Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reason vs the irrational

As the Hadron Collidor was switched on (and yes I know it was funded by taxpayers), few can fail to be amazed at the constant seeking of knowledge by humanity and science, to understand the fundamental nature of the universe.

Meanwhile, sadly the ignorant paid a price, as according to the Times, a teenage girl in India drank pesticide because she was convinced the world would come to an end, after talking to relatives (and reading parts of the local media which were hysterical about it.

What could more starkly show the difference between those who seek to take humanity forward, peacefully, in leaps and bounds, and the superstition bound anti-reality hysterics who spread fear, loathing and doubt.

Though it has always been like that - ancient Greece was the first great attempt to embrace reason, and it took the Enlightenment to throw off the shackles of oppressive Christianity suppressing science and reason - a process that has yet to be completed against all religions and all philosophies of subjectivist irrationality.


Eric Crampton said...

Yes, it's irrational to think the world will end because of the large hadron collider, but you need a bit of knowledge of physics to understand that. Say that you were sincerely mistaken and thought that the earth were going to turn into a black hole as consequence of the switch being turned on. Is pesticide-drinking the optimal response? Hell no! Death by black hole is definitely preferable to death by inefficient poison. I'd far sooner have all of my constituent molecules ripped apart in under a second than be in agonizing pain for several hours.

Anonymous said...

You are a bit mistaken if you think Christianity suppressed science and reason. Most modern fields of science were based on the presupposition that everything was created by God, therefore should be orderly and able to be studied and understood.

Sir Isaac Newton (who founded modern physics) was a Christian who wrote more on theology than on physics.

Carl Linnaeus (the founder of the modern classification system of life into species, genus etc) based his system on the fact that the Bible says animals were created in "kinds", unlike evolution which would predict we would see creatures at different points of a continuum and unable to be classified in such a way. This system is obviously used now within the evolutionary system, but was designed based on the Bible.

Lois Pasteur (the founder of modern microbiology) was a strong Christian, and demonstrated that life only comes from life rather than being able to arise from non-living matter as Evolution requires, and popular superstition at the time believed.

Gregor Mendel, the founder of modern genetics, was a Christian monk.

I could go on and on. It was Christian monasteries that preserved scientific knowledge through the dark ages, and Christianity was the basis of modern science until evolution became popular in the late 19th century, after most of the basic principles of modern science had already been established by Christians.

Anonymous said...

In fact there is a very strong argument that without Christianity, science as we understand it today would not exist.

Christianity inherited the Jewish idea that the universe runs according to (God's) law, and it also picked up the Greek idea that logic (logos - what the Bible translates as the "Word of God") is a fundamental characteristic of everything.

Those ideas mean that it can make sense to verify things empirically and expect the same experiment to return the same result.

By contrast, other religions (eg Shinto) believe that things are affected by spirits and local deities which can be capricious. Chinese religions describe the spirit world as a kind of bureaucracy. Imagine believing that everything that happens is affected by invisible sprit bureaucrats who need to be bribed or flattered into giving the right result. With this kind of worldview, it would be lunacy to think that two people in different places could conduct the same experiment and get the same result.

The Greeks did embrace reason, but as I understand it they didn't try to prove things empirically. Perhaps it takes a monotheistic worldview for that to make sense.

In any case, there are no atheistic traditional cultures. If the Western world did not believe in Christianity they would have believed in some other religion - most likely less conducive to reason and empiricism. I'm glad Christianity is part of our intellectual heritage, because the alternatives are all less attractive.