ritualizing Science

(Below is a comment I left in response to Elezier Yudkowski's thought experiment that science might be better served by wrapping it in a cloak of ritual.)


The reason I keep coming back to this blog is because you madden me. Long time reader, first time commentor. I appreciate the thought experiment you are conducting in this post but I think some of your own biases are driving the theory.

For example, you equate science with magic. I suspect this is because you have a romanticized bias towards science instead of practical, mundane scientific experience in the trenches. Arthur C. Clarke would be happy, god rest his soul, but the actual practice of science is the opposite of magic. The scientific method simply could not survive in an arcane mysterium context. As a practicing scientist, I not only rely on the knowledge of my fellow initiates to Ars Scientifica to hold my work to its rigour, but also the very public nature of the peer review process itself. There's a reason why PLoS and arXiv are so popular and groundbreaking - these are innovations in the process of peer review that drive us towards greater public transparency, not less. If Ars Scientifica were walled off from the public sphere and wrapped in layers of ritual, it would hamper the very process of inquiry and most importantly self-critique that is essential to the function of Science itself (and magnify the very real flaws and problems in the Method and peer review that persist today).

Secondly, you equate religion with the very small, very specific, and very (disproportionately so) vocal subset that is intelligent design/young earth creationism/etc. This is likely because you are biased in regards to the sample of religious folk you find yourself debating with online and in person. Ordinary deeply religious folk like myself are simply not insecure enough about their faith to care much that you keep referring to religion as a whole as an original sin of rationality (though I do admire your cleverness in inverting the metaphor!). However, that said, you tipped your hand a bit when you wrote above that "if some other cult tried to tell you [The Truth] was actually a bearded man in the sky 6000 years ago, you'd laugh like hell." I think at least part of the underlying drive behind the thought experiment at hand is the wish that science were accorded more respect, so that it least would have parity with pseudoscience. But if science has a PR problem, it is structural. It's simply not worth the effort worrying about it. I think Science succeeds in making an impact on people's lives irrespective of their respect for it.

By focusing only on the bearded sky dude you are avoiding the much deeper intellectual challenge of grappling with the far more mature manifestations of religion, the majority of which transcend minor details like young earths, bearded men, or whatever. The kernel of religion is not the trappings of the stereotype you invoke but rather the simple idea that existence is deeper than what can be accessed by the finite tools we possess.

I am fond of arguing that Godel's Theorem points the way towards the superset of knowledge that contains all that Science can discover and all that Religion seeks to uncover. I don't think ritualizing Science to make it more like religion, or systematizing Religion to make it more like science, is the answer.

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