My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma…Part 2!

The original “My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma” blog post elicited some interesting discussion in the comments section.  One individual in particular, Jennifer, posted a rather long/in depth comment.  Given the length, depth, and questions asked within the comment, I felt it necessary to respond in the form on a separate blog post. 

Here is a link to the original blog post (including Jennifer’s original comment)


Interesting comments, here are my responses…

Regarding your statement: “Moreover, they’re usually failing to see what’s actually interesting and challenging about considering the ways in which science is or isn’t dogmatic, or even the ways in which religion is or isn’t dogmatic.”

Science is not dogmatic (more on that in a moment), while on the other hand religion is dogmatic.  I see no real way around that statement.  In order to be a member of a particular religion you must adhere to certain assertions.  For example, in some religions you must believe that an individual was the son of god and in others you must believe that a human being was/is a prophet sent from god.  Additionally, each religion dictates that you must believe in the existence a particular god.  Science does not mandate you to believe anything.  You can question any “law/rule” that you wish, all that the scientific community requests is that you have the data to back your claim (more on that in a moment).    

Regarding your statement: “So with that in mind, I think you considered a rather straw-man version of the argument that science needs dogma or in some way is as comparably dogmatic as religion”.

A straw man…really?  Are you really claiming that I am proposing a weakened argument of my “opponent’s” original statement?  Please visit any number of creationist, intelligent design, etc websites and you will see the statement (in some form or another) that science is dogmatic.  Check out any number of the articles/press releases put out by the discovery institute (an intelligent design think tank).  The discovery institute claims that the scientific community will not accept the “theory” of intelligent design because science is dogmatic.  More specifically, the discovery institute claims that scientists believe in the theory of evolution because it is part of the dogma of science, when in actuality this could not be further from the truth.  Scientists believe in (for lack of a better term) evolution because of multiple independent data points that support/verify the theory, not because it is part of the “dogma” of science.  Hardly a straw man argument, I am simply paraphrasing statements made by my “opponent’s”

Regarding your statement: “History shows that scientists who lose faith (!) in core premises, and start working on trying to show how different premises can do a better job of explaining whatever phenomena the old premises were failing to account for, have a tough job ahead of them. They face ridicule, persecution, and discretization. And I’m not just talking about Copernicus or Galileo or Lavoisier or Einstein”

“Scientists who lose faith”, an extremely poor choice of words on your part.  Scientists do not lose faith, because they do not have any faith to lose (at least in the sense of their proposed faith in scientific “rules/laws”).  You seem to have, what I would consider to be an unrealistic view of the scientific research and the scientific community (specifically, regarding the typical interactions between scientists).  At this point I have to ask…How many scientific labs have you been in?  Or better yet, how many scientific research projects have you been a part of?  I have been in labs, and I have worked with researchers.  Their questions do not come from a loss of faith, but instead come from a quest to better understand the natural world.  Your statements seem to infer that scientists have blind faith in “rules/laws”, when nothing could be further from the truth.  Scientists explore and investigate the natural world.  In doing this, anomalies are often found.  When faced with an anomaly, scientists attempt to fit these anomalies into known “rules/laws”.  If this is not possible, this is when scientists begin the process of challenging know “law/rules”, often times resulting in data that helps us to better understand the natural world.  Yes, some findings will be challenged, but this is part of the beauty of the scientific process.  Findings have to be challenged because, put simply, not all findings turn out to be true/real/accurate.  There has to be some sort of mechanism in place to weed out false positives (for lack of a better term).  However, if an anomaly is true, no amount of challenging it will make it untrue.  An anomaly that is found to be true, will be able to be replicated, and then over time will no longer be considered an anomaly, but instead part of our understanding of the natural world.       

Regarding your statement: “Science works precisely because you can’t just go around questioning successful paradigms”

Wrong.  Statements such as this indicate a lack of an understanding of science and the scientific process.  You can “go around questioning successful paradigms”.  In fact this is how some of the greatest leaps in our knowledge/understanding of the natural world have been made.  However, you must understand that when you call into question a particular piece of data that has been established as a “rule/law” you better have the results to support your claim.  As the late Carl Sagan once said, extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence.  You can question the law of gravity, but you better have the data to support that claim.  You can call into question the laws of thermodynamics, but, once again, you better have a mountain of evidence to refute the decades of evidence supporting it.     

Regarding your statement: “Unquestioned premises allow you to set up experiments with expected results”

Again, statements such as these demonstrate a lack of understanding of the scientific process.  Science does not operate by utilizing unquestioned premises.  Instead, science utilizes premises that have been established by multiple independent lines of research/evidence.  Big difference. 

Regarding your statement: “And to be fair, you CAN question the paradigms of religion in a way that is not wholly dissimilar. Jews in Rome did it and started Christianity… totally disregarded”

I could not disagree more.  You cannot question the dogma of a religion and the examples you gave actually prove this.  In the examples you gave, the individuals questioned the dogma of their religion (or proposed changes to the dogma of their religion), and their religion did not change/evolve in light of this new information.  Consequently, these same individuals broke away from that religion to form a new religion with a new dogma.  This would be an example of a schism within a religion, not an adaptation or evolution of said religion.      

Regarding your statement: “Science always depends on the constraints and regularity of the natural world, as the bottom line of proof. Religion does not. But that doesn’t mean only religion is dogmatic.”

Again, statements like this demonstrate a misunderstanding of science and the scientific process.  Science does not depend on the natural world.  Instead science is an attempt to explain/understand the natural world.  Again, big difference.    

Regarding your statement: “The difference – which I think you mostly had in mind to distinguish science – is that in science, unlike in religion, adherents of the old paradigm eventually die out”

You have completely misunderstood my statements and furthermore you have completely miss-represented my original statement.  What I originally said was that our understanding of the natural world changes and shifts as we acquire new information.  This is very different then your representation of my original statement.  Again, our understanding of the natural world changes and evolves as we gain new information.  I would argue that this is much different then old paradigms dying out. 

 Regarding your statements: “Science is necessarily dogmatic, because that’s how everyday science is productive. In order to do cancer research, you have to assume a paradigm outlining what cancer is, how healthy cells behave, and whatever else. Only after tons and tons and tons of unexpected results from such experiments, would you start to question these paradigms.”

Again, statements such as these demonstrate a lack of understanding of science and the scientific process.  In order to do cancer research you do not assume anything.  You base your cancer research of multiple independent lines of evidence that shape our current understanding of what cancer is (extremely different then assuming a paradigm).  As new evidence/research becomes available you modify and/or change your research to suit this understanding.  This is far different then the situation that you outlined.  Additionally, your statement: “only after tons and tons and tons of unexpected results from such experiments, would you start to question these paradigms”, is incorrect.  The point at which a researcher/scientist would begin to question a paradigm would depend on the paradigm in question.  For example, data that contradicts the understood manner of cell replication would be met with more skepticism then data regarding the role of telomeres in cancer because the process of cell replication is well established where as the role of telomeres in cancer are not.  Additionally, you seem to imply that the process of “triple checking your lab equipment, using someone else’s lab and equipment, replacing all your samples and subjects” is somehow a negative thing.  If so, this also demonstrates a lack of understanding of the scientific process as these types of practices are what facilitate the process of determining cause and effect.  Without these practices it would be extremely difficult to establish the relationship of cause and effect. 

Regarding your statement: “Science works because the LAST thing you’re supposed to do, is question the paradigm. Science works because proven paradigms are treated as dogma.”

This is, quite simply, false.  As stated above, some of the biggest advances in science have come from the questioning of established “rules/laws”.  Read any of the latest physics research regarding dark matter, black holes, naked singularities, and the possible multi-verse.  This research is considered to be at the for-front of current scientific theory and contains all sorts of contains questions that are completely opposite of the established “laws/rules” of science.   

Regarding your statement: “However misplaced we say religion is because of its dissimilarity with science, I think it takes massive courage for people to demand change within religion”

This statement really has nothing to do with my original argument.  I made no statement indicating that the dogmatic nature of religion was negative.  I simply made the argument that religion is dogmatic and science is not.   Additionally, the courage of which you speak, to demand change within a given religion, also has nothing to do with my original argument that religion is dogmatic and science is not, so I do not see how your statement is really relevant to the discussion.    

In all honesty Jennifer, you have not presented any information that leads me to reconsider my original argument.  You have attempted to argue that science is dogmatic, but in my humble opinion you have not presented any convincing evidence to support that claim.  You also attempt to argue that religion is not dogmatic, when by definition religion is founded/established on dogma.  Forgive me if some of my rebuttals seem harsh, but many of your comments come across as authoritative (on a subject that I would argue that you are not an authority on) and at times even condescending.  With this in mind I do apologize if some of my comments come across as harsh or inflammatory, I simply felt as if I was matching the tone that you set with your comments.      

I look forward to hearing from you…

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve through the process of inquiry


2 Responses to “My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma…Part 2!”

  1. Hey Everyone – well I guess so far, Nancy and Ryan,

    Ryan! Was my original post really condescending? Shit, that was totally not my intention. I’m dismayed by how strongly you came down on my post, because we agree way way way more than the current state of dialogue suggests. But I think it’s my fault. I think what happens is that basically I’m like “hey, here’s this interesting idea in the philosophy of science,” and in my head is 10 years of an academic environment in which it’s all taken for granted. In other words, I quite mistake how to set up trying to IDENTIFY what I’m claiming is interesting and worth considering in the first place. With the result that, you have to conclude that I just don’t understand science or that I’m one of “those people.” Now I’m very sad. Let me make 3 points to just try to clarify my post:

    1. The perspective I was coming from was the history and philosophy of science. So if that’s the ‘authoritative’ tone you detected, I guess I was speaking as someone who would claim to know about such things. Obviously I have not myself been in labs all that much. But people working in labs are not necessarily the authority on how science shifts from paradigm to paradigm. In fact, they probably don’t care or need to think about it at all. But it’s a huge question for the philosophy of science, and one I’m quite interested in. There is an interesting sense of ‘dogma’ (not always called that) that comes into play when historians have to describe the great resistance to abandoning paradigms scientific communities often show – even when their paradigm is weaker than the contending paradigm. Just as a quick example, Einstein refused to give credence to quantum probability as the underpinning of physics, because he could not accept that the physical world was ultimately a matter of chance. The point is not that he was wrong, but that there was a certain premise (something like “the physical world is ultimately stable and predictable by constant laws) that Einstein understood in a certain way and understood to be non-negotiable. He was – eeek – ‘dogmatic’ about that premise.

    Maybe you’re thinking, “kay but that’s NOT AT ALL how religion is dogmatic.” Again, I think the problem is that I did a bad job of sticking to the parameters of the conversation you were interested in having. Basically I was trying to have quite a difference conversation about ‘dogma,’ opening it up so that it COULD also refer to the way scientific paradigms resist revolution, and indeed how important this is to scientific productivity. Again: maybe just, me being all bendy and speculative when it comes to terms, because I like philosophical questions. You don’t have to like philosophical questions. And I should probably do a better job of keeping that in mind.

    So in that spirit, just a couple more things to help clarify and convince you I’m not “one of those people” who just don’t understand science.

    2. I kinda ignored who you took to be your opponents, trying to dispense with these guys (those who argue that science is dogmatic because science refuses to consider creationism) in my first paragraph. I did this because I wanted to present what I think is the interesting part of the idea that there is ‘dogma’ in science. Let me clarify that I *in no way* meant to lend any credibility to the idea that creationists or whoever else have a good argument about science being dogmatic. They don’t! And their sense of ‘dogma’ is NOT the one I meant to employ. Which leads to the 3rd clarifying point:

    3. What I failed to convince you of (which is fine, more on that in a minute) is that there is any interesting sense in which dogma HELPS or indeed enables the scientific process to work. I think the problem is that I didn’t say enough about separating the more negative connotations of dogma, and I didn’t say enough about terms like ‘paradigm’ and the like to explain what I was even talking about. Towards the end of my post, I suggested that perhaps you just don’t think ‘dogma’ is the right word here. It would seem that, indeed, you don’t. But I seem to have totally failed to get you interested – quite the opposite, it seems – in ANY sense in which there is anything like ‘dogma’ that is part of science.

    So I shall leave it there for now, and perhaps try again in a later post to convey what I think is interesting about scientific paradigms….

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