About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jesus and Mo on the relationship between religion and science

I do love the wonderful Jesus and Mo cartoons. I used this one on Thursday during my talk at the Australasian Association of Philosophy conference.


Miranda Hale said...

Ha, this is one of the best yet!

Lincoln Cannon said...

Yeah. That's a good one.

Athena Andreadis said...

Hehe! I should add this to my essay On Being Bitten to Death by Ducks!

Jeremy Stangroom said...

"Science is limited by its refusal to make stuff up".

Except for "scientific racism", of course.

Oh, and Lysenkoism.

And cold fusion.

Plus that cloning guy.

And Cyril Burt (possibly!).

And evolutionary psychology. (Just joking! Kind of!)

Apart from that though - definitely limited by its refusal to make things up.

Here's a prediction. If anybody responds to this (critically) - the response will be predicated on an argument by definition.

Brian said...

Russell, how'd the talk go?

Russell Blackford said...

A small audience, Brian (the curse of massively multiple-strand programming), but a good discussion.

Athena Andreadis said...

Jeremy, science is a mindset and an asymptotic approach to reality. It's also colored by cultural norms. The Tarzanist mode of evolutionary biology is an excellent contemporary example. So was the stubborn insistence that elephant herds were headed by males, or the refusal of doctors to give painkillers to women in labor, or the shifting goal posts about why women are "different than" (read: always inferior to) men.

Lysenkoism was known to be invalid when they imposed it as doctrine. The cloning fraud was just that: fraud perpetuated because of prestige pressure. Cold fusion was data mis- or over-interpretation brought on by wish fulfillment.

Just as democracy is the worst system of governance except for all others, so science may be the worst way to attain knowledge except for all others.

Ophelia Benson said...

Besides, the line is 'science is limited by its refusal to make things up' - which over the long haul is true enough. Lysenkoism is no longer considered science (as astrology is not, and so on) because that 'limited' kicked in. The line isn't 'scientists never make things up'...

Jeremy Stangroom said...

Damn you, Athena, you falsified my prediction.

Continental drift, that's another one (took their time about that, didn't they!).

Phrenology. (Was that science?)

Lobotomies (certainly got a bit carried away there.)

Anyway, bsically you're saying that scientists *do* just make things up. (For cultural, career, political, wish-fulfilment reasons.)


(In case it isn't clear, I'm teasing here!)

Jeremy Stangroom said...

Nah, don't buy that "limited" thing.

Refusal is a binary state. So your point isn't that it refuses to make stuff up, it's that having made it up, it tends to unmake it again. But that's not guaranteed, hence all continued denial of paranormal experiences (such as yours when you woke up that time!).

Now if the cartoon had said "Science is limited by the fact that it is always testing the stuff it had made up", I might have agreed with it. But that would have been a bad cartoon.

I'm now covering my eyes and sticking my fingers in my ears, so if you have a devastating response, I'm not going to see it. (Just think of me as a less famous, but better looking(!), version of Chris Mooney!)

Athena Andreadis said...

Certainly scientists make things up -- from ignorance, from misconception, occasionally from prejudice. But unlike priests or politicians or bankers or journalists (Glass et al), scientists have to verify their theories experimentally and the predictions have to match the experimental results. And if they don't, it doesn't matter how all-encompassing or lovely or snugsome the theory is, it's thrown into the dustbin. In the meantime, take your antibiotics.

Athena Andreadis said...

P. S. And don't confuse scientists with doctors. Often fatal mistake.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

"scientists have to verify their theories experimentally and the predictions have to match the experimental results"


There it is - the argument by definition.

Yes indeed, Athena, that they do.

(In case Ophelia's reading: -- fingers in ears --> la, la, la, la, la.)

Athena Andreadis said...

Well, I don't know nuthin' 'bout definishuns, no suh. I jus' work on the molecular causes of dementia and sweat over the interpretation of every result because lives may depend on it.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

"I jus' work on the molecular causes of dementia"

Sounds like a very cool job.

Athena Andreadis said...

I'm the head of a laboratory that focuses on a gene whose misregulation causes dementia. I personally cloned and sequenced that gene. And I write non-fiction and fiction on nights and weekends (a fair amount of it published, including a book of popular science), because I believe that scientists should also be articulate spokespeople for their discipline and mindset.

I say some of this on the essay I mentioned earlier on this thread. If you are ever curious about how experimental scientists really live and work, instead of the media caricatures, let me know.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

"If you are ever curious about how experimental scientists really live and work, instead of the media caricatures, let me know."

Alternatively I could interview 12 of the world's most famous scientists - including Mike Stratton, who, as I'm sure you know, heads up the Cancer Genome Project - and then write a book about how they live and work.

Oh, that's right, I did!

I'm teasing, Athena, teasing. Mainly.

Athena Andreadis said...

Yep, you win.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

I don't win. I celebrate what you guys do. I wish I'd made the kinds of choices when I was younger so that I could do what you guys do. But I didn't, so I'm stuck with writing about it.

I'm on your side. (I've been attacked in print, more than once, for being way too pro-science - or scientistic, or whatever. If you Google my name, and the words "Science Fascist", you'll see what I mean!)

But it's just there is always complexity. And the course of true science doesn't always run true.

Which, of course, you know. Because it's obvious!

Athena Andreadis said...

Nobody denies the complexity and tortuous paths of science in societies. So why are you setting up straw men -- and nitpicking a cartoon for not containing philosophical nuances?

Jeremy Stangroom said...

I feel like I'm in some kind of Alice in Wonderland twilight zone, where communication has become impossible.

As I've said what 3 times now... including in my second post:


Science is not so fragile that it can't be teased. You may not find my teasing funny (that much is clear). You may think it inappropriate. You may think it immature.


My God, at one point, I was going la, la, la, la!

Chill, Athena Andreadis, you should chill!

Athena Andreadis said...

E-mail is lousy in conveying mood. Besides, you qualified the humor by saying that you were "teasing but only just". And I agreed with both the substance of your words and the bantering - up to a point. So I'm cool or, at worst, lukewarm with your humor.

Brian said...

Jeremy, whatever you're drinking, can I have one?

Ophelia Benson said...

Tease tease tease. Jeremy's teasing about that 'paranormal experience,' too, because it didn't rise to the level of paranormal - it was just an auditory hallucination (middle of the night) of something that was socially most unlikely but not in the least physically impossible or law-breaking or miracle-like.