Monday, August 28, 2006


'Religiously I'm Speaking On The Science 'Cause, We've Gotta Live On Science Alone'*

Over on Fisking Central, they have thrown down a gauntlet - who will argue against, or more realistically, take the piss out of, this article. The article in question, which must have a possibility of being the most-fascinatingly-incoherent-post-with-most-misguidedly-authoritative-tone ever published, is by a man on the 'Blogs For Bush' site who believes that 'science is dead'. In some respects, this is knocking fruit from pretty low-hanging branches, but what the hey, I've never been above that.

Mr Noonan, for that's who the author is, enunciates surprisingly few examples to prove such a sweeping statement. Then again, why bother with proof? His alternative is faith, and that of course requires no proof at all, and is therefore much more reliable. Don't take my word for it:

'Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion - a knowledge, that is, of genuine truth, genuine reason, and the relationship of man to creation, and his Creator. When science became a narrowly forcused search for something immediately practical, it was bound to eventually be hijacked by people who wanted to use the cover of science for very impractical efforts.'

'When I went into a field full of blackberries yesterday trying to pick them, it was inevitable I would return home with a handful of stinging nettles.'

He's quite right of course - science is best left in the hands of religious types, who had such a great track record of treating the discoveries of people like Copernicus with such dignity.

Being serious, the reason his article makes no sense whatsoever, and is blinded by factual inaccuracies and tautological theories, is his total lack of understanding on a grand narrative scale. If you read his piece, it becomes clear that he treats 'science' as if it were a club with a set number of people and a manifesto for its existence, like the Freemasons or the Liberal Democrats or the Wang Chung Appreciation Society or something. In some respects, that's slightly understandable, because he's religious, and that's kind of how religions work. Just as in the Wang Chung Appreciation Society, most think that 'Dancehall Days' was their greatest hit, and some reckon 'Everybody Have Fun Tonight' was better, so in religion, most reckon gay people shouldn't become bishops, but some reckon they could. However, despite minor disagreements, these groups are defined by their own (sometimes unwritten) manifestos - the WCAS decide their favourite song according to whether or not Wang Chung recorded it, while religions decide their rules based upon interpretations of a holy book, or the speeches of a great leader.

In other words, these organisations are structures. Science isn't a structure, it's a very loose word for processes. Imagine that I'm sat in front of the computer, trying to write a witty blog post that people will actually care about. It's really hot. I think to myself - it's hot, so global warming must be happening. Bollocks, right? Because you can't extrapolate a trend from a single result. It isn't science because the process is flawed. The conclusion may or may not be right, but it's irrelevant. It's still not scientific even if it is right. This is why comparing science and religion is totally daft - you're not comparing the same things. If Mr Noonan remains this unaware of the difference between a structure and a process, he'll end up going to his Blogs For Bush meetings in the nude, unable to comprehend the differences between the structure of his suit and the process of trying to decide whether to wear the suit, the hatstand or last month's tiramisu.

He illustrates his point with examples of 'scientific' hoaxes - Piltdown Man, ALAR etc - but these are a list of hoaxes or incidents of bad methodology, which were subsequently later revealed as such. Science the process discovered that they were wrong. As a result, they weren't science, but pseudoscience. I find some of his claims hilarious:

'The main thing was that science could only thrive as it did from about 1650 until 1850 when everyone agreed on the rules.'

Maybe his laptop is powered by moonbeams. Hold on, I'd forgotten that God handed electricity to Thomas Edison in an earthenware jug.

In the comments, he contradicts himself:

'So, the Age of Science is died between about 1850 and 1950. Never again will such a man-centered construct, I think, be held up as a paradigm...and good riddance, if you ask me.'

Because the moon landings happened when God threw down a celestial rope ladder for Armstrong and Aldrin to climb up.

Another classic:

'From what I understand, no educated person has held the world to be flat for at least 3,000 that time frame includes all of Christianity, and therefor all educated Christians, we would have to say that never, not even once, has an educated Christian thought the world flat...'

Well, he's only wrong by a factor of ten. In fact, most people still believed the earth was flat at the time of Columbus. This lot still do. By the way - there's a reason why their slogan is 'deprogramming the masses since 1547'.

Or this:

'The real destructiveness of the Darwinists comes in where they demand that nothing but Darwinism be taught, and that no questioning of Darwinism be allowed - this is a negation of science.'

I have no problem whatsoever with you trying to find scientific alternatives to evolution through, you know, processes and evidence. Good luck with that.

Even better:

'It is good to keep in mind, Georgia, that we're no smarter than the ancients - indeed, we may be less smart than they were. We know more because we've had a longer time to gather and transmit information, but we're no more clever than they are. Do you really think that they, looking up at the spherical Moon, couldn't conceive of a spherical earth?'

No, that's right, we're much more stupid than people thousands of years ago. Well, at any rate, he is.

You just have to love this discussion. More to the point, you have to love even more a writer who continues to insist throughout a comments section in which even the sort of right-wing Republicans who regularly hang out on a site with a name like 'Blogs For Bush' are accusing him of being obscurantistly stupid, and yet after several hundred comments he's still going:

'That is the precise problem - science has de-coupled itself from religion; reason has refused to work with faith. We have half educated people.'

'I try to look at the whole picture - not just bits of it and, worse, take those bits and try to extrapolate them in to the whole.'

And all the while a fellow by the name of 'Jeremiah' is shouting IN CAPITAL LETTERS!:

'God says - " I am the ALPHA and the OMEGA"

'Which translates into - The BEGINNING and the END!

'He also says: "There was NO ONE BEFORE ME, and there will be NO ONE AFTER ME!"'




'Get it?'

Uuuuuh . . . . no?

His writing style reminds me of something. Hold on, let me tune in my radio:

'But when she was walking on down the road
She heard a sound that made her heart explode
He whispered to her to get on the back
"I'll take you on ride from here to eternity"

[Chorus: (2 times)]
Hell ain't a bad place
Hell is from here to eternity'

Iron Maiden, 'From Here To Eternity'.

Oh my God - he makes less sense than Bruce Dickinson.

Oh, by the way, I hear God just loves MORE FEMALE NUDITY ON TELEVISION! After all, he did create Eve, and I'm pretty sure he was chuffed afterwards. He revealed it to me himself, so I expect the nation's TV programmers to get on the matter as fast as possible. The DIVINE ALMIGHTY can't wait long!

One final interesting thing to note is his selectiveness about what science qualifies as good and what doesn't. He uses the opening date of 1650 for a reason - Copernicus was obviously all right. Yet surely the same criticisms of today's scientists are true of those in the Middle Ages? Were they not also motivated by personal gain and glory? Of course, the real reason for this harking back to a mythical golden age of science is his a very modern objection that when people talk about matters scientific these days, they tend to pay little attention to those who approach the table waving the Good Book, and for that I say 'amen, brother'.

*The Dandy Warhols, 'I Am A Scientist'

re 'why did science stray from the path of truth?'

that sound you just heard was me blowing my virtual brains out.

even /i/ keep away from the mindless bullshit that's blogs for bush (or whatever variety of same). i suggest you do the same--saves on anxiety, frustration and on to better things, especially saves on booze and those other things that make life worth living.
Mindless bullshit is a fair summation, but it's too much fun! I hadn't had this much fun writing a post in ages - and I may say, I cracked open a couple in doing so.
And the Lord spake, "Everybody Wang Chung tonight.

So, the Age of Science is died between about 1850 and 1950. Nevermind all the religious stuff (I'm not religious but I understand the why many people gain strength and purpose from it) but this sentence has a point. You look back to say the 50's and there's a really optimism about the future through science. Whether it's bountiful and clean nuclear energy, and end to horrible diseases which thankfully we've never had to encounter like Polio or small pox, labour saving devices about the home to increase leisure time and so on. Since then what have we got, exaggerated hysteria about DDT which has killed millions (Ann Coulter's last book had some zingers about this), GM food which could feed millions presently hungry and so on. And, religous nuts aside, where does this dangerous opposition to science come from I wonder?
Steve: it's too much fun! I hadn't had this much fun writing a post in ages

this might be cause you're not a US citizen. it really pains me to have to read their drivel and i ONLY do so on American sites whose owners are much stronger than i am inside. they /do/ make me laugh my ass off at the stupidity they mock, but i won't go to those hateful sites myself.

on another note i wanna thank you--you turned me on to Charlie Brooker whom i absolutely adore. watched him a coupla times this week and fell in love w/his programme.

i crowned him 'king of snark' in a post i wrote about Screenwipe a coupla days ago and then i mailed him including a thank-you to you (w/your URL) for hipping me to him.

he actually mailed me back starting w/'Oooh, that's preposterously nice of you...' :-)
Mark - I think you over-estimate the intelligence of his argument. You're right that 'science' can and should be aspirational, more so than it is, but that's the very opposite of his argument - as he puts it, 'good riddance' to the 'man-centered . . . paradigm' - in other words, science has focused too much on giving people what they want, not that scientists haven't spent enough time on improving our lives.

You're also right about where the principle opposition to science comes from, in this country at least. Those pillocks at Drax don't want to save the environment particularly - what they really want is to inconvenience everybody else as much as possible.

Still, if you're worried about eradicating diseases, check this out.

Rimone - I'm glad you liked him! It's a shame I've only discovered him at the end of the series. Hopefully YouTube will come to the rescue.
Steve, if i had my way, they'd be rerunning his programmes every night and giving him a new damn show. i've already seen things like 'brass eye' and the like and i think he's much better than Chris Morris (i think that was his name, the brass eye dude).
Oooh, I don't know about that. Brass Eye was fantastic. Although everyone remembers the paedophilia special, the best two were on drugs and AIDS. Well worth checking out on DVD.
i've already seen both (?) seasons of 'brass eye' and the specials. i loved them, the drugs one had me laughing my ass off almost continuously. as did the paedophilia one.
You've done better than me. I think I missed some of them. When I have some dough I'll get around to buying them.
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