Banned TED Talk: The Science Delusion
This is one of the most far one of the most fascinating TED talks I’ve ever seen. Even more fascinating is that TED has pulled it off their website and come down pretty hard on Rupert Sheldrake. In my opinion, TED plays right into his hands as Sheldrake elicits the narrow-mindedness which is the theme of his talk. He responds to their accusations here.
The reason I’m posting this, not because I’m a scientist and I can affirm his ‘facts,’ but because several of the points Sheldrake makes have been thoughts I’ve had on the scientific community for years now. Let me make this clear: I love science and am fascinated by it. I am not threatened by the findings people make, though at times they may/appear to conflict with my worldview. That said, I have long since been disturbed by the dogmatic positions many people take on science. For some it’s almost… religious. In a field that’s all about discovery and is full of debate, there are many subjects in which debate seems to be off-limits. God, for example, is ridiculous. In the words of Marx, he’s “the opium of the people.”
When I get down to it, the problem I have with many people’s view of science is the implicit acceptance of scientific theories as fact. Evolution is a fact, stop questioning it. Why the heck not? Isn’t questioning the foundation of science? I’m not saying I’m pro or anti evolution, what I have a problem with is the ridicule of questioning. There are some explanations for this behavior, and I don’t want to make this a short blog post so I won’t go too deep…
One issue may lie with the system scientists exist in. That system is that respected scientists are generally judged by the conclusions they come to. Lawyers are judged on their performance in court. A good lawyer wins cases. A poor lawyer loses. The better you are the more you win. Guess what that leads many lawyers to do? Win at all costs. It ceases to be the pursuit of justice and begins to be the pursuit of competition. The scientific community is very similar. Newton. Einstein. Darwin. Curie. We remember them for their contributions, for coming to interesting and original conclusions and they are respected for it.
Josiah Whitney and John Muir battled theories as to how Yosemite Valley was formed. In the end, the debate got more personal than simply “discovering facts” and Whitney resorted to calling Muir a “sheep herder” and other belittling names. When evidence of Muir’s glacial theory began to surface, Whitney was humiliated. Being wrong has a price if your work is tied to your identity. The danger lies in men’s pride. If your contribution, which is often the result of years of work, is made to be insignificant or false, your value as a scientist declines. Once people celebrated you. Now they don’t. Even worse, they may forget or even ridicule you. Better to die before they debunk your theory. No scientist wants to be someone’s Whitney.
Another possible explanation, and they’re not mutually exclusive, is that for some ‘scientific facts’ my be their opium. I don’t know if that ever occurred to Marx. While the scientific community’s main claims is openness to change and new ideas, I’m not so sure that’s true. If it were about discussion and openness to ideas, then surely we would get along much better. Think we don’t, check out the message board under any YouTube video about creation science and you’ll see more than a discussion—you’ll see such uncivilized behaviors as name calling and mockery… often on both sides, mind you. The problem is that when at the core there’s a need to be right (about anything really) it’s impossible to hear the other person and the discussion automatically shifts from learning and clarifying to winning. When it gets to that point, you might as well quit because no one’s going to get anything out of it.
Deep deep down, I think this TED talk breeds fear in some of the scientific community because if you connect enough dots, Sheldrake is opening the doors of the scientific community to the possibility of God being real.