a trip to the museum

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the California Academy of Sciences. I realized as I approached the “Islands of Evolution” that this is my first visit to a natural science museum since I shed my religious beliefs. I was able to awe at the wonders of evolution without the mental gymnastics trying to explain away the evidence that was right in front of me. Everything just made sense, and it was all beautiful.

This way of thinking has really freed me. I used to be so caught up in minuscule points of theology, wondering and worrying if I believed the “right” things. Looking back, I see there was really no way to know for sure. There are so many ways of interpreting religious scriptures and traditions, and each generation changes the way they interpret the texts based on what is happening in the world and the moral and logical implications of increased human understanding.

With a skeptical, scientific mind I feel that I can learn the truth. Hypotheses can be proved by evidence. I have no pre-conceived biases other than what has been tested and proved by scientific research. There are things that I don’t know and don’t understand, and I can be ok with that, especially since there aren’t eternal consequences (for both me and others who I might interact with) based on my understanding.

Free, indeed!


  T wrote @

Religion saves one from having to think or question the answers, the “Truth” are there. The price of imagination is fear. Religion means there is no need for imagination. The whole history of religion is about control, first came the priests then came the priest-kings then just the kings. Welcome the world of imagination.

  @joshelgin wrote @

That is probably true for most people. But for people who are very rational, like me, we can’t help but think and try to figure out the “right” way to interpret the Bible, which leads to a lot of angst.

  Josh S wrote @

T, religion cannot be simultaneously unimaginative and the producer of fictitious texts. It’s quite a stretch to say the author of the Book of Daniel had no imagination.

Josh, every mind has biases. There’s no such thing as an objective, purely scientific mind. Various philosophers and historians of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, have shown that. There tends to be a strong bias toward establishment consensus within the sciences, since no one mind is capable of grasping the totality of knowledge. For example, in my field (fluid dynamics), most researchers are biased toward accepting something called the Boussinesq Hypothesis. I believe it’s demonstrably false, *but* demonstrating it requires a significant knowledge of mathematics that goes well beyond what your typical PhD fluid dynamicist ever receives. It has been disproved experimentally–or has it? Because the problem is that people who accept the hypothesis interpret the data differently. Many of the chaotic phenomena of nonlinear systems had been observed for years–even centuries–but ignored because scientific minds had been trained to dismiss them as “noise.” It turns out that each generation of scientists interprets the data in front of them in different ways based on a lot of things, and traditions build, erode, and collapse.

And that’s just within the hard sciences. The social sciences require all kinds of a priori biases just to get going. For example, you can’t even mentally process what an economist says about the GDP without a set of biases. In fact, an economist who even talks about GDP is already biased to some degree toward Keynes’ macro way of looking at aggregates.

Especially in the fields of history, literature, law, philosophy, sociology, and economics, not much can be proven beyond the raw facts, and there’s an awful lot of bias, both explicit and unrealized. And the right way to interpret WWII, Hemingway, the Constitution, Heidegger, crime statistics, and economic data does indeed cause much angst to rational minds.

And when it comes to things like voting, rhetorical argument, or simply appreciating music, scientific rationality generally goes right out the window.

[…] for me the very next day, but some friends of mine posted this link on Facebook that gets at the exact point I made yesterday. It seems that the scientists that claimed they were able to coax a certain […]

  @joshelgin wrote @

I suppose that is why it is called the Boussinesq Hypothesis and not the Boussinesq Theory. Give it time…someone will figure out how to prove or disprove it…maybe you!

  Josh S wrote @

Yeah, but newtonian mechanics was a theory once, too, and the Newtonian “clockwork” view of the universe led to a lot of researchers discarding what would later turn out to be important observations. Point is, everyone’s biased, even when there’s nothing insidious going on. Your biases may or may not line up with the way things are. I’m not saying this as an argument against evolution, just that I don’t believe you have an unbiased mind. There’s no such thing as a brute fact; every piece of information that goes into your brain is going to get interpreted a certain way. Merely “deciding” what info to process involves a lot of cognitive bias.

  @joshelgin wrote @

I see what you are saying. That makes sense.

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