Why can't we have "the religious sciences"?

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by typical animal, Mar 23, 2013.

  1. typical animal Registered Member

    Note: I'm not religious and I don't advocate religion in any way, just because we don't agree with something doesn't change whether or not the semantics are wrong.

    I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with the definition and concept of "science" and have come to believe that it has no real meaning other than appealing to certain institutions and protocols, and is a good tool for getting funding.

    "Science" has basically come to mean "all the stuff that works, the beliefs of certain institutions and research for stuff that may or may not work". In reality, a huge amount of inventions and inventors, as well as improvements on designs, had nothing to do with science, they were merely human ingenuity and tenacity. Any animal can create solutions. Engineering for example is not or should not be considered science, and engineers should not want that. Science can't just grab all human ingenuity and say it's all science... that's a ridiculous definition of something.

    Long ago we would have the branches split into the degree-type of programs, you would have BSc, BEng, BSoc, BA, BCom, BPhil etc. Everything that works in engineering is not science. I'm tired of everything trying to "become" a science also, you have people even claiming things like chess are "a science", it's ridiculous.

    People say "science is evidence-based", but religious people claim/believe that their faith is evidence-based. Sometimes it's based on what they claim they feel, other times actual evidence is claimed for it. Whatever the case, they believe they have evidence enough to support it. Just because you don't agree with it and it's not what you would consider evidence doesn't mean it's somehow different - that is a bizarre egocentric viewpoint. Not everyone agrees in what has come to be known as science either, there are different theories in science. Having vague notions and images of what science tends to look like is just not good enough.

    If you look up definitions of the word "science"... they could equally apply to religious institutions or to any sort of self-help book or manual or almost anything at all.

    It's just not enough to have in your mind vague ideas of Newton, of scientific institutions, of men in white coats looking at evidence etc. From a religious person's perspective, priests etc. are also looking at evidence, who's to say that is any different? - and note that things aren't always reproducible or provable in science either.

    Now, sure, for the vast majority of science there is going to be hugely more credibility than some religious nonsense. But again whether it seems credible or not to us makes no difference. It's not our perspective that matters. Taking an objective view of things, it seems inaccurate to associate this one thing science. Now, I've thought of two counter-arguments or objections:

    1. "when you reduce language like that you can often twist semantics to extremes to turn them into something totally different".

    But I'm not "reducing" or "twisting" anything, where's my extreme? The only surprising thing I'm doing is going against strong preconceived notions, I'm being completely secular and objective. I'm calling out the fact that people's ideas of "science" aren't cogent or coherent, and are instead rather vague and tend to be associated with certain institutions, types of books or people.

    And (with respect to religious people) if the vast majority of religious people are too dumb to or don't want to make this argument about science and semantics themselves, that doesn't mean it shouldn't be made.

    Here's the definition of "science":

    1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.
    2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

    These things could fit almost anything, anything except stuff that is purely to make you feel good.

    Again, it's not good enough to have vague ideas of people in coats and say "oh I know what the word 'science' means".

    2. "the definitions aren't perfect, but it's very hard to produce a definition of science".

    The definitions are so vague they could fit almost anything, from a videogame to gardening to magic. Isn't that something that we're supposed to avoid? Isn't that the very definition of a dodgy concept, that noone can explain it fully?

    All you have to do is either:

    1) Attach everything that works to be science, and everything that doesn't or is theoretical etc. as not being science (at least not yet). Of course many research institutions would hate this, as they'd no longer be able to be called scientific...


    2) Attach the word science to mean specific institutions, methods and hegemonies... however this will mean that anyone associated with them who does anything with these institutions or who uses the same (written down) methods will be said to be practising science - and the methods if not specific enough could easily be done by witches etc. and they would be said to be practising science.

    In the end, it seems to me that science is and will always be associated with certain institutions and persons who have quite arbitrary control over what's defined or thought of as science and what isn't.
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  3. Jeeves Valued Senior Member

    It might, on a sinking ship. You set off on foot, i'll take the life-boat.
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Then you haven't got a good definition of "science." Definition #2 in Dictionary.com says it succinctly: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. Of course there are all kinds of sciences and some are "harder" than others. Physics, chemistry, biology, these are the some of the hard sciences in which observation and experimentation are practiced routinely. Anthropology, psychology, economics, these are some of the soft sciences in which many of the components of the scientific method are not routinely practiced for good reasons. For example, in paleontology, experimentation is impossible, in anthropology it is immoral, and in psychology it is dangerous and perhaps even illegal.

    Science is defined by the way it is practiced: the scientific method. In addition to observation and experimentation, it also relies on the derivation of hypotheses, the testing of these hypotheses, and peer review of the final hypothesis that has not been refuted by testing, which, if not refuted at that step, becomes a theory. (Yes I know scientists are just as bad as laymen in their use of language, but that is a strict definition of a scientific theory. Evolution is a theory. "String theory" is just arm-waving.)

    It might also help to contemplate the fundamental premise that underlies all science and upon which the scientific method is ultimately based--even though I seldom encounter people (scientists or laymen) who state it quite this way: The natural universe is a closed system whose behavior can be predicted by theories derived logically from observation of its past and present behavior.

    Note that religion is disqualified as a scientific discipline three times in this statement.
    • 1. Religion by definition does not regard the natural universe as a closed system. Religionists believe that an invisible, illogical supernatural universe exists, in which fabulous creatures and unimaginable forces exist, which at unpredictable intervals burst forth to interfere with the operation of the natural universe--capriciously and often petulantly.
    • 2. If the tenets of religion can be charitably called "theories," they are nonetheless not derived logically. Their derivation involves almost every logical fallacy in the Philosophy 101A textbook, from recursion (the definition of "universe" is "everything that exists"-->God exists-->God created the universe-->therefore God created himself) to argument from authority (how dare you call Jesus, Moses, Abraham, your own father and Reverend Bob liars).
    • 3. These theories are not derived from observation, at least not observations that are even remotely verifiable. One of the other cornerstones of science is the Rule of Laplace (often called "Sagan's Law" by American TV viewers): Extraordinary assertions must be supported by extraordinary evidence before anyone is obliged to treat them with respect. The "evidence" for the assertions of the religionists are simply older assertions, a daisy chain that only holds up if it ultimately takes us back to some original evidence that can be called (at least charitably) "extraordinary." But they are merely written descriptions of observations that were not even made directly by the writers, in a time when superstition was rampant and only a few scholars had a glimmering of how science would one day work--scholars who (oddly enough

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      ) are never quoted in the holy books.
    If you're dissatisfied with the definitions of scientific terms (including "science" itself) in the writings of laymen, then you should probably stop taking those writings seriously. No scientist--not even a serious undergraduate student of science, not even a former former future scientist like myself who dropped out and got a degree in accounting--defines science that way.

    Of course science in the USA is at a low point, having been co-opted by the corporations. Their so-called scientists do not test hypotheses and discard the ones that fail. They discard the ones that cast their employer's product in a bad light. Don't mistake "corporate science" for real science. Even "government science" is more honest.

    The most successful inventors use many of the tools of science. They form theories based on empirical observation and then they test them. Of course they may be more interested in marketing an invention profitably than in expanding the knowledge base of civilization, but nonetheless they do just that, if only to a modest degree.

    But a top-notch engineer with a university degree has learned quite a bit of science. It comes in handy.

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    Science doesn't say that. You're watching too much TV.

    Chess is at least analytical and logical and does not violate the scientific method. My personal favorite is "political science."

    Only because they find themselves in an era in which science has been developed and even laymen have a passing familiarity with its principles. They just latch onto the language and hope no one examines their statements too carefully. How about the "Christian scientists"? They are more opposed to real science than perhaps any other major denomination!

    As I said, their "evidence" often goes back to the Bronze Age. We generally accept the writings of the historians of that era because their assertions are not extraordinary. But an assertion which, for example, claims that the earth was once covered with water up to the top of the highest mountains is extraordinary because we now know how much water there is on this planet and there isn't anywhere near that much. This invokes the Rule of Laplace, and fails it. The assertions of the historians do not.

    As I've noted many times as the Linguistics Moderator, English is a democratic language, not an authoritarian one like French or Spanish with an academy to approve or disapprove of words and their meanings. Therefore laymen change the meanings of words, and no matter how illogical or misleading they may be, the dictionaries dutifully record them. But there are scientific dictionaries, and you'd be better off to use one.

    How about: the rational people outside the church?

    An observation that is not reproducible, or a hypothesis that is not provable, may become a tenet of one of the soft sciences like linguistics or economics, but it won't last two days in geology or astrophysics.

    What makes the difference is whether the scientific method has been rigorously applied. Period. The scientific method has been tested rigorously, continuously (and often with great hostility) for half a millennium and it has never come close to falsification.

    Science is a profession. The opinions of people outside of a profession carry no weight within it. I think I know why my car is making that weird noise, but my opinion doesn't mean jackshit until I take it to my professional mechanic.

    They're not necessarily dumb. Many of them are simply burdened (although I suppose they would say "blessed") with cognitive dissonance, the simultaneous belief in two contradictory things. Just look at all the genuine, productive scientists who, after they take their lab coats off, go to church.

    Aha, you went to Dictionary.com too. As I noted, I find the first definition to be not scientific, but rather common usage among laymen. It's a sad commentary on modern life that the lexicographers found it to be the better-known definition.

    Actually I think definition #2 is perfect for the average citizen.

    Well now you're talking about culture, politics, and ultimately human nature. But in this era in this country (USA) I insist that the vast majority of people who regard themselves, and are regarded by others, as scientists will happily embrace definition #2. At least outside the academy in vernacular speech, which after all is what we're talking about.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2013
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