Speakers at the National Press Club presented new initiatives by the Center for Inquire-Transnational, according to an article in today's Washington Post. I'll summarize the article here and go on below to comment on the philosophy.
Think Tank Will Promote Thinking=================
Advocates Want Science, Not Faith, at Core of Public Policy
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006; A19
Concerned that the voice of science and secularism is growing ever fainter in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in culture, a group of prominent scientists and advocates of strict church-state separation yesterday announced formation of a Washington think tank designed to promote "rationalism" as the basis of public policy.
The brainchild of Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, the small public policy office will lobby and sometimes litigate on behalf of science-based decision making and against religion in government affairs.
The announcement was accompanied by release of a "Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism," which bemoans what signers say is a growing lack of understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and the value of a rational approach to life.
"This disdain for science is aggravated by the excessive influence of religious doctrine on our public policies," the declaration says. "We cannot hope to convince those in other countries of the dangers of religious fundamentalism when religious fundamentalists influence our policies at home."
"Unfortunately, not only do too many well-meaning people base their conceptions of the universe on ancient books -- such as the Bible and the Koran -- rather than scientific inquiry, but politicians of all parties encourage and abet this scientific ignorance," reads the declaration, which was signed by, among others, three Nobel Prize winners.
Kurtz, ...said the methods of science,..., "are being challenged culturally in the United States today as never before."
Several speakers also had strong words for the media, ...
Lawrence M. Krauss, an author and theoretical physicist at Case Western Reserve University, said the scientific community has done a "poor job" of explaining its logic and benefits to the public....
The goals of the new group are to establish relationships with sympathetic legislators, provide experts to give testimony before Congress, speak publicly on issues when they are in the news, and submit friend-of-the-court briefs in Supreme Court cases involving science and religion. The Center for Inquiry-Transnational, a nonprofit organization, is funded by memberships.
My analysis of that:
There are at least three hypotheses in contention in the policy arena:
1) All religion is bunk and should be replaced by science
2) All science is bunk and should be replaced by religion
3) Science and religion are compatible
The "Center for Inquiry - Transnational" seems to be firmly in position #1.
Position #2 is subdivided into incompatible parts by actually being
2) All science (and also your religion) is bunk and should be replaced by (my) religion.
This is the axis along which the Bush administration and Moslem Fundamentalists seem to be battling -- Bush's objection to Islamic theocracy seemst to be not that it is religious, but that it is a different religion controlling the theocracy than the religion (a version of Fundamentalist Christianity) he is allied with.
Position #3 is also subdivided into two distinct cases
3a) -- Separate but equal: so long as religion stays in its place, and science stays in its place, and the two never meet in the middle, they are "compatible". A significant number of researchers and scientists are in this camp.
3b) -- ultimately compatible: there is only one reality which has multiple valid views, the "incompatibility" between religion and science is largely due to misunderstanding, and religion(s) and science need to be brought together and reworked into a new paradigm that embraces both.
Position #3 is certainly is my own working hypothesis and is the way I understand the Baha'i Faith as well. I present this here less as an advertisement and more to make the case that "religion" is perfectly capable of embracing multiple viewpoints and scientific principles, and does not automatically equate to "fanatic" or "closed-minded" or "intolerant."
We need to distinguish, as it were "the baby" and "the bathwater."
One of the most insidious forms of prejudice is racism, about which the Baha'is stated position is:
Baha'i Social principles include:
- full equality between women and men in all departments of life and at every level of society.
- harmony between science and religion as two complementary systems of knowledge that must work together to advance the well-being and progress of humanity.
- the elimination of all forms of prejudice.
- the establishment of a world commonwealth of nations.
- recognition of the common origin and fundamental unity of purpose of all religions.
- spiritual solutions to economic problems and the removal of economic barriers and restrictions.
- the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.
Racism is the most challenging issue confronting America. A nation whose ancestry includes every people on earth, whose motto is E pluribus unum, whose ideals of freedom under law have inspired millions throughout the world, cannot continue to harbor prejudice against any racial or ethnic group without betraying itself.
The nature of "competing" versus "complementary" views
Let me bring this topic back to "systems thinking," the theme of this weblog. It is generally recognized in software systems analysis that most complex systems are larger than the human brain can comprehend in a single view or perspective.
Here's a quote from a current best practices technical textbook by Nick Rozanski and Eoin Woods, entitled Software Systems Architecture - Working with Stakeholders Using Viewpoints and Perspectives (Addison-Wesley, 2005) :
If you read the more recent literature on software architecture, one of the first useful discoveries you will make is the concept of an architectural view. An architectural view is a description of one aspect of a system's architecture and is an application of the timeless problem-solving principle of "divide and conquer." By considering a system's architecture through a number of distinct views, you can understand, define, and communicate a complex architecture in a partitioned fashion and thus avoid overwhelming your readers with it's overall complexity.... Using viewpoints and views to guide the architecture definition process is a core theme of this book.Many people are working right now on the problems we've created for ourselves by partitioning the scientific viewpoint of the world into silos which may seldom speak with each other. A major axis along which such silo-building has occured is the scale of activity within life on the earth. So we have cellular scientists, and tissue scientists and individual-being studying scientists and those that study small groups of people and those that study huge collections of people. It's increasingly clear that public health problems cross those artificial historical divisions.
Until recently, scientists who dealt with parts of reality that could be studied in isolation (with open causal pathways and no feedback) couldn't even comprehend or tolerate the work of scientists who deal with parts of reality that cannot be studied in isolation (with complex systems, intractable feedback). The whole nature of "causality" and "the scientific method" are being revamped and revitalized to deal with complex systems. Let's see where that gets us.
The R21 research RFA I mentioned in an earlier post (Houston, we have another problem!) is an effort precisely to cross those artificial barriers between models of the world at different scales and levels of abstraction.
Earlier this week, the National Institutes of Health (in the U.S.)
announced the availability of $3M to fund approximately 10 projects
designed to facilitate "Interdisciplinary Research via Methodological
and Technological Innovation in the Behavioral and Social Sciences."
Complete details about the grant program are available online at:
In some ways all I'm saying is that, if you keep going up in scale, you'll come to a scale where issues commonly termed "religious" or possibly "theological" are the current common way of modeling and investigating and understanding what mankind has observed about itself over millenia.
It is not surprising that the tools, concepts, and approaches are different from those used by civil engineers. Sociologists and psychologists and biologists disagree all the time. That doesn't say anything about whether the data are ultimately compatible in a more comprehensive model.
We have all heardthe story of the blind men who encounter an elephant, with one finding the tail, one finding a leg, one finding the ear, and arguing about whether they have come across a
huge rope, or a tree, or a huge blanket, or whatever.
What's really pivotal here is that these differences do not automatically make the viewpoints incompatible. "Incompatible" would mean that the viewpoints cannot be reconciled into being fully valid points in a larger picture. The viewpoints of the elephant can be reconciled, and must be, if one is to understand what an "elephant" is.
The question of incompatible is this: after accounting for the different observers' perspectives and viewpoints, are the observations still irreconcilably different?
Humans are not born understanding that others see the world differently than they do. Two very hard facts to accept are (1) sometimes both viewpoints are "right", and (2) sometimes the other person's viewpoint is "right" and your own, regardless how obviously true it is to you, is wrong.
Some of this accounting for viewpoint or "frame" or "reference frame" or "perspective" is something we do every day. If I look at people in the distance, I could say - "Look, people get smaller as they move farther away from me." Then other people could say "No, you're wrong, you get smaller as you move away from me!" Possibly they could fight a war in which "size matters" and battle over who it is that "get's smaller". In point of fact, of course, no one "gets smaller" they just "look smaller".
Why discarding "religion" as a whole is a very bad idea:
Actually, it's ironic that many scientists, who spend all day trying to isolate their work from the rest of reality in order to study it, now abruptly seem to realize that science itself is a social activity and only takes place in a social context.
Yes, religion and spirituality are similar to gasoline and can alternately blow up in your face, or move your fleet of automobiles. The recent work in top-performing organizations, and high-reliability organizations, all point to a need for some key traits to make them work: honesty, integrity, and compassion - variables that religions have kept central for thousands of years, despite their having "no place" in science as it was practiced. "Scientific" and machine-based models of humans, business, and commerce have resulted in as much human carnage as spiritually based models - more, in fact, when the destructive power of mankind was amplified and the integrative, compassionate side demeaned and neglected.
In fact, isn't it precisely because "science" has built huge new technologies of mass destruction and climate change, but neglected the equivalent tools of reintegration and wholeness preached by religion, that we now face the prospect of demolishing our entire planet?
I'd argue that our best route is not to despise and discard religions of the world, but to understand what it is they were trying to tell us and ask ourselves if that's not something we need to hear.
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