Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Should and could science act as a religion?

Sabine Hossenfelder wrote an interesting essay that I mostly sympathize with:
Science should be more like religion
First, she believes that the 21st century is the century of the death of religions and the completion of the scientific revolution. This comment – many of us could say an optimistic comment – sounds so 1960s. If visions such as Eurabia become reality, the 21st century will mark the demise of the scientific attitudes and the return to the medieval superstitions, at least on the Old Continent.

Second, she concisely summarizes and exemplifies some qualitative differences between science and religion.

Third, she tells us that many people tend to ignore religions' commonalities with science and benefits they bring. I totally agree with that. Science and religion differ in some important ways but they still share some roots linked to the the human emotions, amazement, and curiosity – things that make us more precious than most animals. And aside from things that directly contradict science, religion also says many things that may have helped the human societies and that don't contradict science.

Fourth, it turns out that Sabine's most important inspiration that religions may offer to the scientists is a tool that should speed up her expected completion of the scientific revolution and the death of the religions: the effortless methods by which religions have penetrated and still penetrate into billions of minds. Sabine says that scientists should learn to become good speakers and preachers who are not dissimilar to the most captivating priests.

It's perhaps a nice and intriguing plan. It may also be a counterproductive or impossible one. Which adjectives are right? ;-)

While my attitude to religions has never been downright hostile – like my attitude to leftwingers, anti-string crackpots, and several other groups – I have never been meaningfully religious in any sense. But for decades, I have been noticing certain advantages that the religious people enjoy in the society.

Centuries ago, they had the right to burn an ideologically inconvenient person at stake – as a heretic. This special right has pretty much survived in numerous countries of the Islamic Anticivilization. Even in democratic countries, religions of various kinds enjoy some protection of a sort.

In many countries, you may even face trouble if you mention that Jesus Christ may have been an ordinary person or ħe didn't exist at all. Or if you inform anyone that Mohammed was a jerk who was sleeping with underaged girls that made Silvio's Berlusconi Ruby the Heartstealer a mature woman in comparison. (Poor Silvio got 7 years.)

But even the freedom to talk about "less personal" aspects of science and religion may be restricted in various otherwise civilized countries because such a freedom could clash with the sensibilities of the religious folks. I have always been amazed that the scientific "belief system" has never enjoyed a similar kind of protection.

Now, the science ends up with many conclusions that differ from the axioms of religions. More importantly, it has a very different methodology how the truth is being chosen from the candidate truths. But from some viewpoint, these are technicalities. What may be more important is that science may be – and should be – taken as seriously as religious people see religions and their teachings.

To be personal, let me mention that just like a Christian may be offended when he hears some unpleasant stories about Jesus Christ, I am offended when I hear people saying dismissive things about quantum mechanics, relativity, string theory, or some other important portion of science. I would surely like most of these folks to be burned at stake if there were a humane and acceptable infrastructure for such things. ;-)

But scientific gems aren't being defended in this way. Lawmakers etc. seem to believe that only lies, superstitions, and similar trash need to be protected. The actual truth doesn't need to be protected, the consensus seems to say. I just happen to disagree. Note that while science has followed a completely different methodology to reach its conclusions about the truth, we have a much greater confidence in many of its conclusions than religious people should have in any of the pillars of their faith. But the prevailing opinion seems to be that the scientific truth doesn't deserve the protection.

Why is that? The methodology with which science finds its truths is different from the methodology of religions. Of course that I think that the scientific method is superior just like the religious people may think that the religious method is superior. I have already proposed to treat these differences as technicalities. Science and religions also follow different kinds of "spiritual leaders". While science marches in the footsteps of some of the smartest, most hard-working, educated, sometimes modest, sometimes self-confident, but uniformly curious people such as Albert Einstein, religions get inspired by a mixture of folks of many types with an important flavor added by loud bigots, mass killers, morons, and power-thirsty demagogues. Maybe this difference between the leaders is why the societies think that it's OK to insult scientific insights but not the religious sensibilities? Only jerks and their mindless bootlickers need some protection, right?

But I didn't really want to write a text suggesting that everything is bad about religions because I don't really believe so. My main point is different: I am frustrated by the fact that the immense wisdom that science has brought to the mankind – including the journey that has led to the insights (and that will lead to new insights in the future) itself – isn't passionately believed to be a set of precious gems that deserve to be worshiped. Almost no one seems to be passionate about science. Almost whenever I see someone talking about science to a broader group, soon or later (usually very early!) I have to witness a sourball who really hates science and finds it boring and despicable. Almost every layman thinks that any talk about science is a reason for frustration, something we should emit poisonous words about. It's literally everywhere.

Yesterday, I watched an interview with Lisa Randall. The host asked (here) whether it was true that – as he understands it – the extra dimensions are just some boring refined junk that science chooses to study because the simpler kinds of junk have already been thrown in the trash bin. Yes, this is what extra dimensions – or at least every genuine scientific theory that surpasses its less accurate and less complete predecessors (something we can't reliably say about the extra dimensions yet) – exactly is. And this is why it is so magnificently glorious. This is what science is all about. Science is all about finding ever better theories that succeed where their previously triumphant predecessors failed.

Perhaps we have gotten used to the fact that we can't crucify the host for his staggering blasphemy. But it's worse than that. There doesn't even seem to be a consensus that by this dismissive talk about the most universal essence, spirit, and indeed the very point of science, he is proving himself to be a completely uneducated, uncultural imbecile. Why? Do all the people really misunderstand that he is an imbecile or is there just some suffocating atmosphere in the society that tells us that we shouldn't even say these self-evident things?

You may rightfully object that I should have avoided these morally colored comments because the actual reason why people are this dismissive about science and its insights is not their being immoral; it's simply their being stupid. They can try to learn something but there are certain innate limitations that can't be surpassed and the missing desire to actually understand science is the ultimate reason why they will remain ignorant and unexcited, even about fundamental questions.

And that's the main reason why I tend to think that this whole dream about a religion-resembling, science-worshiping community of billions of people is a mirage. (It took me a few years to understand that not even scientology was the science-based church I was looking for.) There simply don't exist billions of people who are capable of genuinely learning about the value of science – I mean a sufficient learning that is enough to make them "feel" why "science akbar" (this is a variation of "Allahu akbar" – "God is greater" – but I guess you have only heard about "Allahu akbar": this shows something, too). On the other hand, everyone is intelligent enough to buy some infantile superstitions served by the religions. Those are the ultimate reasons why churches may have hundreds of millions or billions of members while "passionate science fans" can't become billions.

And even mass movements that sometimes claim to be about science – like the environmentalist movement (and perhaps the Marxist movement in general) – are more or less guaranteed to become just another irrational religion that finds itself in a fundamental conflict with science, its spirit, its values, most of its insights, and its methodology. The reason is that in such mass movements, other priorities that the generic people actually care about (need for egalitarianism; the dream about the return to the non-technological civilization) get in charge and these priorities aren't equivalent to science. In groups of people that are too inclusive, science is reduced either to a misleading sticker or to a slave serving someone more powerful.

These are tough facts but they are facts, anyway. We would love to see science as the fine angel that enjoys the love and protection from all the good people who are – as we like to hope – a majority of the mankind. People such as your humble correspondent who have a clear theoretical inclination in their attitude to the values of the world are passionate about the scientific truth and view it as a delicate pure spirit that should be loved. But most people just don't see anything of the sort.

There are still lots of people who know some science and technology and who benefit from it which is the main or only reason why they have some respect for it. After all, the whole human species has benefited from advantages relatively to some other species that could be summarized as their better skills in science and especially technology. But note that the actual reason why science has been important according to the evolution of life is something completely different than its being a pure angel linked to the Creator.

Instead, whether you like it or not, evolution sees science as the nuclear bomb detonating in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (The cavemen and early farmers have found similar but less advanced technologies that made them more competitive.) In this real-world optics, science has always been a source of additional powers, however indirect, and these powers could have made small groups of people (or the mankind itself) much more powerful than large groups of people (or other organisms) that don't have this power. The first two nuclear bombs were developed by hundreds of people if I count really everyone; they have killed 100,000 or so. Clearly, the ratios may become even more extreme.

I don't like to think – and I will never think – about science in this applied-research-oriented way. For me, science starts with the pure science, with the passion for the truth. But because the mankind has evolved according to the laws of evolution, it's more or less inevitable that most humans only see science through the lens of its applications that have influenced the evolution of life (and societies). So it's perhaps inevitable that an overwhelming majority of the people don't see any pure angels inside science. In my optics, they may be uncultural morons and dirty sciencewise infidels. I can't do anything efficient about it because by contradicting this fact about the majority's attitude to science, I would contradict an important scientific theory, namely Darwin's theory of evolution.

Science may be marketed as something that belongs to all the people but if you actually only count those who "sleep with science", it will always be a tiny elite – or let's say, more neutrally, a minority. This minority shouldn't really try to throw the pearls of science to everyone because it's mostly throwing pearls to the swines. I hope that the swines who like physics and who managed to read this blog entry won't be insulted by my decision to use swines as an insult. In fact, I tend to think that those who "sleep with science" should try to maintain a somewhat more exclusive access to the applications of science, too. We have gotten used to the paradigm that science (including its useful technological applications) should be spread for free but maybe this whole attitude is counterproductive because we're de facto artificially setting the market price of science to zero – the price of anything that you can have for free – and this could be one of the reasons why people aren't passionate about science.

I hope that you have understood that I wrote these ideas in a far more dramatic way than what I believe. But I do believe in the essence of what I have written, anyway. The tone may have been a bit provocative or humorous but the message I want to communicate is damn real.

Incidentally, there are even some details in the discussion on Backreaction where I totally agree with Sabine. Brian Clegg wrote:
I would disagree on one point - I think we are all born agnostics, not atheists, and that agnosticism is the truly scientific approach (even Dawkins has said that technically he is agnostic, not atheist). See
This is a sort of a politically correct, fashionable softening of the terminology. If you want to be really smart, you don't say that you're an atheist. Instead, you're an agnostic. Well, I think it is bullshit, especially in this context. Sabine rightfully explained that an "agnostic" is someone who's been exposed to the idea of God, gods, or religion and he or she decided that the question is either ill-defined or its answer is unknown or undecidable.

But to switch to this status of an "agnostic", you must first be exposed to the idea of God, gods, or religions. This exposure doesn't occur before you're born which does mean that humans are atheists, not agnostics, when they're born.

Maybe the disagreement here is about something that goes beyond terminology and image. Clearly, religious people often believe that humans are born as God's babies. Because agnostics are in between the believers and the atheists, at least they claim so, they could also believe that there is some chance or some sense in which people could be born as God's babies, too – so they could already be born with some framework to answer religious questions, i.e. born as agnostics.

OK, perhaps, but if this is the question that decides about the difference, then I am an atheist, not an agnostic. According to science, people just can't be born with any special relationship to any Creator or any agent linked to the fundamental laws governing the Universe, so they may have no opinions about it, either. They're born as clever pieces of meat that is able to perform certain functions and learn many other functions as it gets older. They need to learn something before they may try to answer some questions based on the language, including religious ones. They need some empirical input to be even motivated to search for such answers. These things simply can't happen before they're born – and when we talk about any specific enough idea of God, they can't take place without an interaction with other humans because such an interaction is needed to communicate all the traditions and ways how all the ideas are conventionally framed.

In this sense, God (one close to any particular religion's God or gods) is a purely man-made construct. I may still be agnostic about some more general types of God but as long as I respect the insights that science has made, such a not-yet-excluded God simply can't have any special relationship with humans so humans can't be born with this relationship, either. They're inevitably born as Godless babies – as atheists.

Brian Clegg tells us on his blog that he is annoyed by suggestions that God is analogous to the unicorns. The latter may be ruled out (because they are material) but the former can't, he says. I think that this qualitative difference is completely spurious. From the viewpoint of evolving scientific knowledge, God is extremely analogous to the unicorns. All of them were originally "very clean, nearly holy" creatures that lived at a particular place and that had some nearly anthropomorphic properties. When the strongest versions of these hypotheses or beliefs were found incompatible with some easily accessible empirical data, people started to weaken (and are still weakening) the hypotheses, making God and unicorns ever more abstract and invisible. Of course, people wouldn't talk about something invisible if it had no impact so they're also strengthening the "powers and special properties" that these increasingly legendary creatures possess. The only difference between God and unicorns is that the former is still believed much more passionately than the latter – largely because It or He or She was assigned much more ambitious virtues and skills.

Arun mentions that
Islam teaches that everyone is born Muslim, until parents corrupt them.
Well, nice. But that's exactly the type of statements that are agreed by the reasonable people to be nothing else than an arrogant medieval stupidity, a demagogy designed to demonize the atheists and believers in other faith systems. Only Muslims are the proper people, everyone else is a dirty renegade. The reality is exactly the opposite. Everything that is refined, clean, safe, deep, going beyond the basic material needs required for survival, and so on is a result of the human activity, patient refinement, and accumulation of wealth so we're not born with these attributes. Islam and its holy books are man-made products, too.

We're born nude, with bare buttocks, and relatively uneducated. We may still be cute when we're born but we're born just like all other animals – at least some of them are cute when they're born, too. Even the underwear and basic clothes are something we add after we are born, along with all the required exercises, work we have to do, and especially social traditions, habits, myths, and sometimes valuable knowledge, too.

This reminds me of the crazy comments that capitalism causes poverty, and so on. In Feynman's words, the idea of distributing everything evenly is based on a theory that there’s only X amount of stuff in the world, that somehow we took it away from the poorer countries in the first place, and therefore we should give it back to them. Quite on the contrary. People are born poor. They don't naturally possess anything beyond their naked bodies. The wealth is something they create and knowledge, know-how, man-made structures connecting the society, and accumulation of the capital are necessary conditions for the creation of wealth. But you won't be able to explain these basic facts about the inner workings of the world to Arun who is both an apologist for Islamic stupidities as well as an unhinged Marxist – a really explosive combination of two powerful (7th century and 19th century) delusions.

By the way, I also endorse Sabine's subsequent comments about the consistency of observations with science (and not religions) and about the non-existence of a "scientific culture" that would be an inseparable property of science in the human society and that would imply a limitation of science analogous to the limitations of the religions. Science doesn't have any limitations of this kind. People and groups of people may have limitations in their ability to think scientifically but science itself has no such limitations.

I will proofread this text later. The final episode of Circus Humberto is getting started on TV.


  1. Should and could science act as a religion

    The obvious answer is we already have exactly that in environmentalism.

  2. A very interesting post Lubos. Thanks. I restrain myself from attacking peoples' religious beliefs except in circumstances where those beliefs compel people to do harm. If people can find meaning in religion, well good on them because people with meaning in their lives are generally happier and healthier. It is easy to attack religious beliefs but if person X is a good person who contributes to the world why bother? Is it just so you can take pride in converting them to your world view? Doesn't that make you as suspect as religious people who insist on converting others to their world view? Apart from his selfish gene stuff one reason I resent Dawkins is because he has done more damage to science than religion with his anti-religious ranting. Bees to honey!

    Sometime ago there was an interesting study on how religion benefits people. It was claimed that religion benefits people only if they are surrounded by people sharing the same beliefs.

  3. Dear phil, concerning your last sentence, I have already addressed why it's wrong. Whether a human may comprehend science is about his abilities, desires, and will and about his limitations, it has nothing to do with the hypothetical limitations of science. Learning science is something else than science itself.

    Concerning your first claim, it's also invalid, as far as I can say. When we sufficiently clearly ask the question about the completeness and "being the final word" about a theory, it becomes a scientific question - a rather standard one - and it may be addressed. It's been addressed many times. For many groups of phenomena. we've had demonstrably many incomplete theories and many complete theories, too. Similarly, for all of phenomena combined we've had incomplete theories but we also know that if string theory is right, it doesn't allow further deformations and refinements. We must just learn it properly.

    In this case - and, if we allow partial theories of subsets of phenomena, in other cases - we may therefore establish that if something is lurking beneath the equations, it's or He's or She's equivalent to the equations.

  4. Right, I mentioned that, too, with the conclusion that it suggests that when something uses science for a mass activity that employs ideas similar to religions, it ceases to be genuinely scientific because there's always ultimately something else than science that is in charge of the movement.

  5. My main point is different: I am frustrated by the fact that the immense wisdom that science has brought to the mankind – including the journey that has led to the insights (and that will lead to new insights in the future) itself – isn't passionately believed to be a set of precious gems that deserve to be worshiped. Almost no one seems to be passionate about science.

    Speaking for myself I get a kind of relgious awe whenever I contemplate the laws of physics. It's not unlike the feeling I get when I look out at the cosmos on a clear starry night. It's my version of going into a Gothic Cathedral. I think there must be a lot of people like me in that respect. We may not understand the laws but we can appreciate the beauty of the handiwork of the Architect who made it.

    Of course this is the language of metaphor and of poetry, whose anthropomorphic conceits are a manner of speaking, no matter how literally some idiots may interpret them, including not only many fundamentalists but the people who make a hobby of making fun of fundamentalists.

    But the true significance of the Hebraic conception of God, the one found in the middle passages of Genesis and which is the only one that counts in my book, is not that he is the Author of nature and its laws. That is only a way of saying his writ reaches far. For ultimately the God of modern European and Western civilization is a moral idea, the idea that there is a kind of justice built into the fabric of the human being such that, in some sense, everybody gets what they deserve in the end. Now of course that symmetry may or may not exist. In that sense I am an agnostic, a tortured one on occasion.

    But just as modern science has revealed to us worlds within worlds previously unseen, it is possible there are similar worlds of order in the depths of the human nervous system. There is so much we do not know, and so much that must obviously be there to account for all we feel and see and understand. Pleasure and pain in all their multifarious forms for instance -- are they truly independent or are they correlative phenomena. Can you have one without the other? Can you have more of one than the other? To some these might sound like silly, simple questions. But then maybe they haven't lived. Yet.

    Whether He "exists" or not the Hebraic conception of a just judge of the earth who judges all men by a single standard of equity according to their deeds, and who is a promiser of history, of a future, better life here on earth (we in this generation can forget about heaven) -- this has got to be easily the most influential idea in Western intellectual history. It gave rise to science among other things. And to capitalism, freedom, the idea that all men are created equal in the same way that all children are created equal in the eyes of their parents if there parents are loving, which is at the basis of the liberal idea. So in that sense God exists or has existed and in that sense I worship him, in my own way, by reading this blog for instance, and by studying history, the human struggle from servitude to freedom, the faith that sustained the best of our ancestors and inspired them and made victory possible. So you can see I am a complete sap.

  6. Dear Luke, nice but I am not sure whether your cathedral-like feelings are really amazement by science or amazement by some foggy and mysterious religious imagery that you just label with a "science" sticker. You know, these are different things. Science isn't really about some mysterious fear, it's about a clear understanding and the amazement by how nicely things fit together in Nature.

  7. Dilaton: Hmm, I went to your physicsstack link (after a long hiatus) and agree with you. With a few exceptions, I have not looked at the site from just before Ron Maimon was banned for being intelligent and interesting. I have noticed a pervasive anti-string bias amongst the moderators, and, with the exception of our blog host here, some of the best contributors have left the site, including a few string theorists. I also used to take offense that moderators were quick to close questions as "philosophy" when by that, they really meant meaning or interpretation, or something that didn't coincide with their biases. Also, as you noted, crackpots often infest the answers, and some noted ones have managed to accumulate lots of rep. points.
    At least I escaped with my free pen and T-shirt :) (I will look in occasionally).

  8. Dear John,

    It is easy to attack religious beliefs but if person X is a good person who contributes to the world why bother? Is it just so you can take pride in converting them to your world view? Doesn't that make you as suspect as religious people who insist on converting others to their world view?

    interestingly enough, religious leaders never say these things to their believers. They don't say: If those infidels aren't hurting you in any way, it is easy to attack them but why bother? Is it just that you can take pride in converting them to your world view? Doesn't it make you suspect that you're just like the champions of any other religion?

    And yes, indeed, it was one of my points that it is a *pity* that people don't think it's a noble goal to teach and "convert" others to the scientific viewpoint. I think that science *should* be just like the major "converting" religions, and it isn't. It's my impression that Sabine's main point was the same. This "science gospel" isn't quite the same thing as "anti-religious rants". To a large extent, science is independent of religion, or at least any particular religion.

    I think it's one of the symptoms of the bad situation - science creates no passion - that you (and others) choose to frame the talk about the scientific attitude about the world as a battle between pro-religious and anti-religious forces. Science doesn't depend on the religious or irreligious crutches at all. It is an important gem by itself. It may and it should create passions by itself.

  9. Dear John, I personally began to like science without major "manipulative" influences as well but it seems totally unrealistic to me if you suggest that *most* people are this independent.

    I think that almost all or all people who believe in a particular religion etc. do so because they were brought to the religion by another person. I don't understand why you think it should be any different.

    Well, I would be willing to agree that most people can't get to the cutting edge of science, not even close. But I find it unacceptable to suggest that most people should remain unfamiliar with the very notion of science and the understanding of its power. People indeed have the capacity to get *this* far and it is outrageous if they don't get there.

    It's very bad if most people end up with anti-scientific sentiments, especially in democracy where the majority ultimately decides. Inside science, one may make continuing advances and refinements of the truth. One may be very demanding. These advances bring benefits to the society as well. But the true power of that is totally compromised when a ruling majority de facto questions the very framework how science decides about the truth - and the value of this method. Science is then degraded to a district division in soccer where people win pennies while the big questions are decided in the top league which is analogous to religions etc. in this metaphor. It's just wrong, wrong, wrong.

    As a framework to find answers to questions and decide which questions and answers are the most important ones, science is undoubtedly a competitor to all religions and it's a shame if a society doesn';t agree that it's a top - and perhaps the #1 - competitor in this race.

  10. Dear Brian, good to hear that you had other reasons, whatever they were. But this still changes nothing about the basic fact that you're wrong that the case of the unicorns and God is entirely different. These two situations are structurally isomorphic.

  11. LOL, thanks, Peter, but I am not sure whether I will find a new paradise in a communist country. ;-)

  12. Problems: a) As a writer I find the ignorance of what agnostic means (read the dictionary!) sad. b) How can you say natural and supernatural claims are isomorphic. c) Good scientists accept that science isn't about 'the truth' but about our best guess given current data. As such, only bad scientists can be atheists as they claim to know 'the truth' - that there definitively is no god.

  13. Dear Brian,

    a) be sure that I know the dictionary definition of "agnosticism" and in some aspects, I would count myself as an agnostic myself but in most, I simply don't.

    I can tell you what Sabine already told you, with an extra introduction. Some claims about deities may be completely ill-defined and vacuous - I am not interested in those because they are a complete waste of time.

    So if we agree that we only talk about questions and hypothetical objects and phenomena that have some impact on anything that matters, then we may also discuss whether the answers to these questions are unknowable. I agree with Sabine that it is a maximally unscientific attitude to assume that they will remain unknowable. The scientific attitude is not to give up and to search for the answers to questions that make sense. A priori claiming that something is both meaningful and so high that no scientific research may ever reach it is a bigotry of the highest caliber, surely not a balanced scientific attitude to questions.

    b) Both unicorns and God are parts of a supernatural mythology which may also be interpreted as bad natural science. Both of these concepts have pretty much the same origin and the same evolution, dominated by the weakening of the claims about them in the wake of proofs that the most direct, naive, tangible interpretations of their existence were soon excluded. The only difference between unicorns and God is that the latter has much more enthusiastic supporters today but this difference doesn't arise from God's being more plausible or more compatible with science than the unicorns but from the fact that the God idea is more far-reaching and ambitious.

    c) This is just plain bullshit. The passion for the truth is a key driving force of real scientists and they are using the same language. I have learned to use the phrase "passion for the truth" from Andy Strominger, a top physicist at Harvard, for example, and many leading scientists who are interested in these issues as well - most notably Steven Weinberg - call themselves atheists and definitely reject their being "agnostics".

    Your suggestion to label scientists who consider themselves "atheists" as "no good scientists" is something I would expect in the era of the Inquisition, not in the 21st century.

  14. Awe for me isn't fear but a kind of amazement: I am awesomely impressed by the scale, the beauty, and the underlying order of the universe as revealed by science. Granted I do not know let alone understand this order nearly to the depth that you do, though I do love reading you. But then neither did Newton or Darwin -- or Feynman for that matter -- and I am sure they had these feelings too.

    As for your atheism, the God you and most scientists reject is only their idea of God (gotten from the crazy things most public believers say about God) and I can assure you I don't believe in that idea any more than they do.

    But notice they write "God" not "gods" (though some write "god" in the singular) which indicates they are referring to the Hebrew conception of God as "revealed" in the Bible, which, if not "the word of God" is certainly the first and last word about God.

    My contention is that the God of the Bible, the only one I care about, is first and foremost a moral and historical idea, not a physical one, whose content most scientists (including you perhaps?) are as abysmally ignorant as most laymen are about science. See my The Torah and the West Bank to see what I mean:

    As for my suggestion that there might be a kind of symmetry between pleasure and pain in all sentient beings, and that it's occurrence in humans might be shaped by the history of their behavior in relation to others -- this is potentially an empirical idea, in which case there would be nothing supernatural about it.

    If it turns out to be true -- and I am agnostic on the point -- then I would argue that this is, in effect, the moral equivalent of the God of the Bible, who is described as a "just judge of the earth" who judges all men by a single standard of equity according to their deeds.

    How such a symmetry might relate to the laws of physics I have no idea, but I am sure that it would.

  15. Obviously Sabine must have been in a hurry and left the word "not" out of the title of her blog post.
    I don't think we really need scientists as Elmer Gantrys...we do need a culture that values science.

  16. This response, Lubos, parallels my outlook almost exactly. I have no problem with the word “God” but I have a very big problem with the word “unknowable”. Obviously, causality excludes anything that exists from being unknowable.

  17. I see that , I'm different from you that you are overconfident with our theoretical tools and our ability for fully understand some concepts . I'm skeptical of this.You also said that it's atheism that strengthens with the advance of science . Yes , the concept of god that primitive men and alot of modern people believes in , is getting ruled out but there's a much subtler definition that can't be ruled out .

  18. The ideas doesn't remain above science . It just remains far above the comprehension of us not above science . Also , you said that god is being ruled out with the advance of science . Well , human beings claims that god is such and such . Their definition of god is the thing that's ruled out. Some subtler definition could remain and cannot be ruled out . Well , there seems to be no place for a sentient force in the current theories and most likely the correct formulation of M theory doesn't invoke divine intervention but 'I think' that by discovering the real nature of M theory we can't claim that we have understood the most fundamental meaning of reality . This is all philosophy but I think that it's somehow relevant

  19. Dear Lubos,

    Very nice article and comments.

    Is it possible that with time you are becoming more astheisticaly oriented?

  20. Thanks, gluino, a nice nickname, by the way. And no, it's not really possible. I've been equally atheist since the age of 4 to say the least.

  21. If Science was a religion would the layman have to explain how M-theory works to the Great Precious Master Scientist ? Any mistake would make them feel they should commit suicide ?
    Honestly, Science and Religion should never be mixed. They don't have to. Religion is folkloric, not Science.

  22. There doesn't exist any evidence or rational reason to think that some essential insights about Nature may remain permanently inaccessible to all human brains.

    But what is guaranteed is that if all people in the world adopted your medieval attitude painting the human mind as such a tiny thing unable to reach to the heavens, the mankind would probably indeed remain the pile of worthless stupid ignorant shit unable to learn any fundamental things that you indefensibly claim to be the whole mankind.

    I have already explained that it's logically impossible for hypotheses that have implications to be unfalsifiable. It's a contradiction. Your claims about things being impossible to rule out are fabrications. You're scared by the fact that it has become trivial to rule out all kinds of religious and other nonsense so you just prefer to deny the reality. But this won't change the reality. Science can rule out pretty much everything that people have said about gods and religions and your proclamations are no deeper even though you totally indefensibly think otherwise.

    ...but 'I think' that by discovering the real nature of M theory we can't claim that we have understood the most fundamental meaning of reality

    Did you conjecture that we can't claim that by discovering the real nature of M-theory, we can't claim that we understood the most fundamental meaning of reality?

    That's another conjecture that can be easily proven wrong. Disproof:

    I claim that by discovering the real nature of M-theory, we will automatically understand the most fundamental meaning of reality. QED.

  23. Dear Shannon, well, the attitude to mistakes is another thing in which science and religion differ. Nature obeys the laws of physics without any mistakes.

    However, the creation of animals and our process of learning the truth, among other things, is fundamentally composed of mistakes, trial and error, and so on. Science really celebrates these things because they're responsible for our being here and for our knowing something.

    So while different branches of Christianity etc. may argue about the infallibility and the divine status of various supernatural agents, their families, and the first prophets and other officials of the Church, science deviates much more from these habits and battles because it is not obsessed with the "perfection" of real-world objects. Real-world objects and people and animals and stars and everything else aren't really perfect in any naive sense. They don't have a reason to be perfect and it's in fact very important that they're not perfect (think what evolution is able to do with random mutations after millions of years). I really think that these insights - and we know them to be sure - are magnificent and deserve to be worshiped at least as much as all the would-be perfect Allahs and Moseses and Mohammeds and Jesuses Christs were celebrated because the properly organized imperfection is behind the things we depend upon.

    Right, religion is folkloric except that major religions always try to conquer the whole world and become universal. Science is universal from scratch but there are still many perspectives on science that are folkloric, context-dependent, and fun, too. I think that this rejection of this folkloric aspect of science is just another piece of evidence that people (like you) just aren't passionate about science and that's sad.

  24. Exactly, Gene. If something exists and imprints itself in Nature, it may be studied.

    God may be great but the efforts to prevent people - even other people - from researching the Universe and making progress, perhaps even fundamental progress, or at least slinging the mud at all the results that the scientists acquire while they're asking important questions - all these activities belong to the darkest era of the history of the Christian (and other) churches.

    "Unknowable" is often a codeword for "it is a heresy to study these things" and the fact that this attitude is as anti-scientific as it can get should be self-evident.

    Things are unknowable if they're physically equivalent, if they have no impact on Nature, even in principle. But that's clearly not the case of the issues that people find important in religions. They care about things that do make an impact on their life or afterlife or something like that - and all these things simply can be scientifically studied and must be allowed to be studied.

    It's really ironic if the defenders of "unknowable" - in the sense of trying to suppress or humiliate research - claim their attitude to be the only right scientific viewpoint on deities. It's really the least scientific one.

  25. Dear Lubos, Science is not folkloric, it is fascinating and exciting. ( I bought a telescope a few years ago. It was expensive but well worth it. Astronomy is one of the area of Science that triggered my excitement since I was a kid. How many nights have I left my shutters opened and moved my bed beside the window to keep stars in view until I fall asleep haha).
    Religion has never managed to become universal. The proofs are on the news everyday. Why do you scientists see it as a competitor just baffles me. It is for religions to accept and include new scientific findings into their folklore, Books, prayers or beliefs. If they don't do it it is their loss.

  26. Dear Phil, I didn't write that you believe in a medieval god. I wrote you have the medieval attitude to the scientific effort to understand the fundamental things about the Universe.

  27. That's Interesting , I'm curious to know how this idea of god is in a contradiction with all these fields . Note that what I mean by god in this context , a god that's disjoint from any religion (Not a personal god).I hope it was clear in my previous posts that this is briefly what I meant by god .

  28. I guess all (smart) kids are born not only atheists, but also scientists. But stupid parents can corrupt this pristine state too easily - because also kids are naturally inclined to accept the "wisdom of authority". It makes evolutionary sense: going to check out whether the cave bear is really as dangerous as parents say would have been too bad for the prospect of such (too early sceptical) kid's genes...
    So if the "authority" is stupid or confused, or believes some nonsense (like religion), it is very likely that they might pass the such (non- or antiscientific) meme to the next generation. Interesting that many of such early manipulated people managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps from the confused state to more enlightment.
    Btw Dawkins is an atheist, not an agnostic. See the "Delusion of God", where he rather attacks agnostics for being chicken.

  29. LOL, your first sentence sounds as a parody of Arun's "children are born as Muslims, only corrupt parents make them infidels" except that your version sounds more plausible.

    Well, children are curious - well, natural scientists except that with no experience - and their sudden loss of curiosity at some point may be due to some pressure of other people to "grow up".

  30. Since the elections, things have really gone down the drain. Lumo is right that it generally should not matter who are the moderators under normal conditions.

    But if there is a moderator who dominates everything, like Manishearth did immediately after he has been elected, this can really ruin a site. He (and to some degree David Zaslavsky too, who stopped being a physicist at heart who cares for the community of physicists) actively sabotages any suggestion or proposal (by people who have noted that things are not going well since December) to improve the level of the site again and make it more attractive for researchers again, as one can see from the following pointless meta discussions he involves me and others in:

    and the newest one

    Thinking about it, it seems Manishearth

    It really lookes as if he wanted to bring the site down to purely popular level by preventing any improvements that would be helpful to real university level physics students, academics, and researchers, and completely denying people, who are interested in higher than popular and very basic level physics, any possibility to still extract some useful information out of the flood of the way too basic stuff that comes in, allowing and sometimes even encouraging physicists and their work being insulted, etc ...

    And the most dishonest thing is that Manishearth motivates his biased preferences and badly counteracting the needs of a community of physicists point of view by claiming that this is what Stack Exchange demands. But as said, from nice discussions with Shog9 I have learned often this is not the case ...

    Today, MathOverflow has become a member of the SE network, and guess what? Manishearth is already trying to get a handle on this site too, as one can observe from seeing him complain about not getting the association bonus:

    Since quite some time I think, maybe I should really have at least tried to fetch a diamond back in December too. Many things would maybe be not that bad at Physics SE, if the two now mods had been Qmechanic and me instead of Qmechanic and Manishearth (Qmechanic and Anna v. would have been optimal). Maybe we could even still have Ron Maimon under this alternative scenario, he explicitely said he would give me a vote.

    Darn !!!

  31. Yes , brian greene claim that there could be barriers , limits of comprehensibility.There could be things that are here because of coincidence , divine choice etc . It's not a crackpot idea of mine . I did say that and I did say that we should not consider anything to be unanwerable or inaccessible We should maximally exploit everything we know and explore things as far as we can) and I do agree with you that it's unscientific to declare that something is inaccessible to science . It's also interesting that you think that the very idea of god is not compatible with all these stuff .Let me drift away from the subject of the discussion , I'm interested in why you said that locality contradicts god because, as far as I understand, the physical reality is'Please correct me if I'm wrong ' fundamentally nonlocal when gravitational effects are taken into account. Well , the synthesis between poincare invariance and quantum mechanics with the introduction of interactions we require that S-matrix is local , unitary and poincare-invariant .This leads to QFT but in string theory , The holographic principle destroy the very idea of locality? (By nonlocality ,I mean something like violating the cluster decomposition constraint of the S-matrix that's true in QFT)

  32. Agnosticism isn't a good enough word - we need a word which describes the belief that: Science enables us to know a huge amount but not everything and Religion enables us to know hardly anything, but not nothing.

    Of course the problem is that religious people think their beliefs are a largely valid knowledge about the universe, which is really very silly and we shouldn't be promoting such silliness by allowing faith schools and the like.

  33. I would say the same thing about economics today. Like "climate science" it rules by consensus with fake, curve-fitting models.

  34. Your comments about this issue probably boil down to your being religious and to another difference between religion in science. In religion, one wants to assume that things - and indirectly us - are already perfect. After all, we were created by some God who isn't an idiot, the assumption says. When we accept God, we should be sort of satisfied with ourselves - it's perhaps a main goal of religions, anyway.

  35. To the extent one allows a distinction between objective and subjective experience there is a question in principle as to how much objective (i.e., scientific) access there can be to people's subjective states of consciousness. What it feels like to be under torture for example. We have a front row seat to our own state of mind but no one else does.

  36. I read somewhere that "science and religion are parallel paths to revealing God's truth."

    I'm not particularly religious, but the quote made sense to me.

  37. There is an emtional need for everyone it seems, including Lumo, to show respect for the concept of religion. Fine. All I ask is that we define our terms.

    "Religion" to most people means faith in something told to them by what they believe is a higher authority, with no need for empirical proof and if contradictory empircal data comes up, faith is seen as the higher truth and the perpretators of any such empirically based challenge to religious dogma end up persecuted.

    "Science" means to look at nature for evidence to support our beliefs, discarding beliefs that go against observation, and developing new theories that take into account the observational record. Science does not persecute people who follow religion, it just doen't take them seriously. Science does not demand orthodoxy, it just wants to be free to inquire and study freely.

    And why would you say science should be more like religion? Has a scientist ever burnt a priest at the stake? Rather, religion should bemore like science.

    If there are mysteries to the universe we can uncover, it will be science, not religion that will accomplish the task.

    I like it better whe Lumo is strongly disagreeing with Bee, who on these and other matters seems to have a soft spongy part in her brain.

  38. This isn't the best place to discuss this since we are OT, but I read your links---watch out or you will be banned.

    I think MathOverflow is making a mistake linking with SE. SE is a for-profit company, and you are correct that their main concern is with traffic. The problem that Mainwhatever and David seem to be ignoring is that if the site is not sufficiently interesting to attract researchers, experts, and bright autodidacts, who is going to answer any questions (correctly, that is)?

  39. Dear Phil, by the God-locality contradiction, I meant the simple fact that physics has established that there exists no immediate (or faster-than-light) communication so unless God is literally located in the very vicinity of the Earth, there's no way how He could quickly enough react to prayers, among other things.

    No, string theory doesn't destroy the "very idea" of locality. Well-defined functional tests of locality still hold e.g. in string field theory and there's still exact locality on the world sheet. In strongly curved geometries like those with black holes, locality may be violating by tunnelling-like exponentially small effects needed to preserve the information in the Hawking radiation but this is still totally insufficient to communicate any influences that have been attributed to a primitive God so that hypothesis remains safely ruled out.

    Moreover, I must say that by your wild statements about string theory, you showed that you don't hesitate to fudge science, to adjust scientific facts to better suit your religion and it's something that a scientist simply cannot do. Ever.

    Could we please stop this unconstructive exchange? It seems very clear that I can't even make you admit that 1+1=2. If you're gonna fight even against the assertion - obvious to every kid in the kindergarten that isn't retarded - that science has at least falsified the primitive versions of God, then it makes so much sense for the two of us to talk about science as to talk about science with my sister who is a trained witch forecasting the future with tarot cards.

  40. Phil:

    When I mean sentinent force , I mean the idea of "god" in it's most
    primitive form using a minimal number of 'necessary' attributes to him .

    The above sentence is pretty incoherent, but it seems to confirm my idea of what you meant by "primitive" the first time you used the word. You mean something like the primitives of a programming language, no? That's not really the same, and I'm not completely confident that you could appropriately call whatever you're talking about "primitive," but it's "something like."

    Lubos seems to think you mean the conception of God of primitive peoples. I expected you to correct him right away, but instead you first posted many messages. The fact that you didn't correct him right away may of course mean that I'm wrong, but if I'm right, the fact that it took you so long suggests that your own thinking is pretty fogged up.

  41. Right ...

    Final spam: they give a damn about correct physics in the answers, the level of the content etc .... :-/

    Time to cheer me up by turning to something nice, for example Lumo's new article about supersymmetry :-)

  42. My idea of god is very very distant from the god of primitive people !

  43. No I surely don't mean god of primitive people ! Sorry If I wasn't clear enough . and yes , something like primitives of a programming languages is what I meant .

  44. I agree with you although I don't see any religion persecuting scientists these days. Maybe only in the area of ethics the Church will give some "show-stoppers"... so what ? It won't stop scientists, will it ? Science keeps working like it always has, nothing can stop humans natural instinct for knowledge. Even God knows that ;-). I agree with you that it is religion that should be more like science. It is for the religious to find a way to incorporate all new findings into their beliefs. If they don't do this huge work then... we can only give them the Sheldon Cooper's famous look of "exhaustion and ever so slight amusement" :-)

  45. Another rambling and almost incomprehensible article from Lubos on the subject of religion and whatever science is supposed to be according to his personal beliefs on the subject.

    The title of Ms Sabine's article is ridiculous. Apparently it means that science should be sold like religion if I read her article correctly. We are supposed to join the church of science and worship F=ma or the law of gravity apparently. Then if we have been really good and without sin we get to worship quantum mechanics and string theory. Oh joy to the heavens.

    Frankly scientific types like Ms Sabine who engage in philosophical discussions about science vis a vis religion are ignorant neophytes. The fact that most scientists are atheists is about as meaningful as the supposed fact that 97% of scientists agree with consensus thinking about global warming.

    I'm glad to hear from Lubos that science has no limitations. At least this attitude is more forward looking and rational than the usual half-arsed cosmological product we are sold by the taxpayer funded scientific priesthood. I look forward to seeing serious scientific investigations of empirical supernatural phenomena instead of the usual ignorant and cheesy drivel we are fobbed off with at present. But I won't hold my breath.

  46. Lubos: I think the idea that science could replace religion is preposterous. Science cannot have the personal significance of religion for morality, evil, final justice, or life after death. You talk about amazement, but amazement, at most, is only a tiny part of what religion produces. Christians, for example, are not significantly "amazed" by the "fact" that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead, but atheists and agnostics would be amazed if it were shown to be a fact.

    You say that religion has progressively withdrawn its claims about phenomena. That's true in some respects, but maybe you're not aware that some of the Church Fathers in the early centuries after Christ were already claiming that Scripture was part allegory and part literally true.

    Origen (184-254 AD): For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second,
    and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun,
    and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the
    manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east,
    and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one
    tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that
    one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from
    the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and
    Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts
    that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history
    having taken place in appearance, and not literally.

    St. Augustine (354-430 AD): It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are.

    Maybe you're not aware that the Jesuits were big fans of Galileo; or that the pope who prosecuted him had defended him 20-25(?) years earlier; or that the same pope later said that should it be proved that the earth goes around the sun, the Church would have to conclude that it had misinterpreted Scripture; or that a priest who knew Galileo said that were it not for his obnoxious personality he would have been hailed as one of the greatest sons of the Church.

    Let me tell you something that pisses me off about a great many atheists. It's common for them to mock the idea that God is an old man with a white beard up in the sky. To my knowledge, no one I have ever known believes that God is like that. I myself, raised as a Roman Catholic, never at any time, not even in childhood, thought of God that way.

  47. Ah, I forgot something. You say that religion supposes that physical objects are perfect. It does not. The medieval philosophers held that physical objects had both essential and accidental features. For example, that a chair has at least 3 legs is essential, but that the features of any given chair, such as style, damage, color, etc. are "accidental."

  48. because the data again and again demonstrates a strong correlation between poverty and religious affiliation.

    The sociologist Charles Murray, in his book "Coming Apart," says that in the United States over the past 50 years, religion has declined much more in the lower classes than in the upper middle class.

  49. Sabine Hossenfelder's essay reminds me of the global warmists' desperate idea that they haven't communicated well enough, they haven't tried in the right way to persuade people, they need better PR.

  50. See this link:

    More recent polls have found similar divisions between rich and poor nations. The 2009 Gallup Inc. religion survey, which sampled about 1,000 people in each of 114 countries, found that among nations with a per capita income of less than $2,000, 95 per cent of respondents, in the median, answered "Yes" to the question: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

    In countries with per capita income of more than $25,000, 47 per cent of respondents answered "Yes." In Canada, 42 per cent of respondents said religion was important.....

    "Prosperity is one strong causal factor in helping to explain why religion corrodes," Zuckerman said. "Is it the only one? No. Is it always going to result in secularization? No. But it's one strong causal factor among many."

    Note the the USA is an outlier(sub heading further down the page.

  51. Thanks. I don't think a comparison within a nation can be lumped together with comparisons between nations, so I don't think the U.S. is an outlier in the way that you have in mind. I mean that we're talking about two different distributions.

  52. Which nations have demonstrated an increase in religion over recent decades? Not the developed nations, there it is clearly declining. But look at Africa and the Middle East. The problem is that there is "cultural religion" where people profess faith but do not practice it(which is much more common in the USA than many would have you believe), and then there is fundamentalist religion, where people profess faith and believe it is the most important thing in their lives. So in Africa there are nations where homosexuality is deemed illegal and evil because the Bible says so. In the Middle East they butcher people because the Koran says that must be done. You can argue about distributions all you like but the data is so sloppy it is better to look at global patterns then pretend we can delineate this to sufficient levels to allow such arguments.

  53. Well, nice. But that's exactly the type of statements that are agreed by
    the reasonable people to be nothing else than an arrogant medieval

    hcg diet recipes phase two

  54. Scientists see religion as a competitor, Shannon? I don’t know any scientists who do.

  55. Oh no no no no :-(0) !!!!

    This is really abominable and makes me vomit...

    Now Manishearth is really creeping into MathOverflow and trying to gain rep and influence by editing and other at best useless activities. WTF, he has absolutely no business to do there !!!

    And he has already started bossing around people on MathOverflow by telling them what they should do with their tags etc

    If people on MathOverflow are not careful, he will take over and ruin the site as he has done it with Physics SE, by telling them what they are allowed to, bossing around people who are much more knowledgable than him, interfering with everything he has no clue about, cheerfully attracting every crap and tons of people who have no clue about the topics investigated to the site, installing unneeded by the researchers there bureaucratic rules etc ...

    MathOverflow is now infested with the same desease that has made the level of Physics SE decay dramatically... :-/

  56. Ha ha, you have seen my comment, I thought this was now a bit too agressive after all :-).

    Manishearth behaves as if he were a moderator and has to decide what is going everywhere he appears ...

    At present, people on MathOverflow seem to be weary enough and vigorously defending their standards, as I deduce for example from a user telling me to better delete a reposted question about the vertex operators in stringy scattering amplitudes (because I got no answer on Physics SE) and RTFM since it is well enough described in the bible

    LOL :-D.

    This is good for them and he was basically right.

    I hope they manage to keep the level up and prevent dimwits from other parts of the network to penetrate and spoil the site.

  57. You can argue about distributions all you like but the data is so sloppy
    it is better to look at global patterns then pretend we can delineate
    this to sufficient levels to allow such arguments.

    You can look at them, but they won't be telling you what intra-country comparisons could tell you.

    Murray's data for the U.S. is not sloppy; it's from the highly regarded General Social Survey. And unless there is intra-country data for other countries, it makes no sense to call it sloppy (or unsloppy).

    You said, "at least Marx got that right." I've read a pretty fair amount of Marx, and yet I can't say that he claimed that religious belief was more prevalent among the poor. He may have, but I don't recall it. He did say that he made no claim that the wealthy were insincere in their professed beliefs; he thought they were sincere. I think he would have called - or perhaps did call - the alternative a vulgar misunderstanding of his theory.

  58. Marx did write;

    Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
    Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

    He wrote that to indicate that religion alleviates the suffering of the poor and poverty does correlate with low education and intelligence.

    It's a survey probably done by people who have never heard of the work of Libet, Sperry, and Gazzaniga let alone Mattson and Adele Diamond. Murray was the co-author of The Bell Curve. At the time of write it was presumed that intelligence is .8 genetic. That figure is now at least halved because since that time our understanding of cerebral maturation has profoundly altered and challenged the idea that genes are so central to intelligence. Genes are important but it is was always an assumption to presume such causative power; especially given we still haven't identified the relevant genes let alone the causal processes that give rise to intelligence.That highlights the dangers of relying on statistical analysis alone without any underlying empirical data that establishes the causal relationships to explain the distributions. A major problem with the AGW debate is the presumption that we understand the causal factors driving climate.

    It was once presumed that iq and working memory are fixed in adulthood, we now know that isn't true. Hell you can increase cognitive capacity with judicious use of certain substances. There is some fascinating data on that and having read that work I have tried some "supplement" combinations. One combination I tried was so intense I had to stop because I feared burning out as I had become hypomanic for a couple of months.

    In my world survey data is inherently problematic, it is one reasons social psychology is so often silly. It presumes we are good observers of our behavior and motivations. I wish. It is remarkable that people like Dawkins want to go on a crusade to change peoples' minds when he shows no evidence of having investigated how that can be done. He promotes empiricism but when it comes to understanding peoples' behavior, an often necessary precondition in order to change behavior, he relies on his intuitions. Contradictory epistemology.

    The British physicist Brian Cox will do more to promote science and dissuade religion than Dawkins ever can because Cox celebrates science with enthusiasm and excitement. As some studies have indicated the more people are educated in science the less likely they are to embrace religion. Cox will probably die with a smile on his face whereas Dawkins will die with a frown on his face. Cox's influence, even though it is possibly not his intention, will do far more to dissuade religion. If you want to promote science and dissuade religion don't attack religion at a conceptual level because that presumes people embrace religion primarily at that level. If that were true it would be dead easy to make people abandon religion.

  59. Is it not cute and charming, how Mansishearth as an official moderator of Physics SE defends the Trollking against any criticism and disclosure of his aggressive and destructive attitudes, actions, and campaigns against fundamental physics ... :-/ ?

    Of course it was him who repeatedly deleted my by Lumo approved comments speaking up against the credibility of such troll sites for extracting any correct physics information. Note that I did not even call the Trollking by his proper names in these comments ... ;-)

  60. Dear Dilaton, with due respect but your comments are starting to remind me of message board comments from fans of Bayern Munich when they speak of Borussia Dortmund. Bayern won the Bundesliga ahead of Dortmund by 25 points and 40 goals. They won the league Cup. They won the Champions League. They are the best team in the world. And still the Bayern fans can't stop dissing Borussia! Well, the analogy is not perfect. Our host may be like Bayern -- top-ranked physics.SE expert by a wide margin, top-ranked answers on string theory, quantum mechanics and whatnot, too many other SE medals and prizes to count, let alone the citation count of his papers, while the King Troll in his lair on the Hudson is not at all like Dortmund, living a sad existence as armchair critic, having been humbled by commenters even on his own weblog. What do you want, that he be declared a non-person on the Internet? There will always be nattering nabobs of negativism, one cannot imagine the human condition without them.

    Give Manish a break, I've criticized him too but he tries to be fair and he is an unpaid volunteer doing a job hardly anyone wants to do. For the most part he does it well, in my opinion (which admittedly, as a consumer not a contributor of physics content does not count for much).

  61. Manishearh understands neither how a academic community of physicists works or what it needs, nor the scientific method and how physics knowledge is evaluated (not by voting of random people from the street!) properly, as I have learned from uncountable many pointless discussions with him where we were at best simply talking past each other.

    And he too often mentioned that he prefers the basic and popular questions on the site, whereas the higher level stuff is optional and dispensable, and he even repeatedly called people who like to focus on higher level questions without having to extract them in a flood of "what is velocity" type questions, elitists ...

    When you browse through the quite recent meta post making suggestions to improve the level of the site and attract more experts again, he is against all of them. Maybe he does not want the site to be improved again?

    I think it is bad that he has become the dominating moderator of the site, as soon as he has been elected, since he does not represent the needs and interests of the physicists on the site, but what he thinks are the SE guidelines and strict rules. From Shog9 I have learned that the rules are often not (that strict) as Manishearth claims and could well be adapted to the needs of the physicists.

    Manishearth can be a very nice, helpful, funny guy etc ...

    But I think he is obviously too young to have the experience needed and does not understand and respect the needs of a community of physicists enough to be a good moderator of the site.

    It would be not that bad if he could step back from dominating the site a bit and take others more seriously. There are other moderators too who could express their opinion on upcoming issues, clear flags, etc but to me it looks like everything is almost exclusively done by Manishearth.

    I am sorry to say this but I think it was wrong to elect him as a moderator, it happend because there have not been enough good physicist candidates (and too many non-physicist voters), Anna v. would have been nice ...

    Of course I will never say such things over there, but I really think things are going not well since the elections :-/

  62. SE is what it is, Dilaton--a private, for profit co. that sets up Q and A sites to attract traffic. It uses the goodwill and curiosity of experts to act as unpaid sources of information.

    I think you are pi$$ing in the wind arguing with the moderator(s). You will be banned. Not to inflame things :), but after M. complaining about you "libeling", he makes this comment about what if you made similar comments about great scientists--
    "Imagine what you would say if you saw similar comments directed towards
    Lenny Susskind or Terry Tao (Or even Motl for that matter)
    Don't you love the "even Motl" a totally backhanded compliment--Lubos has the most reliable conservative physics intuition of nearly any physicist I have come across.

    Back to the beginning--SE is what it is---

  63. Yeah, match the maths with the data is the only thing that matters. We can keep adding epicycles over epicycles forever ; )

  64. Now when it feels safe to air more of my reflections on this to me engaging post/topic, here they are. :>
    People’s basic capacity to develop fanatic attitudes, become angry, violent, and wage war is something that Nature has ‘equitably provided’ to theists (and animists for that matter) and atheists devoted to science.

    However, as I too believe, the latter kind of folk (including fervently atheistic science-minded realists) have less of a possibility to safeguard the results of the knowledge-accumulating process of Science than people with “in a conventional sense religious” mindset have to safeguard their naive and irrational believing.

    It is relatively easy for people of the last category to incite heretics-hounding aggressive law-making and policing because so many people with soft sensibilities are either plebs or pillars of society.

    It seems to me that even if a clear majority (e.g. 60/40 or 70/30) of a society (or its population) consisted of people with enough science-aligned philosophical intelligence and social and emotional insight to be enlightened or persistently truth-tracking atheists, and all the rest were irrationally religious right-wingers (or vengeful socialists or fearful and aggressive greenies for that matter) the latter would most likely still be socially and politically powerful partly (but importantly) also because the brains of the majority typically function more strongly (than brains typical of the minority) as “pacifying filters” against conditioned-in states caused by naturally or socially imposed traumatizing negation of primal needs.

    Compared to god-fearing and/or god-comforted types, insightful atheistic people have extra potent neural tissues/processing toughness in cortical places that not simply count for a lot when it comes to our species extraordinary capacity to cope AEVASIVEly but that counts specifically to make such people sufficiently philosophically adEPT to not carry out their coping by relying on naive and superstitious beliefs.

    In claiming this my premise is that the “conditioned-in states” [for which I contrived the acronym CURSES as an alternative to "engram", “primal pain” (formerly “Pain”) and the tacky tag "traumatic memories"] are approximately equally often conditioned-in inside brains of both categories of people.

    I suspect that there is an irony naturally built-into this difference. Namely, that these extra potent/thicker (both buffering and motivation-rerouting) “thinking tissues” make science-aligned and insightful (or adEPTly philosophical) atheists generally slower or more reluctant to aggressively assert and safeguard best possible truth-approximating scientific or science-aligned philosophical descriptions of What Is going on.

  65. Dawkins is an evil made product.