Wednesday, August 20, 2008

'How To Destroy Science - for Dummies' (religious sheep)

I recently visited Cambodia, and was told the stories of the Khmer Rouge takeover of the country in the 70's. I decided to read more on the topic, so I bought a book called Voices From S-21, which is about the interrogation of prisoners in the famous prison in Phnom Penh. The interrogations were actually brutal torture to get the prisoners to admit to their crimes, whether there were actually any crimes to confess to or not. After confession, there was only death by execution, but at least the pain of torture would cease.

One 'crime' that the Khmer Rouge often tried to get the prisoners to confess to was being an agent of the CIA, as the Americans were heavily active in the area of Cambodia and Vietnam at the time. The prisoners often confessed to exactly that. The interrogators/torturers asked the prisoners to describe their role for the CIA, including the initiation rituals. The prisoners told of standing in large warehouse-like buildings, in front of the American flag, chanting and pledging, among other things. All of the things they described were analogous to what the people had to do under the Khmer Rouge.

So what's the point? The point is that they were completely making up the rituals based on the only things that they knew! They were not really agents of the CIA, and so they couldn't possibly know what goes on when one is recruited to the Agency. But they did know what the Khmer Rouge had made them do, and they used those experiences to imagine what it must be like to join the CIA. All of this to satisfy their torturers, end the pain, and allow a quick death at the Killing Fields.

You might be wondering why I'm writing this story on an atheist website. I'm writing it because I see the parallel between how the prisoners imagined the CIA, and the attacks that religious believers attempt to use to discredit science. The believers don't understand science, so they use their experiences in their own religious organisations and extrapolate those to try to imagine how the world of scientific knowledge operates. If something would discredit their religion, then a similar type of attack could be used to discredit science.

As an example, take the fundamentalist doctrine of infallibility of the Bible. If they were to accept that even one bit of the Bible is not correct, then it would destroy the rest with it, as well as their entire religion, which is based on it.

Another example is that religious organisations have supreme leaders of one kind or another, who tell the mindless sheep what to do. The sheep, unable to think for themselves, recognise the authority of that person to lead the organisation, tell them what is morally right and wrong, and what is factually true and false. If that person can be discredited, it's a severe blow to their organisation.

So the attacks against science attempted by the believers often include attempts to discredit anybody who they think is our infallible leader. They use stories about something Darwin or Einstein might or might not have said, or something they might or might not have been incorrect about, and expect us to cave at the first sign of error by our leader. They tell us that Newton believed in a god, and expect our opinion to sway. They think that by the existence of one problem or unsolved issue in any theory, we would turn our backs on the whole thing and just become mindless god-worshiping lemmings.

They seem surprised that their constant attacks don't work. The trouble is, they can't kill it because they don't understand it.

Here's what the believers don't understand about science and atheism:

  1. We don't have a leader. There is no head to cut off of this beast.
  2. All of us are fallible, and we know it. Finding a fault with Darwin or Dawkins will not stop us, nor even slow us down. If we learn that Darwin faked his own death in 1882 and became Jack-the-Ripper 6 years later, that will not count against his ideas.
  3. If we worship anything at all, it's evidence. Evidence is the only thing we'll listen to. What you people have called evidence is just hand-waving. You have never provided anything real and tangible.
  4. Our theories may not be perfect, but they're constantly being revised and improved as new evidence comes in.
  5. If a theory breaks down, we'll replace it with a better one. As an example, take the hypothesis of the aether, which failed miserably and was replaced with relativity.
  6. Just because a scientist is right about one thing, doesn't mean he's right about another. It's possible for a person to be right about only one theory in an entire lifetime. Each individual idea will rise or fall based on the merit of the evidence. The authority of the person speaking the idea does nothing to substantiate it.
  7. We will freely admit that there are things we don't yet understand, but we'll keep working on it. To try to argue that we must accept god because science can't explain something is the most foolish argument one can make. Every day, more unknowns fall to our pursuit of knowledge.
  8. Swaying public opinion away from science will not sway the evidence, nor sway the truth.
  9. There's only one way to fight us. Get an education in science (if you're capable). Do some research (if you're capable). Publish your results for review and critique (if you're capable). If there is enough evidence to support your idea, it will stand.
Strangely enough, none of them seem to have accomplished that last item yet.


Anonymous said...

There are atheist sheep as well. Blindly following what their leaders tell them to. Baaa, baaa, they bleat anything that disparages religion.

Anonymous said...

The reason why atheism has become so aggressive and proactive is not because of any leader or sudden insight. The direct rise of aggressive atheism can be correlated with an increase in fundamentalist activity. The religious moderates tolerance and support for destructive subsets and "death cults" makes them just as responsible for the rise in sectarian violence. Atheists were fine to just sit on the sidelines. Now we all feel threatened by the crusader attitude of the three. With nuclear weapons, the stakes are too high to allow for your lack of judgment!