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Science & society

I have a piece up at Taki’s Magazine, The Limits of Certitude. It might be read along with a post at ScienceBlogs, Science is rational; scientists are not. I might as well have labeled it “An argument for conservatism.”


Andrew Sullivan’s readers pick, among their choices for Worst of 2008, an interview excerpt from lawyer/comedian/commentator Ben Stein that Bradlaugh, at NRO “Corner”, accurately described as “dreck” and “shameful” (Godwin alert):

Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

Ben Stein is a big deal in conservative circles and gets invited to headline many events, perhaps in part because of the gravitas conferred by his status as a New York Times business columnist, though as I’ve tried on occasion to show at one of my other sites (and as financial bloggers Felix Salmon and Larry Ribstein show much more frequently and brilliantly than I) Stein’s views on business and economics are not really much more solidly informed than his views on Intelligent Design.

P.S. It will be difficult, but could we please avoid in the comments adding a proliferation of other Godwin violations to Stein’s own?




Truth matters

In Heather’s post she mentioned that at the end of the day for her it is about truth, not consequence, in relation to supernatural claims.  This is a point that needs to be made because intellectuals such as Michael Novak have argued for the efficacy of Christianity in terms of promoting good in this world, while naive believers who adhere to trends such as prosperity theology seem to mix the worth of truth with the material manna it might presage.  But at the end of the day for all the consequentialist arguments about Christianity’s role in the rise of capitalism, or abolition of slavery, it’s irrelevant for intellectual believers, at least notionally.  Two years ago Rod Dreher said in chronicling his conversion to Orthodoxy from Catholicism: (more…)

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Who is scientistically inclined?

A comment below states:

I don’t think that your ranking of appropriate degrees of skepticism really has much to do with conservative politics, however. In fact, the one object of faith that is most common among those skeptical of religion is a quasi-religious faith in the metaphysical validity of modern natural science which betrays a lack of familiarity with both the history and philosophy of science….

This is a generalization. Generalizations are necessary, and often true (and often not). But I’m the type who likes to inquire as to how true the generalization is. In other words, the shape of the variance around the central tendency. If humans were universally philosophically coherent and operated from the same initial premises this would be a marginal activity, but as humans are not, and do not, there is often great variation which might surprise. This is why I explained to one reader the importance of being careful when extrapolating from your own introspection.  It is irrelevant to me if something should not be theoretically if it is empirically.

So I decided to look at the HARMGOOD variable in the GSS, which asks:

How much do you agree or disagree with each of these statements? Overall, modern science does more harm than good.


This is a very weak test of whether one is scientistically inclined, but I am looking for trends, and assume that the rank order would hold if one queried more stringently (there are other questions which are related to this one, but in the interests of time I’ll leave it to the reader to perform those queries).  I cross-referenced HARMGOOD with POLVIEWS (political ideology) and GOD (confidence in the existence of god).



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