Zingrone: Science works whether or not it is believed

William Zingrone Associate professor of psychology

I truly appreciate all the letters to the editor replying to my columns. The discussion, free information exchange, even heated argumentation is welcomed, and vital in keeping everyone informed and able to contribute, analyze and refute. Unlike in religion, scientists expect and welcome criticism of their data and theory.

John Pasco misses that distinction. He likens my promotion of science to just another “belief system which brooks no discussion.” Not so, as science invites discussion through peer review and verification. Religions are belief systems, science is not. Religions tend to include the supernatural, rituals, prayer, miracles, god or gods, revealed scripture, revere authority and will reject evidence if it disputes dogma.

Science embraces none of these in fact is in direct opposition to all of these features. Faith is belief without evidence, and it is the ultimate arbiter of religious claims. In direct contrast, acceptance in science in methods and findings has nothing to do with faith, only evidence. Science works. I don’t use “faith” to prefer science over old, outdated and wrong claims about how the world works. Science works whether I or anyone else chooses to believe in it or not.

Pasco proposes that I “seem to blame only religions for all mass killings.”

This is incorrect as I wholeheartedly agree with his list of politically driven monsters throughout human history that killed millions.

My previous columns have discussed modern day bombings, both suicide and remote and the often religious reasons behind them. While horrendous, the bombings of recent history have killed a tiny percentage of humans as compared to past horrors. I made no claims whatsoever about wars, pogroms or genocides past and present: I said nothing about these mass killings or religion being their main cause. That belief is solely in Pasco’s head and not in my columns. Ideologies, both political and religious, kill.

I couldn’t agree more that political ideologies can be just as deadly as religious ones, and for the same reasons: both operate on faith in untested claims about human nature, revere dogma and authority and disregard evidence to the contrary, deny the rights of many fellow humans and tend to dismiss or delight in human suffering in service to mere ideas.

He describes me, my writing as “fanatical,” “slash and burn,” “extremist,” “super zealots,” even compares me to the Puritan theologian and preacher Jonathan Edwards! A first, I assure you. Not only do I not believe in hell, damnation, original sin, innate depravity of man, the resurrection and all the other Christian beliefs that Pasco may himself in fact share with the obnoxious Edwards and not I, he could ask any of the students, faculty, or general public who have heard me lecture if my speaking style and invitation for discussion is anything like a fire and brimstone sermon. Any similarities between me and the good reverend are products of Pasco’s imagination.

Furthermore, Pasco claims that science and the Bible follow the same sequence of events of creation. Genesis has two accounts which not only contradict one another, but do not agree with the detailed sequence of modern science that Pasco’s glosses in order to make his interpretation of the Biblical creation story not conflict. A few examples where Genesis claims diverge from science should suffice: night and day before the sun and moon, light before the stars, water before land, cattle before man, man before plants, human males before females.

Additionally, Pasco suggested I used debate “tricks.” He claims to have been a member of the Murray State debate team. I have never studied nor cared to learn debate. I have no use for such techniques, and neither does science. Data or theory are not verified or replicated by sophistry.

The accumulation of new knowledge isn’t accomplished through clever speaking. Any debate coach will tell you they don’t care which side of an issue their team may be assigned, as which position is actually correct or factually true has no bearing on convincing an audience who “won.”

Lastly, Pasco muses about the probability of the origin of life. He might do well to research the fascinating and rapidly advancing field of abiogenesis. An excellent introduction can be found in Addy Pross’s recently published “What is Life?: How chemistry becomes biology.” In it he won’t find any primitive religious claims, debate tactics or ideas based on “faith.”

It is available through Murray State’s fine Inter-Library Loan system, probably not from the local branch of his favorite belief system. If you appreciate the perspectives offered in these columns, I invite you to peruse my blog on all things secular, humanist and scientific at wearedone.org.


Column by William Zingrone, Associate professor of psychology