Monthly Archives: June 2013

Rationalists vs Religious believers

In ancient days, people had blindly believed in religious teachings and obeyed whatever the religious heads had preached them. They didn’t question even when the teachings sounded absurd for two reasons: one was that they had blind belief in the religious authorities as already said, and whenever they felt something was weird, they preferred to put that down to their own ignorance. The other reason was that arguing against the established religious authorities was seen as an offense, and people who argued so had suffered humiliation, isolation as well as physical punishment. But over the time, many great philosophers and logicians stood against the weird and superstitious beliefs of the religious society. They had exposed the absurd nature of many religious notions utilizing logic and experimentation and that slowly lead to the development of ‘science’ as a strong discipline in the society.

And ever since, people have developed more and more faith in ‘science’ having witnessed the ‘success’ of science in explaining the Nature and its role in advancing human civilisation. That brings us to the Era of Modern science- People now blindly believe in Science, they adorn scientists as the ultimate authorities of knowledge. Whenever some scientific teaching sounds absurd, not only lay people but even science students prefer to put that down to their ignorance in the belief that scientists can’t go wrong, a situation not different from how people behaved in the ancient religious society. Many a times people don’t even know what some scientists actually teach, but they chant their theories (e.g. special relativity, general relativity etc) and worship them as Gods. Intellectuals who try to raise their voice against the prevailing weird theories and scientific superstitions are at a similar risk of humiliation, isolation and deprivation just like how people suffered in the ancient religious society for arguing against the absurd religious teachings.

Thus science which started off as a ‘logical revolution’ in ancient times and stopped people from blindly embracing the weird religious teachings has ended up in a rather awkward situation – people now religiously believe in science despite all its weird teachings.

Before accepting the weird teachings

Just because some theory sounds weird or illogical, it doesn’t automatically mean that the same is really weird or illogical – that could well be due to one’s ignorance or inability to understand the same. Having said that, it doesn’t mean one has to curse one’s ignorance always and blindly believe in all the weird things espoused by the great scientists. When faced with some weird sounding statement or theory, I believe that a rationalist would take one of the following approaches:

Try to explore it in depth and see if there is any deeper logic to support the apparently weird sounding theory. If the theory remains illogical ‘throughout’ and doesn’t yield to logical deduction at any point but instead leads to more and more counterintuitive notions, rationalists rather than blindly accepting the weird theory (or labeling the Nature as weird), look for alternative logical explanations for the data that originally lead to the weird theory.

Or

Accept one’s ignorance and inability to logically explore the theory in depth. In this scenario, despite one’s feeling that a theory is weird, one may chose to believe in the weird theory and its absurd predictions because one has faith in ‘science’ and has high regards for scientists. But this makes one a religious follower of science and not a real rationalist. (Of course one can still claim oneself as a rationalist as long as one is conscious of the fact that one is going by faith and doesn’t confuse one’s faith in ‘science’ as the Truth!)

But scientists and ‘skeptics’ don’t seem to behave like rationalists. Neither they are able to explain their weird theories by a deeper logic nor do they accept their ignorance and religious behavior. Rather weirdly, they propose that Nature itself is weird and so are their scientific theories. Physicists claim that they have lot of experimental proof as well as mathematical support to believe that our Nature is weird. So we shouldn’t expect our logical sense to decide whether some theory is right or wrong, they preach.

Physicists argue that our commonsense and logic depends upon how we experience and see things in this world i.e. our picture of the world. And they preach that we can’t swear upon our picture of the world as completely true because apparently that could just be an illusion created by our brain. And apparently all that we see and experience (from sitting in our room, watching TV, brushing teeth to discussing about relativity etc) in this world could just be our ‘feelings’ created by our brains nervous activity and may not represent the actual reality, hence physicists preach that we can’t swear upon our commonsense and logic as ultimate. But then how come physicists swear upon their observations (airplanes flying, atomic clocks ticking, muons reaching the earth, mercury perihelion shift, bending of star light etc) as real and use them to support their weird theories? The ticking of atomic clocks and mercury perihelion etc could just be illusions created by the physicists’ brains! Also the mathematics which they swear upon could just be an illusion created by their distorted brains!

If we accept that our Nature is weird and believe that it does not yield to logical deduction, we can’t draw valid conclusions out of any observation in this world. We can draw valid conclusions only if our world obeys logic. So we must believe in a logical world before we go on to argue/discuss whether some theory is right or wrong.

If some observation is really weird and we are unable to explain it logically (e.g. double slit experiment), we must accept that as proof of our inability or limitation of our material knowledge, instead of accepting that as proof of weird Nature. Obviously material knowledge will never be able to explain Nature to the ultimate level. Scientists, rather than accepting their ignorance and inability to logically explain certain things, have resorted to blaming the Nature as weird.  Ignorance is not something to be ashamed of but denial or ignorance of the possibility that we may be ignorant is definitely something to be ashamed. And Ignorance is itself not a hindrance to understand the Nature’s secrets but denying that surely comes in the way.

If one believes that our Nature is weird and counterintuitive, one may do so but one can never prove that because proving something involves logical interpretation of data and one can never interpret things logically in a weird Nature. So if someone claims that they have enough experimental evidence to believe that our Nature is weird, only two possibilities we can think of – there must either be logical misinterpretation of the experimental data driven by false scientific beliefs (relativist’s error) or denial of existence of things beyond their remit of understanding of Nature (quantumist’s error).

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