Monday, November 14, 2011

Barney Zwartz, and at last science joins religion as a religion, and the end is certainly nigh ...

It's a red letter day for the pond.

Barney Zwartz is back at The Religious Write, and he's as mad as hell, and he's not going to take it any more from scientists and atheists and secularists and the whole crazy bunch of bedbugs who think that there's any substitute for irrational belief nicely packaged up with bells and ribbons by religion.

Any religion will do, because you see science is just a religion too, as Barney flags with his astute header: Science as religion.

And you see once you reduce science to the status of religion, it's just another cult conducted like a cult. Perhaps a little more reliable than the Exclusive Brethren, but certainly no better than the deep insights on offer in Scientology (what with the aliens and the Thetans the volcanoes, all the subject of rigorous E-meter study).

Yep, once science is slipped into a box marked silly, irrational beliefs, it's almost done and dusted, but let's cut to Barney's conclusion so we can get the full tang:

... Bruce Lincoln, says that, rather than a singular thing or essence, religion is better understood as a form of discourse that makes a claim to a particular kind of authority. What makes a discourse religious is when it claims an authority that is believed “to transcend the human, temporary and contingent, and claims for itself a similarly transcendent status”. Without anyone necessarily intending that to happen, I suggest that for many a belief in science has slipped into that category.

Yes indeed. Science has definitely slipped into the transcendent state, yearning for an up there in the clouds pie in the sky status, and how pleasing that Barney should feel exactly the same way about climate science as the likes of Barnaby Joyce.

Oh sorry, it's not about climate science alone.

You see, when you step into an aeroplane and expect it to fly, on the basis that science has outlined certain scientific principles, and designers and engineers have built a plane on that basis, you're actually showing an enormous amount of faith, an almost transcendental belief that the resulting apartment block will actually take to the air and fly (and by golly these days given Qantas's maintenance record, you might need even more and more of that faith).

You can extend this irrational, illogical faith-believing to all kinds of activities. People hop into a train expecting it to go, on the basis of scientific calculations, and lordy, some people expect an internal combustion engine to combust and drive a vehicle forward (or backwards or over a cliff or into another car, depending on the scientific skills your faith in clutches and brakes has cultivated).

This irrational thinking is utterly unlike religion, a very rational and proof and evidence based activity, including but not limited to, firm, hard evidence that hell, limbo, purgatory and heaven exist, Christ rose from the dead, bread and wine are routinely turned into flesh and blood for cannibal feats, and - depending on the brand you select from the sales room floor - said religion might deliver an abundance of virgins, but in any case certainly a bunch of woolly clouds for apartment living in the sky, a blinding white light, geezers with wings, and a capacity to return to haunt the living, requiring an exorcism every now and then (except of course women, who need to be exorcised daily considering their naughty role in the fall) ...

It seems Barney is feeling a tad threatened by the motley group of atheists making life hard for religion - some of whom will gather in Melbourne next year at an atheist convention, including Daniel Dennett, one of the so-called four horsemen of the anti-apocalypse (who has an ideological commitment far beyond atheist physicist Alan Lightman).

You see, these angry bloody atheists always revert to science, and absolutely never to poetry, the cinema, literature, painting, music, the arts, the dance of light on trees, the smell of new mown hay in the bush, the pleasures of fucking, or anything much else that might give them joy.

Come to think of it, they're the new puritans, dour, unsmiling, down on music and dance and theatre, and completely incapable of having a good time, because, well because a good time is by definition unscientific.

If you ever see a scientist smiling or laughing or cracking a joke or kissing someone, beware, he's most likely not a very good scientist.

For atheists, the first principle tends to be a commitment to reason or to science.

Funnily enough, the pond fails this test dismally, since the notion that science has progressed much in the matter of discovering the meaning or the mystery of life is particularly funny.

It's true science might not be full of regressive superstitions and mechanisms for social repression.

And it's true science and the scientific method might not be as woefully silly as the Rachael Kohn program, Religion Under Attack, we had to endure on the way back from Tamworth, as she kept on blathering on about governmental persecution of religion, while rarely mentioning that the persecution involved one sect or cult using the mechanisms of government to persecute another sect or cult.

Yep, religion is under attack from religion, not that you've had gathered this by listening to Kahn and her guest Pew researcher ...

It even got to the point in the program where the state withholding funds from religious groups because they might use some of the loot to proselytise their religion was deemed to be an attack on religion. Never mind that said religions could go on proselytising, they just couldn't do it on the taxpayer dollar. Arrange it any other way, and it could properly be called an attack by religion on hapless taxpayers ...

I swear by the end of the trip my partner was threatening to run the car off the road - on purely scientific, rational and logical grounds - rather than being made to listen to Kohn blather on for a minute more ...

But I digress, I digress, because you see, it's surely also true that science encourages tribes of worshippers way worse than a bunch of cargo cultists.

Because that plasma screen sitting in your corner involves a deep leap of faith. Without understanding the first thing about it, you switch on the inexplicable electricity, and dammit, it works, with signals coming in somehow over the completely impossible ether. It's a mystical experience, a complete leap of faith, proving that toasting a slice of bread is just the same as saying a prayer to an invisible deity.

It seems, according to Barners, that there's an invisible Central Doctrine (rather like the Central Controller) which infects scientists in the way that blind irrationality infects sheep:

Thus, the doctrine goes, though we do not know all the fundamental laws now, and what we do know may change (as Einstein’s law of gravity replaced Newton’s), they exist and are in principle discoverable by humans. But of course, as Lightman admits, this cannot be proved. It is, as I said, a leap of faith.

This is devastating news for the pond, who was expecting that in the next decade, someone would invent a combination time machine and faster than light (across the universe in a blink of the eye) rocket which would take a gaggle of scientists back to the time before the big bang, so they could watch it unfold and confirm the hypothesis. Sadly, it seems this might not happen in the next decade, and I have been making a leap of faith, thereby showing an irrational, illogical faith in science, and its practitioners ...

But dammit, it's surely going to happen before 2050.

It seems that, unlike all the foolish true believers in science, sensible folk embrace belief systems featuring religion. Any belief system will do, doesn't matter much whether it's consistent, conforms to reality, checks out as a halfway credible notions - like touch a hot stove and you'll get burned - and so playwright Alan Brody offers up this explanation with approval:

'Theatre has always been about religion. I am talking about the beliefs that we live by. And science is the religion of the 21st century’.

This is extraordinarily handy, since it seems only a mere eleven years into the new century, science has swept away all the opposition, including the theatre, and become the definitive religion for the century.

It should do wonders for climate science, since there'll be no room for a Barnaby Joyce or an Andrew Bolt, or the whole pack of Murdoch commentators doing their best to preserve the notion that climate science is stuffed. Get with the religion guys, or get out of the kitchen ...

Oh no, could they be the new atheists? Or are they the old religions parading as a new religion?

Oh dear, this is getting very complicated. If you believe in science - as opposed to accepting evidence as it arises and allowing that circumstances and situations might change - you're just a cultist. But if you believe in religion, then surely you have to question everything, to show that it's chiefly science-believing scientists who are addle-headed cultists.

Lordy, Barney is on fire, cooking with gas, and ready to assert that art and the humanities are way ahead, because they raise questions that don't have definite or unanimously accepted answers. You see, unlike science, with its proclamation of universal truths and universal correct answers, where you might see Einstein finesse Newtown, in the arts you will see Shostakovich finesse Beethoven ...

Trouble is, since both of them were inclined to be atheist, I'm not exactly sure where all this is leading us ...

I know, I know, it's back to that leap of faith, and irrefutable proof that science is the new religion.

It seems that the commonplace notion that scientists should be sceptical is entirely wrong. Scientists are just true believers, and other scientists and anyone interested in science must join the bandwagon, or be left behind. Just like any good old fashioned religion, those damned scientists will consign unbelievers to eternal hell and suffering ...

No toaster or plasma screen for you tonight, you heathen unbelievers.

Heavy stuff. Henceforth the pond is erecting a shrine dedicated to a belief in science. Prayers and candle lit vigils will start promptly at six and twice on Sundays ...

Of course you could put it another way, and propose that Barney Zwartz simply doesn't have the imagination or the desire or the capacity to look outside the box, and that for the religious mind, every belief is a nail, and therefore every solution is a religious hammer.

That would be most unfair to nails and hammers, which have been designed on the basis of elementary science, and perform exemplary scientific work on a daily basis ... at least in comparison to prayers' capacity to end suffering and stop the occasional holocaust or genocide.

Well Barners has already created a barn storm - his readers love to comment and fight and fuss and feud - and Barners loves to hand it over to them for a barney, and it's been a long time since his last post back in October last year, so hoe in while the hoeing is good ...

Now please excuse the pond. We're off to check whether praying over bread will turn it into toast, using the best scientific religious principles currently available.

But before we go, let's do a reading from the holy book of Isaac Asimov:

The young specialist in English Lit, ...lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong.

... My answer to him was, "... when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

(Below: and so to a couple of oldie but goody cartoons that mock science for its superstitious ways).


  1. Although I not a Christian me-thinks you are being a bit unfair with Barney. And like it or not the religion versus science theme is one of the hottest topics in the culture wars shouting match/game/circus.

    In my opinion he is probably the best religious journalist here in the land of Oz. Especially compared to the know-nothing right wing religious zealots that infest the Murdoch press. He generally writes fair and balanced articles on all kinds of topics related to religion.

    By the way Barney also writes superb reviews of classical music CD's for the Age. He is one of the best in the business. His knowledge of the best of the best of classical music renderings and interpretations, both instrumental and vocal, is superb.

  2. Sorry, but the two cultures war was doing the rounds with C. P. Snow in 1959, and the science wars was doing the rounds in the 1990s
    and they just don't have any legs.

    Barney's favourite trick is to use the faith ploy. So angry atheists are driven by a kind of faith, a kind of fundamentalist delusion.

    Now it seems science is a kind of faith. This is patently absurd. The whole idea of science is to question. How much do faith-based belief systems question their fundamental beliefs?

    It would be a lot more honest to leave science in the secular realm, rather than brood about its relationship to religion.

    As for him liking classical music, and being good at reviewing it, that's fine, no problem with that - after all, atheist Shostakovich is my favourite composer of the twentieth century. But really it has diddly squat to do with religion v science, or the culture wars, or the Murdoch press.

    Barney knows his market, and routinely manages a large number of hits because he knows how to press the right buttons, but they're spurious buttons.

    As for his reporting skills, you might try reading

    Of course it's all in fun, because the pond is never angry, or at least always amused, and Barney is a very canny form of pleasure.


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