Science & Secular Morals – A Pathway to Truth

snowballearth

 

A couple of things have come to my attention recently which coalesce to powerfully express why the Scientific method and secular morality trump magical thinking when it comes to evaluating the physical universe. The first of those was the discovery of yet more evidence to bolster the Snowball Earth hypothesis. Nothing particularly fantastic, on the face of it – this sort of evidence is bound to come up in a case that is nigh-on proven anyway.

The part that I found interesting concerned the author of the new study, Huiming Bao, who entered the field with the intention of falsifying the very same hypothesis. The minutiae of the study itself are somewhat irrelevant – suffice to say, corroborating evidence in the form of depleted Oxygen-17 level and ultra-high atmospheric CO2 have provided an explanation of how the Earth recovered from its snowball status.

Bao’s interest in snowball Earth began with the revival of the theory in 1998 and in his own words,

“I was a casual ‘non-believer’ of this hypothesis because of the mere improbability of such an Earth state,” Bao said. “There was nothing rational or logic in that belief for me, of course. I remember I even told my job interviewers back in 2000 that one of my future research plans was to prove that the Snowball Earth hypothesis was wrong.”

But on discovery of some strange isotope ratios in barite minerals dating from the glaciation event 635 million years ago, Bao had a change of heart;

“Now, it seems that our LSU group is the one offering the strongest supporting evidence for a ‘Snowball Earth’ back 635 million years ago. I certainly did not see this coming. The finding we published in 2008 demonstrates, again, that new scientific breakthroughs are often brought in by outsiders.”

What this demonstrates is one of the defining features of the scientific method – that is, it is by nature sceptical. On the evaluation of relevant evidence, one can reach a conclusion about the nature of things. When that conclusion (or hypothesis) is tested and challenged against the available evidence, one has the opportunity to dis-prove it. In this case, that is exactly what happened.

On discovery that your initial conclusions are incorrect, the community is able to revise their ideas and update them – in Bao’s case this entailed a 180-degree about-face in his ideas about Snowball Earth. This has happened an innumerable times in the history of science – from Kepler and his elliptical orbits to Einstein to Heisenberg and Quantum mechanics – and highlights a fundamental difference in reasoned thinking and religious faith. What reaction do the zealots and evangelists have to the discovery of contrary evidence? Attack it with assertions and straw man arguments until it hopefully goes away, this is the way the cognitive dissonance caused by incompatible beliefs is dealt with.

Talking of cognitive dissonance brings me to the second item. On a phone in to American Public Access TV show The Atheist Experience, a caller from Austin, Texas phones in (one of a series of calls) and after much debate with expert logician-in-chief Matt Dillahunty and Jen Peeples, is confronted with the reality of his religions inherent moral failings. As Matt has said many times, secular morality is the process of determining the correct course of action based on a rational interpretation of the consequences of ones actions. Contrast with the morality of the Bible – genocide, rape, war murder, incest, slavery; these are all assertions from authority, and necessarily require that one gives up his moral faculties to an unsubstantiated God. In this sense Christianity is the opposite of moral.

Enjoy Matt and his cohorts on The Atheist Experience

One thought on “Science & Secular Morals – A Pathway to Truth

  1. I am by no means able to eloquently put words down but what I can say as a lay person, who enjoys a good discussion, here goes..
    If one does not allow one to challenge one’s own belief system during one’s life time, one ends up dead intellectually and emotionally.
    Your written piece and the video link makes just this point:-)!!

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