Monday 10 June 2013

50 Years of Progress

It may seem awfully unfair to compare scientific and religious progress over the last 50 years. I suspect we all had an inkling of which methodology would have yielded the most progress and the most good for society.

Indeed when plotted side by side the comparison is pretty stark.

However, most of today’s established religions were, I imagine, fairly progressive at their outset. They emerged in more brutal times and mandated moral and liberal attitudes that represented great progress from the status quo of the time. However by attributing those laudable human ideals to an infallible divine origin, the limits of those ideologies were capped.

We thankfully live in a time when generic humanitarian values have, in most societies, overtaken those once progressive religious ideologies. As a result the progress achieved by religion in recent times looks rather pitiful when compared to the recent progress achieved by a methodology that actively embraces new ideas and contains a mechanism for evaluation, unbiased review and self-correction.

As a direct result of the inbuilt progress limitations inherent in religion, what religious progress we have seen over the last 50 years broadly falls into 2 camps.

Firstly there is the recognition that mainstream religion needs to catch up with modern views on items such as the equality of women and homosexuals. Despite lagging behind the rest of society, many progressive people within mainstream religious organisations recognise the need for equality beyond that originally foreseen by their religions’ founders and the need to upgrade their religion accordingly.

Alas, the second type of religious progress highlighted by the diagram above shows an ugly form of religious progress that is becoming more and more familiar. When modern society is seen at odds with religious teachings many look to progress their faith towards a more literal interpretation of their scripture. Many faiths have regrettably progressed over recent years by branching out at the fringes to a more fundamentalist stance. Hence the chart below is littered with progress in the form of new creation museums, opposition to life saving medical procedures and numerous landmark cases of bigotry and discrimination. Not the sort of progress to be proud of.


phiggins said...

As you say, an unfair comparison.

The one side of the picture uses tangible, testable, replicable, objective standards to make discoveries and advancements to uncover the unknown.

The other side uses subjective, intuited, non-provable ideas to try and affect control over quasi-homogeneous groups to influence public policy.

It's hard to compare two groups that don't share similar goals, standards or, methods.

I prefer science, and the implied humanism of it, any day of the week. Ultimately, I believe that it will provide the answers we need to live well and free of the supernatural. Even if there is 'something beyond' death, living well now and for the betterment of all seems to me to be the more defensible lifestyle.

David Roemer said...

There is something rotten in the scientific culture in the U. S. because of the widespread belief, found in a number of peer-reviewed articles. that evolution does NOT violate the second law of thermodynamics. Creationists think, stupidly, that it does. The zeroth law of thermodynamics is that you measure the temperature of a gas, solid, or liquid with a thermometer. The first law defines internal energy, and the second law is that heat flows from hot to cold. The third law is that minus 273 degrees is as cold as it gets. Thermodynamics has nothing to do with the evolution of stars or biological evolution.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what point you are trying to make. Of course evolution does not violate the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. And yes thermodynamics is relevant to evolution. The 2nd law states that closed systems naturally move from states of less entropy to states of more entropy. The process of evolution is generally one of moving from states of more entropy to states of less. The key is to understand the importance of closed systems. Evolution is not a closed system. The energy needed to drive evolution comes from the sun (and a few other minor sources). Think of evolution as keeping your house tidy, and improving this tidiness all the time. If your house were a closed system, it would tend toward states of less tidiness with time (2nd Law). The way you counter this is to add energy form the outside in the form of your own work to maintain your house.

David Roemer said...

You are accurately repeating the unintelligible nonsense in a number of peer-reviewed articles. What you say makes no sense at all because the sun heats things up and causes entropy to increase. How can the sun tidy things up? Consider this:
Creationist: Evolution violates the 2nd law.
Scientist: The 2nd law does not apply to evolution.
Creationist (with a sneer): Whatever.

You are doing pseudoscience inorder to refute a flawed argument in favor of creationism. I'm trying to get the American Journal of Physics to retract an article titled "Entropy and evolution." This article actually has a calculation in joules/degrees proving that evolution does not violate the 2nd law.

Unknown said...
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David B Marshall said...

What the graph shows is how little progress there has been in philosophy and general clear thinking among people who espouse scientism over the past 100 years.

Science is a means of discovering facts and patterns of facts, comparable in that sense to history, mathematics, the Law, Wikipedia, gossip, and opening the window shades. These are the activities to which it should properly be compared.

Religion is best understood as the set of "ultimate concerns" that people espouse. Ultimate concerns include views of reality that rely on different means of finding things out -- including all those listed above -- also some sort of existential commitment to truth of some sort, even if it's just the truth that "I've only got one life to live, so I'm going for the gusto!"

So in that case, what ought to be compared is not "religion" with "science," but different religions -- Christianity, Pure Land Buddhism, Secular Humanism, Marxism-Leninism, Objectivism, etc.

And then, of course, there is the issue of cherry-picking and mockery as a substitute for genuine empirical reasoning.

Nope. Can't get much dumber and intellectually stuck-in-the-mud than this chart.

David Roemer said...

The cosmological argument for God's existence has improved over the years. It started with Aristotle and Aquinas talking about "prime movers" and "first causes." In the 1920s, Etienne Gilson explained that God is an infinite being. An infinite being exists because finite beings need a cause.

mediabeing said...
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Marcoli said...

So you are saying that just by defining something as infinite makes it more likely to exist? The past 160+ years has made the probability of God's existence less likely, not more likely.

David Roemer said...

Absolutely. Calling God a "first cause" just raises the question: What caused God? That God is infinite and humans are finite puts the cosmological argument on a logical basis.

The last 160 years brought us the horrors of WWI and WWI, communism, and naziism, which were the results of the so-called "Enlightenment."

Ken Smith said...

For your information, Jehovah's Witnesses prophesied that the world would end in 1975!

(In case you wanted to add it to your chart!)

And thanks for an excellent blog.

Pete UK said...

Roemer: "Explaining that God is an infinite being" isn't explaining anything at all. It's making a woolly assertion about things that don't have clear definitions (god and being).

Roemer: the earth, where the only examples of life that we've found so far have evolved, intercepts no more than a billionth of the energy output of the sun. Most of that is reflected, or drives weather systems or other inorganic processes. The rest of it streams out, dissipating into the void. The net amount of disorder in the universe is overwhelmingly increasing, and the goings on on our little rock are sustained by that tiny amount of intercepted energy.

Marshall: well I'd love to see your effort at a better chart. How's about it, as you think this one is so poor?

David Roemer said...

@Peter UK
I agree that the existence of an infinite being doesn't explain anything. However, a universe with an infinite being is more intelligible than a universe with only finite beings (embodied spirits).

Concerning evolution, all you did was repeat the drivel I refuted: How did the sun decrease entropy? Saying that it does makes no sense. It is begging the question.

Marcoli said...

Roemer: to paraphrase Dawkins, a universe with an infinite being (lets call it God) is very different from a universe without one. We do not need an infinite being to explain what we know about the evolution of this universe and that includes stars and life. But stars and life are very much under the dictates of thermodynamics, including its 2nd law.
You did not refute the relationship between entropy and evolution of stars or life, except maybe in your own mind. Lets look at one example about evolution (there are many).
It is well known that population growth is limited b/c resources like food are limited. Why? Well, as an organism processes food for energy to be alive, the chemical reactions involved wind up liberating some energy as heat. So there is less energy actually available to form new chemical bonds (and so to stay active, grow, and reproduce). A 100 kg herbivore must eat (lets say) 150 kg of plants just to break even. A 100 kg predator must eat 150 kg of herbivore to break even. ALL organisms that reproduce will produce more than just their replacement, so populations 'over-produce'. Population growth runs against limitations in resources (resources can not grow at same rate – darn 2nd law again!) so naturally there is selection for those who are better at securing resources for their young. That is evolution by natural selection, very much dictated by thermodynamics.
What about stars? You actually said "Thermodynamics has nothing to do with the evolution of stars". I am shaking my head over that extraordinary claim. A hot star, undergoing stellar nucleosynthesis? The circulation cells that form b/c the hot interior dumps hot plasma and gas into cold, dark space (2nd law!) does not lead to changes of the star over time? Can you produce any papers from the literature that say that? I would be fascinated.

David Roemer said...

Thermodynamics is the study of liquids, solids, and gases. The 2nd law says that a gas will fill up the container it is in. This does not happen in outer space when stars are formed. The hydrogen atoms move closer together. This is one quote

"Unfortunately this principle cannot explain the formation of biological structures. The probability that at ordinary temperatures a macroscopic number of molecules is assembled to give rise to the highly ordered structures and to the coordinated functions characterizing living organisms is vanishingly small. The idea of spontaneous genesis of life in its present form is therefore highly improbable, even on the scale of the billions of years during which prebiotic evolution occurred.
"The conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that the apparent contradiction between biological order and the laws of physics—in particular the second law of thermodynamics—cannot be resolved as long as we try to understand living systems by the methods of the familiar equilibrium statistical mechanics and equally familiar thermodynamics. (“Thermodynamics of evolution: The functional order maintained within living systems seems to defy the Second Law; nonequilibrium thermodynamics describes how such systems come to terms with entropy,” Phys. Today 25(11), 23 (1972); doi: 10.1063/1.3071090.)

"Based on what we have said so far, some will be poised and ready to make a leap, from the notion of accumulation of accidents to the second law of thermodynamics…. We advise readers against this, for their own safety. We are concerned that on the other side of that leap there may be no firm footing. Indeed, there may be an abyss. First, we think the foundation of the ZFEL [zero-force evolutionary law] lies in probability theory, not in the second law or any other law of physics. And second, our notions of diversity and complexity differ fundamentally from entropy, in that entropy, unlike diversity and complexity is not a level-related concept." (Daniel W. McShae and Robert N. Brandon, Biology’s First Law: The Tendency for Diversity and Complexity to Increase in Evolutionary Systems, location 220 on Kindle)

" Considered thermodynamically, the problem of neo-Darwinism is the production of order by random events." (Ludwig von Bertalanffy, “Chance or Law,” in Beyond Reductionism: New Perspectives in the Life Sciences, The Macmillan Company, 1969, page 76)

"Modern biology is faced with two ideas which seem to me to be quite incompatible with each other. One is the concept of evolution by natural selection of adaptive genes that are originally produced by random mutations. The other is the concept of the gene as part of a molecule of DNA, each gene being unique in the order of arrangement of its nucleotides. If life really depends on each gene being as unique as it appears to be, then it is too unique to come into being by chance mutations. There will be nothing for natural selection to act upon." (“Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene: Conflict between the idea of natural selection and the idea of uniqueness of the gene does not seem to be near a solution yet,” Nature, Vol. 224, 1969, p. 342)

David Ravicher said...

I think we should compare the two. I am game. I believe Science to be far worse then Religion could have imagined itself to be. care to debate my position?