Surely, at least partial blame for the resurgence in unfounded lack of confidence of scientific evidence must be reserved for the notion of other ways of knowing.
This cocky statement, which is held as close at heart by many as certain religious idols, makes an absurd leap of faith and not only undermines scientific methodology, but clearly demonstrates ignorance of what science is. The best way to explain this is to use an example debate, which should represent probably the oldest argument between God and science; the impact of the spiritual realm on the physical (ie. connection to God, miracles, angel and ghost interference of the natural world etc.)
Scientist: If God(s) and/or spirits exist, then it should, eventually become testable.
Theist: Aha! This is you’re fundamental weakness, my friend, for it doesn’t work like that. For all your mathematics, chemicals and strange assortment of equipment, you may be able to measure, test and understand the physical world around you, yet this is not the same as with the esoteric side of existence. This requires other ways of knowing.
But, of course, this shouldn’t be the end of the argument.
Scientist: But you claim to feel the presence of God. You can He preforms miracles. You have also suggest as to why you believe there to be a benign ghost living within your house.
Theist: Indeed I do.
Science: Well, we should ultimately be able to test some physiological response that cannot be explained by endorphins or some other chemical or impulse release when you say that you feel the presence of God. We should be able to test the validity of miracle where they apparently defying the natural laws of the physical universe in a way that cannot be explained (and this does not include word-of-mouth miracles). We should be able to find definable and otherwise unexplainable phenomena within your house. If the spiritual interact in anyway with the physical, there must be a change in the physical universe that cannot otherwise be explained.
This does not, but the way, refute the heart of religious belief – even when no evidence can be found, it simply concludes that nothing spiritual has noticeable impact on the universe.*
We all know the theist reply to this however: God works in mysterious ways.
This reply is as slippery and nonsensical other ways of knowing. Alas, by and large we accept both as reasonable justifications in lieu of evidence. By conceding on such terms, reason basically hands over a skeleton key to irrationality. When science provides an answer that unsettles belief, the “mystery of God’s ways” or the “other ways” of knowing lead to speculation aimed to accommodate evidence and belief, or outright reject the science.
Another aspect is an unquestionable basic human right to most (if not all) secular science-orientated individuals: the very necessary right for the freedom of speech. Most intelligent people find it difficult to ignore others – I often find myself going to great lengths to discuss the same flawed climate denial arguments over and over again, sometimes writing over a thousand words in a single response, simply because the right to think and say what you feel is so important to me.
Yet, you find by this point, if the other has such a skeleton key in hand or promotes this (rightfully) unguarded side of science to push baseless conspiracies, evidence was left somewhere back down the line and is no longer useful
This is quite clearly what propagators of ideology consider to be the toothless tiger of scientific methodology. It also leads the more benign individuals to question the credibility of science and the more entrepreneurial to exploit with pseudo-science, such as many untested natural therapies.
The only real way forward, as I see it, is a very long and difficult path, which would face incredible resistance.
And to the point
We need to look carefully at exactly how we teach our children. I was lucky, not only to have been brought up in a relaxed Christian household, but also to have had parents that encouraged me to question. It was a frequent occurrence that I got in trouble because I refused to read fiction. One of the most vivid memories that remains with me to this day is once being forced by a teach to remain back in the library while all the other children went out for break-time until I read aloud to her, Possum Magic. It was so much an effort that I remember the pressure building up in me, I remember sweating and wanting to scream – the level of frustration that I felt was unlike anything I had felt up until that point. Yet, I could read many pages on space, rockets, robots, dinosaurs or the environment with easy.
My parents faced this criticism with the reply, “At least he’s reading.” and to this day, they still give me various non-fiction literature as a present every year – some where even useful to me as a uni student.
Of course, some readers will be itching at this point to argue that to talk of education of children, I am in fact applying the same tools as ideology, but this couldn’t be more wrong. In an age of ever increasing availability of information, coupled with the exploited aspect of science coupled above, it must be overwhelmingly obvious that what we largely overlook in schooling is critical analysis of data. Children are naturally sponges for information, but they instinctively lack discrimination of quality – a bullshit meter if you will. This short gain greater focus. From their primary schooling years, ideas should be put forward to them, with the expectation that they will debate over what it means and it’s validity.
In an age where children can type earlier than they write in cursive, where almost any word placed into a search engine can draw contradictory arguments, the real gift is an abundance of information, but the danger is continuing a tradition of varying capacity for critical evaluation.
I may have been the only one chuckling to myself at a spiritual fare at a stand which promises to rid your house of ALL unwanted radiation, but what will the future be like for the coming generations, truly immersed from their birth in the Information Age, if we do not address this deficit in reasoning? Questioning is liberating and expanding as critical awareness is strengthening and empowering. By encouraging this development, we could foster, not only better scientists, but ever more creative and experimental artists. By ignoring it, we risk undermining all the work the enlightenment has done to shift us out of obscurity and into an age where we can think and speak for ourselves. We tend to overlook it, but the enlightenment has done more than provide us technology. It gave us radical thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Abraham Lincoln, David Hume, Albert Einstein and many more who improved the lives and rights of many people since.
It’s clearly an injustice to reason, to ignore all work done to improve clarity and to accept that water retains memory of other molecules that they may have once come into contact with, that a woman should be veiled from head to toe because a male cannot help himself (learn some self control), or that you can “smell yourself better”. The new obscurity is unlimited access to unverified information. We owe our children to provide them with an open mind and a fully functioning bullshit meter.
*I fear that, as there are no clear and definable impressions of a spiritual existence outside the physical universe, that it is highly improbable that there is any. Even if there is, it clearly demonstrates a total disregard for the physical universe which leads me to conclude that one’s short time as they are in life is likely to be wasted if spent largely in devotion to the unknown. If God wished for such devotion, a clear path to such religious enlightenment would be obvious and we wouldn’t have such diverse and mutually intolerant religions. Science wouldn’t continually knock on the doors of belief and ask to have a look around. Some way conclude that the confusion is due to the devil or something similar. However, if one is to believe any doctrine, the devil was created by God. How is it that the devil has been so successful at creating confusion, while God seems to sit back and allow it all to just happen? Surely God would be greater, thus such an entities effect should be further reaching. I know that if I was provided undeniable proof of the existence of God, I would, without flinting, fall into line.
This does not occur, so I must conclude that even if there is anything spiritual, it ignores the physical universe and thus I should instead focus on enjoying my life, understanding it as best I can, being a good friend, teacher to my children and appreciating the gift that is life – my life and the lives of those around me. I am a very moral person; based on my empathy, lust for life, passion for understanding and a deep concern for the well being of my species and the beautiful ecology to which we are tied.