Respectful Insolence

Dogma versus science

It’s been a crazy week that’s reaching a crescendo today and tomorrow, so much so that, unlike yesterday, when I said I’d only be brief and ended up blathering on for close to 2,000 words (Mike Adams has that effect on me, particularly when he’s at his most un-self-aware), today I really will be brief for once in my misbegotten logorrheic blogging career. I don’t know why, but this warning by Jacob Bronowski about the danger of dogma and how absolute certainty can turn human beings into monsters popped up again, and I couldn’t resist posting it*:

Science is uncertainty. That doesn’t mean we can’t ever know anything, as some opponents of science would have you believe. The essence of science, however, which is that all knowledge is subject to revision based on new evidence, does tend to keep one humble. Indeed, it’s hard to be a good scientist without a little humility in the face of evidence.

Comments

  1. #1 Candy
    February 10, 2011

    This was so very touching. Thank you for posting this video.

  2. #2 PhD-Thesis.com
    February 10, 2011

    It can’t. Because the foundation of science is always to question. Perhaps to what you refer to is not science. If someone can validly disprove a given law of science than they will not be chastised.

  3. #3 sharon
    February 10, 2011

    So moving.
    PhD-Thesis.com, I thought your site was a joke at first. But then I realised it isn’t funny. Now I am confused. Can anyone verify this is authentic?

  4. #4 Rich Scopie
    February 10, 2011

    Just a point of pedantry… You don’t reach a crescendo. A crescendo is the building to a peak or climax, not the attainment. So you reach the climax (if you see what I mean).

    Cheers,

    Rich.

  5. #5 JKW
    February 10, 2011

    A moving video I will share with my students tomorrow AM.

  6. #6 sophia8
    February 10, 2011

    Sharon@3: The site’s real, the comment is spam.

  7. #7 Andyo
    February 10, 2011

    I don’t know that I agree with that idealist use of the word “certain”. For all practical real-world purposes, we can be certain of a lot of things science discovered like, say, evolution.
    Just that subject was brought up by someone who presented him/herself as an evolution “supporter”:

    I generally tend to take issue with people who answer followers of dogma with dogmatic thinking. Science is very anti-dogma, even to the point of saying that science isn’t certain of anything. That’s the beauty of it; once we believe we’re certain of anything, another probable theory comes along to undermine our thinking.

    For instance, the theory of evolution isn’t really one theory. What we have is observations of slight deviations in characteristics of species and attempts of theorize about how those came about. We have Darwin’s theory of natural selection, in which traits are “selected” by the environment due to the fitness of the creature for survival. At the same time, we have the theory of Lamarkian inheritance, in which characteristics acquired by an organism can be inherited by its offspring. For the past hundred and fifty so years, natural selection has been thought to be the more probable theory, but recently, in the discovery of epi-genes, conversations about the likelihood of a kind of Lamarkian inheritance has increased. How does evolution work? Still up for debate.

    Evolution as a series of observations is undeniable, but that’s not saying very much. Evolution as a name for the origin of species still has no cohesive theory behind it. Evolution as a word referring to the theory of natural selection is not certainly true by modern thought, though it might be. How the species we encounter now first developed, how traits are inherited and expressed, are still actually being discovered.

    I understand the knee-jerk reaction most people have to Creationists, but don’t turn into dogmatic scientists because of it.

    Upthread, s/he had stated:

    Well, technically, evolution is a theory to be thought possible and even probable. In good science, that’s the way we talk about things.

  8. #8 MartinM
    February 10, 2011

    IIRC, Bronowski did that scene in a single take, unscripted.

  9. #9 DLC
    February 10, 2011

    Yes, Boronowski had it right.
    It bears repeating, every time some fanatic rears his stupid head.

  10. #10 sharon
    February 10, 2011

    Sophia8 @6, but they can barely string a sentence together let alone a coherent argument.

  11. #11 Anton P. Nym
    February 10, 2011

    Speaking of dogma… I know it’s a busy time, but there may be some required R.I. in my neck of the woods.

    http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=paul+connett+fluoride&aq=1&aqi=g10&aql=&oq=Paul+Connett

    Paul Connett is coming to London, Ontario to give a talk on, wait for it, the evils of fluoridation. (I’m tempted to sit in and hum “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “We Will Meet Once Again” the whole time*, but I’m not certain the entertainment value is worth putting up with this tripe.) Thought I’d link here because that google search brings up ties between this guy and Joe Mercola; that’s also the reason I’m linking to the Google search and not the results.

    — Steve

    * I wonder if this guy looks like Stirling Hayden?** At least then there’d be something for the ladies…

    ** For those not understanding the references, look up “Dr. Strangelove” on IMDB and then rent the movie ASAP. It’s an excellent look at the fluoridation controversy, among many other virtues… and it’s almost 50 years old now, too.

  12. #12 MikeMa
    February 10, 2011

    Bronowski was one of my my heros growing up. His book and TV show on the Ascent of Man inspired me to explore science, anthropology, and history with more diligence and wonder. Broke my heart when he was killed (IIRC) in a helicopter crash.

    He made his subjects accessible without watering them down. A rare talent.

  13. #13 Sastra
    February 10, 2011

    “This is how men behave when they believe things with no test in reality.”

    That’s an important point. The Nazis often claimed to admire science, but what they were doing was pseudoscience. There was no real community where ideas were criticized. Instead, they simply sought confirmation for what they already knew was true. And they knew it was true through other means.

    A couple interesting quotes:

    German physics? one asks. I might rather have said Aryan physics or the physics of the Nordic species of man. The physics of those who have fathomed the depths of reality, seekers after truth, the physics of the very founders of science. But, I shall be answered, ‘Science is and remains international.’ It is false. Science, like every other human product, is racial and conditioned by blood. (Philip Lenard — Deutsche Physik)

    Ah, yes. Different cultures have their own distinct science. Where do we hear that?

    “Only in the steady and constant application of force lies the very first prerequisite for success. This persistence, however, can always and only arise from a definite spiritual conviction. Any violence which does not spring from a firm, spiritual base, will be wavering and uncertain.” –Adolf Hitler Mein Kampf

    No test in reality. Knowledge through other means.

    (Hm … am I/we calling up the Hitler Zombie here?)

  14. #14 Yojimbo
    February 10, 2011

    @12 MikeMa

    I had the same feelings about Bronowski (I still pull out the hardbound copy of The Ascent of Man periodically), and this commentary on dogma was for me the high point of the series. I wish I’d seen and heard more of him.

    (And sorry, not to be pedantic, but he died of a heart attack)

  15. #15 MikeMa
    February 10, 2011

    Yojimbo,
    Thanks for correcting my poor and fanciful memory. Odd but I carried the vision of him scouting a site for a new tv series in a helicopter that went down. Weird thing to imagine. The good news is, that according to wiki, I can pay homage next time I’m in London in Highgate cemetery.

  16. #16 Autism & Oughtisms
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful and important video. I hadn’t seen that before, thank you for sharing it. Your own comment following the video was a good summary of a much-overlooked point too, well said.

  17. #17 Autism & Oughtisms
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful and important video. I hadn’t seen that before, thank you for sharing it. Your own comment following the video was a good summary of a much-overlooked point too, well said.

  18. #18 Autism & Oughtisms
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful and important video. I hadn’t seen that before, thank you for sharing it. Your own comment following the video was a good summary of a much-overlooked point too, well said.

  19. #19 Autism & Oughtisms
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful and important video. I hadn’t seen that before, thank you for sharing it. Your own comment following the video was a good summary of a much-overlooked point too, well said.

  20. #20 Autism & Oughtisms
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful and important video. I hadn’t seen that before, thank you for sharing it. Your own comment following the video was a good summary of a much-overlooked point too, well said.

  21. #21 Old Rockin' Dave
    February 10, 2011

    I was a much younger man when The Ascent of Man aired. It was inspiring to see someone so passionate about knowledge, so knowledgeable about seemingly everything, so humble and yet so wise. I too found this to be the emotional center of the series, and found the entire episode to be eye-opening as to the nature of knowledge.
    I recommend that if you are moved by this clip that you find other writings of his, as I did, and learn at his feet, so to speak. His description of his visit to Nagasaki is chilling for what he does not say as much as what he does.

  22. #22 Jarred C
    February 10, 2011

    Wow.

  23. #23 lilady
    February 10, 2011

    Powerful video that I have already “forwarded”

    I remember when I was growing up, in a neighborhood with a large Jewish population, seeing many parents and grandparents of my chums with numbers tattooed on their forearms; they were the fortunate ones who were liberated from the many camps set up to handle “the Jewish Problem” in Germany,Poland and Eastern Europe. The elderly, the very young, the mentally and physically impaired as well as gypsies were put to death rather quickly. Still others were used by sadist “scientists” for human experimentation, subjected to procedures that were unspeakable acts against humanity.

    About five years ago, I visited the Czech Republic and went to see the Jewish Cemetery, Museum and the synagogues that remain in the Jewish Quarter of Prague. As I entered the nave of the Pinkas Synagogue, a 16th century synagogue, I was struck by the peacefulness and the starkness of the limestone walls. After putting on my glasses and upon closer viewing of the walls, I saw in exquisite detail the names, date of birth and date of death/date they left for the concentration camps of the 80,000 Jews rounded up by the occupying armies…just from Prague alone.

    We need to never forget what Nationalism, Xenophobia and political rhetoric can do to a well-educated society.

  24. #24 Colin Day
    February 11, 2011

    But were the Nazis seeking absolute knowledge? And what was the greater cause of their reign of terror, their own moral arrogance, or the lack of moral certainty of their opponents? Had the more civilized Germans stopped Hitler out of their own moral outrage, or if the French had possessed the moral certitude to oppose Hitler when it would have been easy, would those millions have died?

  25. #25 Chris
    February 11, 2011

    Perhaps. What? Maybe.

    Mr. Day, do some catch up reading on the effect of sanctions on Germany after WWI. You might find it a bit more complicated than you thought.

  26. #26 Colin Day
    February 11, 2011

    @Chris
    #21

    The post WWI sanctions were imposed on Germany before the Nazis took power. And while the reparations contributed to Germany’s economic problems, they did not compel Germans to elect Hitler.

    Had the French opposed the remilitarization of the Rhineland, or supported the Czechs at Munich, Hitler might have been stopped earlier.

  27. #27 Wow
    February 11, 2011

    “And while the reparations contributed to Germany’s economic problems, they did not compel Germans to elect Hitler.”

    Nothing compelled Germans to elect Hitler.

    But Hitler rose to popular power by telling all the farmers that there will be Jam Tomorrow. He rose to popular power by telling the populace that the problems were Jews taking all the good stuff. He rose to power by scapegoating and pointing to the hardships pushed on them and the loss of prestige that the Versailles agreement forced on them.

    If Germany hadn’t been so damn poor, they would not have had the pent up aggression against Everyone Else.

    This is, of course, open to interpretation, but your statement I quoted is completely pointless since it is arguing that something impossible be true.

    When pushed against the gibberish (did anyone understand Chris? I didn’t) you REALLY need to sit down and work out your position FIRST.

  28. #28 historygeek
    February 11, 2011

    hitler wasn’t elected he was apointed chanclor by hindmberg the next election u had to put your name on the ballot and the nazi’s went from about 30% of the vote to 95% of the vote guese what happed to the other 5%. so the Nazi party didn’t win a ligimate election. so fat lot of good not voting for the nazi’s did. and by the way i sugest the rise and fall of the third reich very good book.

  29. #29 Chris
    February 11, 2011

    Of course you didn’t understand me, wow. I was responding to gibberish. But you did get the point about the poverty imposed on Germany, which is why it was not allowed to happen again after WWII. Also, the Nazis did not invent anti-Semitic ideas, they just acted on them. Plus they decided to also involve several other groups (as noted above).

  30. #30 historygeek
    February 11, 2011

    the french couldn’t stop the german they couldn’t even put together a goverment they where a mess because they are also suffering massive econmic hardships.

  31. #31 historygeek
    February 11, 2011

    the french couldn’t stop the german they couldn’t even put together a goverment they where a mess because they are also suffering massive econmic hardships.

  32. #32 Chris
    February 11, 2011

    The Great Depression was not just in the USA.

  33. #33 lilady
    February 11, 2011

    I agree with Chris that the Germans didn’t invent antisemitism. It was present throughout all of Europe and in Russia and in the United States. Have we all forgotten the Spanish Inquisition, the pogroms and the “Jewish” conspiracy emanating out of Russia in the form of the political tract “The Elders of Zion.”

    Henry Ford purchased the Detroit Independent Newspaper and hired a publisher, who used “The Elders of Zion” to expound on the Jewish “conspiracy” in a series of articles entitled “The International Jew”. The series ran for eighteen months in the newspaper….during the early 1920s. It was only after the third lawsuit from a Jewish man who was maligned in the newspaper…where Ford refused to appear…that Ford made a statement that he was “remiss” by not reading the articles that appeared in the newspaper he owned.

    “The Elders of Zion” is still one of the favorite reference points used by some of our home-grown hate groups.

    Anyone ever hear of Father Coughlin? He was a Catholic priest who had a small following in the early 1930s through his radio station program in the mid west. He first waded into politics with early support of FDR after the 1932 election. Somewhat after that, he expressed sympathy with the politics in Germany. He formed the National Union for Social Justice in 1934 and had an enormous impact on millions of Americans because his hate-filled radio programs were now broadcast on many more radio stations.

    Coughlin ranted about the genesis of the world-wide depression because of capitalists’ conspiracy with the evil “money changers”. In 1936 he was in complete accord with Hitler by stating that the depression was due to “the International conspiracy of Jewish Bankers”.

    An excellent internet site to detail the rise of Hitler and the coming Holocaust is available at the Jewish Virtual Library.

  34. #34 Chris
    February 11, 2011

    lilady:

    “The Elders of Zion” is still one of the favorite reference points used by some of our home-grown hate groups.

    It is covered quite nicely in Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History.

  35. #35 lilady
    February 11, 2011

    @Chris Great internet site for a contemporary look at the conspiracy theorists. I especially enjoyed the reviews of the book and the other conspiracy theories, including the September 11th attacks and Princess Diana death conspiracies.

  36. #36 Aaron
    February 11, 2011

    wow

  37. #37 Colin Day
    February 11, 2011

    @historygeek

    The French were powerful enough in 1936 to have compelled the Germans to not remilitarize the Rhineland. Also, while Hitler would not enjoy a majority until after he attained power, he was as popular as any other German leader.

    Also, the economic problems that enabled Hitler to achieve power were related more to the Great Depression than to the reparations of WWI.

    But a different question. To whom is Bronowski speaking? Does he believe that Hitler would have changed his mind after hearing such a speech? Or perhaps Bronowski would have addressed the German people. Did the Nazis have the moral certitude that Bronowski ascribes to them? Were they acting dogmatically?

  38. #38 Chris
    February 12, 2011

    Right now the idiom “cannot see the forest for the trees” is going through my head.

  39. #39 historygeek
    February 14, 2011

    the problem with your argument is the u act as though the french knew what was coming as if they read it in a history book. they didn’t and the problem isn’t the millitary it is the goverment and the french like everyone else in the world is dealing with a little something called the great depression not to mention there is a high problaity that if the french goverment invaded. the people of france would have had a revoltuion. because they didn’t want to go to war.

    and while you are cheerfully blaming eurpoeans why not blame the US for not letting the jews in because we wanted to preserve our racial purity and they would take our jobs.

    really you need to read more about what was really going on in these country’s in this time frame the period from WWI to the end of WWII is one big tale of woe one i thank my lucky stars i missed.

  40. #40 Vicki
    February 14, 2011

    Almost nobody knew what was coming, because even when it’s in a book, you have to know which book to believe. If Keynes never said “I told you so,” he had remarkable self-control, because he had told everyone so: The Economic Consequences of the Peace. Some of them might even have read his book, but not believed it.

    Consider how many people in our own time managed to ignore the warning signs of our economic crisis, and dismiss or attack the few people who did see and speak about it.

  41. #41 historygeek
    February 14, 2011

    excatly the point

    secound guesing in history when u know the out come of the event is a fallicy. we know what happen the people involed in that time could not know excatly what was going to happen. there are always people who get it right and always people who get it wrong. alot of people where worng about hitler and they paid for it with their life. he outlined what he was going to do in his book and the ingorned it because politians say things and do nothing

  42. #42 historygeek
    February 14, 2011

    excatly the point

    secound guesing in history when u know the out come of the event is a fallicy. we know what happen the people involed in that time could not know excatly what was going to happen. there are always people who get it right and always people who get it wrong. alot of people where worng about hitler and they paid for it with their life. he outlined what he was going to do in his book and the ingorned it because politians say things and do nothing

  43. #43 Old Rockin' Dave
    February 15, 2011

    lilady in #29 says “I agree with Chris that the Germans didn’t invent antisemitism.”
    They did. The original word was “anti-Semitismus”. It was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 to distinguish his hatred of Jews as a supposed race from hatred of Jews because they were not Christians. This was some time after the rise of anti-Semitic political parties in Germany.

  44. #44 Chris
    February 16, 2011

    Okay, they invented the word. But not the attitude, that had been around for centuries (and as you also noted, that it was invented after the rise of the the anti-Semitic parties).

  45. #45 Lazer epilasyon Kayseri
    February 16, 2011

    I specifically complained about his post on the Tuscon shooter being a mind-control victim, I had to link to proof that he removed that part of the article, probably after he came down from his mushroom high. Mike Adams is sick.

  46. #46 Colin Day
    February 18, 2011

    #35
    @historygeek

    So none of the French read Mein Kampf? None of them saw the build up of the German military? I did not intend to excuse the US; I agree with your criticism about not allowing Jews in the US.

    Aside from history, I have another question. How did Bronowski know that the evil of Auschwitz stemmed from the dogmatism of its officials? If the Nazis merely used their beliefs as a means to implement their plans, would Bronowski’s citing Cromwell have any affect on them?