One would think that the following is a simple proposition that everyone could agree to: The enemy is bad reasoning, no matter where it occurs, no matter who does it, and by bad reasoning, I mean primarily failure to pay attention to the evidence. But I continue to be amazed by how many people cannot accept this. There have always been certain religious people who will disdain evidence and regard any secular approach to evidence as unacceptable. But more and more, I see atheists who are convinced that religion is the enemy (it is always wrong, they say, and cannot prove any of its claims) and that, while science is not perfect, it is essentially always good and self-correcting of its mistakes.
This is not a contest. This is not a game. This is not about scoring points. This is not even about making mistakes and who makes more of them. This is about a deep flaw in human nature which you can see in any human activity including science and religion. It is the very human inclination to reject evidence in favor of ideology.
The idea that practicing science is inherently good and practicing religion inherently bad is despicable nonsense. Both are human institutions which are good or bad depending on the human beings running them. Science is not sacrosanct. It is a product of human beings.
Many religious people are deeply devoted to a God who created the world according to certain rules. These people believe we have a duty to understand the laws of nature. They are deeply committed materialists because their religion tells them to study and honor the world just as God created it. You cannot define these people out of existence by claiming all religion is false or a case of bad reasoning.
Science in the ideal is one of the greatest things there is, but professional science and ideal science are not the same thing. Professional science does not get a free pass just because the word ‘science’ is in it. When we think of science, we usually have in mind the science of technology which gives us useful things. In that kind of science, we excel. If we don’t reason correctly, the immediate practical results are bad. Bridges and buildings will collapse, refrigerators will stop running, the a/c will go on the fritz, cellphones will drop calls. But in fields where there are no immediate practical results, scientists will champion ideological preconceptions over evidence which becomes irrelevant. It happens all the time.
One such field is the study of history. Historical study is a science because, when done right, it is mainly about evidence. But history (including the history of science) is notorious for being influenced by ideology and throwing evidence to the winds. Who is hurt when history is misused? No bridges will collapse. Tell lies about history and everything continues to function. Usually, it is only minorities who are hurt when historical lies are perpetrated, and the majority in power could care less about that.
Here is a small bit of the history of science: Fifteen years before Darwin came along, Robert Chambers proved by a preponderance of the evidence that evolution (descent from previous species) was more probable than independent or special creation. Mainstream scientists of the time refused to acknowledge his accomplishment. Today, Chambers and his accomplishment are still erased from history. Darwin has been made into a god who cannot have any competition. Chambers was more holistic than Darwin. He believed all organisms are connected into a great whole in which no one part gets special treatment. That meant the feelings and rights of animals would have to be respected. He pushed this further than Darwin did.
I mention this because I believe that when we get the history of science wrong, it means there are still problems in science today. When a field cannot accurately study its own history, something very odd is going on. Religion has the same problem. Being dishonest about its own history is a vice shared by both science and religion. Both seek power rather than truth-telling.
When you look at any science where practical results are not at issue, ideology tends to replace the hunt for evidence. That is the key issue and we don’t pay attention to this in part because of this stupid, false battle between science and religion, which blinds us to the real issues at stake. Religion versus science is a false issue. It is not based on evidence. It is an ugly ideological battle that has nothing to recommend it. When people mess with the evidence in order to champion their ideology, that is where the trouble lies, and it happens in science as well as religion more often than we would like to think.
© 2015 Leon Zitzer