Potato Salads and Highways

huge.102.510428Is it really so arrogant and intolerant to think you know the truth? Let’s start with simple cases. I happen to know that the potato salad is spoiled, and the last three diners got sick just from eating it. Would it be arrogant for me to warn the others? You happen to know that the public library is this way, but the motorist who asked me for directions is headed that way. Would it be intolerant for you to suggest that he turn around, and tell him why? Is it really so arrogant and intolerant to think you know the truth? Let’s start with simple cases. I happen to know that the potato salad is spoiled, and the last three diners got sick just from eating it. Would it be arrogant for me to warn the others? You happen to know that the public library is this way, but the motorist who asked me for directions is headed that way. Would it be intolerant for you to suggest that he turn around, and tell him why?

k14209886Of course no one takes this line about potato salads or highways. On the other hand, people do take this line about who God is and how to live. “God and how to live are matters of opinion,” they say. “Where things are and what you can safely eat — those are matters of fact.” Yes, of course they are matters of fact, but they are opinions too. After all, people may have different views about just what the facts are. The other diners might be of the opinion that the potato salad is wholesome. The lost motorist might be of the opinion that his general direction is correct. Surely that wouldn’t make me arrogant to contradict them.

Science 6Differences of opinion arise even in the sciences. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould is of the opinion that Darwinian evolution is a fact; biochemist Michael J. Behe is of the opinion that it’s not. Each scientist says that he’s right; each scientist says that the other is wrong. Does that make him arrogant or intolerant? Not necessarily — although, of course, he might be. The rule is that each one should offer evidence for what he thinks, listen to the evidence offered by his opponent, and not try to shut him up. That’s how science is supposed to work. Arrogance doesn’t come from having convictions; it comes from having the wrong convictions about how to treat people who don’t share them with you. Humility doesn’t come from not having convictions; it comes from having the right convictions about the importance of gentleness and respect.

What gives the myth of the intolerance of knowing truth its strength? Its power comes from a picture — not a photograph or a painting, but an image many people carry in their minds. In the picture, a man is being burned at the stake. He’s there because other people, who say they have the truth, are angry with him for saying that they don’t. I agree that such a thing should never happen. But in my mind is a different picture. In mine a man is also being burned at the stake — I almost said, being hung on a cross. He’s there because other people, who say there isn’t any truth, are angry with him for saying that there is.

–J. Budziszewski

Why Bad Science Is Like Bad Religion

Angry funny guy reproaching somebody

In both religion and science, some people are dishonest, exploitative, incompetent and exhibit other human failings. My concern here is with the bigger picture.

I have been a scientist for more than 40 years, having studied at Cambridge and Harvard. I researched and taught at Cambridge University, was a research fellow of the Royal Society, and have more than 80 publications in peer-reviewed journals. I am strongly pro-science. But I am more and more convinced that the spirit of free inquiry is being repressed within the scientific community by fear-based conformity. Institutional science is being crippled by dogmas and taboos. Increasingly expensive research is yielding diminishing returns.

Bad religion is arrogant, self-righteous, dogmatic and intolerant. And so is bad science. But unlike religious fundamentalists, scientific fundamentalists do not realize that their opinions are based on faith. They think they know the truth. They believe that science has already solved the fundamental questions. The details still need working out, but in principle, the answers are known.

Science at its best is an open-minded method of inquiry, not a belief system….

Since the beginning of the 21st century, it has become apparent that known kinds of matter and energy make up only about 4 percent of the universe. The rest consists of “dark matter” and “dark energy.” The nature of 96 percent of physical reality is literally obscure….

Good science, like good religion, is a journey of discovery, a quest. It builds on traditions from the past. But it is most effective when it recognizes how much we do not know, when it is not arrogant but humble.

–Dr. Rupert Sheldrake
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-rupert-sheldrake/why-bad-science-is-like-bad-religion_b_2200597.html

Immensity, Complexity, and Humility

infinite-god-copy-2In the Pensées, at the very moment of the birth of science as we know it today, Pascal prophesied its downfall–which we are witnessing. As men came to grasp the vast extent and complexity of creation, ranging between the minuteness of the atom and the immensity of the universe, they would become, as he predicted, terrified by the “eternal silence of these infinite spaces.” A choice would confront them between seeing the whole future of man locked up immutably in his physical being, in his genes, or accepting with humility and contrition a role in the mysterious purposes of a loving God.

–Malcolm Muggeridge,
A Third Testament

The Sea of Infinite Mystery

ocean-rolling-wavesUltimately, science and religion should serve rather than dominate the human societies from which they emerged. Each, I believe, serves best from a stance of awe and humility that assumes as little as possible. The best from both worlds — the greatest scientists and the most profound religious thinkers and teachers — have always practiced these two qualities. Childlike awe motivated Einstein. “All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren,” he accepted. “The real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.” Similarly, the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner invoked both humility and awe when he asked, “Which do we love more, the small island of our so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?”

–Dave Pruett,
Former NASA researcher; Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, James Madison University,
Science’s Sacred Cows,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-pruett/sciences-sacred-cows-part-1_b_2392381.html

We Know Very Little About Anything

orange-tulips-2-1024x768-copyI think the important thing to realize is how little we know about anything — how flowers unfold, how butterflies migrate. We have to avoid the arrogance of persons on either side of the science-religion divide who feel that they have all the answers. We have to try to use our intellect with humility.
       –Dr. Joseph Murray,
       Noble Prize winning transplant surgeon

Is it arrogant to think you know the truth?

bigstock-Truth-Concept-100813-300x300

Is it arrogant and intolerant to think you know the truth about something?

Why would anyone think it is? I happen to know that the potato salad is spoiled and the last three diners got sick just from eating it. Would you call me arrogant to warn others? I happen to know that the public library is this direction, but the motorist who asked me for directions is headed the other way. Would you call me intolerant to suggest that he turn around? Of course not . . .

Arrogance doesn’t come from having convictions about the truth; it comes from having the wrong convictions about how to treat people who don’t share it with you. Humility doesn’t come from not having any convictions; it comes from having the right convictions about the importance of gentleness and respect.

–Philosopher J. Budziszewski