Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Evolution Is A Scientific Theory

This is kind of a pet topic of mine. I have no problem with people practicing their religions, and I’m religious myself. I even have some pretty out there views on some things, which you will know if you read through my site. However, the lack of scientific literacy in my country is astounding to me.

Evolution is real. It is a scientific theory. This means it has been tested in ways as rigorous as we can devise, we have observed the process, found supporting evidence, and not found contradicting evidence. This means, unless we make some new discovery that throws a gear in the works, evolution is a good explanation for how complicated life arose from simple life. Such a new discovery is likely to only cause us to refine our view of evolution though. Basically, that evolution happens is a fact. How it happens is currently the domain of theory.

For an example, consider gravity. It is also a theory. For a long time, we used Newton’s laws of gravity to model it. We still use these laws in most circumstances, since they get the job done. However, we also discovered that at very high speeds, gravity does some funky, unexpected things. This is where Einstein’s theory of general relativity comes in. It is a more specific theory of gravity, but it served to refine our knowledge of how gravity works, not invalidate Newton’s work.

This is what will likely happen when the next great discovery on evolution is made. It will refine our knowledge and make it more specific, rather than invalidate what we already know.

In any case, I think if anyone told you gravity is just a theory, you’d probably laugh at them. I hope you would anyway. It is a theory, but it’s quite an important part of our knowledge.

If someone tells you something is just a theory as a way of dismissing it, it’s because they don’t understand that scientific theories have lots of testing and observation go into them before they are called theories. They don’t just think something up and call it a theory. When they’ve just thought it up and are getting ready to test it, it’s a hypothesis. Don’t let the way words are used casually detract from their meaning when they are used in a scientific context. Understand that in science, words are used very precisely, to be sure everyone is on the same page.

Additional resources:

Evolution: Fact and Theory
Scientific Evidence Supporting Evolution Continues To Grow
Evolution Is a Fact and a Theory

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How Does the Paranormal Work… If It’s not Real

So, awhile back, I wrote a piece about casting spells, how to do it, and how I think it works, along with a couple other ideas on how other people think it works. However, I left out how people who don’t believe in magic think it works. This is the piece that presents their ideas on what is at work.

Say what? People who don’t believe in magic have no reason to think it works, right? Well, right, but they also know that some people do think it works, and sometimes remarkable things happen or seem to happen. So, they’ve studied it and come to some of their own conclusions. Whether or not they’re right about all paranormal effects resulting from these phenomena, you definitely want to know about their insights, because they are all real effects observable in other areas of study, and they are things that you can do to trick yourself into thinking you’re performing some paranormal activity when you aren’t. By no means is this list complete, but it should give you something to think about.

1) Confirmation Bias

This is when you subconsciously pick and choose your evidence. The time you nail the exact card being drawn from a deck of cards sticks out in your mind more than all the times you get the wrong card. That one part of one dream you had (and wrote down), then it happened sticks out compared to all the dreams you had that have never come true. Forcing eight heads in a row to come up out of ten coin tosses, even though most of the time you end up with four to six. Unfortunately, this really doesn’t mean anything, because statistically speaking, that one time is insignificant compared to all the times nothing happened.

Wikipedia’s Article on Confirmation Bias

2) False Memories

Ever have a dream, then something happens just like what happened in the dream, and that causes you to remember the dream you had? If you didn’t write it down, what may have happened is you constructing a false memory instead. It’s actually very common for us to construct false memories, because our memories aren’t anywhere close to perfect. It’s just how we are. Anytime you have a vision, dream, or other prediction of the future, but don’t write it down before the future event happens, it could be you creating a false memory of predicting the event instead.

A News Story on Meta Religion about False Memories

3) The Placebo Effect

Technically speaking, this is something that happens when you think you should be healing, so your body activates systems designed to induce healing. In most clinical trials of new drugs, there are two groups of people told they are receiving the new drug, but one group is given a placebo pill, which is just a capsule containing sugar, milk, and/or other inert substances that don’t provide any medical benefit. And sometimes, people taking placebos show just as much improvement as those taking the real medication on trial, and it’s simply the act of taking a pill causes the body to use it’s own healing systems to take care of the problem.

Now, the first area to look for a placebo effect is in energetic healing. When people go to see a healer, if they fully believe the healer can help them, they actually might. However, the way it happens would be by inducing a placebo effect in the patient which causes their bodies to heal themselves. Obviously, placebo effects don’t cure everything, but they can hit a lot of common ailments that aren’t too serious, and even some serious ailments. To be clear, this is not to say placebos could replace real medicine, however, they are a real effect shown to exist and they are scientifically explainable.

Another area where you might see a “placebo effect” is in general energy manipulation. I put it in quotes because it’s not truly a placebo effect, but a lot of people seem to believe it’s a similar response. Basically, you expect to feel subtle energy, so your body obliges you and provides a tingling sensation to simulate the feeling of subtle energy. Heat, cold, wind, and tingling are all common perceptions to energy manipulators, which makes sense, because people commonly associate these feelings with energy of some kind.

Read about the placebo effect at Science Daily

In Conclusion

The point of this isn’t to say the paranormal does not exist. If you read my site, you know I do believe in paranormal things. Rather, the point is to air some real science that explains at least some of what seems paranormal, and to remind everyone that just because it seems paranormal doesn’t mean it is. In general, people interested in the paranormal are far more easily swayed than those who don’t, because those who are interested are inclined to believe things like “anything is possible” and “you can’t know for sure”. While both of these things are technically true, they are not license to throw out all the knowledge we have, and doing so can lead to problems. So just remember to keep your head about you, and don’t be too quick to label things as paranormal when there may be another explanation.

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Religious and Atheist Debates

I’ve been following some more debates between people who believe in God and those who don’t lately. And I think I’m starting to pick up on something. It’s rare to see one side moving the debate to the other side’s territory. Religious people tend not to engage atheists in scientific debate, and atheists fail to realize many religious people are going to be more moved by an emotional or subjective argument. It’s the nature of the worldviews held by many people.

I’m a religious person who respects science and thinks it’s important. As such, I try to choose my beliefs in such a way that they won’t interfere with science… or more accurately, so science won’t interfere with them. I view the role of science as dealing with the observable, objective, and physical world, while spirituality and religion deal with the unobservable, subjective, and spiritual world. This makes me pretty unwilling to bend when people say science disproves religion, because what they are really saying is science disproves these common religions and beliefs, and there is no evidence for the other religions out there.

Now, I understand some atheists would respect my stance and leave it at that so long as I respect their stance. There are others who seek to convince religious people of all kinds to abandon their religion and become an atheist. As is their right, so long as it is done respectfully. The vast majority of the time, it is. However, those trying to convince us to abandon our faith are making a mistake. They’re trying to whittle away at all religious beliefs through science.

This won’t work. The reason is simple. Those who respect science are careful to match their beliefs with science to be sure they aren’t in conflict. We freely acknowledge there is nothing scientific about our beliefs, only that we’ve thought about our beliefs and made sure they are not contradictory to scientific understanding. And if science ever does contradict them, we’ll change with the science. On the other hand, those who don’t respect science aren’t going to listen to science anyway. With them, you’re banging your head against a wall.

Instead, the place to engage religious people is in the realm of emotion, subjective experience, and knowledge of their religion and morals. And you need to understand a person’s specific beliefs when engaging them in order to do this properly. Just because someone says they’re a Christian doesn’t mean they have the same beliefs as another person who says they’re a Christian. So, if you want to challenge someone’s beliefs, you need to find out what they are first.

Now, the reason you have to challenge them emotionally and subjectively is because that’s how we live. That’s not to say every decision we make is whimsical and not based on fact. However, we find when we don’t have a clear idea of where to go, relying on intuition and emotion works more often than not, and that shapes us and how we think. The feeling that God exists is there. Our feelings tend to be reliable on some scale, and while the more science oriented of us wouldn’t base decisions effecting other people on this, we would base decisions effecting us and other people who agree to it on this intuition. So, this is what you have to challenge if you want to convince us we’re wrong. Is this unreasonable? From a scientific perspective, sure. From a philosophical perspective, I don’t think so.

On the other hand, religious people need to understand that emotional and subjective arguments don’t really appeal to atheists most of the time. If you feel a need to convince them to join the ranks of the religious, you’re going to have to pull out the science. Which means that right now, you don’t have anything to work with, because there is no positive scientific evidence for religion. Sorry guys, that’s how it is. Just like you’re likely secure in your faith, atheists are secure in their lack of faith. And scientifically speaking, atheists are on more solid ground than us. We may find some solid evidence later on, but for now, we have personal experience, and that means squat in science unless you can replicate it in a manner testable by anyone with appropriate scientific experience. Of course, you may come up with an idea that shows how science could support a religious belief. If you do, check it out first though. We don’t need anymore mangled quantum mechanics floating around. If it does check out as reasonable, awesome, let us know.

So, my main point here? As long as you respect the people you’re debating, even if you don’t respect the ideas, keep on doing what you’re doing. Just consider that you may have better luck trying a different approach if you’ve been hacking away with the approaches I’ve outlined above. Part of persuading people is meeting them on their turf.

Finally, I want to give a special thanks to these sites for inspiring this piece:
Greta Christina’s Blog : Atheism and Diversity: Is It Wrong for Atheists to Persuade Believers
Ebon Musings : The Theist’s Guide to Converting Atheists
European Swallow : Reasons to Deconvert to Atheism

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The Relationship Between Science and Religion

A lot of people seem to think that science and religion are simply incompatible with each other. I think this idea really stems from taking too literal a view of any religious writing, though the Bible is the most commonly cited here in the U.S, and then realizing that science as we understand it says that many religious stories simply couldn’t have happened, or that they are very unlikely to have happened, depending on the story in question. If you take the view that a religious text is a history book, then this is very difficult to reconcile. This is one way people come to perceive a divide, and I think it is also the major root.

What if there were no books detailing these religions though? What if religion simply boiled down to belief in God? For some people, religion simply is a belief in God and a relationship with him, without the baggage of any particular belief system. In this case, there really is no incompatibility. You see what science has to say about the world, and any other beliefs you have can be shaped around our current knowledge and the areas we have yet to learn about in a scientific manner. One thing that is certain is that science in it’s current state can not prove or disprove the existence of God. It can’t even study the possibility. So belief (or disbelief) in God won’t contradict current scientific knowledge. That doesn’t mean such a belief is scientific, it just means that such a belief, if true, wouldn’t necessarily mean science is wrong.

There are other areas in which beliefs aren’t contradicted by science, because science can’t study them yet, and may never be able to do so. The afterlife is a big example. Another example is moral values. It’s hard to study the afterlife when you’re still living, though perhaps it will be possible in the future. And moral values aren’t something you can simply study by cause and effect. While you may be able to observe the moral values people hold, you can’t study what values people “should” hold just by observing reality. They’re constructed by people (or perhaps handed down by God). It seems very unlikely for them to be hard coded into reality like the laws of physics.

So, when it comes to the existence of God, the existence of an afterlife, and determining moral values, scientific knowledge does not currently contradict religion, and there is no evidence to say it will in the future.

As far as religious stories go, yes, science does contradict some of those. However, the stories could be metaphorical, or intended to convey some kind of lesson rather than to be taken literally. Also possible is that the miracles described in various religious stories did actually happen, but for some reason no longer happen so blatantly today. It’s also possible there’s another explanation that we simply can’t see from our human perspective that let’s everything work out, though I find this the most unlikely explanation. My view is that the stories ought to be taken metaphorically and may have something to teach us. In this sense, there is no contradiction, though there certainly is if you take the stories literally.

However, I think that in truth, it’s very easy to reconcile religious beliefs with scientific knowledge. You just have to think a little, be willing to make a few concessions on the end of religion, and understand the limitations of science while understanding that science being limited doesn’t make it wrong, just that it only covers certain aspects of reality, unless an objective, physical world truly is all there is.

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Science Meets Religion (Image)

I thought about explaining my thoughts on this image in this post, but I decided I’d like to see what other people think first. I have some definite thoughts on why I made it, but I’d like to know other people’s interpretations without giving my own first. Mostly to see if it’s on the right track. After I hear from some people either in comments or via email (or if enough time passes), I’ll add an edit or comment to explain what I was going for.




science meets religion

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Science Is Not a Religion

I’ve been noticing an alarming trend lately. Namely, the idea propagating that science is a religion. A religion built on assumptions about reality, then logically extended from there until there is a large amount of dogma around this religion called science. There’s only one problem… anyone making this claim is wrong!

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I believe in the paranormal, after all, I recently wrote a guide about how to cast a spell. But, even though I believe that paranormal things exist, and science may not have an explanation for everything, I understand what science is supposed to do. It’s supposed to help us objectively study our world, so we can learn more about it in a way that can be verified by many people so we know it’s as accurate as we can possibly make it.

Here are a couple definitions, from dictionary.com, just to help:

Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Science: systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

Now, I want you to pay attention. There are two points of the definition of science that need closer observation. First, the knowledge gained through science is systematic. There’s a system in place, called the scientific method, to make sure we treat all data gained in the same manner in order to accurately prove a hypothesis correct or incorrect. The next point is that we gain this knowledge through observation and experimentation. We don’t take it on faith, we observe and experiment, and don’t call something a fact until we can get repeatable results showing this fact remains consistent. It may still turn out to be wrong later, or need to be modified, but science is open to allowing that to happen when new evidence is found and presented.

Religion, on the other hand, is taken on faith. I know of no religion that experiments to test the truth of the claims it makes. As you can see, religion is a set of beliefs about how we came to be and what our purpose is, usually involving a supernatural creator, moral codes, and a lot of devotion and ritual. However, there are no tests done to verify the claims of a religion, and often times there can be no test, because most religion is based on something intangible and unmeasurable.

If you can’t test it, it’s not science. If you can test it, you can use the scientific method to see if it should be included in the body of knowledge called science. However, it has to be repeatable by anyone who can follow the instructions laid out in the experiment. If the same results can’t be gained by someone doing the same thing, then it’s not certain enough to be true to allow it to become part of the body of scientific knowledge.

Now, a caveat, because I know this is coming. What about evolution? Well, it’s true we can’t test that in the sense that we’re here now, and we aren’t going to reproduce the process that brought us about. However, we can test the principles behind evolution, and the principles hold up under scientific scrutiny. This makes evolution a very likely explanation for how we came about, and the most likely explanation as no alternative theory that holds up to scrutiny has been proposed and tested as such. Since we can’t directly observe it, and can only test the principles behind it, we call it a theory. However, a scientific theory is very strong, and has a lot of testing go into it.

This isn’t like saying “I have a theory on how this machine works, let’s open it up and find out.” Theory as used in this quote is actually much closer to a scientific hypothesis, which will then be tested. A scientific theory is thoroughly tested before being termed a theory, and is very likely to be true, though certainly it’s possible, like anything in science, that we may find a better explanation later. If we do, it will be through observation and experimentation, and not through faith and belief.

Now, this isn’t to say I think religion is bad. It isn’t. In fact, religion has a lot of good points, and while I’m a strong proponent of science, I’m also a religious and spiritual person as well. However, I think it’s important to understand the difference between science and religion, because the difference is there and it’s important.

Science has provided us with a lot of useful things. Modern medicine, the technology that allows me to write this piece and put it up for everyone to read who wishes to do so, convenient and speedy travel to take us nearly anywhere we wish to go on Earth, and many other useful, tangible things. When we decide something should be included in the body of scientific knowledge, it’s because we know it works through repeated testing. It’s reliable knowledge.

Religion has also provided us with some useful things, but they are intangible, and generally rooted in philosophical ideas. It provided a basis for our first moral codes, it can provide strength to pull through difficult times, hope for a better future, motivation to make it happen, a sense of community, and many other things. However, religion can’t be verified, and to my knowledge has never provided us with anything that can be used to create anything tangible. This doesn’t mean it’s not useful, but it’s usefulness is in another area of our society than the usefulness of science is.

In short, science is not religion. It has charactaristics, specifically experimentation and observation, that distinguish it from religion. While science does attempt to describe how reality works, it does so in a way far different than religions do. It uses observation and experimentation. It does not use faith and belief.

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