Saturday, May 14, 2005

Government Lesson No. 8: Hypocrisy and Hippocrates, Science and Epistemology

I've spent all of Lesson No. 7 berating economics Professor Paul Krugman for his change of robe from sober academic black to papal golden filigree; but I don't mean to slight the importance of religion in the life of us humans. In fact, I've always said that all people - and that includes me and even the atheists - have a pigeonhole in the brain where some form of religion, or at least a degree of faith, resides. I am proposing here that socialism easily fills that pigeonhole for the secular humanist. The vacuum therein attracts faith not in a God, but in an unproven political construct based on a fantasy of social justice through pie-in-the-sky, human-orchestrated egalitarianism.

In his fantasy, the socialist sees certain individuals (usually including himself) as members of "the Elite," capable of governing all the rest of the human race. This belief in an Elite with a contrived social and political Master Plan is not scientific, of course, nor is it based upon anything scientific. If anything, it borders on a fascist scheme; but this doesn't deter him. He does not believe in a "laissez-faire" policy, a system that would permit each of us to have greater autonomy, because that would be tantamount to anarchy. (Strangely enough, the secular humanist wants total liberty in his love life, but he wants everyone to conform to his idea of "Social Order." 'Tis a puzzlement.)

So as defined by Webster's, neither religion nor faith requires proof or evidence to be believed. An idea accepted "on faith" is assumed to be true, perhaps indeed for lack of scientific disproof. The question then arises: What is science supposed to be, as contrasted to religion?

Science is "systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied." You'll note the conspicuous absence of anything here about belief or faith without proof; on the contrary. Remember, - and this is important - science does not address every and all aspects of the universe. It does not pretend to take the place of religion; that would be impossible. The two words and "worlds" are contradictory, by definition. Science can only address those aspects of the universe that lend themselves to be observed, studied, and experimented upon. Therefore, IT IS OF PRIME IMPORTANCE that all scientists discern VERY CAREFULLY the chimeric line between scientific probability and imaginary speculation, lest they trespass on domains where, at a given moment, only faith may have jurisdiction (although these can change, with the advance of science into many areas that were once thought to be unattainable.)

Consequently, scientists are presumed as a class to be patient, painstaking, observant, modest, careful, open to reasoned debate, and loathe to jump to conclusions. According to the unspoken "Hippocratic Oath" of the Scientific Method, which is the universally accepted set of research guidelines in which most of today's upright researchers put their faith and to which most pledge their honor, only the open exchange of ideas and of source information, and the devotion of much painstaking testing over time, can ensure the rigorous consistency and viability of a good scientist's work.

As my father once explained to me (see more about him in my March posts), some of humanity's greatest thinkers best defined this methodology about four centuries ago. In contrast to the often mistaken certainty-seeking of old, this new technique allowed them to come to useful hypotheses (called "warranted assertions") that are never fixed in stone but rather remain fluid, perpetually subject to revision by future generations of thinkers. It is this new open-endedness of research that allowed Newton's work to supersede in part that of Galileo, for example, and later to some extent Einstein's to supersede Newton's, and that surely will invite the next genius to extend Einstein's. Einstein himself would have been the first to declare that what he formulated would be modified in future by someone else's description.

Unlike their predecessors of earlier centuries, these intelligent men of the 1600s were aware that no one is ever the holder of any ultimate Truth; that one can only attempt to formulate more and more useful, albeit perforce tentative, descriptions of a particular subject matter. (For more on this subject of epistemology, read Useful Procedures of Inquiry, by Rollo Handy and E.C. Harwood, available at the publishing Institute's website.) It is thanks to this "discovery" that we have made such remarkable progress in the hard sciences like neurology, biology, physics, chemistry, medicine, and geology.

This was a revolutionary concept for scientists and philosophers in the 17th Century, and from the looks of things, it still is today, especially in the social sciences like economics. As I pointed out in the Krugman post, the prudent, humble, patient, disciplined and wise researcher is still all too rare, even with our 21st Century academic sophistication, and especially among those who manage to creep past what I will call the "Public Awareness Threshold," as Professor Krugman and others have. Most often, it is not the discrete true lovers of sunlight that get the attention of the public, but rather the limelight-seeking faux-scientists who claim privileged knowledge of "the Truth," and who exhibit their erudition like God's own stamp of approval. For some reason, once the flattering eye of the public falls upon these Smeagols, they throw off the shackles of scientific discourse and run up on the first stage that presents itself. Then, once they achieve name recognition and the social status they once only envied, they set about publishing their pet theories and text books. With the help of the story-craved media, they begin to believe their own rhetoric and start to dismiss every challenge, valid or not, as so much jackal jealousy.

To be sure, scientists and academics have just as much right as I to express their opinions, or even to proselytize their "science"-cum-religion, I suppose; but what they do not have is the right to use the privilege of their stature to validate their faith-based theories as fact, in blatant disregard for their duty to the public to be impartial, unprejudiced, open-minded researchers and educators. To cross that delicate line is the ultimate in hypocrisy, and serves oneself before humanity.


Blogger Fred said...

I randomly stumbled upon this blog and sincerely regret the 5 minutes of my life lost to the inane babble of government lesson number eight. While I trust you will snicker at me from your perceived lofty intellectual perch for employing a quote from Billy Madison, I find it most appropriate for your post:

“What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

3:37 PM  

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