Category Archives: Science

Science in Politics

Today I read this excerpt from a letter C.S. Lewis wrote:

Facism and Communism, like all other evils, are potent because of the good they contain or imitate….And of course their occasion is the failure of those who left humanity starved of that particular good.  This does not for me alter the conviction that they are very bad indeed.  One of the things we must guard against is the penetration of both into Christianity—availing themselves of that very truth you have suggested and I have admitted.  Mark my words: you will presently see both a Leftist and a Rightist pseudo-theology developing— the abomination will stand where it ought not….

Unfortunately I do not have access to the complete text, because I wanted to see how Lewis expanded on what he said. But I did find an interesting, somewhat related essay on-line. From that:

Fascism and communism were the two most obvious manifestations of tyranny about which Lewis wrote, but they were far from the only kinds of tyranny about which he was concerned.8 Tyranny comes in many forms, most of which are more subtle than Stalin’s gulag or Hitler’s death camps. Lewis knew this, and his most compelling writings on tyranny for us today focus on these more subtle forms of oppression. In particular, Lewis was concerned about the tyranny that could result from the union of modern science and the modern state.
To understand the dangers of a scientific state, one must first understand something about modern science.

…Modern science is premised on the notion that all things are determined by material causes. It proposes strict laws that explain natural phenomena in terms of physical, environmental or hereditary necessities–e.g., the ball falls when dropped because of the law of gravity; the dog salivates at the sound of the bell because of environmental conditioning; the mosquito generates other mosquitoes because of its genetic code. Now no matter how necessary such materialistic determinism may be in the study of the natural world, it cannot be applied indiscriminately to humans without destroying the very possibility of knowledge and virtue. Such determinism destroys the possibility of knowledge, according to Lewis, because it undermines the validity of human reasoning;9 it destroys the possibility of virtue because it denies the free choice upon which all virtue depends.

If modern science is correct that human thought and conduct are functions of non–rational causes, then the nature of politics changes fundamentally. Under the old order, politics involved serious reflection about justice and the common good. But the more man thinks he is determined by non–rational causes, the less important serious reflection becomes. Under the new order, all that matters is achieving the end result. The only deliberation is among social science bureaucrats, and the only question is not “What is just?” but “What works?” Moreover, since the new order has dispensed with the notion of man as a moral agent, “what works” will almost inevitably be intrusive. 

…Lewis does not dispute that scientists have plenty of knowledge; the problem is that most of it is irrelevant. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists. Said Lewis: “I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”17

The cardinal danger of depending on science for political solutions, then, is that science is divorced from those permanent principles of morality upon which all just political solutions depend. Indeed, words like “justice,” “virtue,” “mercy” and “duty,” are terms without meaning within the scientific framework. And so while science is not necessarily tyrannical, it can easily become a tool for tyrants because it has no firm grounding in morality. The same goes for politics: Without a firm grounding in a firm morality, politics easily slides into tyranny.

And all this got me to thinking about the irony of materialists, agnostics and atheists demanding “justice.”  What does justice even mean in that worldview?

Read it all


Utterly Fundamental

I watched a BBC production of Christ Church Choir today which included a brief interview with Dr. Allan Chapman, a science historian,  of Wadham College.  At one point he was asked “What would you say is the value of faith through your general life?”  His answer, “Utterly fundamental.”

Immediately my mind remembered C. S. Lewis’s comment, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Science and Unwishful Thinking

A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, a survey of the world’s frontline physicians showed hydroxychloroquine to be the drug they considered the most effective at treating COVID-19 patients. That was in early April, shortly after a French study showed it was safe and effective in lowering the virus count, at times in combination with azithromycin. Next we were told hydroxychloroquine was likely ineffective, and also dangerous, and that that French study was flawed and the scientist behind it worthy of mockery. More studies followed, with contradictory results, and then out came what was hailed by some as a definitive study of 96,000 patients showing the drug was most certainly dangerous and ineffective, and indeed that it killed 30% more people than those who didn’t take it. Within days, that study was retracted, with the editor of one of the two most respected medical journals in the Western world conceding it was “a monumental fraud.” And on it went.

Not only are lay people confused; professionals are. All that seems certain is that there is something disturbing going on in our science, and that if and when the “perfect study” were to ever come along, many won’t know what to believe.

We live in a culture that has uncritically accepted that every domain of life is political, and that even things we think are not political are so, that all human enterprises are merely power struggles, that even the idea of “truth” is a fantasy, and really a matter of imposing one’s view on others. For a while, some held out hope that science remained an exception to this. That scientists would not bring their personal political biases into their science, and they would not be mobbed if what they said was unwelcome to one faction or another. But the sordid 2020 drama of hydroxychloroquine—which saw scientists routinely attacked for critically evaluating evidence and coming to politically inconvenient conclusions—has, for many, killed those hopes.

…..What is unique about the hydroxychloroquine discussion is that it is a story of “unwishful thinking”—to coin a term for the perverse hope that some good outcome that most sane people would earnestly desire, will never come to pass. It’s about how, in the midst of a pandemic, thousands started earnestly hoping—before the science was really in—that a drug, one that might save lives at a comparatively low cost, would not (emphasis mine) actually do so. Reasonably good studies were depicted as sloppy work, fatally flawed. Many have excelled in making counterfeit bills that look real, but few have excelled at making real bills look counterfeit.

Read it.

Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale

Is the Brain the Mind and God an Illusion?

From an article  in The Imaginative Conservative,titled Materialism: The False God of Modern Science, by George Stanciu:

Trained to believe that every object as well as every act in the universe is matter, an aspect of matter, or produced by matter—that is, schooled to be a materialist—I scoffed at the two fellow students of mine in graduate school who regularly attended church. For me, at that time, the brain was the mind and God an illusion.

Sunday Morning in the Cathedral of Science

Seated in the front pew, my folded hands piously resting upon a worn copy of Newton’s Principia, I hear from the choir loft the voices of neuroscience graduate students droning their mantra, “The brain is the mind; The brain is the mind; The brain is the mind.”[1] The mantra becomes the astonishing hypothesis in the Sunday morning sermon preached by the Reverend Francis Harry Compton Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA:“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”[2] With index finger pointing heavenward, Reverend Crick bellows the crux of the sermon: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”[3]

In monophonic chant that hypnotizes the parishioners, the choir recites the liturgical reading of the day: “Every decision is a thoroughly mechanical process, the outcome of which is completely determined by the results of prior mechanical processes.[4] Every human action can be explained mechanically.” In a higher octave, biologist Lynn Margulis trumpets, “For all our imagination, fecundity, and power, we are no more than communities of bacteria, modular manifestations of the nucleated cell.”[5] Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins recites the second reading, “[Replicators] swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines.”[6]

…Not one grand pronouncement preached that Sunday in the Cathedral of Science has been established by experimental science. “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons” and “human beings… are essentially bundles of simple quarks and electrons” are for the majority of scientists unshakeable beliefs, ultimately religious dogmas.
One seemingly insurmountable obstacle for a neuroscientist intent upon reducing a person to “nothing but a pack of neurons”[11] is to explain how wiring together 86 billion neurons can give rise to the love of Mozart’s Don Giovanni or to the joy of windsurfing at Maalaea Bay, Hawaii.
…Surprisingly, the first step in applying the principle the brain is the mind falters; brain physiology alone cannot explain the most obvious human experience—we perceive (emphasis added).
…I was astonished to discover that a careful analysis of perception, the bare minimum of human living, easily shows that materialism is dead wrong.
Later in life, I discovered that all human beings suffer from a fatal intellectual flaw, the propensity to take one truth and make it the only truth. For the vast majority of scientists, science is a new religion, and unlike Schrödinger, they refuse, like all true believers, to see that the emperor has no clothes, close their eyes to the limitations of the experimental method, and willfully deny that the philosophy of materialism they embrace gives “silly” answers to the most fundamental questions about human life. For me, and I suspected for a growing number of young people, I had to divest myself of the “silly” ideas instilled in me by science, not religion; in the twenty-first century, science, not the Church, is the oppressor that champions a worldview that has to be cast off.
In my quest for the meaning of human life, I soon grasped that science is only one path to truth, to truths that are not the most interesting part of life, although they are beautiful and surprising. Among J. Robert Oppenheimer’s last written words were “science is not everything, but science is very beautiful.”[30] Physics and chemistry examine the piping, the infrastructure of life, not the ultimate reality of the universe or human life. To hold that the ultimate reality of a performance of Suite No. 1 of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites is the scraping of horsehair on cat gut is philosophical absurdity, not to mention human insanity.
The physical world provides an intense, rich interior life, which includes the impersonal, stark beauty of mathematics and physics as well as the pungency of Stilton cheese, the softness of cashmere, the dance of cherry blossoms, the smell of the ocean salt air, the wonder and mystery of nature, and the poetry, drama, and music that touch the transcendent.