November 17, 2008

Why IDiotic Research is BAD for Science

This is a partial repost of a previous blog as I wanted to have a separate post outlining one of my postgraduate experiences of scientific research for a paper, and how it can be scuppered when Creationist/ID papers start entering research databases. After I've outlined my general concerns about this, listen to this tale of research woe. The following exchange took place in the context of a conversation with a believer:

Question: In response to your statement about religious scientists engaging in intellectual dishonesty and their position being unjustifiable, why should you or anyone object to what someone wishes to spend their time researching?

Answer: Because they basically waste everyone's time with what is essentially junk science. In fact its not just scientists, but a whole load of other people like swamis and gurus who think that they can make scientific pronouncements and get away with it. I discussed this briefly at someone's blog a few months ago. This is a very good question you've asked. This summer [2008] it is likely that I'll be involved in a massive scientific project that I hoped would be along the lines of an investigation in the religious content of auditory hallucinations in non-psychotic populations. If I get ethical approval for the basic idea, there is a possibility of significant expansion which will result in investigations beyond the original proposal and quite probably end up a something seriously publishable. As such, it is my duty to do the background research (for the introduction of what will be my paper as I explained above) by seeing what has already been done and how my study can fit in with any previous research. I came across this paper:

Norris, R.S. (2005). Examining the structure and role of emotion: Contributions of neurobiology to the study of embodied religious experience. Zygon, 40(1), 181-200.

A paper that I can only describe through gritted teeth as absolute shit. There was nothing whatsoever of any value in it, least of all to me. Norris basically draws some thoughts together along the lines of: "Look at how this explains this, and how that explains that. Isn't this grrrrrreat?" I was so disturbed by this paper that I checked out the Zygon journal. Strange name for a scientific journal, don't you think? But apparently it is also known as the Journal of Religion and Science, and here's what's written on their website:

"The journal Zygon provides a forum for exploring ways to unite what in modern times has been disconnected—values from knowledge, goodness from truth, religion from science. Traditional religions, which have transmitted wisdom about what is of essential value and ultimate meaning as a guide for human living, were expressed in terms of the best understandings of their times about human nature, society, and the world. Religious expression in our time, however, has not drawn similarly on modern science, which has superseded the ancient forms of understanding. As a result religions have lost credibility in the modern mind. Nevertheless some recent scientific studies of human evolution and development have indicated how long-standing religions have evolved well-winnowed wisdom, still essential for the best life. Zygon's hypothesis is that, when long-evolved religious wisdom is yoked with significant, recent scientific discoveries about the world and human nature, there results credible expression of basic meaning, values, and moral convictions that provides valid and effective guidance for enhancing human life."

Sounds pretty cool, huh? Like some of those weird ideas you hear about science and religion coming together in a synthesis. Personally I'd be suspicious of a publication that had people like Viggo Mortenson on their advisory board but there you go. If I did some digging around, I'm sure I'd find these guys all to be a bunch of Creationists. Whoops, Intelligent Design advocates, sorry. These statements of purpose and all sounds very professional and above-board until you take a look at some of their articles. By virtue of my ATHENS login I was able to access their latest March 2008 issue, and here's an abstract from an article entitled 'The Centrality of Incarnation':

"What we urgently need at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a christological vision that can shape and inform a new and powerful way of helping humankind to interpret their place within the universe. A christological vision that is unintelligible and uninteresting can have a profoundly deleterious soteriological implication: the orbit of God's saving grace will not be wide enough to encompass the universal place of humankind. Arthur Peacocke's move is clear and to the point: Only when the foundations and universal scope of God's grace are fully established for all of creation, only then can the importance of God's specific work in Jesus the Christ be established."

This is science, are you kidding me? And just to make sure I wasn't being unfair I had a look at some other articles much to my chagrin and my theory of these guys being a bunch of religion-biased creationists was more or less confirmed as many of them praise the ideas of Arthur Peacocke. They are definitely religious anyway and biased with it. Articles entitled with things like 'Jesus and Creativity' don't really catch my interest.

And here's a gem from an article entitled 'Is a complete biocognitive account of religion feasible?' Pretty relevant to my interests, I'd think? Unfortunately not:

"Concluding this critical review, I am convinced, along with other scholars in the field, that the cause of the cognitive science of religion would be better served if detached from the biological approach. Very often the evolutionary ideas are highly speculative, lack empirical evidence, and become misleading."

Not only is this utter nonsense, but is it surprising that it was written by someone from a university in the Vatican City? I am filled with shock even while writing this, words can't express how I feel for these morons clogging up valuable PubMed space with their hokum gobbledygook dressed up as "science". Needless to say, I ain't likely to be referring to Zygon articles in any academic piece I write. Unless I wish to poke fun of course. Much has also been written about the Templeton Foundation and their apparent bias in annually awarding $1.6m to individuals who do something in "trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity". Other religious sects are jumping on this bandwagon too, putting out junk science books such as those authored by Michael Cremo and Richard L. Thompson; have you read Cremo's 'Human Devolution'? Don't bother, you have better things to do.

So this is basically why I'd object to this type of "research", Member1, because every few years its people like these who also waste everyone's time with court cases against various State Boards of Education in the US that contest the theory of evolution and demand that "Creationism" be taught alongside it in schools. They are outcasts with their junk science.

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