Beliefs and Science: We must Reclaim a Fundamental Freedom

Warren Kinston 23. June 2012 09:00

Science has beliefs and people believe in science. Should they? Is this what was meant by freedom of belief? 

Beliefs and science

Wasn’t that one of the basic freedoms we learned at school?  Or was that freedom of speech? Or thought? Or worship?  But then speech and thought and worship are all close companions to beliefs.

I am a champion of freedom of belief and freedom of thought. So I am sensitive when these freedoms are under threat. And they are. Freedom of belief is not being threatened from the pulpit or by church-backed governments these days.  We have moved on.  Instead, it is under threat from science and politics.

Let’s leave political ideology for the moment, where people demand that politicians proclaim beliefs and they hypocritically comply.  This is so obvious and silly. 

Let’s focus on science instead. Whiter than white and disdainful of political shenanigans, science has become the new political correctness.   Beliefs are now dictated by science. So what if I (or you) have the wrong belief about how the universe began?  For a start does anyone really know?

Science is not supposed to produce beliefs but to produce knowledge that is the best that is available at any point in time.  It is well-recognized that scientific knowledge develops and changes, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in rather large ways. Yet websites by the score have sprung up dedicated to revealing the truths of science.  Metanexus now claims we have the big picture. But do we?  We certainly have "a" big picture.

Let's me grasp the hottest of the hot potatoes: evolution v creationism (intelligent design). 

Given my background, Darwin’s methods and ways of thinking are congenial. Evolutionary theory sits in my mind as the currently most reasonable notion of how we got to our present state.  I view creationist ideas as a concretization of fantasy and a support for religious beliefs.  Remember my blog about people who go for a detox and expect it to remove their badness or make them healthier?  I’m confident that it makes them feel good—they say so—and why would I want to interfere with that?

So why should I want to stop people believing the theory of intelligent design?  Applying the golden rule, I would be most upset if people tried to interfere with my beliefs, many of which might well be judged as odd or insufficiently substantiated.  After all, that is what beliefs are: unsubstantiated knowledge. 

But no scientific theory is ever fully substantiated. Depending on how you look at them, they are all either conjectures or beliefs.  The theory may be useful or not.  If you are a scientist, they are certainly useful for getting grants.  If you believe the wrong theory, your peers will not give you money to check it out, or even let you into the seminar room.  See this interesting example of a challenge to quantum physics and relativity.

I have been working on a framework which clarifies how a person develops the inner strength to confront life’s challenges in a constructive way.  The various methods all relate to how we determine and sustain our personal uniqueness.  It turned out (surprisingly during the discovery but obviously afterwards) that beliefs play a key role here.

Our sense of uniqueness seems to be critical to our strength of character.  If we lose that and become part of a mass or run with the herd, then we lose our strength.  We can no longer think or act as independent individuals: as a result, we become open to perpetration of horrors—much as happened to ordinary decent people in Germany during the Nazi era.

Our most basic form of uniqueness lies in our daily activities, but surrounding this is what I term the «Sphere of Reference Points».  These are all the things that we have come to regard as true.  They are what we believe.  I mean this in the sense of knowing without having full evidence.  We can no more live effectively without these belief-based reference points than we can do without language.  They are part of what makes us truly ourselves.  However, these reference points, like language, do not determine our daily activities.  They only determine our uniqueness or personal identity.

If we are going to control anything, it must be activities.  We exist to do.  If our beliefs help us act positively and effectively, we should have and use them whatever they are.  But helping us be effective is one thing, and determining what we do is something else.

People should surely be judged by their deeds, not by their thoughts; by their compassion not by their conformity (whether to scientific «facts» or to religious beliefs); by their actual helpfulness, not by their stated or unconscious reasons for being helpful.

Bottom-Line: Treat scientific PR like Wall St PR.  It is not there to help you but to control you and even get money from you directly or indirectly. Embrace opportunities to learn. Resist attempts to control what you believe.  Do not force your beliefs on others.  Allow others to think what they wish. Reflect and inquire.

But what about education?  How do we choose what to teach children: is it evolution or creationism?  Re-read this blog, and then come up with your own answer.  You can read my views next week.

See you there.



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Warren Kinston is the creator of the THEE-Online website as an open forum for the further discovery and development of THEE. He writes this blog as an escape valve for the excitement and frustrations of the work. More info here.

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