Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Olorin says ...

A comment by Olorin contained so much that was so useful and thought-provoking, it deserved a post of its own. I hope he/she doesn't mind.
Let me close with a couple of stories.

In the 1930s, the Nazis decided that quantum physics and relativity were "Jewish science" and thus incorrect. Many of the (Jewish and non-Jewish) physicists they hounded out of the country came to the US. Some of them were key players in the development of the atomic bomb, and they established US dominance in that field. Now Germany--the birthplace of modern physics--is an also-ran, and probably always will be. Politics trumped science, and Germany lost.

In the USSR, an agronomist named Trofim Lysenko convinced Communist Party officials that Darwinian evolution was inimical to communism, and put forward a brand of Lamarckism. Plants, he said, could pass on acquired characteristics, just as human nature could be molded under communism. Plants of the same species should be planted together, because, being comrades, they would not engage in class warfare. (Guess what: in fact, they competed for the same resources and all withered.) In the 1920s and '30s, Russia was a breadbasket to the world, even after forced collectivization. By the 1950s, recurrent famines forced the USSR to import millions of tons of grain annually. The leadership finally broke through its ideological fog and canned Lysenko. Ideology trumped science, and Russia lost.

By the 11thC, Muslim civilization had not only preserved Greek mathematics and physics, but had gone far beyond it in many areas. Over the following couple of centuries, however, Islam turned inward, and the mystics decided that science was bad for the soul. But the nascent Europeans picked up the torch and carried it forward in a burgeoning scientific revolution. Islamic science never recovered. Theology trumped science, and Islam lost.

Will the US and UK lose too? The "theistic science" of intelligent design is a warning sign, and Asia awaits.
I think that the final whistle has yet to be blown on Germany, Russia or Islam, but let's not worry about that right now. Olorin is talking about the danger of placing ideology ahead of science. The really interesting thing about this is that both proponents and opponents of ID think this is exactly what the other side is doing.

Opponents of ID live in fear of "the coming theocracy". Perhaps this seems like a realistic fear in the US - but in the UK, frankly, I think that a "liberal atheocracy" that is actually very illiberal when it comes to expressions of belief in absolute truth is the more likely outcome. The idea of tolerance of religion is, I suspect, something that arose in Reformation England - those vicious evangelical Christians again. You certainly don't see tolerance like this within Islamic states - the most "tolerance" you can hope for is the freedom to participate in non-Islamic religions within enclaves. You are not free to convert. You didn't see tolerance like this within Catholic countries (Spain/Italy) prior to EU days, and you don't see it in Orthodox countries (Belarus, Russia) even today. The world has come to the UK, Germany, the Low Countries, in the knowledge that even though there may be intolerant people within those societies, they will be allowed to continue to practice their beliefs.

How long will this state of affairs continue - either for people practising non-European religions, or for Christians? Telic Thoughts have traced the intolerant noises being made by opponents of theistic alternatives to naturalism over the past year. And it's not confined to the UK. They also looked at the supposed link between non-belief in evolution and the threat of doom to a society on this post, which bears inspection.

So suppose we turn it around. Just for a moment, is it possible to conceive of the possibility that in actual fact, it is ideology (in the form of philosophical naturalism) which is driving science at the moment? That any evidence which might undermine the dominant paradigm is already being ruled "out of court"? That lines of research are being closed down because they don't fit?

Well, proponents of ID say yes - they say that the things that Olorin warns about are already happening. And also in historical context (Nazis, Communist Party, Islamic religious leaders), it seems to be the case that it is the dominant religious or political faction that seems to call the shots - and in terms of science, that would certainly be philosophical naturalism today - they have every mainstream scientific channel of communication. Whilst you might argue that our political leaders align themselves with theism, they are hardly defining the shape of science in any way.

So I'd echo what Olorin says - and underline it, and put it in bold. It's very important. And I'd just ask the opponents of ID to think very carefully about what they see around them as they plead for ideology not to trump science.