Quote of the Day: Scientific Boobytrap

The Archdruid figures out why economics fails and gives us an interesting quote

Quoth Michael Greer

There’s a boobytrap hidden inside the scientific method. The fact that you can get some fraction of nature to behave in a certain way under arbitrary conditions in the artificial setting of a laboratory does not mean that nature behaves that way left to herself. If all you want to know is what you can force a given fraction of nature to do, this is well and good, but if you want to understand how the world works, the fact that you can often force nature to conform to your theory is not exactly helpful.

And this is exactly the boobytrap that economics dive into head first. In fact it’s even worse than that since economics is not even interested in setting up artificial conditions at all. Rather, they are content to think of fantastical, often impossible examples of societies and then simply build an economic theory from that.

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The Politics of Science

Can science ever be a political tool? Those who know of it’s impartialism would find it difficult to believe it, but this does not prevent its political force.

Louis XIV visiting the  Académie des sciences ...
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The scientific method is unarguably one of the most objective and rational methods that humans have found to discover the world around them. It is also value-free, in the sense that it simply explains reality and has no normative propositions to make and thus it cannot be considered to put forth any bias.

But this does not mean that science cannot be used politically. In fact, the findings of it are the primary method by which secular people can promote their agenda as Reality, when supporting one’s position can be handily be used as a stronghold for one’s political ideas. And this actually makes the best kind of politics, ie ones based on reality. This is in fact why religion is hostile to Science as a whole, as it gives too much power to secular arguments in the area of moderating human behaviour and as such promotes a liberal ((In the sense of personal liberty and choice, not in the sense of Liberalism as a classic political movement)) agenda.

However there is one nasty aspect when science and politics interact, and that is all too insidious confirmation bias. It is the propensity of people, including scientists, to see only the facts that support their already held political opinion. The easiest way is when science is not absolute on one particular issue which allows partisans on the minority to pick the arguments which fit their predisposition, expand them using exaggerations and political hacks and thus cloud and prevent a reality-based decision. Such is the case in the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate and such was the case a few decades ago on the harmful effects of smoking.

Further than this though, science can be used as a political tool by simply avoiding or ignoring the actual facts. This became clear to me through my discussions with secular statists and/or liberals who base their ideas on what they think scientific facts support. In this particular case, that humans have evolved to be primarily competitive against each other and everyone else.  This argument can then be handily be used both for “proving” the naturalness of Capitalism and/or the necessity of the State.

But this creates a problem when one looks at scientific findings and discovers that they do not support this position of “war against all” in the least. How can this be the dominant worldview?

My personal theory is that people put far more weight to their political perspective than they do in science. To the tune of ignoring or subconsciously avoiding learning about scientific facts that would put cracks in their position. We know how much possible this is from the religious example, where people will outright deny evolution or geology when it threatens to challenge their currently held worldview. I do not believe that this is so much because religion is so much of a stronger belief, as much as it is their current politics and lifestyle which would be threatened by changing their mind.

To put it more plainly, I see people having some particular ideas, such as hate of teh gay, patriarchy or authoritarian tendencies. These are easily maintained by considering the Bible as a literal history and thus accepting its homosexual-hating, god-fearing ideas. When science enters the picture and points out that homosexuality is genetic, humans are genetically equal and there’s probably no higher authority to bow down to, it is the lifestyle and worldview that is threatened, not the religion itself which is simply the excuse to preserve said lifestyle. Thus science will be denied, in order for the comfortable excuse (religion) to be preserved. As such, those whose worldview is not threatened, such as say people growing up in more liberal areas are far more likely to accept science which is less threatening, while also keeping their religion (in its non-fundamentalist form).

In a similar way, this applies to irreligious people as well. While some particular worldviews (usually the most intolerant) require a religion in order to defend them, others can function with some other alternative such as nationalism. Still other require none at all and in fact do beg legitimacy by wearing the cover of “science”.

This generally occurs in worldviews that are so popular and internalized that their dismissal seems unrealistic. I’m talking of course about Statism and Capitalism which are being taught as inescepable from the youngest possible age. And what seems to happen then when these are challenged and there is no relevant religion or one espouses no appropriate ideology to defend them? (say: as Objectivism) One can only then turn to scientific facts to support their worldview, and if the facts do not fit the picture, they may just as well be ignored.

This then explains the curious fact that while Mutual Aid is a very (if not the most) important factor of evolution ((Known for at least a 100 years and Proven by many researches in different scientific sectors, from Zoology to Anthropology)), it is competition and “war against all” that is still being promoted as the generally accepted primary characteristic of life. How else can one explain this. other by assuming that scientists and secularists who’s worldview embraces Statism and/or Capitalism have subconsciously avoided learning about it? I can’t in good conscience attribute this to any kind of malice or conspiracy.

And this is the unfortunate aspect of scientific facts. They tend to raise uncomfortable questions for the status quo since they challenge the validity of the various defences such as religion and racism. This by itself makes science a political tool, but one which always seems to support a libertarian socialism worldview. And when all chips are on the table and one’s worldview is on the line, it seems to be preferable – even for self-labelled supporters of rationalism and scientific method – to bury the truth in order to avoid an uncomfortable political realignment.

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Communism is not a religion

One argument that I tend not to hear very often but occasionally stumble onto, is the accusation that Communism or Marxism is akin to a religion, that is, something based on faith.

The reason this is used strikes me more like a way to hit a soft spot on an Atheist or skeptic, rather than an attempt at true argumentation. Indeed, such a claim does not tackle any of the core tenets of Communism such as the labour theory of value, the explanation of capitalist shortcomings etc, but rather takes a generic shallow look at the history of attempted Communism and draws conclusions from that.

One argument that I tend not to hear very often but occasionally stumble onto, is the accusation that Communism or Marxism is akin to a religion, that is, something based on faith.

The reason this is used strikes me more like a way to hit a soft spot on an Atheist or skeptic, rather than an attempt at true argumentation. Indeed, such a claim does not tackle any of the core tenets of Communism such as the labour theory of value, the explanation of capitalist shortcomings etc, but rather takes a generic shallow look at the history of attempted Communism and draws conclusions from that.

So let’s see what the arguments might be.

It is not based on science

Communism as any other socioeconomic system is not based on the scientific method. The scientific method requires an observation to happen before it can create a theory but you cannot observe a system that does not exist yet.

Capitalism is not based on the scientific method either. It did not come about because some scientists sat down and observed the current feudal system and found out that capitalism is a more optimal choice. No. It first came about and then the pseudo-science of economics set out to find out the rules that control it.

If anything else, Marxism is a absolutely materialistic philosophy and considers that only science can discover the truth about the world. In this regard, it is diametrically opposed to any other religion.

It is based on faith

As a completely faithless person, such an accusation seems absurd to me. For something to be based on faith, it needs to be believed regardless of conflicting evidence. But no such evidence exist against Communism.

This is doubtly untrue since things based on faith tend to be hammered onto the minds of children in order to stick. The enemy of faith is reason. Certainly it is possible that someone is brainwashed as a child to be a Communist, but such a person would be a very poor example of one as for Communism to work, it requires conscious, skeptical, critical and active people who can take action into their own hands and be willing to cooperate with others democratically. A passive, brainwashed follower might be fitting for a Stalinist regime but can never be considered a Communist unless he starts accepting the theory based on reason instead of faith.

Personally, I was always very critical of Communism for the same reason everyone else in the world is. Misunderstanding of what it really is. I only started accepting it once I dug a bit deeper and started criticizing my own preconceptions.

It is evangelising

This is the accusation that, like any religion, Communism requires people to spread the knowledge of it to others before they can accept it.

Like any idea before it, there is no way to spread it except through discussion with people who know about it. The idea of Capitalism, markets and merchants did not spread itself. Humanity did not begin with a part of it being merchants or capitalists. These classes of people were created when someone thought of the concept and then started spreading it to others, thought words and actions.

If this is a definition of a religion, then any idea is a religion.

It has a holy book, prophets and apostles.

This is absolutely untrue by the common definition of those terms. The Communist Manifesto is simply the expression of the part of an idea and as such it is subject to improvement as any other idea. It is not a dogma. The people who accepted Communism and spreaded the word can no more be called Prophets than Adam Smith who spread the idea of Capitalism. Nor can leaders who accept one idea over another make that idea a religion.


It is very easy to stretch the meaning of words in order to make a term less positive to the people who might embrace it. But this is a dishonest tactic. If one wishes to tackle Communism, the best way to do so is through rational dialogue on the actual points it proposes. Like any philosophy and idea, there will certainly be people who are dogmatic about it, but that does not describe the philosophy as a whole.