiable theory and embed trojan horse elements that are hard to discern by experiment, but encode some truth I would like people to believe.

    Sure. This actually happens all the time in softer sciences; some of my favorite examples are in political economics. This creates no problems for a falsifiability account, though. Your “trojan horse elements” either contribute to the prediction of results in experiments that you actually can do, or they do not. If they do, they’re justified. If they don’t, the theory can be replaced with a theory of lower complexity that doesn’t include them and suffices for your purposes.

    I’m going to guess that you think this hypothetical is important because you’re an ontological realist with a correspondence theory of truth, because I can remember when I would have overweighted it for exactly that reason. What this hypothetical is actually trying to tell you is that those presuppositions are excess baggage – they make you worry too much about experiments that you think you ought to be able to perform in principle but actually can’t. I’ve got your dose of brutal operationalism to fix that, right here…

    >If the physicist tries to form a theory about artistic merit then it doesn’t matter how “falsifiable” his tests are, they are always doomed to fail to answer the ultimate question because it is subjective.

    This is your ontological presuppositions screwing you up again. You think you know that there’s a difference between “objective” and “subjective” that puts some kinds of truth claims off-limits to verification. But this is wrong; claims about the state of a person’s mind are verifiable by the observable consequences of that state in exactly the same way that claims about the state of a physical system are verifiable by observations at the boundaries of that system. This is definitionally true if your account of mind is physicalist (as mine is and I suspect yours as well) but there’s a simple argument to show that it’s necessarily true even without that premise, which I’ll lay out if you need me to.

    Claims about irreducible subjectivity either have behavioral consequences that we can observe or they don’t. If they have consequences we can observe, the subjectivity isn’t irreducible; we can form causal theories about the mind the same way we would about the interior of any other black box. If such claims don’t have observable consequences, they’re vacuous and we can discard them. A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

    >There is simply no method to compute this quantity. If I am mistaken, please name it.

    Engineers do Markov-chain analysis of failure modes all the time. Look up “MTBF”. It may in practice be difficult to know all the conditional probabilities, but that’s not a problem of principle with the method, just a reason to include margin for error. Those conditional probabilities are well-defined and could be measured over sufficiently large samples.

    >Sorry, but if your plant explodes after 8 years that is not a case of never reaching “zero” probability. It is a case of grossly miscomputing the probability, if such a thing even exists as a numerical quantity.

    Please tell me you aren’t so ignorant of probability theory. If in the year Y I estimate a MTBF of two centuries for a power plant I just built, it does not mean I can expect to have no failures until Y+200. It means that if I watch the plant for two centuries I expect to have one failure – but it could be the day after I did the computation. It might well be that the probability of failure was grossly miscomputed, but the timing of one failure is not evidence for this.

  245. @Monster:

    > So the Fatimids and the Turks are deviant

    Please don’t misquote what I said or put words into my mouth. Copy paste is easy on all computer platforms. I never said the Turks were deviant. The Fatimids OTOH were. They were a minority shia sect. All of the shia combined are less than 10% of muslims. And the fatimids were even a small minority among the shia themselves.

    > Pew Research poll of Muslims in various countries, that showed 86% of Jordanians, 84% of Egyptians, 76% of Pakistanis ….

    99% of these polls are worthless junk. I am surprised you spend your time reading that stuff. These polls often come down to how the questions are designed and how they are asked. I can design a poll that roughly asks the exact same questions and that will give you totally opposite results.

    If you want to argue something here, don’t get us polls. Next thing you’ll be quoting Sarah Palin on Pushkin and Tolstoy.

  246. I never said the Turks were deviant.

    So those Orthodox churches on Cyprus that were turned into mosques when the Turks took over DO count on the score of how well Islam respects other People of the Book? I’m really confused, because I thought you said we couldn’t count the Turks, because they’re too European or something.

    99% of these polls are worthless junk.

    I’ve never seen any reason to distrust Pew Research. Do you have any specific reason to question them, or are you lumping them in with less-reputable pollsters?

    Next thing you’ll be quoting Sarah Palin on Pushkin and Tolstoy.

    Can she see them from Tina Fey’s house?

  247. uma,

    Pew isn’t trying to bias the results to make Muslims look bad. If anything they will try to do the opposite. If I look at how Muslims behave, individually and en masse, the polls look credible. Historically speaking, Muslims very often converted people via the sword. This was particularly true when converting people who were not of the Book. Their disciples (via long and bloody exposure), the Spanish, brought conquering coercive methods of conversion to the Americas, with predictable results. Before that time coercive conversion to Christianity tended to be similar to the way Persia became Shia. The king converted, and then he insisted, sometimes with swords, that his subjects convert as well.

    This dynamic played out the same way after the Protestant Reformation. Subjects were expected to follow their prince’s lead. This did not work well as literacy and printing were becoming more common. This was a major reason for religious freedom in the West. Given what you said earlier, I suspect the historical lack of printable Arabic has decreased religious freedom in the countries where Arabic is spoken.

    This also explains part of the reaction to apostasy. Apostates tended to be viewed as political traitors. Converting to Protestant in Spain certainly got you that reaction in the seventeenth century. Not so by the nineteenth. This is still true, sadly, among Muslims.

    That is, however, no excuse. Islam, as practiced, is about four centuries behind Judaism and Christianity in it’s technical ability to practice religious freedom. I wish Islam would learn how to do religious freedom as fast as the Palestinians have learned to do National Socialism.

    > Next thing you’ll be quoting Sarah Palin on Pushkin and Tolstoy.

    Sarah Palin is very quotable. I’ve read and listened to a lot of Sarah Palin, and she and her ghost/speech writers are very good. Much better than you or I. If she says something about Puskin or Tolstoy, there is a very good chance it will be worth quoting. Personally I will confirm that reading War and Peace is not a good substitute for studying for your finals, if good grades are your goal.

    Yours,
    Tom

  248. I’m on really strong ground here, Roger. Poetry is not like cooking. There are no industrial poets.

    Well, if there are, they probably work on Madison Avenue.

  249. >Sarah Palin is very quotable. I’ve read and listened to a lot of Sarah Palin, and she and her ghost/speech writers are very good.

    It’s true. I’m better at generating propaganda soundbites when I need to do that than most politicians are, but I think she’s better than I am. I find the craftmanship rather impressive even when I disagree with the content.

  250. >If I look at how Muslims behave, individually and en masse, the polls look credible. Historically speaking, Muslims very often converted people via the sword. This was particularly true when converting people who were not of the Book.

    Yes. On the other hand, uma tells a side of the story that most non-Muslims don’t know; the most important instrument in converting the peoples of the Book was tax policy. On the gripping hand, uma’s denial that conversion by the sword was real and important (and quite bloody!) distorts even that part of the story; conversion by tax policy would probably not have worked nearly as well with the implied threat that Muslims could go all medieval on the khufr at any time.

  251. Not that I had fantasies of calligraphers ruling the world, but that might be a worse idea than I could have imagined.

    “Trial and error” strikes me as an inadequate way of talking about using experience-based theory to try plausible hypotheses. It isn’t science, but “trial and error” doesn’t do justice to the hypothesis-generating process. Suggestions for better phrasing?

    More generally, hypothesis generation doesn’t seem to get as much attention as it deserves– the folks at Less Wrong recommend putting thought into making your hypothesis generation more efficient, and Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talked about hypothesis generation as a mystery. Any other sources? I’ve never seen any discussion of how mathematicians develop groups of axioms which lead to interesting results.

    Should power designs and buildings be open source? Perhaps more eyes on the problem would help find flaws.

  252. > On the other hand, uma tells a side of the story that most non-Muslims don’t know; the most important instrument in converting the peoples of the Book was tax policy.

    Do you think that is true of Arab polytheists, Zoroastrians and Hindus, that is, peoples not of the Book?

    Yours,
    Tom

  253. “[Korzybski] and Peirce would agree that ‘there exists a black swan’ is unfalsifiable, but also useless (conveying no information) for the exact reasons that it’s unfalsifiable.”

    Of course, many unfalsifiable hypotheses of this nature can be made falsifiable by inverting them. “There are no black swans” is falsifiable. Another good example of this is in the world of UFO’s; “Some UFOs are alien spacecraft” is not falsifiable, because no matter how many of them we investigate and show to be something else, the next one might be alien. However, the inverse hypothesis, “No UFO’s are alien spacecraft,” is falsifiable.

  254. @Tom:

    > Pew isn’t trying to bias the results to make Muslims look bad. If anything they will try to do the opposite.

    I know who Pew is and I didn’t say they were trying to make Muslims look bad. I am not a lawyer or apologist for Muslims.

    All these polls imo are not scientific. First, the so called Muslim world is far more diverse than the western world. Linguistically, culturally, etc they are much more diverse. So the idea of lumping say an Indo-Aryan culture like Afghanistan or Pakistan, with a sub-saharan african country like Nigeria in one poll is idiotic to say the very least. It’s like lumping the klan churches and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright church in one poll simply because the two groups profess some connection to Christianity. How scientific that kind of poll would be ?

    If you want to study those countries you need to be very well versed in all nuances of their culture in order to be able to ask the right questions and get the kind of meaningful or scientific results that are representative of the real facts on the ground. Last I checked, the US government has such a hard time finding and hiring Arabic, Persian, Urdo etc speakers. May be they all went to work for Pew :-)

    >> If I look at how Muslims behave, individually and en masse, the polls look credible.

    I don’t really agree. There are muslim countries with a standard of living higher than the US. Others which live on $1/day. And there is everything in between. There are ones which are relatively advanced technologically and even putting satellites into space. Others which are not. They represent a full quarter of humanity. There is very little in common between say Turkey and Somalia. Or even the two $1/day nations of Afghanistan and Mali. If you think there is that that much in common then you ought to think that France and Zimbabwe should be polled over by one poll simply because they are both christian countries. It’s insane for people like Pew to think like that. But apparently they do.

    > Muslims very often converted people via the sword. This was particularly true when converting people who were not of the Book.

    I only partially agree with this statement. If this statement were true, Muslim countries would be as homogeneous religiously as catholic Europe. Which couldn’t be any further from reality.

    As I mentioned earlier, the most violent episodes most likely took place where the caste system existed (e.g. Persia, India). Muslims succeeded in eradicating caste in Persia but failed to do so in India.

    > Apostates tended to be viewed as political traitors.

    Very true. And that is probably the best explanation why Muslims came up with their apostasy laws. Most of these laws were invented by so-called Islamic Jurists centuries after Muhammad’s death. Whenever you hear the term “Sharia law”, it is largely the work of those Jurists, and more often than not has zero basis in Quranic doctrine and very often even goes against Quranic doctrine.

    > Sarah Palin is very quotable.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love Sarah Palin.

  255. esr:

    > uma tells a side of the story that most non-Muslims don’t know; the most important instrument in converting the peoples of the Book was tax policy.

    There was definitely tax discrimination against people of the book. This is correct. But there were also benefits that offsetted this added Tax, namely not having to serve in the Muslim armies. That tax was very small and imo could not have caused mass conversions. It was also never consistently applied.

    > On the gripping hand, uma’s denial that conversion by the sword was real and important (and quite bloody!) distorts even that part of the story;

    I don’t deny it. I just haven’t made up my mind on this. From what I read, I am inclined to think it is probably a myth and many non-fundamentalist christian orientalists seem to think so too. There is a vast amount of primary source literature to read on this mainly in the form ancient arabic history books etc. I’d rather spend my time doing other reading other material than this. It’s not exactly the kind of page turner stuff that you’d enjoy reading.

  256. @ Monster:

    > So those Orthodox churches on Cyprus that were turned into mosques when the Turks took over DO count on the score of how well Islam respects other People of the Book?

    Are you referring to the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in the 70s ?
    That was not a religious. It is mostly a nationalist conflict between Greeks and Turks. As far as I know, most muslim nations supported Greece on this.

  257. >Do you think that is true of Arab polytheists, Zoroastrians and Hindus, that is, peoples not of the Book?

    No. Just try to find an Arab polytheist. You won’t; they were all killed off or forcibly converted more than a thousand years ago. Zoroastrians, though they survived, came in for particular viciousness; some survive in Persia, but many decamped to India under the pressure. Sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims continues to a problem today almost everywhere they’re in actual contact.

  258. > No. Just try to find an Arab polytheist. You won’t;

    The polytheist arab tribes all converted 1400 years. Prior to that they had their idols inside the Kaaba (the black box-like structure that Muslims face in their prayer, considered to have been built by Abraham).

  259. > No. Just try to find an Arab polytheist. You won’t; they were all killed off or forcibly converted more than a thousand years ago. Zoroastrians, though they survived, came in for particular viciousness; some survive in Persia, but many decamped to India under the pressure. Sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims continues to a problem today almost everywhere they’re in actual contact.

    I wonder how much of this is kings trying to use religion to bolster their own power. After Constantine, while pagans were not often forcibly converted, pagan practices were outlawed on pain of death, as was apostasy. Over the life of the Empire, official religion persecuted unofficial religion. Before Constantine, both Christianity and Mithraism, for example, were outlawed.

    Yours,
    Tom

  260. That was not a religious. It is mostly a nationalist conflict between Greeks and Turks.

    Riiiight. Converting Orthodox churches to cathedrals isn’t even a teeny bit religious. No way, no how.

    For what it’s worth, I actually agree with the idea that it is the combination of religion and government that truly deserves the blame for most of the bad deeds done in the name of religion. But even there, we have an important distinction.

    Jesus taught “My kingdom is not of this world” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s”. From those, the First Amendment’s two-sided coin of no establishment or abridgement of religion qualify as mainstream Christian thinking on the proper relationship of government and religion; the excesses such as the Spanish and French persecution not only of Muslims and Jews, but even non-Catholic Christians, are therefore aberrations.

    On the other hand, even the Puritans, who got a taste of being on the receiving end of such persecution, when they got to America and could capture control of a colonial government, turned around and became the persecutors, literally holding Witch Trials that executed countless people innocent of any crime against another person (and most of them probably not even guilty of being witches). Fortunately for the United States, each of the colonies had its own differing local sectarian traditions, none of which could garner a consensus at the national level. Ironically, a similar effect in the squabbling German principalities led to the greatest religious freedom there, and quite a few Sephardim fled France and Spain/Portugal and settled in Germany, Austria-Hungary, etc., only for their descendents to be caught up in the Shoah. (I’ve even heard people claim that Nazism was somehow a Christian thing, but if you get to reject the Fatimids, we get to reject the Nazis.)

    In contrast, Mohammed conquered Mecca by force of arms, and by his example, Dar al-Islam unites religion and government. The Qur’an and Hadiths lay out rules of governance to which various countries pay lip service, if not faithful adherence. The official policy of many current Islamic states (off the top of my head I can immediately name Saudi Arabia and Iran) is that Shari’a is its fundamental constitution; others state that no law at variance with Islam is valid.

  261. @esr + Tom DeGisi:

    The wiki page on the tax on the people of the book can be found here

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jizya

    It more or less agrees with what I posted here. It also mentions that Muslims slashed taxes for everyone. I believe that was the main contributor to mass conversions into Islam. That and Sufi orders.

  262. >After Constantine, while pagans were not often forcibly converted, pagan practices were outlawed on pain of death, as was apostasy.

    This sort of thing is normal under monotheisms. It’s why I hate monotheisms.

  263. >That and Sufi orders.

    The least toxic version of Islam, to be sure. It’s a damn shame they’re losing the memetic struggle with the Wahhabi and Deobandi types.

  264. @esr:

    > It’s why I hate monotheisms.

    The funniest part is this. Before monotheism the people of the ME worshipped women. Yes women! Pretty much all their gods were goddesses.

    As you might imagine, the women rights’ groups there wish to return to them good old days.

  265. Yes. Korzybski is an excellent antidote to confusion here. He and Peirce would agree that “there exists a black swan” is unfalsifiable, but also useless (conveying no information) for the exact reasons that it’s unfalsifiable. There are two cases: either the existence of the black swan implies an observable or it doesn’t. In the former case you can do science about it; in the latter you can’t, but that’s OK because it’s vacuous.

    Who cares what Peirce says? You read far too much philosophy. (Good) scientists conjecture on statements such as this all the time. Reality has the last word, as you say. If I conjecture that nature allows for variations in colour without forbidding any particular variations, this is not falsifiable, but it is perfectly valid, and information-carrying. However, in your philosophy-addled brain this “doesn’t count”.

    Sure. This actually happens all the time in softer sciences; some of my favorite examples are in political economics. This creates no problems for a falsifiability account, though. Your “trojan horse elements” either contribute to the prediction of results in experiments that you actually can do, or they do not. If they do, they’re justified. If they don’t, the theory can be replaced with a theory of lower complexity that doesn’t include them and suffices for your purposes.

    Sure, it doesn’t create a problem for the falsificationist account, except that it’s not sufficient for science. You as good as admitted this by showing that you have to introduce new rules of thumb for eliminating trojan horses.

    I’m going to guess that you think this hypothetical is important because you’re an ontological realist with a correspondence theory of truth, because I can remember when I would have overweighted it for exactly that reason. What this hypothetical is actually trying to tell you is that those presuppositions are excess baggage – they make you worry too much about experiments that you think you ought to be able to perform in principle but actually can’t. I’ve got your dose of brutal operationalism to fix that, right here…

    I’m guessing you have no idea what you’re talking about, because you’re not in the habit of reading and writing scientific papers.

    You think you know that there’s a difference between “objective” and “subjective” that puts some kinds of truth claims off-limits to verification.

    Absolutely.

    But this is wrong; claims about the state of a person’s mind are verifiable by the observable consequences of that state in exactly the same way that claims about the state of a physical system are verifiable by observations at the boundaries of that system.

    Nope. There is no method to determine what goes on inside the mind. If there is, name it.

    This is definitionally true if your account of mind is physicalist (as mine is and I suspect yours as well) but there’s a simple argument to show that it’s necessarily true even without that premise, which I’ll lay out if you need me to.

    I do not have an “account of mind” because such things are bollocks.

    Claims about irreducible subjectivity either have behavioral consequences that we can observe or they don’t. If they have consequences we can observe, the subjectivity isn’t irreducible; we can form causal theories about the mind the same way we would about the interior of any other black box.

    Close the philosophy books. You seem like one of these erudite types who thinks reading lots of bad philosophy is the road to wisdom. The fact of the matter is there is no known method for answering the question I’ve put without changing the question to suit your method, which is the precise problem I am talking about. You have failed miserably to demonstrate to the contrary, since every method you’ve given distorts the question (e.g. taking up a particular theory of mind).

    If such claims don’t have observable consequences, they’re vacuous and we can discard them. A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

    Look, science is like English. You’re an English speaker, so you know English from non-English. You might with another English-speaker about what constitutes English, and it may change over time, but there is a high degree of agreement. In spite of that fact, nobody can define English, especially not the semantics. In that respect, science is the same. You cannot define it, but if you’re part of it you know it when you see it. And it works.

    Engineers do Markov-chain analysis of failure modes all the time. Look up “MTBF”. It may in practice be difficult to know all the conditional probabilities, but that’s not a problem of principle with the method, just a reason to include margin for error. Those conditional probabilities are well-defined and could be measured over sufficiently large samples.

    Calculating failure rates for product runs is in no way comparable to calculating whether a complex, fail-open system like a nuclear plant is going to have a catastrophic failure. If you really want to understand what I’m saying I suggest you read some Nassim Taleb. He’s got some bad philosophy of science stuff going on, but he understands the problems of modeling risk.

    Please tell me you aren’t so ignorant of probability theory. If in the year Y I estimate a MTBF of two centuries for a power plant I just built, it does not mean I can expect to have no failures until Y+200. It means that if I watch the plant for two centuries I expect to have one failure – but it could be the day after I did the computation. It might well be that the probability of failure was grossly miscomputed, but the timing of one failure is not evidence for this

    I’m tiring of this. You are either willfully blind to the manner in which these tools are being misused, or you don’t understand that misuse of tools is the point of these posts. Probability is fine mathematically. MTBF is fine mathematically. Because you live in a ridiculous falsificationist bubble, you believe that because the model is not refuted on a technical level by the appearance of an exploding plant so soon (after all, this _can_ happen under the model), that everything is fine and dandy.

    You say that MTBF isn’t used to demonstrate that the plant won’t fail quickly, but rather is intended to reflect expected total failures over a period of time. This is certainly what MTBF ought to be used for. It is not what it is used for in this context. If the plant has a complete melt-down it will most likely be decomiissioned, and so the “total” is irrelevant. You’re really grasping at straws here.

  266. > literally holding Witch Trials that executed countless people innocent of any crime against another person

    Russell Nelson can count them! Ask uma!

    > This sort of thing is normal under monotheisms. It’s why I hate monotheisms.

    Well, it seemed to be normal practice under polytheism, too. Tearing down the statues of the conquered people’s gods and goddesses, all that. The Jews constantly had issues under pagan rulers. Why gloss over the Romans, who also persecuted pagans, and persecuted Christians for centuries? And then there are the twentieth century Nazis, whose approach to religion was to develop their own pagan state cult (don’t be insulted – Wiccans haven’t gone for state power yet), and the Communists with their atheist state cult. I don’t think you can pin this on monotheism, esr. Looks more like human beings and state power, again.

    Yours,
    Tom

  267. Roger,

    > Nope. There is no method to determine what goes on inside the mind. If there is, name it.

    Here are two. Low tech: Ask. Listen to the answer. High Tech: fMRI.

    > I do not have an “account of mind” because such things are bollocks.

    Sure you do. You just don’t like that term of art, for your own philosophical reasons.

    > Close the philosophy books. You seem like one of these erudite types who thinks reading lots of bad philosophy is the road to wisdom. The fact of the matter is there is no known method for answering the question I’ve put without changing the question to suit your method, which is the precise problem I am talking about. You have failed miserably to demonstrate to the contrary, since every method you’ve given distorts the question (e.g. taking up a particular theory of mind).

    First of all, I don’t think you are a reliable judge of whether philosophy is bad or not. “Makes Roger Phillips happy” is not a reliable indicator. For another thing, there is no evidence you are ever happy. :) Second, changing the question to suit the method is one of the first steps in the scientific method, no? As a professional you probably do this so fast you don’t even notice it anymore.

    > You’re really grasping at straws here.

    No, that would you. Don’t project. In general what others (not just esr) have said about mean time to failure as applied to Fukushima appears correct and what you have said is rather obviously wrong. A natural disaster of that magnitude cannot be predicted.

    Yours,
    Tom

  268. Here are two. Low tech: Ask. Listen to the answer. High Tech: fMRI.

    Asking and listening only tells you what the person says, not what they think. MRI does not (yet) read thoughts. Maybe it will one day.

    First of all, I don’t think you are a reliable judge of whether philosophy is bad or not.

    I am waiting eagerly for your defense of falsificationism.

    Second, changing the question to suit the method is one of the first steps in the scientific method, no? As a professional you probably do this so fast you don’t even notice it anymore.

    You really aren’t reading my posts. Absolutely this happens. Absolutely, it is a problem. The thing you had to change it away from is something you clearly can’t answer. You’re very good at demonstrating my own point for me.

    A natural disaster of that magnitude cannot be predicted.

    If the risk of the natural disaster cannot be computed, and that can cause the plant to fail then the risk of the plant failing cannot be computed. You lose.

  269. @Monster:

    The conflict between Greeks and Turks is a nationalistic conflict. Greeks and Turks both might have a religious element to their nationalism. Much like the Balkans (orthodox serbs vs catholic croats vs bosniac muslims). Very often the lines between religion and nationalism are not crisp and they cross easily into one another. If you come to understand and appreciate this, it will be easy for you to explain the conflict between those two sides.

    I can report to you that the eastern orthodox church is not only alive and well in Arab countries, it has millions upon millions of followers who have practically assumed every position of power in those countries. If memory serves me, the first prime minister of Syria (a Muslim nation) in its post independence era was a greek orthodox Arab who was brought into power by Muslims. The founder of the Baath party in Iraq (disbanded by Paul Bremer after the occupation of Iraq) was a greek orthodox Arab. The leaders of palestinian anti-zionist terror group was greek orthodox (George Habash). It was the leader of Hamas (labeled a Muslim-terror group by the state department) who delivered the eulogy for George Habash (the Greek orthodox) upon his death a few years ago.

    The example I just gave you ought to tell you that all these conflicts in the ME (whether its Turkey vs. Greece, or Arabs vs. zionists) are in reality nationalistic and political conflicts, and not religious conflicts.

    As for your lecture about “christian thought”, I probably know about that a lot more than you do.

    cheers.
    uma

  270. @Tom >I’m on really strong ground here, Roger. Poetry is not like cooking. There are no industrial poets.

    At least somewhat true, but great cooking and industrial design benefits from being done by cooks that understand both science and art, likewise good engineers with more than a bit of artist in their souls as well.

    Where the ‘High artists go wrong is that they try to insist that science and engineering is the antithesis of art rather than the complement to art.
    Superb cooking is nutritious, pleasing to the eye and to the palate, all at once. Superb engineering is efficient, economical, uses minimum resources and is pleasing to look at as well. (although sometimes you must be an engineer to appreciate the beauty)

    I don’t know that poetry is required, but a superb engineer will be an artist as well (although perhaps not in the eyes of ‘The high artists’)

  271. Roger,

    > Asking and listening only tells you what the person says, not what they think.

    The problem of lying is well known, and there are many methods to reduce it. It’s like a lot of proxies scientists use all the time.

    > MRI does not (yet) read thoughts. Maybe it will one day.

    Yes. An advent which will cause much celebration and dread. It is, however being used to detect the state of a mind at a crude level.

    > I am waiting eagerly for your defense of falsificationism.

    Instead of just popping off about philosophy, you could try explaining what you mean. One reason esr always appears to run rings around you is his talent for explanation. Try using simple, concrete analogies from real life. Sometimes that works for me. Actually, ask esr for tips on how to explain things well. I’m not in his league. Shoot, I’m probably not in your league, except maybe that I try to explain what I mean more often.

    > You really aren’t reading my posts.

    No, I’m not remembering them or re-reading them. I read the latest one pretty closely. Old points tend to fall out of my old mind. And scrolling through a long thread like this doesn’t seem to be something anyone does well. You are teacher, are you not? (Did I misremember?) Doesn’t teaching involve repetition? I don’t mind if you repeat old points, particularly if they come with new examples and new supporting evidence.

    > If the risk of the natural disaster cannot be computed, and that can cause the plant to fail then the risk of the plant failing cannot be computed.

    Ah, I see the problem. We are in violent, wordy agreement. You are like the umpteenth person to make this point. New wording, though.

    Yours,
    Tom

  272. The conflict between Greeks and Turks is a nationalistic conflict.

    Yes, and the conflict between British and Irish is nationalistic, despite it often being couched in “Protestant v. Catholic” terms. Yes, you could sit down a Catholic priest and a vicar from the Church of Ireland, ask them a hundred random questions on religious doctrine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave the same answers on 90 or more of them (Papal infallibility being the most obvious point of contention.) Yes, a lot of things called “religious” disagreements are in fact political disagreements. I’ve already stipulated to quite a bit of agreement over the fact that it’s the contamination of religion with politics at fault here. I just don’t see how we can achieve the same separation of religion and politics within the Muslim world as in the West.

    As for your lecture about “christian thought”, I probably know about that a lot more than you do.

    It wasn’t a lecture about Christian thought; it was about the stark difference scripturally between Christian and Muslim concepts of the relationship between religion and government. I spent more time covering the Christian side because that is what I know best. But it’s not like I don’t know Muslims nor Islam. One of my sisters and one of my nieces each married a (different) Iranian Muslim. My brother in law is now a Christian, which I wouldn’t say here on the Internet if it weren’t for the fact that I’m pseudonymous, so no one will be able to track him down and kill him for apostasy.

    It might surprise you that there is one element of Shari’a that, while I do not think it should be a law imposed upon unwilling parties, may actually make more sense than our traditional Western approach, which is the business of charging interest. I am fascinated by the way Islamic banks take an equity position in businesses, which should make it easier for the businesses to weather economic downturns than if they had a fixed interest payment. In good times, the bank will make more money, but a prosperous businessman won’t mind sharing his profits with his partners.

    I doubt that you know more about Christian thought than I do. My parents met as students at what is now known as Manhattan Christian College. As just one example of what that meant to my upbringing, my mother came up with a sing-song recitation of the Greek alphabet to aid in teaching it to each of her children, so we would get a head start on being able to read the books of the New Testament in the original Greek, or at least be able to deal with concordances. I even remember thinking it odd in math classes that π was pronounced like “pie” rather than “pee” (just like the name of the letter “p” in English) as Mom’s song taught (based on the actual Greek pronunciation of the letter).

    The church in which I was raised expects members to study scripture for themselves rather than just accept doctrine as enunciated by some leader. (“Where the Scriptures speak; we speak. Where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”, aka sola scriptura) That early training helped me to discuss theology with members of various sects over the years, and I’ve grown to understand their doctrines even though I do not accept them, just as I’ve discussed Muslim thought with my in-laws and other Muslim friends and co-workers.

    The fact is that combining religion and government is congruent with the Qur’an and Hadiths, but not with the recorded words of Jesus in the New Testament. That is why it was possible for Christianity to have a Reformation that rejected the corrupt Roman Catholic Church and its incestuous relationship with princes, kings and emperors. I am not confident that Islam can have a similar Reformation, because it would have to reject the example of Mohammed himself, who was both Prophet and head of a government, and his khal?fa who followed.

  273. > Superb cooking is nutritious, pleasing to the eye and to the palate, all at once

    I don’t necessarily agree with the “pleasing to the eye” bit. I have plenty of divine-tasting food that did not look pleasing to the eye.

  274. >Before monotheism the people of the ME worshipped women. Yes women! Pretty much all their gods were goddesses.

    Cultural barriers are entertaining things. uma, I worship goddesses. I find your startlement at this possibility quite funny.

  275. @esr:

    > Cultural barriers are entertaining things. uma, I worship goddesses. I find your startlement at this possibility quite funny.

    You would feel perfectly at home speaking a semetic tongue then. 3000 yrs of monothestic repression have not managed to erase the reverence for all things female that permeates through the semitic language(s).

  276. “Yes, the standard model of the obesity problem is utterly fucked up and the Atkins/Taubes group is almost certainly closer to right. Here I think you’ve got a point – a lot of what pins the standard model in place is a sort of religious asceticism that dare not speak its name. On AGW, again, you’ve got a point. The rhetoric of environmental alarmism in general is religious-flavored to a point of sinister absurdity – the resemblance to the stupidest forms of Christian eschatology is something I’ve written about before.

    But…much as I’d like to put that shoe on both Keynesian economics and gun control, it doesn’t fit. They’re both full of shit, yes, but it’s a different kind of shit. The signifiers of the religious mode aren’t present in their theory or rhetoric.”

    You avoided the obvious religious example: That races and genders are cultural creations.

    Gun control does fit the religious model, in that guns are supposedly evil and exude malignant influence. Guns supposedly *cause* ordinary decent people to go around killing, and in particular guns *cause* them to kill people of protected races, protected sexual preferences, and the protected gender. Guns are like satanic rituals.

    Keynesian economics has a plausible rationale, indeed several plausible rationales, but clearly Keynesians, notably Krugman and Brad delong, are apt to treat those that disagree, as not merely mistaken, but evil. Of course, Linux people tend to treat Windows people as evil, but that is a bit of a joke, most of us don’t take such holy wars altogether seriously. Keynesians take their holy wars terribly seriously.

  277. Let’s cut to the chase here…

    >Nope. There is no method to determine what goes on inside the mind.

    Do you believe that you know nothing about what goes on inside my mind? If you believe that, why are you attributing mental states to me?

    Even while you accuse me of ‘bad philosophy’, your behavior completely fails to match your stated philosophy. Every day you use a very powerful method for determining what’s going on inside other minds. It’s called “asking them”. Based on their speech and behavior, you attribute mental states to them. You check your theories about their mental states by watching what they do and comparing it against predictions based on those attributed mental states.

    Welcome to communication.

    You’re not alone. As a brutal operationalist, discussing philosophy with other people often requires that I exert considerable self-discipline to avoid collapsing into helpless laughter. It’s truly hilarious to watch someone function as an operationalist while expounding all kinds of elaborated confirmation theory and ontology that completely fail to match their actual behavior

  278. >> Superb cooking is nutritious, pleasing to the eye and to the palate, all at once

    >I don’t necessarily agree with the “pleasing to the eye” bit. I have plenty of divine-tasting food that did not look pleasing to the eye.

    For that dish, was the unpleasant look a necessity for the dish, or a side effect that might be worked around? Would it be possible for the presentation to be done differently?
    It is possible that for some foods, an attractive presentation by your standards could not be done, but I’ll bet that the presentation you got could have been made less attractive.
    If it could have been served in an eye pleasing fashion would that have not improved the meal to some degree?

    However, I didn’t suggest that an attractive presentation is a requirement for good tasty food and an enjoyable meal, rather that a true artist of a cook could probably manage it, and that her knowledge of the underlying science of food preparation would enhance it as well.

    Good presentation is not the same as elaborate or fancy presentation either. In fact I would say that they are at best orthogonal.

  279. The problem of lying is well known, and there are many methods to reduce it. It’s like a lot of proxies scientists use all the time.

    One doesn’t have to lie to failed to disclose the content of their thoughts. You can’t even define thought, so any more than a purely instrumental model is doomed to failure.

    Try using simple, concrete analogies from real life.

    I did. If I posit that certain things exist then that is perfectly scientific (e.g. the existence of a black swan). It is not in general falsifiable. And the acceptance of its truth can have consequences. What’s remarkable is that Eric (a falsificationist) chooses to ignore this easy refutation of his philosophy with hand-waving, because it enables him to retain his belief.

    It’s called “asking them”. Based on their speech and behavior, you attribute mental states to them. You check your theories about their mental states by watching what they do and comparing it against predictions based on those attributed mental states.

    Of course I can predict how someone may react to something. I may even have a language to describe my suppositions in (e.g. “my wife is irritated with me”). I don’t claim to know anything about how their mind works, any more than I know how the English language works. There is no such thing as a (quasi-) formal model of English, and therefore there cannot be a genuine “theory of English”. I can still use heuristics to guess what will make good writing. I can’t prove whether a given sentence is or is not valid English. I can answer simpler questions, such as “is this sentence accepted by most English speakers”, but the original is insoluble because it cannot even be stated.

    It’s truly hilarious to watch someone function as an operationalist

    You believe I function as an operationalist because I you are unable to distinguish me from one. Of course, this begs the question because such an inference depends upon acceptance of operationalism in the first place.

    Operationalism suggests some good heuristics. Equally so for instrumentalism (related), falsificationism, verificationism and probabilistic induction. You have (sadly) made the philosopher’s error of getting wrapped up in a supposed solution to a problem that is neither soluble nor requires solving.

  280. @ Monster

    > I just don’t see how we can achieve the same separation of religion and politics within the Muslim world as in the West.

    How can you possibly make this statement without having lived in the Muslim world ? I don’t get it. You need to have such a deep understanding not only of the Muslim world as a whole (which is far more diverse culturally, ethnically, and linguistically than the western world) but of every individual country there to make this kind of statement. Let me tell you something. I think there is *MORE* separation between politics and religion in some Muslim countries than there is in the US. Yes, you heard me, *MORE*. A country like Turkey adopts French-like secularism where women cannot even enter into a public building while dressed in any kind of religious dress.

    Tunisia (An arab country) has had a very similar extreme form of French-like secularism through much of its modern history. A tunisian woman would not even be allowed to enter class in her university if she was dressed in any kind of religious dress.

    The parliament in Turkey does not start its sessions by recitations from the Quran or any other religious text. Neither does the parliament of Tunisia. The currency of Turkey does not have “In Allah we Trust”. Neither do the currencies of most other muslim countries for that matter.

    > I doubt that you know more about Christian thought than I do

    Keep reading this blog. You’ll find out in time that I do.

  281. @Jim Hurlburt:

    > For that dish, was the unpleasant look a necessity for the dish, or a side effect that might be worked around? Would it be possible for the presentation to be done differently?

    I would say the unpleasant look is a necessity if the is to be what it is.

    I can give examples. That way we’re not talking abstractions here. First example I would give is Coq au Vin, the famous French dish. Now, pay attention to what it looks like when its done (9:30 in the video). It looks really hideous.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6tNbgX7CQ0

    Another example is the famous persian dish Fisinjan (12:45 in the video).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwDehmCBoRA

    Both dishes are easy to sample in America in any of the very big metropolitan areas. But let’s face it. Both dishes look hideous. No amount of presentation can change that.

  282. uma Says:
    A country like Turkey adopts French-like secularism where women cannot even enter into a public building while dressed in any kind of religious dress.

    This just is not true. The military banned headscarves, but that ban was overturned on 2008 June 5th, and these days the reverse applies – the dress is semi compulsory, rather than banned.

    Today being insufficiently Islamic in Turkey has the same social and political consequences as being “racist” in the USA. It will kill your career, and quite possibly land you in jail, so everyone in the Turkish upper crust, or who has aspirations to be part of the upper crust, is as Islamic as the USA upper crust is anti racist.

    In the USA it is theoretically legal to be “racist” but as Randy Weaver discovered, not actually legal. Similarly, in Turkey, it is theoretically legal to be unIslamic, but secularism nonetheless can result in jail time, and quite frequently does.

  283. >You believe I function as an operationalist because I you are unable to distinguish me from one.

    I am certainly able to distinguish you from someone who behaves as though you cannot determine what goes on inside the mind. :-)

    But the distinctions among operationalism, instrumentalism, falsificationism, verificationism, pragmatism, and constructive empiricism are really pretty uninteresting. Where they don’t consist of content-free arguments about language, they’re minor and easily fixable technical errors.

  284. >I think there is *MORE* separation between politics and religion in some Muslim countries than there is in the US.

    Sorry, uma, but this is nonsense. Too much of the Sunni Islamic world requires conformance to shari’a law by custom, law, or constitutional provision for it to be true, and in Shi’a Iran the doctrine of velayat-e faqih has the same effect. It is as though Western nations had laws requiring that no secular legislation can override the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

  285. I think there is *MORE* separation between politics and religion in some Muslim countries than there is in the US. Yes, you heard me, *MORE*. A country like Turkey adopts French-like secularism where women cannot even enter into a public building while dressed in any kind of religious dress.

    If CNN is to be believed, i’d suggest that Turkey is probably not the best example for your case.

    http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,1917,-Turkey-probes-atheists-God-book,CNN,page3#92514

  286. esr,

    Have you been pulling posts out of the spam filter? I swear there are messages up thread that weren’t there before.

    > What’s remarkable is that Eric (a falsificationist) chooses to ignore this easy refutation of his philosophy with hand-waving, because it enables him to retain his belief.

    Yeah. I reread what you said above. You claimed the sentence, “A black swan exists” is meaningless. That does sound like bad philosophy.

    It sounds like really awful philosophy. Of the kind any good Aristotelian could utterly destroy in an argument. Tt sounds completely stupid.

    Yours,
    Tom

  287. In re ugly tasty food: A lot of Indian food is, visually speaking, chunks in glop. Brown glop, mustard-colored glop, green glop. I love the stuff because I know how good it tastes, but I can’t see any way to improve the appearance. “Sauce on the side” wouldn’t make it look much better, and it might interfere with the taste, since I think the meat and veggies need to be cooked with the sauce.

    uma, by American standards, not being allowed to wear religious garb is the opposite of religious freedom, not the presence of it.

    Are/were men allowed to wear religious garb in public buildings?

  288. @esr:

    > Sorry, uma, but this is nonsense. Too much of the Sunni Islamic world requires conformance to shari’a law by custom, law, or constitutional provision for it to be true, and in Shi’a Iran the doctrine of velayat-e faqih has the same effect

    The vast majority of islamic countries do not apply sharia law, except perhaps in areas like family law, inheritance, divorce etc. Sharia law punishments like stonings are only applied in 2 or 3 countries as far as I know – out of more than 50. This has been the case throughout much of modern history of these countries.

    There are even many Muslim countries where the death penalty is practically not practiced, even though it theoretically exists in the books.

    The difference between the western world and the muslim world is what you can call the “secular tradition” not whether there are indeed some barriers between religion and the state in the way their state apparatus is set up. In the western world secularism and the secular tradition is part of the people’s consciousness. In the Muslim world, it is reviled by the average person. That is the difference. As far as the state apparatus setup, in some Muslim countries (Turkey, Tunisia) a deliberately anti-religion French-like secularism is setup in their systems.

  289. @James A Donald:

    > This just is not true. The military banned headscarves, but that ban was overturned on 2008 June 5th, and these days the reverse applies – the dress is semi compulsory, rather than banned.

    Sure. You fail to mention that the military has effectively been in power (and calls itself the “guardian of secularism”) ever since the founding of the modern Turkish republic. It took years of back and forth haggling to manage to get this ban repealed. During those years attempts at military coup d’etat were foiled.

    > Today being insufficiently Islamic in Turkey has the same social and political consequences as being “racist” in the USA.

    Social consequences I’d buy that. Political consequences I would not. The hardline secularist parties sit in the opposition in the Turkish parliament. They simply did not win the elections.

    > It will kill your career, and quite possibly land you in jail

    Being non-comformant with the clique that has power or with their dominant culture or their criteria for “letting you in”, will land you in trouble anywhere. This is true in the US too. Wouldn’t George Bush have had to look you in the eye, and see that were a “good man” (Vladimir Putin) or that you have been “saved” or “redeemed” or “born again” before wink wink sending a govt contract your way ? This shit happens everywhere man.

    Once the islamists are voted out of office in Turkey it will be some other criterion that end up being the “career booster”.

  290. >You claimed the sentence, “A black swan exists” is meaningless.

    No, that was me, sort of. An unqualified existence claim of this kind is vacuous (not quite the same thing as meaningless) because it doesn’t specify an observable consequence of the claim being true. On the other hand: “If you were to look at all the swans on Earth, at least one of them would be black”. That is not vacuous.

  291. >Sharia law punishments like stonings are only applied in 2 or 3 countries as far as I know

    Your knowledge is at best incomplete, then. I myself know of more countries than that where stonings in accordance with shari’a are practiced.

    Wikipedia notes that “Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain religious courts for all aspects of jurisprudence, and the Mutaween (religious police) assert social compliance. Laws derived from Sharia [and not just family law, inheritance, divorce] are also applied in Afghanistan, Libya and Sudan.” The stoning of women to death for alleged adultery is all too frequently reported in Pakistan (where shari’a flourishes despite a constitution that specifies a British civil law code) and Iraq (where the new constitution requires conformance with shari’a).

  292. @Nancy:

    > uma, by American standards, not being allowed to wear religious garb is the opposite of religious freedom, not the presence of it.

    I know. I am part of this country too. Europeans (e.g. French) do not define freedom in the same way. They also love beauracrats over in Europe. They love big state. And they hate guns. It’s impossible to explain to a european that an armed society is a pre-requisite and necessary condition to a free society.

  293. How can you possibly make this statement without having lived in the Muslim world ?

    This is an infamous tactic to stifle disagreement. I don’t believe it has a formal name, but it’s the converse of Appeal to authority (“It’s a Black thing. You wouldn’t understand.”, “You’re a man. You can’t possibly know anything about Womyn’s Issues.”)

    I just told you that one of my sisters and one of my nieces married Muslims, that I have worked with Muslims, and had Muslim friends, with whom I have discussed differences in our faiths and cultures. I have listened to people who have left the Muslim world (one who is now a self-described atheist; others who have converted to Christianity; still others who say they are still Muslims, and that the very cultures they left are not “True Islam” but some kind of deviant theology).

    I don’t have to have been one of the dozen men to have walked the face of the Moon to know what it’s like there. They’ve told the rest of us, shown us TV footage and instrument readings, brought back samples.

  294. @Monster:

    > This is an infamous tactic to stifle disagreement. I don’t believe it has a formal name, but it’s the converse of Appeal to authority (“It’s a Black thing. You wouldn’t understand.”, “You’re a man. You can’t possibly know anything about Womyn’s Issues.”)

    Bullshit. You will never find me writing detailed essays and mouthing off about places that I have little knowledge of (e.g. Subsaharan african cultures ond their religious beliefs). If you don’t know much about a place the healthy attitude is to be in a listening+learning mode. I can assure you, there is much to love and admire about other countries and their cultures, their customs, their values, their arts, their literature etc.

    Scroll up, and read the poem I posted earlier. It is written by a Muslim, and translated into English. There are copious amounts of this kind of poetry. You can spend an entire lifetime reading! Can you give me similar examples from your so-called “christian thought” garden of love ?

    > I have listened to people who have left the Muslim world (one who is now a self-described atheist; others who have converted to Christianity; still others who say they are still Muslims, and that the very cultures they left are not “True Islam” but some kind of deviant theology).

    I have listened to people who have left christianity and have a visceral hate for it and think it is also a deviant theology.

    Please understand that I am not a muslim or some apologist for “True Islam” whatever that might be. I have only posted comments about “mainstream islam”, a subject which I am very familiar with thx to having lived part of my life (see earlier posts) in the ME.

  295. If you don’t know much about a place

    I don’t have to have been to a place to know much about it. I’ve never been to Lebanon, but after reading Michael Totten’s writing about his experiences there, I know much more about it than the average American who has neither traveled nor read those who have.

    I can assure you, there is much to love and admire about other countries and their cultures, their customs, their values, their arts, their literature etc.

    Red Herring, Straw man, and Moving the Goalposts.

    I can disagree with the Muslim world’s insistence on imposing its code upon others by force without considering entire cultures bereft of value. I have explicitly stated that I find something to admire about Shari’a-compliant financing. If you are able to comprehend English, having read that comment of mine, you wouldn’t be throwing up crap like this. You’d realize that I actually agree with your central premise that it’s the combination of religion and government that is deadly, but that our disagreement is on whether the nations of the Islamic world are capable of letting go of such a powerful weapon to control the people.

    I have listened to people who have left christianity and have a visceral hate for it and think it is also a deviant theology.

    So you learned something from them, despite never having personally lived their experience.

    I have only posted comments about “mainstream islam”, a subject which I am very familiar with thx to having lived part of my life (see earlier posts) in the ME.

    Presumably, your point in doing so is so that the rest of us will thereby know more about the ME than we did before reading your comments. But by your own reasoning, if we have never lived there, we cannot ever know anything about those places. The verbal transmission of information from those who directly experienced it is insufficient for us to ever retransmit that information to others, leaving us condemned to ignorance.

    And what you say is at variance with the reports I’ve heard/read from actual Muslims who came from the ME (as well as kufr who lived there long enough to know what’s going on). Even the ones who remain Muslims, and feel like the countries they left behind are not true to Islam, recognize the “mainstream” in those countries for what it is.

    You can tell us as often as you wish that “mainstream islam” does not impose itself upon others by force, but we have too many witnesses to the contrary to simply accept your story and throw theirs out.

  296. esr,

    > No, that was me, sort of.

    I know. I was quoting Roger to you. Your comments about either the meaninglessness or the vacuity of the statement “A black swan exists” are dead wrong. Statements about the existence or non-existence of things are not vacuous. They are useful and meaningful. Any Aristotelian would agree with me, I think. To claim that “A black swan exists” is vacuous and “If you were to look at all the swans on Earth, at least one of them would be black” is not vacuous is bad philosophy. Roger is right. Either your teachers were bad philosophers or you are not transmitting their teachings properly.

    Yours,
    Tom

  297. uma,

    > Bullshit.

    Nope. He is right and you are wrong. You almost nothing about the ME, even though you have lived there. You have one persons experience, during a tiny period of history, out of thousands of years and billions of people. That’s almost nothing. For you to claim the mantle of authority on the basis your own paltry experience shows a lack of humility on your part. Don’t do it. Monster is right.

    Yours,
    Tom

  298. @Monster:

    > Presumably, your point in doing so is so that the rest of us will thereby know more about the ME than we did before reading your comments. But by your own reasoning, if we have never lived there, we cannot ever know anything about those places.

    I never said you will never know *anything*. You will know something. But it will be like an out of focus picture on a projector.

    The rest of your post is out of focus. The best thing to do Monster is to agree to disagree. To each their own.

  299. @ Tom DeGisi:

    > Nope. He is right and you are wrong. You almost nothing about the ME, even though you have lived there. You have one persons experience, during a tiny period of history, out of thousands of years and billions of people. That’s almost nothing. For you to claim the mantle of authority on the basis your own paltry experience shows a lack of humility on your part. Don’t do it. Monster is right.

    I think you have a point. It does show lack of humility. How one communicates one’s ideas is very often more important than the ideas themselves. On that count I stand corrected. My apologies to everyone.

  300. >Any Aristotelian would agree with me, I think.

    All that this demonstrates is that Aristotelian logic is broken. Which is not actually news; you really ought to read some Korzybski on this.

    >They are useful and meaningful.

    A: “There exists a black swan.”

    B: “If you were to look at all the swans on Earth, at least one of them would be black”.

    So what would you assign as the meaning of A? Because you’re arguing the point, I gather that you think it means something other than B. I should note that in casual conversation, I would accept A as a shorthand for B, but in doing philosophy we need to be more careful than that.

  301. @JonB:

    Laws that limit free speech (ie the publishing of a book, or trying to pull a book out of market) are not limited to Turkey. Europe has these laws too and they might even be more draconian in EU countries than they are in Turkey. I know that France has these kind of laws.

    The US is pretty unique in its understanding of freedom of speech. The European countries vary quite substantially in how close/far they are from the understandings we have here.

  302. Uma said:
    > The vast majority of islamic countries do not apply sharia law, except perhaps in areas
    > like family law, inheritance, divorce etc.

    The vast majority of Islamic countries do apply Islamic law, in that crimes by Muslims against infidels, in particular rape, require a much higher standard of proof, and receive substantially lower punishment, whether de-jure or de-facto.

    Very few Islamic countries execute apostates, but in all of them, apostasy is apt to have serious and unpleasant consequences. At worst, the government will kill you. At best, the government will kill your career.

  303. esr,

    > Because you’re arguing the point, I gather that you think it means something other than B.

    No, that’s not the point I was arguing. I was arguing they were the same, therefore both statements must be vacuous or neither. Someone could mean something other than B by it, I suppose, like “there exists a black swan as an idea in my head”.

    > I should note that in casual conversation, I would accept A as a shorthand for B, but in doing philosophy we need to be more careful than that.

    Then you don’t think it is vacuous. You think it is meaningful in casual conversation and meaningful but sloppy in doing philosophy. Which says to me that you weren’t transmitting Korzybski to me very well, just as I suspected. OTOH, I can hardly blame Roger for his poor reaction to what you said.

    Yours,
    Tom

  304. @esr:

    Stonings will be found in Saudi, and Iran.

    They can also be found in lawless wasteland countries like Somalia, or Afghanistan. The Sudan too. In these lawless places it often depends on what militia often controls the territory.

    It would not also surprise me if there were reports of stoning that get carried out extrajudicially (ie tribal members to cleanse their honor. That kind of thing). Things like honor crimes are somewhat common in Muslim countries.

    Only a small percentage of Sharia law itself is comprised of barbaric punishments like stonings. Much of sharia law is dedicated to such matters as family law, property rights, interitance rights, women’s rights, islamic banking (regulated differently from standard banking) etc.

    You will for example find a muslim country with laws governing Islamic banking. Those laws are normally derived from Sharia.

    The constitutional status of Sharia in many Muslim countries is often as *one* source of legislation (or precident case) to draw from.

    Generally speaking, the Muslim world does not have a tradition of one law for all citizens. Instead, and where minorities for example are involved, the laws are often made by the minorities themselves to govern their own affairs. For example, christians int in the ME run their own family laws independently. Muslims might run their own sharia-derived family laws and so on. The state often devolves that responsibility to the communities themselves.

    Hence, the concept of “equality before one law” for all citizens is almost nonexistent. When Muslims in the west bring their demands for Sharia law into western countries, they in their minds think that that there is a parallel system of laws (similar to the one they’ve experienced) and they as a community are entitled to their own laws.

    Hope it makes sense.

  305. @James A Donald

    > in particular rape, require a much higher standard of proof, and receive substantially lower punishment, whether de-jure or de-facto.

    I could be wrong but I think that rape is a capital offense in Sharia law. I think the high standard of proof is limited to cases where capital punishment is considered. In other cases, it is probably left to the subjective judgment of judges. And that might be the reason why substantially low punishments are rendered.

    > in all of them, apostasy is apt to have serious and unpleasant consequences. At worst, the government will kill you. At best, the government will kill your career.

    I think the unpleasant consequences come from society surrounding these people much more than governments per say. Governments tend to take a “don’t ask don’t tell” type of attitude on this.

    The situation of apostasy laws in Muslim countries is similar to that of sodomy laws that are in the books, but which are not applied. These laws might be used to harass people and it’s usually not the government that does that. It’s the communities surrounding those people.

    Richard Dawkins has millions of fans in Muslim countries. If all these people are going be subjected to apostasy laws or loose their jobs, we’ll definitely hear the word “apostasy” in the news more often.

  306. I’m not convinced that private possession of guns is a necessary part of a free society, though I can agree that the possession of guns is one of the many basically harmless behaviors which should be permitted in a free society. The reason I’m not convinced is that the sort of weapons private people are likely to own have very little leverage against a modern military. At best, private ownership of weapons is something like the reason people collect butterflies rather than wasps– the cost of collecting wasps is somewhat higher, but it isn’t a deal-killer if a person wants to do it. For more about the effectiveness of private ownership of weapons against tyranny, see Corey Maye.

    esr:”No, that was me, sort of. An unqualified existence claim of this kind is vacuous (not quite the same thing as meaningless) because it doesn’t specify an observable consequence of the claim being true. On the other hand: “If you were to look at all the swans on Earth, at least one of them would be black”. That is not vacuous.”

    Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that anyone who claims that a black swan exists means that checking all the swans on Earth would turn up a black swan?

    What would the truth status be of claims about black swans off earth? They don’t seem meaningless, but they do seem uncheckable. If claims about swans are too messy for definitional reasons, how about claims about extragalactic diamonds?

  307. The best thing to do Monster is to agree to disagree.

    That’s what our founding fathers did when they set up a government that lacks the power to force agreement on religious matters. Now if you can just persuade your friends in the ME to agree to disagree along with the rest of us, we’ll be in a lot better shape than we are now.

  308. >I was arguing they were the same, therefore both statements must be vacuous or neither.

    But they’re not the same. B has a well-defined meaning – that is, you can associate a testable consequence with it. A does not; there are too many possible senses in which you might mean the term ‘exists’. You might be asserting that a lifeform indistinguishable from a black swan floats in a lake on a planet of another star. You might be reporting that a black swan exists as an idea in your head. You might be having a hallucination of a black swan.

  309. >The reason I’m not convinced is that the sort of weapons private people are likely to own have very little leverage against a modern military.

    Professional military officers know that civilians with small arms cannot strand against regulars in a set-piece battle, but they can be quite effective at destroying the effectiveness of an occupation force. I’m not going to explain that in detail because what you are actually arguing is for civilians to be more heavily armed, which is a consequence I’d be fine with.

  310. The reason I’m not convinced is that the sort of weapons private people are likely to own have very little leverage against a modern military.

    To elaborate a little more on this: we’re having more than enough trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a tiny proportion of the population actually against us, from a culture with a military tradition of suicide bombings (as opposed to, you know, actual decent tactics), after we took control and made life enormously better for the average person. Now imagine that response, only about half the population are engaged (proportion of US gun owners, IIRC), they come from a culture of marksmanship, tactics, and teamwork, when the hypothetical occupation force almost has to have done enormous injury to average people simply by occupying the area. Imagine, for instance, guerrilla sniper attacks that actually work. It doesn’t take much of this to make life absolutely miserable for the occupying force.

  311. >Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that anyone who claims that a black swan exists means that checking all the swans on Earth would turn up a black swan?

    In casual conversation, yes. But the actual topic of the discussion is whether claims without observable consequences can be non-vacuous. I understood Roger to be using “There exists a black swan” as an example of a claim without observable consequences, so the implicit assumption we would use in ordinary conversation is not helpful.

    >What would the truth status be of claims about black swans off earth?

    Consider the claim “There exists a black swan on the third planet of Alpha Centauri.” I’m willing to ignore the obvious definitional issue as not relevant.

    I say this claim has a well-defined meaning, but conveys no information. The meaning is “If you had a device through which you could look at all swans on the third planet of Alpha Centauri, one of them would be black.” It conveys no information, because there is no such device with which to make the observation. (Well, it might convey the information that the speaker is barmy, but that’s an observation about our expectations of human speakers and has nothing to do with the semantics of untestable claims.)

    If I were reading an SF novel and a character on Earth said “There exists a black swan on the third planet of Alpha Centauri”, the claim would have meaning in a different way. It would suggest that people in the novel’s ficton have constructed a supertelescope or FTL starships and the claim he is making does in fact convey information.

    I point this out to suggest that we consider claims “meaningful” if there is a possible world in which they are testable, but “vacuous” if they are untestable in the actual world.

  312. Eric, I think you have this wrong, or at least chose a poor example. I can assert with tremendous confidence that there is not a black swan on the third planet of Alpha Centauri, and justify this belief through what I know about astronomy and evolutionary biology. The claim is testable and meaningful in the sense that implies either that one or both fields is catastrophically in error, or that there exists some extremely advanced alien civilization with incomprehensible motives which terraformed a planet and put a swan there.

  313. >Eric, I think you have this wrong, or at least chose a poor example.

    Those are indeed arguments that I formulated a poor example, but I was sort of stuck with “black swan” by the history of the discussion.

    The logic of my argument is unchanged if we replace it with a claim like “There is a continental landmass surrounding the north pole of Gliese 581g.” This claim is meaningful, it is consilient with our knowledge of Gliese 581g and our knowledge of Earthlike planets, and it is untestable.

  314. esr,

    Meaningless does not mean insufficiently precise for scientific work to me. Neither does vacuous. One way to be precise enough for scientific work is to use a phrase like “precise enough for scientific work”. When you use words like meaningless or vacuous instead, the leap from precision to informality confuses me.

    Yours,
    Tom

  315. >Imagine, for instance, guerrilla sniper attacks that actually work. It doesn’t take much of this to make life absolutely miserable for the occupying force.

    Indeed. Counterinsurgency against motivated and armed civilians on their home ground is notoriously difficult even when it’s against low-trust tribal societies with serious disadvantages in weapons technologies. Against Americans? The prospect is enough to make any military planner shudder, and especially an American military planner. We have the cultural capital required to be far more dangerous to an occupier than Pushtun tribesmen.

  316. Laws that limit free speech (ie the publishing of a book, or trying to pull a book out of market) are not limited to Turkey. Europe has these laws too and they might even be more draconian in EU countries than they are in Turkey. I know that France has these kind of laws.

    If the law were some sort of indistinct “morals act” (i.e. covering a broad range of “ills”) i’d tend to agree with you (and wouldn’t have raised the point) but the reports I read said that the law was targetted at inciting religious hatred (which would plausibly fall under most western hate crime laws) and “insulting religious values” something which if someone said they were invoking even a disused but still valid statute(particularly in Australia but also British and US law) to try to prosecute i’d be surprised that they’d bother, and would consider sending letters and turning up to protests about it. I’d probably donate to a defense fund. And note this was a state prosecutor investigating this, this isn’t a civil action.

    As i said, however, this point hangs on CNN (and The Guardian since the CNN link didn’t just magically work) accurately reporting (and myself accurately reading) the event.

    Richard Dawkins has millions of fans in Muslim countries.

    The unfortunate thing about government that is universal is that just because a large number of people support something doesn’t mean the government will create laws in support of that something. As a recent personal example from Australia i put forward netfiltering (that companies with filtered access to the internet are massively going out of business certainly suggests, if not outright proves, that the majority of consumers have voted with their wallets that they don’t want it and yet it’s still on the agenda of both australian political parties) and an R18+ rating for games (Australia only has MA15+ which means things that probably should be getting an R18+ rating are either getting an MA15 or are being effectively banned (i.e. unclassified)).

  317. @uma:

    You would feel perfectly at home speaking a semetic tongue then. 3000 yrs of monothestic repression have not managed to erase the reverence for all things female that permeates through the semitic language(s).

    I think it’s pretty clear you know very little if anything about modern/postmodern neopaganism. That comment about worshipping goddesses had me laughing as well. This one is even funnier.

  318. >>A small test. You find out that a unique significant archaeological find was stolen and subsequently recovered some time later, and that its presence now makes a huge positive contribution to our understanding of our world.

    >Oh goody! Thought experiment! I like this game!

    A slight variation: the unique significant archaeological consists of objects made of some precious material (e.g. gold). A profit-seeking firm wishes to melt the find down and sells the raw materials. This firm is able to make a higher offer to the rights-holder than the scientists interested in the find, and so the firm acquires the find and prevents any contribution to understanding. How angry are you now?

    (Part b: the firm is owned by religious fundamentalists, who for some reason do not want the implications of the find to become widely known.)

  319. @esr:

    We have the cultural capital required to be far more dangerous to an occupier than Pushtun tribesmen.

    Indeed. Just ask the British. :)

  320. >Indeed. Just ask the British. :)

    Well, yes. But the fact that we won the Revolution 280-odd years ago isn’t a conclusive argument. Some would argue that we’ve become too soft and cowardly and gun-shy to make good insurgents since, and cite as convincing evidence the fact that people like Clayton Cramer and Dave Kopel and Glenn Reynolds and (in a very minor way) myself had to fight a thirty-year battle to get the courts to take the Second Amendment seriously.

    The reasons any sensible military planner would blench white at the thought of trying to fight an American insurgency aren’t because of our mythic past but because of our present. The U.S. stock of civilian firearms is huge, and in the event of a successful foreign invasion the contents of a lot of National Guard armories would probably disappear before the invaders could secure them. The sheer size of the U.S. would work in our favor – raising enough troops to even nominally control the hinterlands would tax the resources of even a coalition of large nation-states, and give guerrillas lots of good hiding places. Our seasonal hunters, if all under arms at once, would be the largest army in the world. Our kids grow up playing war sims. We’re a high-trust culture, good at cooperation.

    The most salient characteristics of American combat troops matter too, because they’re generated by the same culture that would fight the insurgency. We don’t breed soldiers as resistant to breaking under fire as the Brits, nor as good at coping with physical hardship as Turks and Russians, nor as disciplined as Germans. What we excel at is marksmanship, tactical ingenuity, and an ability to operate with light or absent command direction in a pinch that goes all the way down to squad level. These are exactly the characteristics required to fight an insurgency.

  321. >How angry are you now?

    Very. But I don’t suffer from the delusion that everything that makes me angry should be prohibited by force.

  322. @Morgan Greywolf:

    > I think it’s pretty clear you know very little if anything about modern/postmodern neopaganism. That comment about worshipping goddesses had me laughing as well. This one is even funnier.

    I admit I know very little. I did promise myself to investigate, but after of course I have gotten to the bottom of ancient paganism which I have always found to be fascinating. The era of arab paganism (> 1400 yrs ago) has generated some of the most magnificent poems in all of arabic literature (called the hanging poems), which great figures like Goethe were very fascinated with.

  323. @Nancy Lebovitz:

    > The reason I’m not convinced is that the sort of weapons private people are likely to own have very little leverage against a modern military.

    You bring up a good point. It is a true that the military has far more powerful destructive power. However, the military is part of the people. Insurgencies, have a different logic than wars with state actors. In an insurgency, you win by not loosing. And you win by prolonging the conflict.

    An unarmed population can easily be pacified and submit to powers that be and their dictates/tyranny. An armed population starts by putting up a small resistance here, a small resistance there. Surely, the government will try to crush that resistance, but in doing so they are playing with fire. The powerful really really hate playing with fire and in the process risking it all.

    Now, if they don’t crush the resistance, this means they’d have to yield by giving up power and to compromise. Tyrrany cannot afford to compromise. Its death beings the minute it yields the smallest compromise. If, on the other hand, they attempt to crush an armed population a real massive insurgency might quickly develop and come into being.

    The logic of insurgencies follows the following pattern: Initially it starts small. The powers that be dismiss it. They reassure themselves and the masses that they’re in control. But then the insurgency persists and grows. The minute it grows it starts generating debate, and division too including among the powerful ranks. The stronger it grows or longer it lasts, the stronger the division. Then army members start either deserting, or joining the insurgency and contributing their skills. Some of the powerful then decide to cut their losses and jump ship. In the end there is no way out except for cooler heads to sit down and remove the dictators, thieves, and all their criminal cliques from power.

    An unarmed population can never create an insurgency. It has no choice, but to yield and yield more to the dictats of the those at the top, and the bearaucrats and lieutenants and yes-men they litter the place with.

    Armed Society = Free Society. You cannot have one without the other.

  324. .James A. Donald:
    > > Today being insufficiently Islamic in Turkey has the same social and political consequences as being “racist” in the USA.

    Uma:
    > Social consequences I’d buy that. Political consequences I would not. The hardline secularist parties sit in the opposition in the Turkish parliament..

    Those of them are not sitting in jail.

  325. @James A Donald
    > > in particular rape, require a much higher standard of proof, and receive substantially lower punishment, whether de-jure or de-facto.

    uma Says:
    > I think the high standard of proof is limited to cases where capital punishment is considered.

    The relevant factor is who whom: A very high standard of proof is required to prove a Muslim guilty of an offense against an infidel, and if proven, still gets only a slap on the wrist. But no proof is required to prove an infidel guilty of an offense against a Muslim. That is both the literal position of Sharia law, and a fair approximation to what actually happens in practice in Muslim majority countries.

    @James A Donald
    > > in all of them, apostasy is apt to have serious and unpleasant consequences. At worst, the government will kill you. At best, the government will kill your career.

    uma Says:
    >I think the unpleasant consequences come from society surrounding these people much more than governments per say.

    If it was the people, one would expect apostasy to be treates as seriously or more seriously far from the capital, and far from the elite, but by and large, it is the elite that is the most pious, or most carefully pretends to be pious.

    If it is indeed society, it is disproportionately the society of the elite, of those with political power.

  326. Well, yes. But the fact that we won the Revolution 280-odd years ago isn’t a conclusive argument.

    As a student of history and cultural studies, I rather disagree. The American Revolution is a major historical event that very much helped to define the culture we have today. If you want to know what makes up a culture today, you must look not only at the present, but at the past. Your German military discipline likely has some of its roots in Frederick the Great’s Army; he was known for his tactical genius as well as his well-trained and highly disciplined forces.

    What we excel at is marksmanship, tactical ingenuity, and an ability to operate with light or absent command direction in a pinch that goes all the way down to squad level. These are exactly the characteristics required to fight an insurgency.

    That and we have MacGyver. ;) Actually, I’m only half kidding there, American ingenuity includes a very strong ability to improvise. I think this is very cultural and harkens back to our days as a society of pioneers and frontiersman.

  327. ESR,

    Under your beliefs, I would posit that getting strong emotions over this sort of behavior in the scientific community is indeed irrational. You mentioned that science is systematized sanity — I’d say it’s not that simple. A sane, rational person could opt to simply not care about science, knowledge, the way things work, etc., and instead care about maximizing their own pleasure at all other expense. Is that not a sane desire, if there are no gods, no soul, no ontological dignity afforded man? One could argue that ones own pleasure would be maximized by following societies rules, as giving up little freedoms is better than the anarchy that would follow if everyone defied such norms. One could also rationally argue the opposite.

    These bad scientists may be doing just a bit of that — whether out of motivation of fear, or desire to keep their comfy jobs, or whatever range of desire, aren’t they all collectively saying “fuck it! I answer to no one but myself! I’m going to maximize good outcomes for me with no regard towards anyone else!”

    If I’m missing something here, I’d like to hear about it. I’m a deeply religious man who does believe in God and souls and intrinsic human value, etc., so I assume I find this sort of thing offensive for a different reason than you.

  328. Of course science is your religion.

    Can you conceive in your mind an experiment, one possible (however unlikely) outcome of which would be to utterly and irrevocably refute the scientific method itself as a guide for action?

    Until you can honestly say that there is such an experiment, even if only a hypothetical one, then your trust in science is a matter of religion, because it cannot be disproved.

    Those propositions which can be proved are math. Those propositions which cannot be proved but could be disproved in the face of specific contrary evidence are science. All other propositions are religion.

    All things considered, the utility of science is a good sort of religious belief to possess. Sufficient humility to acknowledge that one believes things which do not fall into either the domain of math or the domain of science — even if those “things” don’t carry the conventional trappings of “religion” — is a good thing too.

  329. Can you conceive in your mind an experiment, one possible (however unlikely) outcome of which would be to utterly and irrevocably refute the scientific method itself as a guide for action?

    Sure: http://xkcd.com/298/

    I trust the scientific method because it works. If it stopped working, I’d stop trusting it. Essentially, this would require the universe to stop making sense — that it cease to demonstrate any comprehensible causal regularity from this point forward.

    On the other hand, you could correctly argue that believing that the universe makes sense is something that I do take on faith. I could alternatively believe that I’m a Boltzmann brain and that the mental state I’m currently in is a result of a random quantum fluctuation that just occurred an instant ago, rather than formed by billions of years of ordered causality. Or, I could believe myself to be completely insane, and place no trust in my own ability to correctly carry out even the simplest reasoning. If I began with priors such as these, then nothing I observed would ever give me good reason to update them.

  330. >Can you conceive in your mind an experiment, one possible (however unlikely) outcome of which would be to utterly and irrevocably refute the scientific method itself as a guide for action?

    Daniel Franke has done a good job of answering this.

    I will further note that you have fallen victim to a common confusion of language. The “faith” that the universe is intelligible is different from religious “faith”, because the latter involves maintaining beliefs contrary to evidence while the former only involves maintaining a belief justified by experience until evidence falsifies it.

  331. > I will further note that you have fallen victim to a common confusion of language. The “faith” that the universe is intelligible is different from religious “faith”, because the latter involves maintaining beliefs contrary to evidence while the former only involves maintaining a belief justified by experience until evidence falsifies it.

    Actual religious people maintain that their religious beliefs are supported by the evidence, not maintained despite it. Carry on.

    Yours,
    Tom

  332. >Actual religious people maintain that their religious beliefs are supported by the evidence, not maintained despite it.

    But they’re wrong. Religion, as it’s normally interpreted in the West, requires belief in phenomena against which the weight of evidence and consilience is extremely strong. We do not observe people rising from the dead after three days of decomposition, nor do we observe people skylarking on levitating donkeys. It is not consistent with extremely well-confirmed physical theory that such things should occur. Therefore believing in these things is despite evidence.

  333. >But they’re wrong. Religion, as it’s normally interpreted in the West, requires belief in phenomena against which the weight of evidence and consilience is extremely strong.

    You see, this is where I run into my inferential differences from religious people. When I think ‘religious’, I think ‘believes in a God whose mind is akin to human and who has strong moral beliefs, and also believes that morality inheres in following these beliefs’. The actually supernatural bits don’t come into it.

  334. >The actually supernatural bits don’t come into it.

    Nevertheless, they are central to the sort of religion about which Harris is writing. And not separable from the ethical prescriptions, because they are put forward as the ground of those prescriptions.

  335. esr,

    > Therefore believing in these things is despite evidence.

    Not if they are rare and there is evidence for them (which there is – it’s historical and documentary evidence). You just have to take the Han Solo “I’ve seen some pretty weird things in the galaxy” stance and combine it with a good dose of humility. Sciencists really don’t know everything. Not even close. I just saw a show on the Bio channel about people who had after death experiences. If you ask them about the state of their brains you will get answers that show they believe they have evidence there is life after death. I am aware of the skeptics who “debunk” such claims. I am also aware that their “debunking” is like a lot of other “debunking”. Not necessarily “convincing”. A trait they share will nearly all (maybe even all) my efforts at “debunking”. Don’t put much stock in my use of scare quotes. I’m doing it because I find it “amusing”.

    This is why I don’t rule out ghosts. Too many sightings over the centuries.

    Yours,
    Tom

  336. >Not if they are rare and there is evidence for them (which there is – it’s historical and documentary evidence).

    I can show you “historical and documentary evidence” that the Great Pyramid was constructed by space aliens. Look, see, there it is in half a dozen paperbacks by Erich von Daniken! With, like, photographs. I would say his claims are on the same footing as religious evidence for flying donkeys and virgin births, except that would be quite unfair to von Daniken – babbling crackpot though he be, at least nothing in his mythology required gross violations of the observed order of nature.

  337. Tom,

    > I would say his claims are on the same footing as religious evidence for flying donkeys and virgin births, except that would be quite unfair to von Daniken – babbling crackpot though he be, at least nothing in his mythology required gross violations of the observed order of nature.

    Other than the arrival of the space aliens themselves? By your standards, he is in the same class.

    Yours,
    Tom

  338. >Other than the arrival of the space aliens themselves?

    Sure. I know what you’re thinking, but nothing in the von-Daniken mythos requires the starships to be FTL.

  339. > I know what you’re thinking, but nothing in the von-Daniken mythos requires the starships to be FTL.

    You’ve covered physics. Now do exo-biology. I’ll stand by my contention about what your standards require.

    Yours,
    Tom

  340. >I would say his claims are on the same footing as religious evidence for flying donkeys and virgin births, except that would be quite unfair to von Daniken – babbling crackpot though he be, at least nothing in his mythology required gross violations of the observed order of nature.

    Well, we have virgin births now. (In theory; I highly doubt a virgin has ever used them.) And I suppose we could attach some sort of rocket engine to a donkey. :P

  341. >You’ve covered physics. Now do exo-biology. I’ll stand by my contention about what your standards require.

    Huh? You really think the evolution of life elsewhere is impossible? I can’t argue the point too hard, since we haven’t unambiguously observed exterrestrial life, but it does not seem as though the preconditions for Urey-Miller abiogenesis are likely to be uncommon.

  342. >You’ve covered physics. Now do exo-biology. I’ll stand by my contention about what your standards require.

    Assuming that a sophont species evolves, nothing seems impossible about them flying to another planet somewhere and building a bunch of pyramids out of local stone. We could do it, plus several hundred years or so. So what is impossible about the evolution of sophont species?

  343. >Assuming that a sophont species evolves

    Tom gets style points from me for using the word “sophont” correctly. This word is at the top of my short list of SF jargon terms that really, really ought to be part of general English. Because it separates the idea of those we should treat as ethically equivalent to humans from the substrate, the biology.

  344. If you ask them about the state of their brains you will get answers that show they believe they have evidence there is life after death.

    That’s hokum. But everything I read about NDEs suggests that for the most part they are awesome. If that’s what I get to see/feel/experience just before blinking out — kick-ass. At least I’ll know I had a chance to gracefully shut down.

  345. “Miracles” are just perfectly natural events where the laws of nature that drive them are not yet discovered.
    See Arthur C. Clarke about technology and magic.

  346. esr,

    I see my mistake. I drifted the goalposts from impossible (FTL) to highly, highly, highly improbable (what exo-biologists would say). My next feeble point is that some physicists say FTL is not impossible. That is feeble, but it’s not boring! My less feeble point is that some of the documentary evidence for various religions claims to be eyewitness testimony, like that I saw on the Bio channel (which most certainly was eyewitness testimony). Not long ago scientists would have described what those three people experienced as impossible. Science may know a lot, but it still doesn’t know much.

    Yours,
    Tom

  347. >My less feeble point is that some of the documentary evidence for various religions claims to be eyewitness testimony,

    But eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. I was reminded of this recently when I learned that rape victims cannot reliably describe the facial features of the rapist even when they were consciously attempting to memorize for later identification during the attack. Comparing eyewitness accounts with camera footage is also very instructive about how radically and unconsciously humans edit their memories under emotional stress.

    Thus, when eyewitnesses report miracles, the least hypothesis is that they’re simply mistaken. And “eyewitness” accounts filtered through thousands of years of religious partisanship? Please. That is feeble indeed.

  348. The general point is that we do know most of the laws of nature by now (or so it seems), at least enough to explain the vast majority of what we see happening regularly. There is some evidence for ‘supernatural’ effects, which may or may not have bases in already-understood natural law (I’m thinking mostly of retropsychokinesis, which is a weak effect but there, but there are other examples which are more prone to being frauds but also less completely useless). Thus my belief that ‘supernatural’ claims should not be dismissed out of hand. However, actual evidence for the specific ‘miracles’ behind which our major religions have coalesced is mighty sparse; I always thought of ‘religious belief’ as a belief in an essentially non-physical God, who might approve or disapprove specific actions but did not really act in the unverse, precisely because it seemed boneheaded to literally believe that Christ rose after three days dead or calmed a storm with words. I suppose I underestimated the boneheadedness of the general population.

  349. OK. That’s quite the lively response chain. I read maybe the first third. So, sorry if I repeat a well discussed point already.

    Eric, I suspect I feel the same way you do on this topic. I am a scientist by training and employment. As a result, I am NEVER 100% certain about things (although I may be {1-[1E-31]} certain about the solidity of my desk). This is in stark contrast to many religions, where there is a 100% correct answer. Those religious variants give me the heebie jeebies. There is a point to be made that science does indeed start with the assumption that there is no supernatural power interfering with our physics. However, this drives scientists to strive harder to understand the truth. As soon as there is a ghost in the machine, then it becomes acceptable to say “I dunno” and stop trying to understand, which is the dander of religions. This is NOT why my ancestors struggled to their feet hundreds of thousands of years ago in the plains of Africa. A deliberately fraudulent scientist (one who knows his assumptions are wrong and continues to espouse them anyway for personal satisfaction) is denigrating the evolution of our species. Aside: There will always be scientists who have invested a lot of time and effort into a theory. Good scientists will quickly put their egos aside and modify their system of thinking based on he new evidence /aside.

    Having said that, I do believe in a God-like connectedness to the universe. However, that is based on my own empirical experiences.

    Finally, to sum up my thoughts on your post in a way that is whimsically ironic…

    Hallelujah, brother!

  350. >Operationally, what does “non-physical” mean here?

    “Non-physical” meaning “doesn’t really interact with the universe”; this hypothetical God simply exists on some other wavelength that allows him/her/it knowledge of the universe, but does not affect it; the major point of believing in it is that moral claims are derived from the authority of this God. Makes believing in it kind of pointless, but not as immediately irrational as those who believe in faith healing.

  351. > But eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. I was reminded of this recently when I learned that rape victims cannot reliably describe the facial features of the rapist even when they were consciously attempting to memorize for later identification during the attack. Comparing eyewitness accounts with camera footage is also very instructive about how radically and unconsciously humans edit their memories under emotional stress.

    Well, in the case of one of the miracles we are talking about a very good friend and teacher coming to a gathering and conversing with his students, then hanging around for forty days. For that sort of event, eyewitness testimony is notoriously reliable, and we properly rely on it all the time. I know what you are saying, but it depends on the nature of the events. So no, not feeble in that way at all. Frankly I would have expected the legend / myth route instead. Much more direct path to feebleness. :)

    Yours,
    Tom

  352. >For that sort of event, eyewitness testimony is notoriously reliable, and we properly rely on it all the time.

    What?

    If you consider eyewitness testimony from that sort of event ‘reliable’, then you need to start crediting a lot of people with the power to perform miracles and raise the dead. Consider for example Sathya Sai Baba, the recently-deceased “spiritual saint and miracle worker”:

    Some of the reported miracles included levitation (both indoors and outdoors), bilocation, physical disappearances, changing granite into sugar candy, changing water into another drink, changing water into gasoline, producing objects on demand, changing the color of his gown while wearing it, multiplying food, healing acute and chronic diseases, appearing in visions and dreams, making different fruits appear on any tree hanging from actual stems, controlling the weather, physically transforming into various deities and physically emitting brilliant light [...]

    Other sources including the Economist’s obituary report eyewitness accounts of raising the dead.

    By the standard of evidence you are proposing, you are unable to reject Sai Baba’s often-reiterated claim to be a god (specifically, an incarnation of Shiva). Conversely, if you suppose that Sai Baba’s disciples are not reliable witnesses, I don’t think you have an answer to anyone who asks why we should consider Jesus’s disciples reliable witnesses.

  353. Well, in the case of one of the miracles we are talking about a very good friend and teacher coming to a gathering and conversing with his students, then hanging around for forty days. For that sort of event, eyewitness testimony is notoriously reliable, and we properly rely on it all the time.

    So let me see if I’m clear about this.

    The earliest known gospel, the gospel of Mark was completed about 35 or 40 years after the resurrection. Mark was *not* a witness to the resurrection. Instead, he based his gospel on the writings of Q, who’s text has been lost, and his discussions with Saint Peter.

    Furthermore, the gospel of Mark was not completed until *after* Saint Peter’s death, so we don’t know which portions of the gospel of Mark were written while Peter was alive to correct Mark’s mistakes, and which were written after Peter’s death.

    Then there’s the fact that Mark wrote in Koine Greek, even though Peter’s native language was probably Aramaic, and Jesus was probably trilingual: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. Thus, you have to read Mark through the lens of Greek translation, even though several conversations between Jesus and Peter took place in Aramaic (you can tell this due to Aramaic words used throughout the gospel of Mark).

    And I haven’t even gotten to the translations of the Koine Greek into English. Most Greek to English side-by-side texts have a lot of side bar discussion notes about alternate possible translations of the Greek passage into English. In addition, Koine Greek died out around 300 AD, and resembles modern Greek like how Old English resembles modern English – that is, not at all in many cases – so there is a lot of debate about how to even translate Koine Greek.

    And yet somehow this text is a notoriously reliable eyewitness testimony?

  354. esr,

    The event I mentioned was “a very good friend and teacher coming to a gathering and conversing with his students, then hanging around for forty days”. Yes, eyewitness testimony for such an event is considered reliable.

    hsu,

    That would be the legend / myth route.

    Yours,
    Tom

  355. @hsu:

    You are also forgetting the discarded gospels, such as the gospel of of Thomas, which also record a very different version of the eyewitness testimony.

  356. >The event I mentioned was “a very good friend and teacher coming to a gathering and conversing with his students, then hanging around for forty days”. Yes, eyewitness testimony for such an event is considered reliable.

    Forty days? Sai Baba had been hangin’ with his homies doing miracles for 40 years. So I take it you’ll be acknowledging his divinity, then.

  357. >You are deliberately ignoring the differences between the two things as stated.

    No, it’s that I don’t see a difference. What makes the miracle reports of Sai Baba’s disciples less “reliable” than the miracle reports of Jesus’s disciples?

  358. esr,

    Right now I’m making a narrow point. I have a different, orthogonal point after that one. The narrow point is this:

    One event is just a person (Jesus) being there, talking, eating doing normal things. People know when a person they know shows up. Eyewitness testimony of that sort of event is normally considered reliable, particularly when there are multiple witnesses. No one in the four gospel accounts actually witnessed Jesus being dead one minute and alive the next.

    I do not know the details of what Sai Baba’s disciples say. Were the actual events fleeting or very rapid? Were they at a distance? Were they under the influence of any hallicinogens, and so on?

    These details matter when evaluating eyewitness testimony.

    There are other miracles in the Bible with reprted details which may more closer match those of Sai Baba’s disciples. However, I would like to see what you have to say about my narrow point before we discuss them.

    Yours,
    Tom

  359. @Tom DeGisi:

    Staying within your narrow point:

    One event is just a person (Jesus) being there, talking, eating doing normal things. People know when a person they know shows up. Eyewitness testimony of that sort of event is normally considered reliable

    If these eye witnesses were accurate, why did they have to discard all these other gospels that told of different accounts ?

    There are other examples I can think in history of very similar type narrations by eyewitness accounts, where the narrations via the different routes match perfectly. Why the discrepancy here? Is that due to the reliability of the narrators ? Well that adds to the problem doesn’t it ?

  360. >One event is just a person (Jesus) being there, talking, eating doing normal things. People know when a person they know shows up. Eyewitness testimony of that sort of event is normally considered reliable, particularly when there are multiple witnesses.

    Suppose I grant that point. I don’t have to, not when the event comes to us via 2,000 years of religious partisanship, but suppose I do. It is not an extraordinary claim that a heterodox Jewish religious teacher disd normal tngs with his disciples. But there is nothing there that grounds Christian belief, either.

    >I do not know the details of what Sai Baba’s disciples say. Were the actual events fleeting or very rapid? Were they at a distance? Were they under the influence of any hallicinogens, and so on?

    Sai Baba is reported to have performed hundreds of miracles before witnesses during the period 1940-2011, during which time he had regular contact with thousands of disciples – “talking, eating doing normal things”. In 1999 a scholar of religions estimated his followers at about 6M worldwide. There are numerous eyewitness reports of materializations and other miracles performed at close range. I don’t know thst hallucinogens were not involved, but then I also don’t know that Jesus’s disciples were not drugged to the eyeballs either, so there’s no rescue there.

    Sai Baba never submitted to a test of his abilities under controlled conditions, and various skeptics have described them as pretty run-of-the-mill Indian street prestidigitation. But this doesn’t count against the question of why I should give more credibility to the reports of Jesus’s miracles, because Jesus never submitted to a test under controlled conditions either.

  361. esr,

    > But there is nothing there that grounds Christian belief, either.

    It was the forty days after the resurrection.

    > I don’t have to, not when the event comes to us via 2,000 years of religious partisanship, but suppose I do.

    I know you don’t, that goes well with the it’s a legend / it’s a myth route.

    > But this doesn’t count against the question of why I should give more credibility to the reports of Jesus’s miracles, because Jesus never submitted to a test under controlled conditions either.

    Granted. It was a narrow point.

    Yours,
    Tom

  362. @Tom DeGisi:

    The general problem of Jesus’ apostles as unreliable witnesses have been documented quite widely. The four gospel writers can’t even agree on what Jesus’ last words were, why should we believe they were reliable about anything else? (Go ahead, read your Bible, I’ll wait.) The date of the gospels is inconsistent with the time claimed for Jesus’ existence (at least 80 years too late, possibly more). There exists no record of Jesus’ birth other than the Bible; this would have been quite unusual for Rome. I could go on and on.

    One of the biggest problems though is that the story of Jesus as presented in the Bible isn’t even unusual or unique. Jesus’ story is quite similar to the stories of Mithra, Dionysus and many other mythological figures.

    The Bible simply doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny — which is exactly why Christian religions do much to discourage such scrutiny.

  363. @Tom DeGisi

    Legend? Myth? What part of what I said is a legend or a myth? Why don’t you give some counter arguments?

    The earliest dating of the gospel of Mark was around 65-70 AD. That’s 35-40 years after the resurrection. I doubt you will find any Biblical scholar who disputes that.

    The gospel of Mark was originally written in Koine Greek. Again, I do not think you will find a single Biblical scholar who says otherwise. Koine Greek has not been spoken since about 300 AD.

    There are several Aramaic words in the gospel of Mark. This all but shouts out that Jesus spoke in Aramaic, which means that the gospel of Mark translated Jesus’ words from Aramaic into Koine Greek.

    The only real dispute was who wrote it, and what sources were used in writing it. Traditionally, those sources are Q and Mark the Evangelist. That’s the only real point that you can argue.

    I’ve concentrated on the gospel of Mark, because the other gospels were written well after all of the original apostles and disciples died, so there was no eyewitness around who could correct the writings. Only the gospel of Mark could contain an eyewitness account that could have been corrected by an actual eyewitness, and I’ve already argued how that is highly doubtful.

    If you have a counterargument, I’d like to hear it. The reality is that you are just dismissing my arguments immediately because they conflict too much with your ingrained belief system.

  364. @hsu:

    The gospel of Thomas might actually be an early gospel from all we know. It could be that Thomas too was written as early as ~60AD. It was dismissed due to what esr calls “religeous partistanship”.

    I can confirm to you the semetic languages including Syriac/Aramaic (language of jesus) are not easily translatable to the indo-european tongues. This is due to a fundamental problem: In semetic, people think and express themselves in terms of roots. In indo-european they do that in terms of vocabulary words. In semetic, the grammer is mathematical, and powerful derivation features based on moulds exist. The words can easily be “tweaked” to achieve insane degrees of nuance. In indo-european tongues derivation is very weak or non-existant and is often replaced with borrowing.

    It took some 300 years for another indo-euro language (namely Persian) to borrow a sufficient amount of spiritual vocabulary from Arabic to express islamic spiritual ideas accurately. The idea that jesus’ spiritual teachings were expressed with any degree of accuracy in Greek in 60AD or even in 200AD strikes me as absurd. We are not aware of any large scale transfer of vocabulary from syriac/aramaic to greek during that time.

  365. >In semetic, people think and express themselves in terms of roots. In indo-european they do that in terms of vocabulary words. In semetic, the grammer is mathematical, and powerful derivation features based on moulds exist. The words can easily be “tweaked” to achieve insane degrees of nuance. In indo-european tongues derivation is very weak or non-existant and is often replaced with borrowing.

    Ungrounded Whorfian speculation: perhaps this helps explain why cultures speaking Semitic languages are so conservative. By tying meaning closely to a small set of generative roots (as opposed to a large loosely-coupled bag of vocabulary words) the root system might have the effect of making it more difficult to think outside the language’s psycholinguistic box.

  366. @esr:

    Ungrounded Whorfian speculation: perhaps this helps explain why cultures speaking Semitic languages are so conservative. By tying meaning closely to a small set of generative roots (as opposed to a large loosely-coupled bag of vocabulary words) the root system might have the effect of making it more difficult to think outside the language’s psycholinguistic box.

    Your statement might be true if the grammer was highly regular and completely orthogonal (ie lacking lambda transitions between the different viable states in automata theory). The grammers are mathematical but also highly irregular (far more irregular than English grammer). Your theory could possibly have validity in the case of Far eastern languages and cultures: rigid grammer -> rigid hierarchical society top down societies lacking sufficient creativity (due to this psycholinguisic box). The semitic culture is the most anti-hierarchical decentralized culture in the world. In arts, culture, and all other forms of human expression easily amongst the most creative.

    Scientific and academic jargon aside, Arabic has 5x the number of words in English (e.g. there are some ~70 words for “love” in arabic describing just about every state of “love” an individual can exist in). If you calculate the the number of possible derivative words from 3 or 4 letter letter roots in Arabic, the number is roughly ~7 million (I did that calculation myself). And that is without any making a single new innovation in the language. The same patterns are largely true in the other semetic languages.

    Let me give an example here to illustrate. People will get the idea. The three letter root for “activities that have to do with writing” is the 3 letter consontonal root “KTB”: Here are some derivations:

    yaKTuB – engaging in writing at this very moment.
    KiTaB – book
    KuTayyeB – booklet
    Kitabah – writing
    KaTeB – writer
    maKTouB – letter
    KuTTaB – place where children learn writing
    KaTaBa – wrote
    taKaTaBa – engaged in lengthy back and forth writing
    muKaTaBah – back and forth chain of writeups
    maKTaBah – library
    maKTaB – office building (i.e. place where bearaucrats engage in writeups)
    KaTouB – someone who writes a lot.
    .
    .
    .
    All these meanings are possible with slight tweeks of one 3 letter root. It is incredibly dense. A study made on bilingual news releases from news agencies in the ME, showed that arabic news articles are ~40% the length of their English counterparts for roughly equivalent meaning. And this here is referring to relatively bland content. I would characterize native Semitic speakers as “thinking in terms of regular expressions based on roots” rather than thinking in terms of a a bag of words.

    As for “conservative culture”, I don’t really agree. The amount of centuries-old homosexual poetry in Persian, or Arabic will make your head spin. Same for pornographic poetry made by women (let alone the stuff made by males). There are very liberal cultures in the ME (e.g. Lebanon). CNN ranked Beirut the best partying city in the world in 2010. The famous Israeli saying “In Tel Aviv people play. In Jerusalem people pray” probably depicts the situation in the ME most accurately.

  367. >As for “conservative culture”, I don’t really agree.

    By “conservative” I meant conservative (hostile to innovation) not sexually puritanical.

  368. @esr:

    > By “conservative” I meant conservative (hostile to innovation)

    OK. Misunderstanding on my behalf. I thought you were projecting the psycholinguistic box into social conservatism.

    They are hostile to change in any area that involves questioning certain dogmas that exist at the very core of their consciousness. Aside from that, I think the culture is very innovative. It would very hard to characterize the societies that have invented everything from the wheel, to alphabets, to writing, to 3,000 yr old engineering marvels, as un-innovative.

  369. @uma:

    The gospel of Thomas might actually be an early gospel from all we know. It could be that Thomas too was written as early as ~60AD. It was dismissed due to what esr calls “religeous partistanship”.

    Based on the wording found in the Gospel of Thomas (not to be confused with the Infancy Gospel of Thomas) and the fact that it borrows heavily from Luke and Mark (or possibly Q), in particular, it is my thinking Thomas was written after the synoptic gospels, maybe even as late as mid-second century. This would be consistent with the fact that Thomas is a Coptic text, and therefore was likely written by early Gnostics.

    If that’s the case, then the reason it wasn’t likely included in the final canon is that it was simply not believed to be contemporary with the so-called historical Jesus. That, and it was probably associated with those nutty Gnostics. :)

    OTOH, I am not really at all an expert in Semetic languages, as you appear to be, so I could be wrong.

  370. It would very hard to characterize the societies that have invented everything from the wheel, to alphabets, to writing, to 3,000 yr old engineering marvels, as un-innovative.

    The point is how long it takes for those innovations to come about. A “conservative” society would tend to resist innovations, which in turn means that to be accepted, they must be more clearly superior to the incumbent alternatives. The opposite is a “liberal” or “progressive” society, which finds value in innovations qua innovations. These societies might accept an innovation if it’s no better than, or even demonstrably worse than the incumbent, simply because the incumbent is “old” and “outdated”.

    What’s interesting about a society’s location on the conservative/progressive spectrum is that a progressive society can accept more innovations, but the next generation will abandon those innovations when even newer ones come along. As a result, there may be less archaeological examples of these fleeting trends, leaving the misperception that those societies were less innovative!

  371. 3,000 yr old engineering marvels

    Oh, that’s another thing. We don’t build anything to last hundreds, much less thousands of years, because our infatuation with NEW! is such that we’ll tear down perfectly good buildings to build something INNOVATIVE.

    A conservative society is more likely to build to last generations, because they won’t be changing those buildings to suit some new fashion.

  372. @esr:

    The first few paragraphs of my post (the one before the last one) deal with conservative as “uncreative” or “lacking innovation”.
    The second post deals with “hostile to innovation”.

    @ Morgain Greywolf:

    This would be consistent with the fact that Thomas is a Coptic text, and therefore was likely written by early Gnostics.

    I was referring to the gospel of Thomas proper (the one found in Egypt). There are people who argue that it was directly translated from a lost Syriac text. There are also people who question the Gnostic theory about this gospel and/or claim that it was proto-gnostic. There are also people who claim that it was written independent fo the synoptic gospels and that it was independent of Q.

  373. @ Monster:

    > A conservative society is more likely to build to last generations, because they won’t be changing those buildings to suit some new fashion

    Look at furniture built in America 200 years ago. Much better than the junk we build today. And lasts for centuries. Same goes for older houses. You cannot argue that America of 200 yrs ago was not innovative, otherwise, innovation would have to start sometime in the 20th century.

  374. @uma

    > Look at furniture built in America 200 years ago.

    I think you may have a bit of survivor bias here. Junk furniture from 200 years ago isn’t around to be seen, but today’s junk is still with us. You certainly can buy quite solid furniture today if you want, but the price can be dear. And it won’t be at Ikea or some other discount place.

  375. A conservative society is more likely to build to last generations, because they won’t be changing those buildings to suit some new fashion.

    This statement is not true. Even in conservative societies, they like new construction.

    Just look at old photographs of Mecca. The area surrounding the Kaaba, the Masjid al-Haram, has changed dramatically since the 1800s. It started as just a simple one story, perimeter style building. It has since morphed into a 3+ story perimeter style building that easily takes up 5 times more land than in the 1800s.

    Plus, there’s further construction planned on the site: they plan to build several minaret towers within the next decade and string fabric between the towers, in an open tent like fashion, in order to completely shade the Kaaba from direct sunlight.

    The rest of the city has undergone even more radical transformation with dozens of skyscrapers dotting the city, replacing the 2-3 story buildings of the 1800s.

  376. A conservative society is more likely to build to last generations, because they won’t be changing those buildings to suit some new fashion.

    This statement is not true. Even in conservative societies, they like new construction.

    Plus, there’s further construction planned on the site: they plan to build several minaret towers within the next decade and string fabric between the towers, in an open tent like fashion, in order to completely shade the Kaaba from direct sunlight.

    The two statements are orthogonal.

    When a conservative society builds, they intend what they build to last a long time. It does not mean they never build anything new. If they were a “progressive” society, they’d build a newer, bigger Kaaba, not try to protect the old one from the elements. (I suspect that if anyone suggested the idea out loud, a mob would swarm and kill him instantly.) As it is, they have a fabric cover over it that is replaced periodically. This new policy is EXPLICITLY conservative (of the Kaaba, despite the fact that a lot of archaeologists think it’s been changed at least once already).

    Given the increase in the number of pilgrims that undoubtedly coincided with the development of rail transport, and later the automobile and airplane, (and the swelling numbers of the faithful from which they are drawn) growing the Masjid al-Haram is entirely predictable behavior, even for a conservative society.

  377. Given the increase in the number of pilgrims that undoubtedly coincided with the development of rail transport, and later the automobile and airplane, (and the swelling numbers of the faithful from which they are drawn) growing the Masjid al-Haram is entirely predictable behavior, even for a conservative society.

    Now if only they could usefully increase the number of seats at Fenway Park… :)

  378. And lasts for centuries. Same goes for older houses. You cannot argue that America of 200 yrs ago was not innovative, otherwise, innovation would have to start sometime in the 20th century.

    Did you pay a BIT of attention to what I wrote? You’re acting like “innovation” is a binary quantity that is either switched on or off.

    I said that conservative societies still innovate, but put a higher bar on what innovations are accepted, and are thus less likely to build based on current fashions. If you look at the houses built 200 years ago, you’ll see they tended to use classical design elements that date back to the Romans and Greeks. Houses and commercial buildings from the last half-century or so are more “trendy”: You can generally look at a picture of a building and guess to within a decade when it was built.

  379. Eric,
    don’t publish this, what I write here is only for you. After I commented on this science-and-religion post I read a little bit more of what you have written on your blog. I must get something off my chest, even if it is probably a complete waste of time: you seem to have fallen in the celebrity trap, only in a field where this trap is less obvious. Many people know you from CATB, myself included, and thought it was a good thing – not necessarily true, but a good idea and flag to rally under. I understand that you make a living from that celebrity status, as a speaker, writer, whatever. The trap is mistaking “being known and praised for CATB” for “you speak for hackers”. I came across quite a few hackers who were quite shocked when they encountered your “other” writing.
    Now, I know it’s silly to tell people on the internet that you disagree with them, I don’t expect to even even make a dent in any of your beliefs, but my point is this: You style yourself as “speaker for hackers”, even a high ranking one, so people read the jargon file, attribute it to you, read your stuff and identify “hackers” with “ESR”. Do you think this is OK,when at the same time you’re making statements that many of us hackers find embarrassing? Don’t you think it is a problem when you give (in exchange for money!) the impression to represent a quite self-conscious group, that sees their intellect and unique perspective as their defining attribute, and at the same time publish opinions which one might call extreme or silly, and even try to suggest a connection between both? Do you really want to ursurp the the definition of “hacker”, when a lot of what you say is unacceptable to many (or most) of us, when we feel truly embarrassed? Because it is embarrassing, when you declare your belief in science, and at the same time smear scientists, with arguments that demonstrate not only a lack of knowledge, but what’s much worse, a deliberate ignorance? And then, as ultimate silliness, claim at the same time to heroically and mercilessly probe your deepest beliefs, unafraid to change them when reason demands it? When it is pretty clear how highly selective you are in weighing your beliefs against new facts?
    It is clear that you already know that I talk nonsense, that I’m a jealous and pathetic looser that tries in vain to bite your ankles, a hater, and all those other rationalizations you are so sure of – but one thing you should not be able to deny: you cannot speak in our name if so many of us so clearly disagree, because celebrity is no proof of agreement. Please try not to confuse ‘being a hacker’ and ‘being ESR’, especially not in public.

    Sorry for the harsh words,
    your ‘hater’,
    Karen

  380. >don’t publish this

    For the record, I did not. You fat-fingered the WordPress interface, and I merely decided not to delete it.

  381. Reflexive denial makes ist very hard to parse new information. I give you an analogy to help you understand where the problem lies (it’s a little silly, but should be fitting):
    Paris Hilton blogs “Sex, parties, and my credit card: Life’s simple
    pleasures….”
    – my problem with todays science
    – how I pulled rank and invited myself – and, as always, I’m not ashamed ;)
    – why I stopped blogging about politics: The world’t too crazy for me….
    – String theory – Gabriele Veneziano or How I Started It All: When I got
    dressed that fateful morning in 1968 while staying in Geneva…
    – my tits are like your favourite restaurant: finding the right aspects to
    compare stuff or why I can do it and the vatican can’t

    Just keep it in the back of your mind. I know you won’t recant, but if you
    tone it down just a tiny bit when you speak about us or RMS or whatever, I’ll
    be happy.

    Sincerely,
    Karen

  382. Now that you’ve discussed AGW a bit, how’s your project with Burnside (data-n-demagogues, IIRC) going, ESR?

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