Month: February 2012
This was stuck to the back of the coffee machine at our local coffee place, and caused me to laugh out loud.
Arrgghhh. Here we go again.
I think I’m going to do a PhD in how religion attempts to conscript science in a desperate attempt to prove itself relevant.
Previous examples include appealing to the physics of music, in which Mr. Begbie tells us that the holy trinity is real because its members co-exist in space and time like the harmonics of a musical note, and quantum physics, in which – on second thoughts, don’t get me started on this again. (No links provided – just pick any article on rationalbrain at random, and it’s bound to be relevant).
This time, it’s neuro-science and systems theory that’s being ‘borrowed’, and re-purposed.
The offending piece is in an episode of Radio National’s Big Idea program, in something called the “Rollie Busch Memorial Lecture”, by a Nancey Murphy, and may be heard in full here. But I warn you, it’s dense, and as one commenter on RN’s site said:
Turgid pseudo intellectual rubbish ranking right up there with the marvels of ntelligent design
And that’s exactly how it sounded to me. The intro paragraph says of the lecture:
Philosophical dualism has been with us for a long time. It’s one of the key components of Western thought: good and evil, masculine and feminine, subject and object, and the big one for this week’s program—mind and body. Nancey Murphy is a Christian philosopher who doesn’t believe in the soul. She’s a physicalist, which means she believes that ‘the soul’ is really just a by-product of neurobiology. But if all our rational decisions come down to brain impulses, where does that leave moral responsibility? And what kind of Christian doesn’t believe in the soul anyway?
And if you think any of these questions are answered in her talk, you’ll be disappointed.
Yes, she’s a physicalist – or at least pretends to be. My feeling is that it’s a tactic to deceive people into thinking she’s done real science and come up with the inescapable conclusion that ‘god does it’. She says she doesn’t believe in a soul, but then goes on at painful length, mainly quoting from the work of others, about neuroscience and activity in the brain, and how the body is made up of systems, and for each of these systems the sum is greater than it’s parts, so what is the extra bit above and beyond the parts? While she doesn’t actually say it in as many words, when asked by an audience member whether the extra bit is god, she doesn’t disagree.
It’s all a painful, meandering, pseudo-intellectual con. Yes, she’s talked about some real science, but it is completely irrelevant to the questions she puts. OK, there are complex systems, and some appear to operate ‘top down’. News flash Nancey – it’s probably not god, sorry. Systems theory is a well-known science- yes, even non-linear systems (about which you made such a big deal). There’s no magic ingredient (even though it is only a ‘theory’ 😉 ). There are inputs, outputs, stuff happens inside, and they obey our physical laws, like conservation of energy, and the 2nd law of thermodynamics. There’s positive feedback and negative, and our bodies rely on homeostasis – it all works. There is no top-down. We don’t need any more explanations.
Unfortunately, the whole lecture was designed to build doubt about our scientific knowledge; to imply that there are unknowns, and to further imply that those unknowns are god etc.
Well, after listening to that misplaced mumbo-jumbo, I think I’d prefer good ol’ quotes from the bible. At least there’s no subterfuge then.
Just after my rant on think tanks in my previous post, and entirely coincidentally, here is a cartoon by the brilliant Leunig, which was republished in The Age last Saturday.
It works on a number of levels; that think tanks are idealogues with an agenda, that they tend to be right wing (and hence not focused on social agendas), and of course, the simple play on the word ‘tank’.
One always suspects these things are going on, and so it’s no surprise when evidence surfaces to confirm them.
This article blows the lid on a US ‘think tank’, the Heartland Institute, which has a clearly documented strategy for influencing public opinion by handing out money to key individuals in return for supportive commentary.
Whenever I hear the term ‘think tank’, my bullshit antennae go up. In my experience, think tanks are anything but – they should instead be called ‘belief tanks’, because they seem to exist on the basis of some belief or ideology, and operate in such a manner as convince others of their ideology. For example, they’ve spent money on developing a school curriculum to teach children that climate science is a hoax. Clearly, there is no thinking involved, just a Borg-like drive to assimilate, although I don’t thing the Borg were in it for the money.
And I don’t think I’m being naive here; I know that there are zillions of lobby groups out there, including unions I guess, which make donations to political parties and various causes. But I think this case is qualitatively different. Words which come to mind are sneaky, underhanded, dishonest, manipulative, deceptive. You get the idea.
Back to Heartland. The guys at Desmogblog, have published some Heartland documents here, which make interesting reading. It’s worth noting that Heartland claim that a number of the documents have been faked to sully their reputation, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. However, the documents which identify key people on the payroll, are not included in the list of fakes. Other commentators also cast doubt on the claim that the strategy is a fake. On my reading, a key part of the strategy is to pay people to ‘spread the gospel’ on a whole range of issues, and that’s exactly what they are doing.
But who is on the payroll? One Bob Carter of James Cook University, who happens to be one of Australia’s most vocal climate denialists. According the Age report:
The documents show Professor Carter receives a “monthly payment” of $US1667 ($1550) as part of a program to pay “high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist [anthropogenic global warming] message”.
Professor Carter did not deny he was being paid by The Heartland Institute, but would not confirm the amount, or if the think tank expected anything in return for its money.
“That suggestion is silly and offensive – a kindergarten level argument,” Professor Carter told The Age.
“Institutions or organisations simply pay for services rendered – in the same way that an architect is paid for their work, so are scientists,” he said. “What they may make any payment to me for, I’m not discussing with anybody outside of my family.”
So Bob, you don’t like kindergarten arguments. And yet your response is: I’m being paid for services rendered but I’m not going to tell you what they are. You may as well cover your ears and sing ‘la la la’. Very mature, and not the least bit disingenuous. No, even a kindergarten child can see the obvious.
What is most galling about this case is the sheer hypocrisy of climate denialists, who continue to point the finger at scientists for perpetuating a hoax in order to get ongoing science funding – in effect prostituting themselves for cash, when in fact it is money- and ideology-driven denialists who have been caught standing on a darkened street corner, wearing fishnet stockings, and smiling at every sleazy think tank which drives by.
Update for visitors from MyTelekinesis – you’re most welcome to make comments, and I’ll try to get to them all. But be aware we may be in different time zones, so your post may not be published for quite some time, since I read and release each and every item.
Also note that I will not publish abusive emails, as submitted by one of your number already.
Of course, you call all foresee that I would do that.
Here’s a bit of fun.
While surfing that great wonderful world wide web the other day, I came across this marvellous site: MyTelekinesis.
Normally, with a wacky website, one could judiciously select some key aspects of the site to discuss and, where necessary, point out the folly of the arguments or points being made.
But with this amazing site, I wouldn’t bother. Actually, the only challenge is to avoid laughing out loud.
I’m sure that’s how his friends would have addressed him.
In any case, Charles Darwin – another giant of the science world – would have been 203 years old yesterday.
We thank Darwin for giving us the Theory of Evolution, and much more science besides, not only because it’s the truth, but because we can have fun watching creationists’ heads exploding. He he he.
Never has so little been written under such an expansive heading, but I’m gonna do it anyway. If you want to read more on this from someone who actually knows what they are talking about, I once again suggest Brian Greene. But my synopsis for the layman is as follows.