Internet Arguments and the Search For Truth


As you go through this post, please note that I am purposefully putting certain words in quotes. The reason for the usage of the word, in quotes, signifies that it is a facsimile of the true definition of the word. When I say "science", I am talking more about the modern day philosophy that uses some science as its basis. And when I say "faith", I am focused on the caricature of faith presented in many forums.

I have spent a good part of my spare time debating the Big Bang theory to someone who still insists that the Big Bang was an explosion into empty space. No matter how much evidence I show (in predicted observations primarily) for the Big Bang as a "creation" and then expansion of space, he is still stuck on the idea that space existed and then the Big Bang exploded radiation and matter into this empty space.

The argument, as it is no longer a debate, degraded when my opponent stated I was using Creationist arguments. I guess I can understand the confusion, as both Cosmologist and Creationist start with a C and end with an ist. I am fully aware that the use of the word Creationist is not a confusion with Cosmologist, by the way. I know it was thrown out, as with many Internet arguments, to dredge up something about my personal belief system, as my opponent was having a hard time refuting my words. In previous bouts, I was accused of espousing a position that "man and T Rex had veggie burgers" prior to Adam’s ejection from the Garden of Eden.

The point here is not about the Big Bang, but rather about the human characteristic to flip the bozo bit on people who think differently than we do. Each of us believes something that will ultimately be proven to be false, so we should each listen to other ideas with an open mind. There are, of course, ideas that are stupid. But, stupid ideas, when properly incubated, can be honed to become new technologies far beyond what we can imagine today.

Faith

I bring this topic up now, as there is a lot of bandying about faith. Religious people are characterized as those who unscrew their heads and leave their brains in the foyer when they attend religious activities. In the caricature, faith is the word described to believe in something for which there is no proof. There are at least two of problems with this caricature.

  1. All people cling to unfounded beliefs. This is not saying that there is "no proof", but rather that the proof is insufficient to hold such beliefs.
  2. Religious belief can be based on evidence. Perhaps not scientific evidence, but, as I shall show later, science is not the be all end all of evidence.

I have used the word "faith" to describe modern "science" many times. The retort is generally that science is not about "faith" as faith refers only to religion. I can easily disprove this with a trip to Merriam Websters, which has the following definition of faith

Main Entry:

1faith Listen to the pronunciation of 1faith

Pronunciation:

ˈfāth

Function:

noun

Inflected Form(s):

plural faiths Listen to the pronunciation of faiths ˈfāths, sometimes ˈfāthz

Etymology:

Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust — more at bide

Date:

13th century

1 a: allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1): fidelity to one’s promises (2): sincerity of intentions2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs <the Protestant faith>

While the main definition does focus on religious faith, it is also defined as "firm belief in something for which there is no proof" and "something that is believed especially with strong conviction". It is these definitions, especially the second, that I am focused on when I state the "science" is based on faith.

Just recently, Rabbi Shmuley wrote an editorial in the Jerusalem Post, detailing his "fight"/"debate" with Richard Dawkins and the fallout after the event. If you have not seen Shmuley’s comments, they are available on You Tube (Part 1, Part 2). What struck me out of the editorial was the following comment:

A few hours later, at a cocktail reception, a Harvard professor of physics and I were having a pleasant conversation. She suddenly interjected, "I find it curious that someone as smart as you does not believe in unaided evolution."

I thanked her for her backhanded compliment and told her, "Imagine if I said to you, ‘I find it curious that someone as smart as you doesn’t believe in God. You would probably think that I was a close-minded, condescending, ideologue."

I am not against science. And while I do see there is a current faith versus science war going on, I do not believe it is necessary. Science and faith, or religion, when viewed logically, answer different questions. As I do not believe it is science versus faith, I will not get into the evolution versus creation debate (a funny debate, since evolution does not involve origins), except to hone in on one thing:

A great deal of what we accept as fact in evolution comes from extrapolation. There is nothing wrong with extrapolation, as we have to have a means of taking observations and applying them to other items we cannot test (perhaps I should say "currently test", as we have hope the extrapolations will bear out). Extrapolation is quite useful in predicting, or modeling, what we can expect to observe if a theory is correct.

The problem comes when we accept extrapolation as proven fact, and that is where "science" has a problem. Much of what is taught in our classrooms are grand assumptions based on very little evidence. Certainly some steps have good evidence, but the picture, as a whole, has very little evidence. Perhaps in another hundred years we will fill in the gaps of our knowledge and better support the steps we currently have little or no evidence for, but we may not. It is faith to express that we will. Perhaps not religious faith, but faith none-the-less.

The Ugly Side of Disagreement

In another "debate", I have encountered a person who is an ideologue. His primary problem is George Bush and he views anyone who voted for Bush as a war criminal. He has stated, of Conservatives, that when he sees one, he just wonders "why the mother ******* isn’t dead!".

It is easy to disregard this type of post as a rant, but we see today that some people actually carry through with this type of thinking. Admittedly, a large number of those "following through" are what we have termed "Islamic Fundamentalists", but this is not true throughout history. Hundreds of years ago, it was the Christians who were on the giving side of the equation. Lest the atheist see this as a religious problem, we also have the examples of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the Khmer Rouge.

The person just wondering "why the mother ******* isn’t dead!" has the same potential as each of us. We can each be a monster or a saint, or somewhere in between. While we generally view Hitler as the most evil person to ever walk the face of the earth, we each have the potential to be evil. In fact, if we leave our nature (which is selfish) unchecked, and are given proper opportunity, we can realize this potential. Will Smith was lambasted for stating:

Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘Let me do the most evil thing I can do today’. I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good’. Stuff like that just needs reprogramming.

But what Will states is true. Hitler brought his country out of a Depression that made our Great Depression appear pale in comparison. He restored a sense of hope in his people. He focused on the good of his country and the prosperity of his people. Each of these thoughts are good, in and of themselves. It is the application that was evil. Helping your people is a good thing; doing it by destroying others is evil. And, he was only given the ability to follow through on his application through the opportunities power gave him. What makes Hitler different from many of us is he was given the power to follow through.

I agree with Richard Dawkins that religion, or at least some religious people, can stave the flow of science in some ways. And I would like to see science have the freedom to explore new ideas (although I am getting a bit tired of "science"). But there are a great many good things that religion provides us. When we focus on only one element, we run the risk of forcing society to hamper speech based on its "truthfullness", which means God is a verboten subject. Is this really any different, on the philosophical level, from shutting up scientists because they do not view Genesis as a literal science textbook?

When Dawkins seeks the destruction of religion, he is losing balance. He might argue this balance is not necessary, but allowing "science" to trump science is no better than allowing "faith" to trump science. When A. K. spouts that Conservatives should be wiped out, he is risking swinging the pendulum too far to the Liberal side, which, once again, destroys balance. Without balance, one side is allowed to run amok, without restraint – and both the good and ugly of that side are set free.

Towards a Better World

I am not going to change the world in one post.

Dawkins will continue to believe that a world without religion is a better world than one with it. He will continue to focus on the crimes and "delusion" of religion and not notice the good it does. He will continue to be befuddle at intelligent Christians, Jews and Muslims. Rather than attempt to pull the good out of religion, he will throw the baby out with the bathwater.

A.K. will continue to believe a world without Conservatives is a better world than one with them. He will focus strongly on the "War in Iraq" as the worst scourge in history and view voting for George Bush as a rubber stamp on everything he has accomplished. He will ignore the good that comes from Conservatism, as he is unwilling to view the world in anything but black and white. Worse, he will exhibit the same characteristics he says he deplores in Conservatives, without even realizing it.

Debate will continue to be uncivil. From Sean Hannity and Nancy Grace walking all over their guests, to the continued ad hominem attacks in open forums, we will see uncivil discourse.

It is my hope, however, that the number of people unwilling to stand up for this type of badgering will increase. I envision a world when a Liberal will defend a Conservative who is being beaten up merely for being a Conservative. Where a black man seeing a white man beaten will jump in and help and a white man seeing a black man being beaten will do the same. Where the scientist and religious leaders can focus on advancing ideas rather than creating caricatures of each other, straw men of their own making that they can burn down. Where all people who disagree can try to walk a mile in their opponents shoes and find that they are really not that different after all. That is my hope.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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