virus: science's mememic place (was: Sexuality)

ken sartor (
Tue, 17 Sep 1996 12:45:50 -0500

At 04:37 PM 9/17/96 +0000, Martin Traynor wrote:
>On 17 Sep 96 at 8:27, Steve wrote:
>> ... scientism ... is among the most fundamentalist of all the
>> fundamentalist religions of today. And think about how seductive is its
>> power - we don't even realize that we are in it! This is the truth of memes
>> at work - a truth about the truth of scientism.
>I have to agree with Steve here. I watched a documentary last week
>(Science Friction) which was examining the current battle being waged
>between fundamental creationists and 'the scientific community' (for
>want of a better term) in one of the southern states (I forget which
>one). The fundaligionists (to borrow a phrase from the freak
>brothers) want evolution to be taught in school only as a theory to
>explain our existence - not as a fact, and that it should be taught
>alongside the creationist Genesis worldview. The scientists are up in
>arms, objecting to religion being taught in the classroom
>However, any true scientist must agree that evolution *is* just a
>theory, albeit one which has a weight of evidence in its favour (most
>will agree with that, because I've been careful to include the word
>'evidence', satisfying them that it's superior to a theory without
>supporting evidence, such as genesis). Let's take it a step further and
>see what happens. To use the word 'evidence' in this sense, what
>we're actually saying is 'scientific evidence' but we've become so
>accustomed to the word we've forgotten what it means. This now boils
>our original statement down to 'Evolution (or any other theory of choice) is a
>scientific theory which is backed by scientific evidence', thereby
>implying that one must accept the validity of science and its
>tenets and techniques before one can accept the theory as being
>better than any other. But isn't this exactly the same for any
>religion? Provided you accept the basic tenets, the rest follows (ok,
>that's a simplification and some religions contain glaring internal
>inconsistencies and contradictions but you get my point). Acceptance
>of scientific evidence is based in a belief in science, therefore one
>cannot base a belief in science on a belief in scientific evidence,
>to do so is a tautology.

A real difference in science vs religion is that you may take a
piece of science (say newtonian gravitation) and believe it, while
throwing out other pieces because they are not appealing to you
due to lack of evidence (or whatever) (say quantum mechanics).

Christian fundamentalists insist on taking their holy book and
believing it lock, stock and barrel.

Another difference is that much of science can be verified or
disproved by individuals that are sufficiently motivated. Raw
data is readily obtainable...

>The real rub came when they interviewed Dawkins and he echoed the
>usual 'evolution has evidence in its favour therefore better than the
>others' spiel. He of all people should have a broader view (but then
>perhaps he was just embarking on a little memetic engineering of his
>But the statement;
>>Written in the true spirit of scientismic fundamentalism.
>in response to Reed Konslers
>> >Holy shit! Is this culture evolving so quickly that we already
>> >have "memetic fundamentalists"? What ever happened to a healthy
>> >skepticism? A sense of irony? A little humility?
>is a non-sequiter. Reed hasn't mentioned science, and if it's implicit
>in his statement (it could be, if you look deep enough) he certainly
>hasn't said that it should be exempt from that very same scepticism
>and humility. Yes, there are bad practitioners of science and
>fundamentalism abounds but science is a very powerful tool when used
>I must also take issue with the statement;
>> I keep on hearing about new, scientifically based studies
>>refuting old ones.
>when it's used as a criticism of science. This is what science is all
>about; finding new information. If it overturns the old order so
>what? Would you rather we still believed the world was flat? That it
>is happening at such a pace is because it is constantly building on
>the existing knowledge base, which itself is constantly growing,
>giving rise to an exponential increase in the rate at which new
>discoveries are made and old theories discarded.

The point might be that the phrase scientific study is being
trivialized. When the issues are complicated and the data is
less than clear, the conclusions are opinions. When there is
a large amount of vested interest, the opinions are NOT
science (probably). Example - it took a very long time to
get cigarette manufactures to admit that smoking causes cancer.
Under a slightly political/economic different system, i could
imagine we would occasionally read about health benefits of smoking...
(losing weight, more energy, how can THAT be so bad?)

>For my own part, I believe in the power of science. However, I
>equally believe that there is wisdom to be found everywhere and there
>are some questions which science, by definition, cannot even try to
>answer. This is where we require other tools. One danger with the
>science meme is that it is driving out the others, and if a day
>comes when we discover we need those other tools..what then? To draw
>a parallel, if a mechanic finds that he never uses that 3/5" spanner
>does he throw it out? No. It may find its way into the back of his
>toolbox, it may get lost because he's become careless with it but he
>won't throw it out. 'You never know, I might need it'. We are
>becoming careless with our tools and we risk losing them. Even worse,
>the memetic drift from science to scientism has turned one of our
>tools against the others and it's now trying to kick the others out
>of the box (screwdrivers of the world...UNITE).
>The annoying thing about all of this is that it's unnecessary. The
>science meme carries with it powerful innoculations against other
>memes, just as a number of religious memes carry innoculations
>against science. They *can* co-exist. My faith in science can share
>space with almost anything else because it allows that *anything is

Some memes are unnecessary or incorrect. These memes do not
have to be preserved and science may cause the eradication of some
of them. Example - if your religion requires the earth to be flat,
then it is going to be destroyed by science sooner or later (i
hope). I believe many memes fall into this category. It is not
that science or scientists *want* to destroy - only a consequence
(like light destroys darkness :-] )