Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Pope Benedict hails God, Dalai Lama salutes science

Today (Sat Nov 12) Saturday, the Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is due to address the meeting of neuroscientists in Washington, and you can read what he will say in his Op-Ed piece, ‘Our Faith in Science’, in the Times. It is interesting how careful he is to keep science separate from his faith in Buddhism, even though his latest book is called “The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.”


I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call “secular ethics,” which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Of course, since Buddhism lacks the idea of an intervening supernatural force, there would seem to be very little conflict between its beliefs and those of science anyway.

Indeed, the exploration of the action of the brain with fMRI and other modern tools of scientific investigation have revealed some interesting confirmation of the achievements of meditating, which the Dalai Lama hints at in his editorial. And the Tibetan spiritual leader is famous for his personal interest in science from an early age, when he took up a telescope and like Galileo found evidence that the moon was not a light emitting body, as had been written in Buddhist scripture.

As a result, Buddhist scripture was adjusted, just as Pope John Paul in the nineties finally adapted Catholic belief to Galileo’s claim that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than vice-versa. Faith adjusted to science, as it should.

Here is the Op Ed piece:

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The New York Times

November 12, 2005

Op-Ed Contributor

Our Faith in Science

By TENZIN GYATSO

Washington

SCIENCE has always fascinated me. As a child in Tibet, I was keenly curious about how things worked. When I got a toy I would play with it a bit, then take it apart to see how it was put together. As I became older, I applied the same scrutiny to a movie projector and an antique automobile.

At one point I became particularly intrigued by an old telescope, with which I would study the heavens. One night while looking at the moon I realized that there were shadows on its surface. I corralled my two main tutors to show them, because this was contrary to the ancient version of cosmology I had been taught, which held that the moon was a heavenly body that emitted its own light.

But through my telescope the moon was clearly just a barren rock, pocked with craters. If the author of that fourth-century treatise were writing today, I’m sure he would write the chapter on cosmology differently.

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

For many years now, on my own and through the Mind and Life Institute, which I helped found, I have had the opportunity to meet with scientists to discuss their work. World-class scientists have generously coached me in subatomic physics, cosmology, psychology, biology.

It is our discussions of neuroscience, however, that have proved particularly important. From these exchanges a vigorous research initiative has emerged, a collaboration between monks and neuroscientists, to explore how meditation might alter brain function.

The goal here is not to prove Buddhism right or wrong – or even to bring people to Buddhism – but rather to take these methods out of the traditional context, study their potential benefits, and share the findings with anyone who might find them helpful.

After all, if practices from my own tradition can be brought together with scientific methods, then we may be able to take another small step toward alleviating human suffering.

Already this collaboration has borne fruit. Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin, has published results from brain imaging studies of lamas meditating. He found that during meditation the regions of the brain thought to be related to happiness increase in activity. He also found that the longer a person has been a meditator, the greater the activity increase will be.

Other studies are under way. At Princeton University, Dr. Jonathan Cohen, a neuroscientist, is studying the effects of meditation on attention. At the University of California Medical School at San Francisco, Dr. Margaret Kemeny has been studying how meditation helps develop empathy in school teachers.

Whatever the results of this work, I am encouraged that it is taking place. You see, many people still consider science and religion to be in opposition. While I agree that certain religious concepts conflict with scientific facts and principles, I also feel that people from both worlds can have an intelligent discussion, one that has the power ultimately to generate a deeper understanding of challenges we face together in our interconnected world.

One of my first teachers of science was the German physicist Carl von Weizsäcker, who had been an apprentice to the quantum theorist Werner Heisenberg. Dr. Weizsäcker was kind enough to give me some formal tutorials on scientific topics. (I confess that while listening to him I would feel I could grasp the intricacies of the full argument, but when the sessions were over there was often not a great deal of his explanation left behind.)

What impressed me most deeply was how Dr. Weizsäcker worried about both the philosophical implications of quantum physics and the ethical consequences of science generally. He felt that science could benefit from exploring issues usually left to the humanities.

I believe that we must find a way to bring ethical considerations to bear upon the direction of scientific development, especially in the life sciences. By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry.

Rather, I am speaking of what I call “secular ethics,” which embrace the principles we share as human beings: compassion, tolerance, consideration of others, the responsible use of knowledge and power. These principles transcend the barriers between religious believers and non-believers; they belong not to one faith, but to all faiths.

Today, our knowledge of the human brain and body at the cellular and genetic level has reached a new level of sophistication. Advances in genetic manipulation, for example, mean scientists can create new genetic entities – like hybrid animal and plant species – whose long-term consequences are unknown.

Sometimes when scientists concentrate on their own narrow fields, their keen focus obscures the larger effect their work might have. In my conversations with scientists I try to remind them of the larger goal behind what they do in their daily work.

This is more important than ever. It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with the speed of scientific advancement. Yet the ramifications of this progress are such that it is no longer adequate to say that the choice of what to do with this knowledge should be left in the hands of individuals.

This is a point I intend to make when I speak at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience today in Washington. I will suggest that how science relates to wider humanity is no longer of academic interest alone. This question must assume a sense of urgency for all those who are concerned about the fate of human existence.

A deeper dialogue between neuroscience and society – indeed between all scientific fields and society – could help deepen our understanding of what it means to be human and our responsibilities for the natural world we share with other sentient beings.

Just as the world of business has been paying renewed attention to ethics, the world of science would benefit from more deeply considering the implications of its own work. Scientists should be more than merely technically adept; they should be mindful of their own motivation and the larger goal of what they do: the betterment of humanity.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the author of “The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.”

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Contrary to the amiable realism of Tobetan Buddhism, however, it seems that Catholic resistance to eating the fruit of knowledge from the tree of science continues. At least, a pronouncement from Pope Benedict XVI at his audience on Wednesday is being taken by the press and by the ID movement in the US as support for their insistence that schoolkids be taught that the evolution is guided by the hand of some unseen intelligence.


The pope quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth-century saint, as saying some people, “fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance.”

“How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it’s scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order,” he said.

Evidently Benedict wants to credit God with the beauty and order of the universe, and according to the report from the AP ‘he focused his reflections for the audience on scriptural readings that said God’s love was seen in the “marvels of creation.”‘

Wait a minute, though. Is this support for creationism and its idea that different species sprang fully formed from the hand of God, rather than evolved from amoeba? Perhaps, but if it is it is not so explicit.

Seems to us that both parties are trying to have their cake and eat it, and that in this context this is fair enough. They want to live in the modern world, and accept its description by science. They also want to retain the moral and spiritual inspiration of religious belief.

But what is interesting is that they both noticeably avoid infringing on the territory of science. Both stop short of trying to merge science with faith. The Dalai Lama makes his discretion explicit, and the Pope expresses it by talking in vague generalities. Neither of them have any appetite for arguing with science. But both on the other hand want to do their job working for the benefit of humanity by promoting values and beliefs which will increase the sum of human happiness, and prevent science from destroying it.

This seems very different from the concerns of the ID gang, which seem narrow, anti-science and spiritually sterile by comparison. While the ID promoters seem only to want to undermine science and its standards, the Dalai Lama evidently cherishes science, and both he and the Pope aim to bring important human values into the thinking about how we use its discoveries, and curb the hubris which misleads us into believing that as we gain Godlike powers over destruction and creation, we also gain Godlike enlightenment about how those powers should be used.

What a pity that neither the Dalai Lama nor the Pope have any idea, presumably, about what is going on in AIDS, where the hubris of scientists and their followers in politics and in the field of health work has slipped the leash of reason to perpetrate a worldwide religion which is contradicted by the very Bible of science itself, the peer-reviewed literature.

If someone could tell them, they would certainly be reaffirmed in their conviction that scientists left to their own devices without moral influence can be a danger to the community.

But Alas they are insulated from such enlightenment by the very nature of their position of leadership, which involves being surrounded by advisors who are unlikely to listen to such claims, because like the media they rely on the leaders in AIDS to inform them, and never meet their critics, or read the scientific literature that might inform them of the issue.

In this connection we recall our own experience attending a couple of years ago the 400th anniversary meeting of the Papal Academy of Science, a body housed in its own little building inside the Vatican. The ailing Pope John Paul made a special effort to gave an audience to the gathering of distinguished scientists and their wives and observers attending the meeting, and each one joined a line and met the Pontiff briefly.

When it came to our turn we looked into the politically canny eyes of the great Pole as the Cardinal explained to him who we were, and for a brief instant considered taking advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to inform him directly of the egregious situation in AIDS science.

But of course it was impossible.

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Pope Benedict XVI says universe was built as an ‘intelligent project’

Associated Press

Nov. 12, 2005 12:00 AM

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI has waded into the evolution debate in the United States, saying the universe was made by an “intelligent project.”

He also criticized those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.

The pontiff made the comments during his general audience Wednesday. The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published the full text of his remarks in its Thursday editions.

He focused his reflections for the audience on scriptural readings that said God’s love was seen in the “marvels of creation.”

The pope quoted St. Basil the Great, a fourth-century saint, as saying some people, “fooled by the atheism that they carry inside of them, imagine a universe free of direction and order, as if at the mercy of chance.”

“How many of these people are there today? These people, fooled by atheism, believe and try to demonstrate that it’s scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order,” he said.

“With the sacred Scripture, the Lord awakens the reason that sleeps and tells us: In the beginning, there was the creative word. In the beginning, the creative word, this word that created everything and created this intelligent project that is the cosmos, is also love.”

His comments were immediately hailed by advocates of intelligent design, who hold that the universe is so complex it must have been created by a higher power.

Proponents of the theory are seeking to get U.S. public schools to teach it as part of the science curriculum.

Critics say that intelligent design is merely creationism, a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation, camouflaged in scientific language and does not belong in science curriculum.

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