Saturday, March 24, 2012

Science is not a Religion

Though many a religious apologist would insist that there is no conflict between science and religion, a lot of people in the religious as well as the not-religious-but-spiritual camp certainly do believe that.  These are the people leading the charge against the teaching of evolution, vaccinations, stem cell research and lately global warming.  Their main weapon against science (or as they prefer to call it, "science") is to treat it as if it was just another belief system.  A rival religion.  That way they can re-imagine the conflict as "what you believe vs what I believe" instead of "what I prefer to believe vs reality".

Probably the best example of this would be the work of one Mr Jack Chick.  His world is very sharply divided between right (his beliefs) and wrong (everyone who disagrees even a little).  He has published several tracts in which he treats science with the same mocking scorn he habitually lavishes on Muslims and Catholics.  To him, science is just one more flawed religious view from the pit of hell, a fact he recently made very clear in a tract on Global Warming.  I will try to use this tract to show why I disagree with his view of science as a religion.  In the interest of being open minded I will also try to point out the instances where science does seem like religion.  Sound fair?  OK, lets go!

Well this is not a good start.  Here science is represented by a very menacing looking Al Gore who, we should note, is a politician and not a scientist.  I guess this is something religion and science have in common, both are often hijacked by politicians with big egos and grandiose plans.

OK... I... wow...  That is just wrong!  Clearly Jack really hates science and he is not afraid to stoop to ridiculous caricature!  Stay classy guy!  But I digress, let's take him up on his invitation to "think about this".  Should we "little people" take these "scientists" and their "science" seriously?  Well it depends.  Would you (as one of the salt of the earth, no nonsense, common sense "little people") accept the "gracious council" of:
A brilliant doctor if you got sick?
A brilliant mechanic if your car broke down?
A brilliant engineer when you needed a bridge to drive on?
A brilliant programmer when you need reliable software?
A brilliant surgeon when your appendix bursts?
You would, wouldn't you?  And you would be all bitchy and condescending about it either.  Why?  Because expertise matters.  You know that it does.  You trust in experts all the time and for good reason!  You know that a lot of the things you depend on every day requires more than just a can-do attitude and some old fashioned elbow grease.  It takes some of that fancy elitist booklearnin' that's got Santorum so huffy.  It takes science.  Condescend all you want, you would still be living in a cave without generation after generation of those highfalutin' "scientists".

Ooooookaayyyy... So the first example of why we shouldn't trust those darn "scientists" turns out to be arguably the most unscientific people of any age, the Medieval Catholic Church?  Really?  Surely Chick must have noticed that this age where the Church was fully in control of everything was THE DARK AGES!  I know he didn't miss that part because it says so right there in the first panel!  You know what ended the dark ages?  The Enlightenment, a.k.a the age where science and reason made a comeback.  I would just like to take a moment here to do something Mr Chick never bothers to do at any point in this tract.  I'd like to ask "Why?"  See that is the first big difference between religion and science - science wants a why.  Religion on the other hand just tells you something and expects you to accept on faith.  Jack Chick certainly never commits what Mark Driscoll calls the sin of questioning in this comic, that much is clear!  So why did people think the world would end before the year 1000?  Because that's what the Bible said!  (Sort of.  All End Times Scripture requires an assload of "interpretation")  Yep, these weren't just Catholics being evil Jack Chick caricatures.  These were Christians reading Revelation and expecting the end of the millennium to herald Christ's return!  Just FYI, make a mental note of this whole "millennium" thing, It's going to come up again later...

[citation needed]

Right, well I trust Chick's grasp of history about as much as I trust his grasp of science so I have no idea if any of this is based in actual fact.  Heaven knows that the church swindled LIKE A BOSS during the Middle Ages so it's entirely possible but I didn't find any reliable sources for this claim.  All I do know is that none of this has anything at all to do with science!  No fear, there will probably be some hard science up next!

Or not...  So far we have an example of religious fraud and a spiritualist fraud (or whatever the hell Nostradamus pretended to be).  I'm sorry to say but one really should not be looking for science on the History channel (or National Geographic or Discovery any of the other science channels).  Gone are the days of Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan.  These days it's all ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, the Bible Code and Nostradamus - if you want real science and history look elsewhere.

Wait, were we supposed to seriously discuss Nostradamus' abilities to predict the future?  You know what, nevermind we finally got some science!  I'll discuss that "scientific" prediction under the next couple of pages that continue in the same vein.  Just a quick note in case that Muslim comment seemed weird and out of context. Jack Chick is kind of obsessed with Muslims taking over England.  A reference like this randomly pops up every now and again in his tracts apropos of nothing.  No idea if that's a real fact either (I have my doubts) but it is very real to him and he throws it in all the time to remind the good Christians of the United States what will happen if they let those nasty secular humanists drive God out of school and government - the eeevil Muslims will take over your once beautiful Christian Nation!!!  Terrified yet?

Finally we come to the meat of the matter.  Here is a case where science really does seem like a religion!  You have a scientist making dire predictions of doom, much like an Old Testament era prophet like for instance Jonah.  Sure seems religious right?  Plus then those predictions failed to come true so it must be a false religion.  You know, just like the Bible must be false because Jonah's predictions didn't come to pass either!  Ah, but Mr Chick wouldn't agree with me there now would he?  Obviously Jonah's prophecy's didn't come to pass because the people of Nineveh changed their wicked ways after hearing of their coming doom.  You know, not unlike the way people change their ways in the face of some alarmist, hyperbolic warnings from a scientist.  I still remember how everyone was freaking out about the hole in the ozone layer and how it was going to kill us all.  Was it?  I don't really know.  What I do know is that the resulting freakout forced manufacturers to stop using CFC's in their aerosols and refrigerators, so if the problem turned out to be less disastrous than predicted it's because the freakout brought a change in behavior.  However I disagree with such tactics.  Look I get that it's very hard to get people to pay attention when you say that a global temperature rise of 5 degrees over the next 40 years will be a worldwide natural disaster leading to serious geopolitical problems*.  You get a much better reaction by telling everyone that everything the love will be ON FIRE next year!!!  In the short term anyway.  In the long term you get this kind of backlash from people like Jack Chick.  When you use such an atrociously bad attention grabbing tactic (not to mention atrociously bad science) you undermine the credibility of scientist everywhere and you end up with large groups of morons going "Pffft, "science"?  Whatever man, these guys are just making shit up.  They are always wrong!"  Hysterical reporting sells books and magazines but it also obscures the truth.  So no, the entire polar ice cap isn't going to be melted by next week.  But that does not negate the fact that the polar ice cap is shrinking.  3.82 million square miles sounds like a lot, doesn't it?  But notice how he doesn't say what it used to be.  Arctic ice is at a record low and that is not an opinion, that's a fact.  Also worth noting is that surface area is not the most important metric.  What really matters is density.  Every winter the ice cap grows but this growth is a thin layer that easily melts.  It's the thick, dense ice that is more permanent and this is the part that is seriously shrinking!  Furthermore this causes a feedback loop - thin ice melts easier exposing more water which absorbs more heat from the sun (white ice on the other hand reflects the heat away) leading to more melting leading to more ocean leading to more heat absorbed leading to faster melting and on and on it goes.

Here is a great example of why it helps to know something about science.  First of all climate is not the same as weather.  I'm serious.  What do you think climate scientists do?  Did you think they just stuck their heads outside the window and said "Hey it's kind of hot today.  It must be Global Warming!"?  They didn't.  That's why having a cold winter doesn't mean Global Warming is over.  Lots of things  can influence weather - like sunspots and La Niña and El Niño events for instance - but Climate is about the big picture.  They don't just look at the temperature of the season, they look at the temperatures over decades.  More than that even, they use tree ring and ice core data to look at climate changes for hundreds and thousands of years!  They don't just look at what the weather was like either, they also try to find out why.  Climate Change is not something Al Gore invented over a couple of beers one night in 90's.  Scientists have understood this phenomenon since at least the 1950's and have been warning us about it ever since.  (No, scientists in the 70's didn't think there was going to be another ice age.  That was just sensationalistic reporting, not actual science) Scientists say Global Warming is real because they've studied mountains of data, they understand how climate works and this is where everything is pointing to.  Secondly, did you notice the "global" part of global warming?  We are talking about something worldwide, not just something that happened in your back yard.  Sure, maybe your weather seems fine but have you checked everyone else's?  That changes the picture considerably!  Thirdly, even us "little people" can use our vaunted "common sense" to figure out if these extreme snows fit with Global Warming or not.  You may remember that the water that falls on you from the sky today was water that evaporated from the earth yesterday.  So if things get warmer that means more water evaporates BUT this evaporated water doesn't move out into space, it comes back down again.  So you would expect to see massive flooding and exceptionally heavy snowfalls if Global Warming was real and what do you know, we totally do!

Let's see, Catholics, Hippies, Feminists, Communists and bratty kids.  Yup, everyone Chick hates is accounted for!

Look, we can quote bad predictions by guys like Dr Ehrlich all day long (no really, he made a lot of bad predictions!) but that doesn't invalidate science at all.  Guys like that are sort of the Harold Camping's of the scientific community - they gather a lot of money and fame with wild, apocalyptic claims and when they are eventually proven wrong they end up being an embarrassment for everyone even remotely connected to their field.  But science does not work like religion, it is not based on authority.  There is no science messiah, no science pope, no bishops, no gurus, no prophets.  It's not about charisma, it's about the evidence - you either have it or you don't.  Facts trump everything.  It doesn't matter if you are the greatest mind of your generation, if someone proves you wrong then that is it, your brilliant idea is out**.  See that is another way that science differs from religion - it doesn't pretend to be infallible.  There is no inspired scripture in science.  Everyone's work will be poked, prodded and tested.  Science is not one person writing a sensational best seller.  In science you have thousands of people collecting and analyzing data and then checking their work as well as those of others.  In science you are encouraged to try and find the flaws in your work because everyone else in your field is most certainly going to do their best!  When a scientific idea turns out to be wrong no one treats it like the end of the world.  Usually you can learn a whole lot from the entire process anyway and so our knowledge base grows.  That is why Mr Chick's method of going "Hah! Your prophet was wrong therefore your arguments are invalid!" fails.  It's not about what this prominent scientist or that one said, it's about the data.  It's about the evidence.  You know, the things Chick never ever addresses in these tracts.  Here is why science is telling you Climate Change is real:

Here is why Jack Chick thinks science is telling you Climate Change is real:


I have a theory.  Not a scientific theory, just a shot in the dark.  I think Jack Chick lives in a dark basement and he never comes out.  I don't think he has interacted with real human beings in a very long time.  It's really the only explanation I have for why his comics are so insanely out of touch with reality.  Down in his basement he is free to imagine everyone else is just like him.  He believes in things because God tells him therefore everyone must believe things because some kind of god tells them to.  If they are not like him they must be his opposite.  So if he loves Jesus and the Bible and believes X and someone disagrees with X that must mean they hate Jesus and the Bible, right?  Really that is the only way I can imagine him coming up with such a howling falsehood.  Over here in the real world however we don't have to make up facts. Here we have polls and actual scientific studies done on the religious beliefs of scientists so we don't have to pull our answers from a major orifice.  Turns out that here in the real world things aren't quite as black and white as Mr Chick imagines.  A large number of scientists are atheists or agnostics but a substantial amount of scientists do have religious beliefs.  As far as I could find out, none seem to be worshiping any goddesses from ancient civilizations.  No, it turns out the religious men (and women!) of science are mostly Christians (both Catholics and Protestants) as well as Jews.  You know, people who believe in the God of the Bible.  People who hate neither Scripture nor Jesus.  However in Chick's defense almost none of them are fundamentalist evangelicals and if you are familiar with his tracts you would know that to his mind that's exactly the same thing as being a devil worshiping pagan!

I think it was George Carlin who pointed out that "saving the planet" really didn't have anything to do with "the planet".  The planet isn't going anywhere, but if we mess it up bad enough it will become very hard for us to live here.  That is what we are trying to save, not the planet itself but rather our ability to live here successfully.  I don't know why this is a difficult concept for Chick.  If you have a river that supplies your water and you poison that river then you lose your source of water and life.  If everyone dies from the poisonous water that's on you, not on Jesus.  Likewise, if you cut down all the trees in your area it won't be the devil's fault that you don't have any shade left.  It's demonstrably clear that we can make our local environment inhospitable.  All climate scientists are telling us is that 7 billion people all messing up their local environment leads to a pretty messed up global environment!  You don't think Jesus would allow that?  What about free will?  God allows sin but not environmental damage?  That makes absolutely no sense.  But then Jack Chick's theology doesn't make a whole lot of sense either.  Speaking of, it's time for the mandatory section on sin and salvation for this tract:

OK to sum up, God is in charge of everything, except when He's not and the Devil is.  The devil got all the authority over the earth from Adam even though that's not anywhere in Genesis and according to Psalm 24:1 (which he references but maybe didn't read) the earth and everything in and on it belonged to God all along.  But then again you really can't trust the Jews to understand their own scriptures and that is probably why they never understood that Satan was actually the God's 2IC on earth until the New Testament came along.  What does this have to do with global warming?  I can't wait to find out!

"He had a devil! Something Jack Chick imagines that Rabbi's say apparently...
Wait for it...

So there you have it.  The environmentalist have to be wrong because if they are right then we won't get to see Jesus 2: This time it's personal!  Guys like Chick spent their whole lives eagerly waiting for Christ Norris to come down and beat the snot out of all those nasty folks who dared to disagree with them!  He has to endure assholes like me making fun of the idiotic things he says and he copes with that by imagining us all getting tortured for eternity by the Lamb of God for daring to disagree with him.  This isn't about facts or science, at the core of it this has all been about a bloody revenge fantasy all along.  Since reality won't accommodate said fantasy, reality has to go!  Hold on... What was that last bit about a 1000 years?

Wait a second!  Jesus reigns for a 1000 years and then there is judgement and the earth gets destroyed?  That sounds familiar!  It's the same story he began this tract with!!  Of course when the medieval Catholics interpreted this to mean that after a 1000 years of the church being in charge Judgement day would come it was just a calculated scare tactic used to manipulate people.  When a Chick tract uses the exact same scripture to scare people into doing something that is completely different.  Because...?


*Not an actual scientific claim so please don't quote that!  I was just trying to illustrate how real science often doesn't seem very dramatic.
**Just ask Aristotle, Newton or Einstein.  Those guys know what I'm talking about!

If you are interested in what scientists are actually saying about Climate change, go check out a site packed with actual scientific info.  It even has a very cool video series in case you didn't feel like reading but still want to separate climate fact from climate fiction.


GumbyTheCat said...

Awesome, awesome post. Too much to thoroughly comment on here, but this caught my eye:

I'm sorry to say but one really should not be looking for science on the History channel (or National Geographic or Discovery any of the other science channels). Gone are the days of Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan. These days it's all ghosts, aliens, Bigfoot, the Bible Code and Nostradamus - if you want real science and history look elsewhere.

Yup. "Science" television is a travesty, pandering to the lowest common denominator. It's one reason I ditched my cable TV over a year ago.

Some other random thoughts:

- I want my cow back, Ratzinger!

- I notice Gaia's naughty bits were pixelated out. BWAHAHAHA. Chick would put a bathrobe on the Venus de Milo.

- Doesn't it seem odd that an omniscient God needs an assistant angel to tell him whether or not someone's name is in the Book of Life?

GumbyTheCat said...

And come to think of it, why would an omniscient God need a friggin' Book of Life anyway? Can't he just remember the names?

Eugene said...

Thanks! I have to say, I won't be blogging an entire Chick tract again soon, my brain is completely fried!

The only thing worth watching on the History channel as far as I'm concerned is Top Shot. Best reality show of all time! Occasionally even contains a bit of history!

As for the rest, clearly you just don't understand his sophisticated theology!

Rhiannon said...

It sucks that our all-loving God is such a malicious, sadistic bastard.

Australian broadband service provider said...

Science is definitely not a religion but it can be used as a tool to find the real truth.