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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

watch it: “You Can’t Trust Science!”

Ooo, it starts getting mean about halfway through…



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  • Keith

    Science is still being done by human beings. While science itself is trustworthy, the outcomes of experiments and their interpretation can still be suspect. Just because we can do something with science doesn’t mean we are wise enough to know if we should do it.

    Science (at least currently, and I’d wager certainly not within our lifetime) can no more disprove the existence of God any more than it can prove it. In this rather limited form we exist in, there are some things we may never know.

    Hard to make a decent comparison between science and religion anyway, other than to be as mean spirited as the way they did it in the video. It wouldn’t be too hard to put together a similar argument from a reverse perspective. Through the right words and presentation, it’s possible to say just about anything.

    Scientifically, there are probably reasons for religion that we not fully aware of yet. Religion has endured from quite some time. Even without the spiritual aspects, there should be sociological and psychological reasons it has endured. I can see how uncheck scientific “progress” could easily lead to some serious problems for humanity (if not wipe us out entirely). Time will tell.

  • Well, as much against religion as I am, this entire video is based on a false premise. I spent almost 30 years trapped (and immersed) in Christianity, and never once did anybody say science can’t be trusted because it’s ‘always changing’ — complete nonsense. A straw man, if you prefer. They don’t trust science because it contradicts the Bible. That’s the only reason… and videos like this don’t accomplish anything but giving atheists another reason to feel smug and act like assholes.

    Don’t get me wrong, I approve.

    But it’s important to view these things with a scientific mindset!

  • Kenny

    Keith. I think you’re missing the point.

    Science is done by human beings, and yes, the results of any one experiment can be affected by human error. However, when a paper is published, it goes for review by the scientific community. The experiment and results have to be demonstrably repeatable. If the original scientist made a boo boo, it’ll be picked up fairly quickly.

    The scientific method was designed around the fact that humans are fallible. It was designed to compensate.

    Also… scientific progress should never, never be checked by religious concerns. Nobody’s imaginary friend gets a say in whether my father gets treatment for dementia.

  • Kenny

    Also Newbs, as a person who reasonably often gets into debates with religious people, I can tell you that the “You can’t trust science because it’s always changing its mind!” argument gets trotted out with appalling regularity. (Along with the “If we’re descended from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” line.)

  • I grew up in a household where both science and religion were held in high regard. It has never been (and still isn’t) an Us vs. Them mentality. Science and Faith aren’t incompatible except if you take a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    Taking the Bible literally is a relatively NEW movement that happened after the Industrial Revolution and is a movement that, frankly, most intelligent Christians would rather just disappear. But the compassionate response is nod politely, lock the doors and windows, and hope it goes away.

    Intelligent Christians don’t support intelligent design, suppression of scientific theories (read FACTS) or holding back scientific advances in medicine that save lives. Intelligent Christians may be “pro life” (but not necessarily) but aren’t unreasonable in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. And intelligent Christians are generally the ones you would probably not guess were Christians…because they aren’t standing out there with a sign protesting someone’s choice of partner or making ridiculous statements about the causes of earthquakes (tectonic forces as Science has explained them are sufficient, thank you).

    I am an intelligent Christian. Believe what you want as is your right. But not all of us are morons.

  • MaryAnn

    It has never been (and still isn’t) an Us vs. Them mentality. Science and Faith aren’t incompatible except if you take a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    Unfortunately, many many people — especially in the United States — do read the Bible as absolutely literal. And these people have an influence on public affairs disproportionate to their numbers.

    Perhaps if more people who are Christian but not antiscience stood up to these people — instead of leaving it to atheists — we’d be able to push back more effectively against the idiots.

    I spent almost 30 years trapped (and immersed) in Christianity, and never once did anybody say science can’t be trusted because it’s ‘always changing’ — complete nonsense.

    It’s not nonsense at all: it’s the basis of much of the “argument” against evolution by fundamentalist Christians who believe in divine creationism:

    http://creationwiki.org/Scientific_findings_are_always_changing

  • Accounting Ninja

    Yes, and on a completely anecdotal note, my Catholic grandmother would also scoff at science “always changing its mind”. She said that because it did, it was no better than dogma. Science as “religion”. Atheism as “religion”….

    It’s bollocks, of course.

    I do agree that Science! cannot always be trusted. Science gave us phrenology and Scientific Racism. It CAN be polluted by social norms of the time.

    But the best science stands apart from either religious dogma or cultural climate. I’d still put my money on science over religion any day.

  • Kenny

    Accounting Ninja…

    From the wiki link you provided.

    Scientific racism is the use of scientific, or ostensibly scientific, findings

    (emphasis mine)

    In other words… much like creationists wheel out pretend scientists in their attempts to debunk evolution, racists occasionally employed pretend scientists who were not employing the scientific method, and were not properly peer reviewed to give a sheen of credibility to their bile.

    My point, earlier, was that it doesn’t even have to be a creationist who halts progress in science. Stem cell research is being hamstrung because of religious concerns over the ‘souls’ of tiny bags of cells equivalent to a hundredth of the amount you destroy every time you sneeze.

    This research will save countless lives… and yet, as I said, the religious majority’s imaginary friend is against it.

  • amanohyo

    C David Dent, even the most hardcore fundamentalist who claims to take the Bible as the literal truth doesn’t actually do so (or at least, they don’t act as if they do).

    The problem with not taking the Bible literally, is that it’s a slippery slope. You have to believe at least some of it, because it’s the only evidence you have, but what human being has the authority to dictate which parts of the Bible are literally true and resolve apparent contradictions? The Pope? Anyone who studies the Bible for four years? Everyone? Why? Obviously different people have different opinions on this point, but I’ve never received a satisfactory answer.

    The fundamentalist movement makes sense to me. It’s horrible kind of sense, but it’s clear that moderate believers have excised almost everything meaningful and interesting from religion. God and Jesus are nice; you owe them big time so you should thank them for stuff and it helps to ask them for stuff you want. Good people are eventually rewarded, bad people are eventually punished. Good people kill bad people and are kind and generous – bad people kill good people, commit adultery, don’t believe in God, and/or lie, but as long as you apologize for being bad, it’s all good.

    As far as I can tell, most moderate Christians have a very vague understanding of their own beliefs beyond this basic outline. That’s barely enough material to fill two preschool lesson plans. Fundamentalists are just trying to prevent a watering down of the religious curriculum. From an atheist foundation, I can state that the actions of fundamentalists are wrong, but the reason moderate believers are reluctant to denounce fundamentalists is that they’re standing on the same shaky ground.

    Who are you, moderate Christian or Muslim, to tell a fundamentalist that their interpretation is wrong? You can point to passages but so can they. We come again to the central question, what human has the authority to determine which interpretation is correct?

  • Kenny

    C David Dent, even the most hardcore fundamentalist who claims to take the Bible as the literal truth doesn’t actually do so (or at least, they don’t act as if they do).

    The problem with not taking the Bible literally, is that it’s a slippery slope. You have to believe at least some of it, because it’s the only evidence you have, but what human being has the authority to dictate which parts of the Bible are literally true and resolve apparent contradictions? The Pope? Anyone who studies the Bible for four years? Everyone? Why? Obviously different people have different opinions on this point, but I’ve never received a satisfactory answer.

    The fundamentalist movement makes sense to me. It’s horrible kind of sense, but it’s clear that moderate believers have excised almost everything meaningful and interesting from religion. God and Jesus are nice; you owe them big time so you should thank them for stuff and it helps to ask them for stuff you want. Good people are eventually rewarded, bad people are eventually punished. Good people kill bad people and are kind and generous – bad people kill good people, commit adultery, don’t believe in God, and/or lie, but as long as you apologize for being bad, it’s all good.

    As far as I can tell, most moderate Christians have a very vague understanding of their own beliefs beyond this basic outline. That’s barely enough material to fill two preschool lesson plans. Fundamentalists are just trying to prevent a watering down of the religious curriculum. From an atheist foundation, I can state that the actions of fundamentalists are wrong, but the reason moderate believers are reluctant to denounce fundamentalists is that they’re standing on the same shaky ground.

    Who are you, moderate Christian or Muslim, to tell a fundamentalist that their interpretation is wrong? You can point to passages but so can they. We come again to the central question, what human has the authority to determine which interpretation is correct?

    This :D

  • When a fundie tells me not to trust science because it is changing, I say I trust it because it is improving.

    When a fundie tells me not to believe science because it doesn’t have all the answers, I say that’s the fun part. Or ‘neither do you, you just hide that fact behind, “Mysterious are the ways”.’

    “Fundamentalists are just trying to prevent a watering down of the religious curriculum.”

    I think my (dis)agreement with this statement would depend upon what part of the curriculum is being “watered down.” I think they have watered down theology by removing so much scholarship based upon historical context and translation theory, however, they take this English translation literally and it gets complicated fast because they have to create a new relationship between the Bible and reality all their own.

    Remember that guy we joked about who believed there were hidden meanings in “The Shining”? That was getting pretty complicated.

    But if you mean “watering down” as in their moral standards, I agree they are trying to not water them down, even if I disagree with many of those standards in the first place. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most people are kinda nice and kinda selfish; it takes real work to be good or evil.

  • MaryAnn

    “Fundamentalists are just trying to prevent a watering down of the religious curriculum.”

    If the fundies actually stuck to religion, that would be fine. But what they’re actually trying to do is water down everything else — like science — so that it agrees with their religion, whether everyone who would be taught their watered-down science believes as they do or not.

    This is a big problem.

  • CB

    @MaryAnn

    It’s not nonsense at all: it’s the basis of much of the “argument” against evolution by fundamentalist Christians who believe in divine creationism:

    Newbs is absolutely right that fundamentalists think science is wrong because it contradicts (their extremely literal and bizarre interpretation of) the Bible, and for no more reason than that.

    The difference for Newbs is that he was hearing this within the confines of the Church, where all you have to say is “It contradicts God’s Word therefore it’s wrong” and that’s the end of the subject.

    “Science is always changing it’s mind” and all the other bullcrap arguments you hear are for public consumption. It’s solely for arguing their viewpoint that science is wrong and so Creationism should be taught in schools, etc., in an environment where “the Bible says so” is not an acceptable argument. So instead they have to act like they distrust science for sound “logical” reasons.

    Some fundamentalists might actually agree with the rationales, but it is ultimately immaterial if they do or not, or even if they truly believe the logical argument is sound or not. The argument was settled for them with “that’s not what Genesis says”. This, by the way, is why it’s pointless to try to demonstrate why their anti-science arguments are wrong, because they don’t care.

    Intelligent Design is the ultimate expression of this, a shallow and obvious attempt to take the basic principle “evolution is false because the Bible says God made every creature exactly as it is now” and gussy it up with science-y-ness.

    Because they know they could never get Creationism taught in science class in place of evolution without running afoul of the Establishment Clause, they have to essentially resort to deception.

    It drives me nuts. It’s the worst part of their attempts to, as you say, water down science so it fits with their religion. They can’t just proselytize. That may be annoying, but at least it’s honest. No, instead they are trying to wedge their religion into the classroom by acting like that’s not exactly what they’re doing.

    As a Christian, it really, really offends me. I’m not the evangelizing type to begin with, but I would never try to bring someone else to Jesus by lying about it. How is that Christian in any way?! Rhetorical question. :P

  • amanohyo

    I see this attempted (and often successful) meddling in education and government by fundamentalists as an unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of their beliefs. I’m not siding with them or defending the horrible crimes a few of them commit, just pointing out that moderate believers have very little basis for criticism. Their conviction in the “rightness”or “goodness” of the more flexible interpretations of their particular holy book had to come from somewhere. Where does it come from? (my guess is an underlying system of humanist morality)

    It seems dishonest for moderates to shout, “No, no, those crazy fundamentalists got it all wrong. This is what God really wants us to do.” With a few exceptions, moderate believers seem to be intellectually lazy fundamentalists, closet deists, or experts at self-deception. It’s a mistake to think, “Oh if only we could just get rid of those wacko fundamentalists. everyone would be moderate and tolerant and everything would be great.” As long as there are moderates there will be fundamentalists.

    More bluntly, as long as there are organized religions based on the Bible and Qur’an (and maybe more, but those are the only two holy books I’ve read carefully), there will be periodic fundamentalist movements. Although I’m a socialist, I’m not in favor of censorship and repression a la China; the best way to decrease the number of fundamentalists in the US is to reduce the number of believers overall, and the best way to do that is to provide all children with a high-quality education that develops their critical thinking and reading comprehension skills.

    This may sound odd, but another possible route would be to demystify organized religion by teaching a comparative religion class in K-12 just like any other subject. We had that as an elective at one of the high schools I taught at (it was called Religious Philosophy) and it got students to ask a lot of good questions and exposed them to a variety of possible answers instead of the sound bytes they’d typically get at the church or mosque. Just to be safe, they could call the class plain old Philosophy (although many Muslims would probably still try to exempt their children).

    I guess I’m just frustrated with people who think that all that needs to happen is for moderate believers to denounce the acts of fundamentalist groups. Sure it’s kinda nice when it happens, but moderates are part of the problem, not because of their silence, but because they legitimize the scripture that fundamentalism is based on, and in order to be part of a lasting solution, moderates would have to choose to decrease their own numbers which seems extremely unlikely to me.

  • amanohyo

    I guess I shouldn’t be too pessimistic though. By most accounts, the number of nonbelievers is still rising rapidly in the US, so the education system must be doing something right. Maybe a lot of moderate parents really are choosing not to force their own religion on their children. It sure doesn’t happen that way here in the midwest though. Atheist still seems to be a dirty word in this state.

  • @amanohyo: Have you read Sam Harris? His points about religious moderates are very similar to yours.

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/chapter-one/

  • This may sound odd, but another possible route would be to demystify organized religion by teaching a comparative religion class in K-12 just like any other subject. We had that as an elective at one of the high schools I taught at (it was called Religious Philosophy) and it got students to ask a lot of good questions and exposed them to a variety of possible answers instead of the sound bytes they’d typically get at the church or mosque.

    Yes to this.

    And if anyone objects to other religions getting equal time, you could always say you have to “teach the controversy.” ;-)

  • CB

    It seems dishonest for moderates to shout, “No, no, those crazy fundamentalists got it all wrong. This is what God really wants us to do.” With a few exceptions, moderate believers seem to be intellectually lazy fundamentalists, closet deists, or experts at self-deception.

    But don’t you see? Moderate Protestants are not claiming to know what God really wants anyone to do. We have our own opinions, some of these opinions may not even be very flattering of others, but we aren’t declaring ourselves to be the true interpreters of God’s will and thus judge everyone else based on this or force our beliefs upon them. Because the one thing we do know is that we aren’t God and thus can’t claim to know His will. Accepting that and thus not making any strong proclamations about the nature of God and so forth is probably why we sometimes come off as deists. :)

    That’s the fundamental difference between a fundamentalist and a moderate in any religion or philosophy: Belief that you are the holder of the one true belief, and anyone who deviates is wrong and should be punished. Same for Evangelicals, Pashtuns, and Soviets.

    Your argument that the fundamentalist interpretation is the only one that makes sense, to try to phrase it in the form of a question, was this: If you accept any of the Bible as true, how can you start deciding what is or isn’t true as you like? If you can’t claim to judge what parts of the Bible should be taken literally, how can you vouch faith in the literal truth of any of it yet not all of it?

    The basic problem with this argument is that it assumes that the only kind of Truth is literal, physical truth; that the same work cannot contain both the literal truth and metaphor; and as a result that it is impossible for an intelligent person to attempt to distinguish without also claiming authority.

    In short it’s the reason why the statement “I always lie” is not in any way a paradox.

    This isn’t a problem with any other book; you’d have no trouble with someone interpreting a novel or poem like and saying that some passages are more metaphorical than others, some are intended to be literal descriptions of events and others are intended to be poetic. Then discuss the possible meanings of the metaphors and symbols, and even the meaning of what seems to be literal — interpretation is always necessary — unperturbed by the fact that you can never be certain. You’d have no problem with someone taking the Elementary Charge as being a physical truth, yet understand the description of an atom as being like an onion as a metaphor.

    If I then said I believed that The Illiad described some aspect of Truth, there’s no reason that understanding of the existence of metaphor should cease to be.

    That’s the issue. Since you’re coming from an atheist point of view, the whole thing is bollocks, there’s no reason to think any of it isn’t bollocks, so thinking even so much as “a ‘God’ exists” is true isn’t any different than going whole-hog and believing the earth was made in exactly 6 days and a seven-headed dragon and an improbably large prostitute are going to preside over the end of the earth.

    That’s okay. Just accept that some people believe things which cannot be proven, yet don’t automatically abandon every aspect of the intellect you take for granted in the process. Is it really that hard to see why it isn’t lazy or self-contradictory to believe that Genesis is intended to convey a truth about the universe, yet isn’t intended to be a physics textbook? That at no point in the Bible did an author intend to imply the precise value of Pi?

  • CB

    And if anyone objects to other religions getting equal time, you could always say you have to “teach the controversy.” ;-)

    Heh. I love it.

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