Science and religion

In modern society there is a prevalent notion that spiritual matters can’t be settled by logic or observation, and therefore you can have whatever religious beliefs you like. If a scientist falls for this, and decides to live their extralaboratorial life accordingly, then this, to me, says that they only understand the experimental principle as a social convention. They know when they are expected to do experiments and test the results for statistical significance. But put them in a context where it is socially conventional to make up wacky beliefs without looking, and they just as happily do that instead.

If, outside of their specialist field, some particular scientist is just as susceptible as anyone else to wacky ideas, then they probably never did understand why the scientific rules work. Maybe they can parrot back a bit of Popperian falsificationism; but they don’t understand on a deep level, the algebraic level of probability theory, the causal level of cognition-as-machinery. They’ve been trained to behave a certain way in the laboratory, but they don’t like to be constrained by evidence; when they go home, they take off the lab coat and relax with some comfortable nonsense. And yes, that does make me wonder if I can trust that scientist’s opinions even in their own field – especially when it comes to any controversial issue, any open question, anything that isn’t already nailed down by massive evidence and social convention.

Eliezer Yudkowsky over at overcomingbias.


January 21, 2007 Posted by | Religion, Science | Leave a comment