"Divine revelation, not reason, is the source of all truth."Strong words indeed. Basically the Anti-Rationalism meme declares that all of physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology and archeology can be dismissed out of hand if you believe something is true.
– Tertullian of Carthage (150-225 AD)
So I couldn't pass up this headline: When science clashes with belief? Make science impotent. The article describes some clever social experiments where they investigated people's willingness to discard scientific evidence or dismiss science as irrelevant.
The basic problem is that everyone wants to feel well educated and modern. They want to think of themselves as enlightened and informed. You can't just dismiss science as wrong and still get any respect. So science still rules the roost when it comes to respect.
And yet ... what do you do when you want to believe something that science says can't be true? The researchers found several strategies that people use, which are generally grouped under the concept of "scientific impotence."
- Source degradation: the scientists have an agenda and are lying to us. Evolution is an atheist conspiracy, immunizations are a pharmaceutical conspiracy, global warming is a plot to take over the world.
- It's beyond science: it's too complex to understand (the climate), it can't be duplicated in a laboratory (evolution).
- It's unknowable: science answers what, religion answers why.
Professor Munro is confirming scientifically what I'd observed by studying religious history, that the Anti-Rationalism meme is alive and well. People believe what they want to believe even if it directly conflicts with clear, compelling scientific evidence.
Scientists have a long, uphill battle, one that will probably last centuries. The problem with science is that it is incredibly complex. Back in the heady days of Newton, Kepler and Galileo it was possible to be a Renaissance Man, one who had learned pretty much all that was known.
Today we have teams of twenty biochemists teasing out the secrets of a chunk of DNA, and each of the twenty might be a specialist. How can a team like that possibly explain their findings to a religious zealot in a convincing way? How can a climatologist explain the results of a month of atmospheric number crunching on a tereflop supercomputer to a farmer in Wyoming? How can an archeological team that includes anatomists, physicists, biologists, paleontologists, computer scientists and geologists explain an evolutionary discovery to schoolkids?
Yes, we have a long road ahead, and the Anti-Rationalism meme will be with us for a long time.