Friday, June 25, 2010

The Bible Anticipates All Scientific Discoveries,

...if that's really true, then why do Christian madrassahs and imams seem always to wait until after the discovery is made by secular scientists to point it out? Why not help us out ahead of time? At the very least, these folks have to admit that what they've been doing throughout history appears exactly the same as people who are covering their bases after the fact, and who didn't have any special knowledge from the Bible ahead of time.

But we atheists are nothing if not forgiving, so let's give them a chance: X-chromosome inactivation is an interesting problem in medicine and evolution. Where is that in the Bible (chapter and verse)? Can the Bible tell us anything about how to use this to treat cancer or prevent birth defects? I scoured Deuteronomy and frankly couldn't find much. Okay, maybe biology isn't their thing, so let's try semiconductors. Can you point out where the change from transistors to integrated circuits is discussed? And if the Bible foretells the future, should I buy or sell Sun Microsystems this week? (Incidentally, has anyone else had the experience of a Christian telling them the Bible is true because its prophecy has come true, and then stopping that person short by asking them for just one example? It's amazingly common.)

I think we should grant at its foundation, the Christian apology that they actually knew all this post-Enlightenment science the whole time and they were just mysteriously keeping quiet about it, is actually an interesting idea, at least from a philosophical or science-fictional standpoint. In this view, the Bible is a compressed account of all reality in a single book, with scriptural exegetes really just carrying out decompression algorithms. (Math people: another question is to ask the Christians to tell us the Kolmogorov complexity of the universe. Even if it's not computable, they should be able to just compare the Bible to the universe and count.) The Bible-as-compressed-data argument seems essentially to have been the one used by The Bible Codes, intended for the incredulous of the digital age (of whom there are many, judging by the book's sales figures.) The main problem is that as always the predictions didn't come true. A related problem is that if the Bible contains an account of future reality, how does that allow for free will and morality?

Taking someone's position more seriously than they do is a good habit, because if they're right, you'll be able to adopt their position and you'll be better off - and if they're wrong, you'll figure it out quickly and they'll be scrambling. You can have similar amounts of fun by asking astrologers or tarot card readers or psychics or seance-leaders what stocks to buy or sell and what sports teams to bet on. What should I put in my resume or my college application? What clothes and haircut should I get to maximize my chances with guys or gals? Where should I live, what should I do for a living to maximize my family's happiness? Of course, they'll probably tell you you're being flippant by asking these sorts of mundane, unimportant questions. We care about all these ways of trying to make sense of the world to know how to lead better lives, so if you want to give us advice about how to live our lives, you need to talk about the impact of your beliefs and back it up. The same applies to Lady Cleo as to Pat Robertson as to Mohammed.

3 comments:

TGP said...

Ho hum...

Mike, you're just attempting to experimentally and observationally test hypothesis with data.

It's like science has the same answer to everything...

Induction, Hypothesis, Deduction, Test, Rinse, Repeat.

Michael Caton said...

There should be a script that looks at RSS feeds and writes blog posts automatically along those lines.

TGP said...

Robot Scientists Are Stealing Your Jobs!