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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Open-mindedness

This is a perfect followup to my previous article on Evolution and a great supplement to a discussion I had with some friends and family this last week. It explains my stance on belief completely. Thanks Stephe for the share.

13 comments:

Brie said...

Interesting movie. Thanks for sharing your point of view. Here's a movie on mine. Check it out... "Expelled". It's with Ben Stein about scientist wanting to study intelligent design as a explanation for occurrences in nature and because of it they are being blacklisted.

Dan said...

Great little film on open mindedness. I think Ive been in conversations where Ive seen both sides make that mistake.

Plus I heard the jury was still out on science.

dean said...

Brie. Thanks for the comment. Good to hear from you. I follow your blog and it seems like you guys are doing well. I actually have seen Expelled. I can't say I agreed too much with any of it. Not to say that a designer couldn't have started everything or even be controlling anything, its just that there's no real evidence for it. There's a good counterpoint to the movie here: http://www.expelledexposed.com/

And a post I wrote a couple weeks ago here:

http://deanandyou.blogspot.com/2009/03/in-defense-of-something-that-shouldnt.html

Say hi to the Adam for me.

Adam said...

Hey Dean! What "Expelled" was trying to say that the scientists who want to look for the evidence of Intelligent Design can't. They're shunned by the scientific community as crazy religionists. Scientists won't even let people look for evidence of Intelligent Design because of their disdain for believers in God. What gets me is at the end of the movie, the author of The God Delusion (whether he realized it or not) said that there could have been some intelligent design. No scientist in the movie could explain or even give a coherent theory on how life began. The ID people want to study the origins of life, but they're not allowed to. To me though, the evidence of God is everywhere. You just have to have an open mind about it, no? :) By the way, how the heck are ya?

dean said...

Hey Adam! I'm doing great! We should catch up in real life some time :) (or maybe I should update my blog more with what I'm actually up to). I wanted to respond to your comment here though for anyone else reading this.

I watched the interview with Richard Dawkins that you mentioned again (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc). And I completely back up what he says. In fact I think Richard is proving his open-mindedness in saying what he did. He believes that there is no God because there is no evidence of one. This is just like how he doesn't believe in unicorns. He does, however, recognize the possibility of a God seeding life on this earth because there's no evidence that one didn't, but there's also no evidence for him to believe one did. There is a large difference between belief that something actually happened and belief that something could possibly have happened. This is very well explained in the above video starting around 4:17.

The reason that intelligent design isn't welcome in the scientific community isn't because all scientists hate religion (Look at people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins.) It's because intelligent design is philosophy not science.

Science is based on evidence and based on that evidence it is able to make predictions for future events or discoveries. More evidence leads to more understanding and discoveries. It's not always perfect and not always unbiased, but it also recognizes that fact. It also does not claim that just because something is possible it must be taught.

Intelligent design, on the other hand, takes a set belief and looks for scientific evidence which confirms the possibility of this belief being true. Intelligent design doesn't make predictions about what an outcome of an experiment will be, it waits until after the experiment is done and translates those results to support it's doctrine. Anything that contradicts this belief is either done badly or misinterpreted because the belief in an intelligent designer is unchangeable.

I feel more than comfortable having religion taught in school as long as it is taught as religion or philosophy. In fact I think religion SHOULD be taught in schools, but claiming that any form of philosophy or religion should be taught in a science class would be in direct contradiction of what science is.

Cahlan said...

Interesting stuff.

My thoughts kept focusing on the other end of this, like Dan. I've seen an amazing number of folks who immediately dismiss someone simply because they believe in something considered 'supernatural.' The conversation is essentially over once a word like "God" or "Intelligent design" or "reincarnation" enters the dialog. Isn't thinking critically important not only to ideas that do not support 'evidence' but as well to those that do not? If no one was brave enough to question Newtonian laws, would we ever have reached other, seemingly more accurate theories?

I'm also interested in the philosophy of evidence (i.e. science) itself, and especially about the claims and belief systems that are inherent with any observation, measurement, hypothesis or theory. Some people seek to use science as a given constant, that empirical observation, evidence and inquiry is somehow infallible, and that anything that doesn't use it is completely, as this video would say, 'rubbish.' It's amazing how fallible observation becomes the smaller you go, especially in sub-atomic levels, when you might expect it to be the most precise. We, as humans, are going to use "human" methods to observe the world around us. We have absolutely no way to verify if these observations, and especially the methods we use to observe, are actually "true" or infallible--because we can only use "human" methods to verify them. One could argue that no system of measurement or observation is ever free from error, however small, and that error can lead to gross miscalculations, misleading evidence, wrong theories, etc. Sort of makes you want to start going all existential or nihilist or something. I do, however, think there is real truth out there. I think science has the ability to give us valuable things and help us live better lives, but I believe it is also hopelessly and fundamentally flawed. :)

Adam said...

I agree with Cahlan. And Dean, I think asking questions about ID is a completely legitimate exercise of the scientific method. Those who want to study it are simply asking, "Well, how did this life BEGIN?" not just "How did this evolve from another life form?" Some scientists have uncovered certain patterns that potentially lead to the conclusion that some intelligent force is behind forces of nature. What causes some parts of cells to do what they do? How do they know what function they are to carry out within the cell? ID is one possible explanation, but a large segment of the scientific community won't let others ask these questions and study it out. Stifling question-asking doesn't seem very scientific to me. I don't see ID as something "supernatural" at all; rather, I see it as the driving force behind nature. But by that same token, who is a scientist to tell me that spiritual experiences I've had that have led to my testimony are easily explained away with the aid of physiology? Who are they to say that God would not use physiology? Who are they to say that God wouldn't have created a cell with all its inner workings? Why not allow scientists to ask one more question: how did this life get here?

Adam said...

Anyway, we could go on all day, coming up with examples to illustrate our points, but where would that get us? You need to come over for dinner or something, Dean-O.

dean said...

Thanks for your responses. These are all great points and great questions. To start out, and in answer to Adam's question about where this would get us, I'd like to say that I think it is very important to have open dialog about these sort of things. Improving one's logic and better understanding one's belief can happen through discussion like this. I hope there are no bad feelings from me saying anything here as I know that these can be sensitive topics to some. I apologize that this has gone so long, but I wanted to address as many of the topics presented as possible.(and yes... lets do dinner Adam)

I hope to touch on a lot of the points and questions that both Cahlan and Adam mentioned. I'm not going to spend too much time repeating their questions since they are written just above this and should be read before reading this.

The reason that scientists and/or skeptics will dismiss anything supernatural is because by definition it is something that cannot be tested or proved in a natural world. If it was something you could observe in any way it wouldn't be supernatural it would be scientifically verified.

I completely agree with the statement that observation is fallible. This is apparent in many ways. This is why something must be not only observable but continually observed and predictable to become accepted by science. They sort of discuss this in the video above around 6:50. I don't quite understand what you meant Cahlan when you said that we have to use "human" methods to observe. What else is there? Even when observing apparent religious phenomena we are using human observation.

I also believe that there is an absolute truth out there, but I also believe that there is no way that we can know for sure that we have an absolute truth. On the other hand, when two models are presented and one is able to make predictions better than the other it can be concluded that one is closer to the truth than the other. This doesn't mean it's the exact truth, but would suggest that one view is better than the other. This is illustrated in the Newtonian vs. Einsteinian laws of nature as Cahlan aluded to. Newton was able to make great predictions with his theory which meant it held some truth and when Einstein later came along and added to it he was able to make better predictions. This isn't to say that Einstein's model is perfect truth, but it is better than Newton's and may one day be bested by someone else in the future. Just because Newton didn't have all the answers to every question doesn't mean that he was wrong or that they shouldn't have been taught. If you were on an 18th century school board would you have let the theory of Zeus rotating the planets be taught in a science class besides Newton's laws? Zeus may have his place in history and philosophy, but there's nothing there to test if Zeus really is the one who set up those equations. Therefore it doesn't belong in science.

I do agree that evolution and studies based around it don't answer every question about life and the origin of it here on Earth. This doesn't mean that Evolution shouldn't be studied. It makes very accurate predictions about biology and anthropology. This is why it is acceptable by science. Many things may be inaccurate or unexplainable in evolution, but it's concept it still as solid (if not more so) than the science of gravity, germ theory, or atomic theory.

The tendency for someone coming from an intelligent design standpoint is to say that when something in science can't be explained yet that that thing must have come directly from the designer but the designer always seems to ride on the wave of not yet explained science though. As soon as something previously thought to be only known or doable by the designer is explained by natural laws, the secrets of the designer move on to the next unknown item.

With the mention of the scientific method I'd like to point out that the scientific method requires a demonstration of the proposed hypothesis. Someone can't just come up with an POSSIBLE answer to a question. They need to come up with a DEMONSTRATION where the hypothesis can be clearly explained. A hypothesis is not proven false for answering a question that it wasn't trying to explain either. Just because evolution hasn't told us how life got here (yet) doesn't mean it isn't a valid concept. If things were treated that way then intelligent design would have just as hard of a time explaining: who designed the designer?

An interesting addition to all this comes the question to an intelligent design proponent. What would convince you that God doesn't exist? If you say nothing then does that mean your being closed minded? If not then how is that explained?

dean said...

Also... if anyone is interested in a movie discussing both sides of the intelligent design movement then you should check out this NOVA documentary on the Dover trial:

http://www.amazon.com/Judgment-Day-Intelligent-Design-Trial/dp/B000YY6VIC/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1239171264&sr=8-1

Adam said...

Dean, one more thing. Asking me what would convince me that God does not exist is like asking you "What would convince you that 2+2 isn't 4?"; or "What would convince you that you don't have really dark hair on your head?" The manifestations of the Spirit in my life are just as real, probably even more real, to me, as learning math or a scientific concept has been. I'm not trying to convince you of the existence of God. All I'm saying is that I have a sure knowledge of his existence because of something better than science--a personal witness of his existence, no, not through sight or touch, but through a very real sense my being possesses. Science and religion need not be completely at odds. I think science can go a long way toward enriching religion and conviction. The more I learn about science, the more in awe I am about what God has done. (By the way, that email I sent you a while back might explain this point I'm trying to make. Did you get that?)Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that scientists should not be limited to established scientific norms. Science should be allowed to expand in its methods, theories, and in the questions it's allowed to ask.

Cahlan said...

Dean--

totally agree with pretty much everything you said. I think 'science,' our best systematic method for observing and explaining the world around us, is a praiseworthy and life enriching pursuit. I personally do not hold science at odds with my religion or spiritual beliefs. I wouldn't have gone to school if I didn't think that there was great merit in what the human race has come up with as far as a body knowledge and learning. In fact, my God (if I can put it that way) encourages learning and the pursuit of knowledge in every aspect.

Sure, some points in science vs. religion are at odds with each other, but there are also internal points in both science and religion that contradict themselves!! My point about 'human' methods was pretty much what you said: we cannot ever know by pure sensory experience ourselves if we've grabbed a hold of absolute truth. For religion, that's where faith comes in. For science, it's where further testing, further observation, further analysis is needed. My point was that since science is limited to what we can observe with sensory experience, we are making the possibly faulty assumption that only observable things are 'real.'

I only wanted to make the point that although many science-only proponents think that those who believe in supernatural causes of truth are closed minded (and many are, I agree), we can make the same argument about those who espouse science as a dogma or, in some senses, as almost a religion (gasp!). I believe that just as I am closed minded when I hold there are no other possible explanations for phenomena than what I hold to be true, so also am I as a scientist when I refuse to question my own methods, or even the underpinnings of my own assumptions.

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