Science is a Belief System

I’m talking about left and right hemispheres. Sometimes it’s not sure whether I’m talking about the biological brain, the mind, or the epistemological divide between the empirical sciences and the “other” way of thinking. I’ve given up making the distinction. I’d rather be hung for a tiger than a sheep.  Well, the whole Cosmos is split into left and right sides and the cleavage line goes right down the middle of the author’s skull.  I must point out that the same situation applies to you as well. No one is spared in being chopped in half. In the post after this one, we see that even God is split in two.
Traditional Sciences form a Belief System
The left hemisphere bathes in abstract reality. This great bubble of floating rationality works from propositions, which have truth-values. As such, each proposition expresses a belief. The left side subject believes in propositions, which have ‘true’ truth-values, and disbelieves propositions, which are deemed to have false truth-values. A considerable source of angst for the left hemisphere is figuring out what propositions to believe in and which to disbelieve. The source of angst comes from the fact that the whole rational apparatus is suspended mid-air in a world of abstraction. This abstract bubble of rationality has no logically expressible relationship to the non-abstract world, whatever that might be. Like Descartes contemplating his own thinking, this miserable isolated left hemisphere eventually arrives at its core belief: it is true that I exist because I’m thinking about it. Of course, this Cartesian proposition is only a belief. Like all the uni-directional propositions that populate the left hemisphere, by its very uni-directional nature the proposition has a truth-value which only may be true and equally may be false. The only critical faculty available to left side reasoning is the demand for internal logical coherence of its belief system.

The end result is that left side thinking can be very sharp for detecting the most subtle logical irregularities, contradictions and variances from the current prevailing belief system. This is the strong point of left side reasoning. The weak point is that the resulting belief system can creep so far away from common sense that it becomes quite whacky, fundamentalist religious belief system and political belief systems can even become very dangerous and destructive. Modern sciences, exploiting the analytical clarity of left side, try to avoid creeping into insanity by peer review and attempting informal common sense interpretations of empirical data.

The corpus of knowledge making up present day sciences makes up a gigantic belief system. Karl Popper cottoned on to this fact by providing his well-known criterion for a belief system. A belief system is one where no proposition in the system is absolutely and definitively true. For Popper, a belief system was one where every proposition that is provisionally true but may be “falsifiable”. For this to be possible, all propositions must enjoy the rational status of possessing a truth value: hence, providing the possibility of being either true or false.

Karl Popper effectively declared that modern science, according to his falsifiability criterion, was fundamentally a belief system. He then went on to use the criterion in the reverse sense: If any pretender to scientific knowledge was not a belief system then it was “unscientific.”

For traditional science, the minimal requirement for an assertion be acceptable as scientific is that it be either believable or unbelievable. This requires that the assertion can be stated as a proposition possessing a truth value thus allowing a believable object of belief (true truth-value) or disbelief (false truth-value). Left side science is intimately wedded to a certain brand of logic which assumes the Law of the Excluded Middle. There is no middle way. Propositions are believed either true or false, in science. There is no “cannot be determined” or “not applicable here” clause in the logic of the empirical sciences. If a proposition should indeed offer such “third option” possibilities then it cannot be an object of belief or disbelief and so would not be accepted as being potentially scientific. The validity of an empirical science proposition must be black or white, there are no greys.
Traditional science is based on abstraction. A fundamental characteristic of abstract reasoning is that it does not demand that objects exist or not. This is seen as its power. A favourite topic for abstract reasoning is the proposition “God exists.” Is the proposition true or false? The same question can be asked about unicorns and gravitons. Do they exist? According to the Law of the Excluded Middle, the answer must be true or false. The basic assumption of abstract reasoning is that existence is an attribute. Something existing or not existing is like something having mass or being massless. Existence is a mere attribute that some things have at a particular point in time. Unicorns will never have existence because they are fictional. Unicorns do not exist and never will exist. Socrates also does not exist, but for a different reason: he is dead. The Judeo-Christian god is an entity which possesses this existence attribute. God exists. In the form of his son, he even once existed in the flesh. What is more, he can return in the flesh at any time. The Judeo-Christian god is distinct from any other god by its existence attribute. Grace to this attribute, the citizen is faced with a stark choice.  The citizen, being an abstract thinker, must respect the Law of the Excluded Middle. He can believe that god exists and so enter into the communion of believers. Alternatively, he can believe the contrary: God does not exist, he declares. He thus enters into the club of the Atheists. Theist or atheist? That is the question. It is in this way that the god fearing believer and the god hating atheist join hands in a common goal. They are all people that believe that the god question is a reasonable question with a clear and precise answer. They are all creatures driven by belief. Of course there might be a third option, that of the agnostic. However, the agnostic must climb to even more illustrious heights and start musing over whether the Law of the Excluded Middle is valid or not, and why.

Not all people are creatures of belief. This is the case for Allah and the Hindu gods. In the case of the secular Islamic world, for example, there are no atheists as there are in the secular Judeo-Christian world. No one, not even the most devout Muslim, believes in Allah and so no one can disbelieve in Allah. Allah is not an object of belief as Allah is beyond the true and the false. With Allah belief is inconsequential, what matters is faith. Allah is determined by the faith of the individual. If you hold such faith then Allah is your god. If you are secular, not only do you have no god, you have no concept of god. There is no debate. There cannot be any debate between the faithful and the infidel, just a different state of being based on faith or the lack of it. The difference between belief and faith can be difficult for Westerners to comprehend.

There is a big difference between belief and faith. For example, someone can believe in fairies but it is difficult to imagine having faith in fairies. In Christianity, belief comes first and faith second. It is quite possible for a Christian to have a crisis in faith and even lose the faith. Nevertheless, the Christian will still believe in God.

The Christian god is qualifiable by a proposition that satisfies the Law of the Excluded Middle. The proposition “God exists” thus can be considered as a scientific hypothesis. This is where Popper steps in and adds an extra requirement for a proposition to be acceptable as a scientific hypothesis, the proposition must be falsifiable. The general consensus amongst both Judeo-Christian theists and atheists alike is that the proposition “God exists” is not falsifiable. There is no scientific experiment that could possibly refute the proposition. Thus, by Popper’s criterion, the question of whether god exists or not cannot be covered by science. Once again, the theists and atheists usually concur on this conclusion, something which underlines the unanimity of theists and atheists in Judeo-Christian culture. Theists and atheists mutually agree on everything except the particular truth value of a proposition.

However, things aren’t as simple as that. Some atheists have felt threatened by theists who have started to pedal a fundamentalist view of creation. To restore the balance against the inroads that the Creationists are having into the education system, the atheists have resurrected some nineteenth century science to act as an alternative beacon of inspiration for our youth. They call this alternative to Creationism, Darwinism. The atheists peddle the Darwinist message that every human being on this planet is the end result of a long series of random genetic mutations leading to what we are today. By selling Darwin tee shirts over the web and promoting this inspirational message across the media, the atheists hope to win the day.

The battle between the Creationists and the New Darwinists seems to be essentially peculiar to the US. What is of concern in this section is the scientific status of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Firstly, one should note that the basic epistemological basis of the Theory of Evolution was due to the Epicureans of ancient Greek and so preceded Darwin by several thousand years. Despite a similarity of their world scientific outlook, the Epicureans differed from the New Darwinians by their views on how to enjoy life. The New Darwinian advocates getting meaningful pleasure out of life by getting excited about new pictures posted on the Hubble telescope web-site. The Epicureans took a different tack. Rather than pleasure being a mere by-product of certain kinds of scientific pursuit, they turned the pursuit of pleasure into the central object of science itself. They argued that one of the worst obstacles to leading a happy pleasurable life was fear of the gods. This lead to the Epicureans taking the theological position that the gods were distant from humans and totally uninterested in human affairs. Of particular interest was their scientific outlook. The Epicureans, although not empirically minded, held a similar philosophical outlook to traditional sciences. They were strict materialists, atomists and determinists. The whole world was in the vice of a strict determinism of cause and effect. But, like modern physics, there was an exception to this draconian determinism. Epicure called it the Swerve. Atoms moved and interacted with each other in a totally deterministic way but every now and then an atom would execute an imperceptible, totally random “swerve”. Epicure exploited this notion to develop his Swerve Theory of the universe. At the beginning of the cosmic cycle, the world is non-structured: All atoms were falling down in straight vertical lines, according to Epicure. After an immensely long time, because of the accumulated random swerves of the otherwise deterministic atoms, the universe micro swerved into the way it is today,

Amazingly, this picture is no different in principle to that of modern science. The random beginnings were a bit different but the micro swerving into the world of today is the same belief. Since Epicure’s time Swerve Theory has come a long way. The random swerves of atoms has been confirmed and even quantified. Nowadays the Epicurean Swerve Theory is known as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and is explained in the Wave Equation.

Swerve Theory has been applied to the biological realm where it manifests itself as genetic mutations. Just as collections of atoms micro-swerved to produce the first single celled living creature, further random swerving eventually lead to the animals that we have become today. It’s all a product of Epicurean Swerve Theory.

Darwinism also adds in the survival of the fitness paradigm as an embellishment of Epicurean Swerve Theory. It is thus claimed that genetic swerving is not a completely random process as some swerves are more successful as others and hence are directed by success. The successful swerves then go to propagate other successful swerves. The end result is that only the fittest survive. In fact, the survival of the fitness paradigm is a huge red herring. It’s about as meaningful as saying that the survivors of a car crash are the fittest compared to those that perished. The paradigm is a simple tautology. Who survive are the fittest, who are the fittest are the survivors. The semantics are the same, only the labels change. All up, the survival of the fitness paradigm adds nothing to elementary Epicurean Swerve Theory. To name the survivors as being the fittest is just a change of terminology. We are all the “fittest,” we are all the last men standing; we are all the survivors of a trillion times a trillion Epicurean Swerves. And that is the way we came to be the way we are today, believe it or not, says the Theory.

It would seem that Epicurean Swerve Theory and its modern biological successor in Darwinism are capable of being expressed in terms of a theory that people can believe or disbelieve. Thus the theory could be taken as a traditional scientific hypothesis. However, there is no way to possibly refute the hypothesis. That things change deterministically with a random component, this is hard to refute. This is what Karl Popper himself eventually recognised. By his falsification criteria, Darwinism was unscientific! Popper initially accepted this conclusion and only later tried to worm his way out of it. Refuting that we didn’t just drift to where we are today and thus refute Darwinism is a task that even Popper can’t convincingly achieve.

Where Darwinism wins prestige is the notion that the theory explains something. It explains evolution. However, it only has descriptive not explanatory powers. It describes evolution. As we know, the evolutionary process goes in the face of what is predicted by the second law of thermodynamics where there should be a drift to increased entropy, an ineluctable drift towards thermodynamic death. However, this drift is deterministic as there is no Epicurean Swerve or Heisenberg Uncertainty in classical thermodynamic theory. In the evolving world we live in, the opposite seems to be the case. Evolution leads to an apparent decrease in entropy, a steady rise in diversity rather than a steady fall. Darwinism describes this phenomenon, but does not explain it.

We are now coming to the end of this section with the basic understanding that science is based upon falsifiable belief. As for religion, it is either based on non-falsifiable belief or faith, which is impervious to belief. In the third slot is Darwinism. It appears that Darwinism is somewhere in the domain of the Epicurean Swerve theory. Alternatively it can be taken as a non-falsifiable belief that things, particularly living things, evolve and so are in the same boat as the religions. The New Darwinians seem to prefer the latter option ad see it as a viable religion substitute, but still a religion nevertheless.

It is now time to carry out another exercise in semiotic analysis. This time we will end up with a system based on belief on the left side and a system based on something else on the right. The right side system is based on faith. This will be an exercise in theology. See the next post.

Key Phrases: Semiotic square, genetic code, generic code, DNA, start codon, left right hemispheres, the divided brain, epistemology, anti-mathematics, masculine, feminine, gender differentiation,  Generic Science. Science as a belief system.


D. J. H. Moore

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