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Science on Science

Religious people often like to claim that without religion, people would abandon their morals and the world would descend into chaos. Or something like that. Of course, they don’t have to offer any proof of that because, well, they are religious, so they just take it on faith.

But now we are finally hearing from the opposition. A new series of studies indicates that just thinking about science triggers more moral behavior.

That’s right, just playing a word game that included scientific words, like “logical”, “hypothesis”, “laboratory” and “theory” made people act in a significantly more moral way after playing the game.

I love this. Science uses science to prove a connection between science and morality. With the unstated logical conclusion that people who think less about science are less moral.

Unfortunately, I guess people who are religious can dismiss these studies, since assuming they don’t believe in science.

Back to square one.




  1. Anonymous wrote:

    Human beings are not plants or rocks. They are animals. Their behavior is going to be as animals behave whether their is anything called Religion or not. I’ve heard “People are the only ones who kill for fun.” Excuse me, I’ve seen my critters kill over and over for fun. It is animal nature. I took four shelter cats last year as the owner of the shelter dropped dead at 66. Mac had to go with Robin, a big grey cat. All cats fixed. Robin got sick and died in January. Now Mac is totally devoted to Mona, another big grey cat. How many times do we see this same behavior in humans? We are all animals. Religion is just a consolation to those who need it or to those who want to use it for control of other human beings.

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink
  2. Iron Knee wrote:

    I once read that the purpose of religion was so that the poor didn’t kill all the rich people.

    Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink
  3. Desert Gecko wrote:

    I debated with myself about commenting on this post. Normally, I find the posts here erudite and amusing, but not this one. As one of many people who are both religious and a scientist, I found your assumption that all “religious people” take everything on faith (without evidentiary support, I’m assuming) and don’t believe in science to be condescending and offensive. We all have faith in something, be it God, the Universe, evolution, science teachers, the value of the dollar, etc, since each person cannot be an expert on everything. By lumping all “religious people” into one group, you have closed your mind to both facts and faith.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink
  4. David Freeman wrote:

    Desert Gecko, I think you over reacted. IK never used the word ‘all’ yet you used it 3 times in one paragraph, twice implying that IK referred to all “religious people”.

    The first sentence, “Religious people often like to claim that without religion, people would abandon their morals and the world would descend into chaos”, in my mind establishes who IK is talking about through out his comments. Yes, if you add “ALL” in front of that sentence it would be ignorant and offensive. I have yet to hear an atheist make the claim that religion is necessary for morality so the people who make that claim are religious i.e. “religious people often” make this claim is a perfectly reasonable statement even though “all religious people” would not be reasonable.

    One sentence at the end is phrased unfortunately. I think IK should have used “if they don’t believe in science” rather than “since they don’t believe in science”.

    Why do I interpret IK’s comments as less hard edged than Desert Gecko has? Precisely because for years now I also “find the posts here erudite and amusing”.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink
  5. art wrote:

    To believe IN science infers faith.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  6. a regular reader wrote:

    Art: Believe in dictionaries and look up “infer”.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink
  7. Iron Knee wrote:

    Desert Gecko, I deserve that comment. I was trying to be humorous (I filed this under HUMOR) but I guess it wasn’t clear enough. I was also joking about using science to prove something about science.

    I completely agree that everyone has to take some things on faith. It is impossible to establish all facts for yourself, even the best scientists cannot do it.

    I just thought the whole thing was ironic and tried to make a funny. No offense intended. I’ll make the change that David suggested.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  8. Michael wrote:

    No, no, no, no. Faith is NOT necessary for science, unless you apply a definition of “faith” that is almost devoid of meaning. Here’s one definition that I prefer: “belief that is not based on proof.” You could go with a different version, such as “confidence or trust in a person or thing,” but that is less distinctive. How is that any different “trust” or “belief?” What really distinguishes “faith” from a philosophical standpoint is the acceptance of something’s truth without proof.

    Nothing in science is accepted without proof. Not even the scientific method itself. In fact, it’s patently absurd to even talk about “believing” in science. We accept the scientific method because, when we practice it, our observations of the results match our expectations. It is a systematic approach that allows us to evaluate the truth of claims. Thus, we have proof. The proof is that it is reproducible and self-affirming.

    Of course, we could get completely solipsistic and state that observations require belief, but I find that argument to be very weak. Belief implies cognition, whereas observations are the result of primitive stimuli in the form of perceptions.

    As for the issue of whether one can establish all facts for one’s self, clearly that’s impossible. However, that still does not require faith. I believe in the theory of gravity because it provides a consistent explanation for phenomena that I can observe. If I desire, I can perform additional experiments and further convince myself. My proof is that everything I have observed fits that theory.

    In short, science is science because its results and claims–and even its procedures–are testable and can be refined. Faith is not testable.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  9. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Michael – not to go off on a tangent here but the problem with alot of science in my mond stems from statements like

    “our observations of the results match our expectations”

    That is where IMHO alot of scientists and science programs go awry. It’s too easy to “guide” the results to match our expectations. In essence cherry picking data that meets our expectations. I would think the best science should occur when there are “less” expectations. Now I know one must begin an experiment with some thought as to the outcome, but I think often today the outcome guides the experiment to the detriment of the science.
    And faith in scinec has a broader sense in that while the scinece may be good strapping ones self in a rocket on top a a half million lbs of highly volatile fuel and hoping the scientific engineering was thought completely through is a small leap of faith in my mind. 🙂

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  10. ThatGuy wrote:

    PSGT, you can fix that easily by adding “or they don’t” to the end of Michael’s statement. Are there bad studies? Sure. But typically some skeptical scientist will come along and poke holes in it until said study is undone. It’s the ability to disprove theories that makes science a safer bet than religion when considering something like energy policy.

    Science allows for and encourages uncertainty before arriving at something we can accept as fact (and even later reject if necessary!). Religions, most any way, expect people to adhere to tenets based usually on the valid but unsound argument of “because it is”.

    This isn’t to say no scientist can be religious or a republican, but it does make it a bit less likely… there was a study on that somewhere…

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink
  11. Desert Gecko wrote:

    You’re right, David, I did overreact a bit, which is why I usually don’t comment. I guess I’ve gotten a little oversensitive since I’ve moved to isolated and conservative northern Arizona. And thanks, Iron Knee. I’m still a dedicated reader.

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Permalink
  12. Michael wrote:

    PSGT, actually, the key is to consider whom the “our” refers to, as well as “expectations.” In my statement above, “our” refers to the scientific community as a whole, not individual research groups. “Expectations” refers to predictions that are consistent with previous results. Sure, there are groups and individuals that make mistakes or commit outright fraud. But to have your results accepted as the prevailing scientific theory, you must be able to convince the community as a whole, and your results must be reproducible time and again. Consequently, over time, our observations DO match our expectations that we have constructed based on repeated evaluation. That’s why peer review is so important (but not perfect…).

    Take Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his supposed correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. Subsequent studies and investigations demonstrated that he (a) failed to demonstrate a statistically significant correlation and (b) intentionally did so fraudulently for profit (he had invented a vaccine to compete with the MMR vaccine in use at the time). Over the course of these studies, our (specifically the medical community’s) observations continued to match the previous set of expectations (that MMR does not cause autism).

    The key to science is that we can test these things and consistently re-evaluate experiments, either re-affirming or discrediting the results. Science is inherently self-correcting as a result. Bad studies and results are eventually discarded, at least in the scientific community; whether or not we can get such intellectual leaders as Jenny McCarthy to discard fraudulent results is a different story…

    Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink
  13. David Freeman wrote:

    Like Desert Gecko’s last comment, I’m sometimes reluctant to post comments because I have a history of overreacting or worse – sometimes I fall for the Onion even.
    However, often comments lead to interesting discussions which are my favorite part of PI. I send thanks to Desert Gecko for stimulating some discussion I certainly enjoyed.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink
  14. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Desert Gecko and David Freeman – On posting, we all and particulary myself can overreact. But, that should not prevent or preclude us from letting our opinions be known. I’ve taken my share of thrashings on this site, but for the most part the folks who contribute don’t take it personally. They will however defend their opinion. The other great part about it is both sides of an argument can learn and evolve their thinking to a different level. If our politicans had the same type of frank discussions we have here at times, they’d probably be more likely to actually get something accomplished in Washington. So please David and Desert, don’t ever hold back your opinions because they are likely more valued then you can imagine.

    Michael – I know the scientific community prides itself on creating reproduceable results, because if it can’t be reproduced its not valid. I was speaking more to the science hacks and politicians who quote their science as fact similar to Wakefield. One recent study in particular about the effects of Resveratrol (the anitoxident found in red wine) conducted by the University of Coppenhagan expected to confirm that it was good for cardiovascular health. They actually confirmed the opposite. They found that in older humans a diet rich in antioxidents may counteract many of the health benefits of exercise, which contradicted the studies done on animals. ( IMO this is an example of good science, but we’ll have to wait on the reslults to be reporduced.

    Thatguy – I think science and religion are’nt even close. Theology may be closer to science but religion is not. I have my own opinins of religion and being brought up Luthern, got to know the Baptists, married to a Roman Catholic and very good friends with several Jewish praticioners I’ve been exposed to a wide array of beliefs. They are just that beliefs, not science.

    Now to IKs original post and religions believing that without their guiding hand the world will descend into chaos we have only to look at the current state of Muslim mess in the middle east or the child molesters of the catholic church to determine the hypocrisy in that. I do believe that spiritual beliefs can assist in preventing some depravation and help keep humanity human. But spritual beliefs are very similar to our own contitutional beliefs and the general laws of civilization. Scientists, being some of the brighter folks in the room already tend to regard people in higher ways, so I don’t really think it’s because they are scientists. After all scientists gave us the atomic bomb, which was not so kind to humanity. The also gave us nerve gas, mustard gas, weaponized sarin, anthrax and who knows what else. So they are not necessarily the saints they’re made out to be either.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  15. Michael wrote:

    Yes, that looks like an example of good science. It also looks like an example of (somewhat) bad science reporting. The headline should read, “Too Many Antioxidants? Resveratrol in Unnaturally High Doses May Block Many Cardiovascular Benefits of Exercise.” The sample size isn’t huge (27 participants), so these should be considered preliminary findings. Furthermore, the authors of the study even point out that “the quantities of resveratrol given in our research study are much higher than what could be obtained by intake of natural foods (emph. added).” Too much of anything is bad for you, so I’m not shocked by the findings. There are several vitamins that are very healthy and necessary in low doses, while consuming too much of them causes organ damage.

    The authors have not yet demonstrated the normal quantities of resveratrol have the same effect, so the reporters should not have extrapolated the results to normal diets. But it is a good example of proposing a specific hypothesis and testing it.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  16. Iron Knee wrote:
    Interesting article about why scientists have left the Republican party.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  17. Dan wrote:

    I love science, it tells us how God created everything. For example: Big Bang = Let there be light. Some people just cherry pick passages that support their view.

    Friday, August 30, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  18. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Great article IK and its assumptions are IMO spot on. The crazies of the party are driving out the rational thinkers.

    Friday, August 30, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

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