Science vs. Magic

NOTE: I originally wrote this on another forum as a simple response to a Christian’s assertions concerning the movie “Expelled” and why it was unfair that some in academia lost their jobs for suggesting that Intelligent Design might have some validity. I reworked it a bit for posting here.

Naturalists believe, based on a long line of repeatedly confirmed evidence, that the species originated as Darwin originally surmised, through the process of natural selection, as that theory has been expanded by more recent science, including gene theories – what’s called the modern synthesis.

Spiritualists believe that the origin of species is explained by the use of magic, that some supreme intelligence conjured us up out of thin air, at the snap of his fingers (OK, that’s a metaphorical description, but it is the essence of the belief). Magic defies all known laws of nature, so it has to be, by definition, supernatural. Spiritualists look at the world in awe, and figure that the natural explanation doesn’t suffice, so there has to be some magic behind it.

Now, clearly, there is a very bright line of demarcation between these two outlooks. Naturalists say that nature, i.e reality, is all there is. There is no higher plane of existence. What You See IS What You Get, in effect. Only the natural laws work in reality, and magic doesn’t exist. There has never been any evidence that it has. What we call magic is really controlled illusion. No magician can snap his fingers and make rabbits appear in top hats, out of nothing.

Spiritualists say that magic is a fact, that it occurred in the past, and can occur in the present, though as hard as they pray, they don’t seem to be able to conjure up any of this magic in any way that we can observe. Has anyone ever noticed that God seems to have performed an incredible amount of magic in ancient times, based on ancient texts, (such as parting the Red Sea, inflicting plagues, knocking down walls, destroying sinful cities, etc.) but that there is a complete lack of such miracles these days? He seems to be relegated to putting his picture on grilled cheese sandwiches to impress us. He has the ability to, say, rebuild the World Trade Center with a snap of his fingers, but has refrained from such displays of power, unlike in ancient times. But I digress.

If an academic, one who is hired to pursue and teach science to the next generation, suddenly said “I think we ought to look to magic as a possible explanation for this phenomena” (that’s ID in a nutshell) he would be first looked at as if he’d lost his senses, and if he persisted, he would be admonished, and eventually his career would go down the toilet, because his chosen career was to study the natural laws of the universe, not magic (theology). So IF he lost his job for such a reason, well, then he should have, because he was the one who chose a different career path.

People like Ben Stein and other religious based commentators are advancing an agenda. That agenda is to weaken science as an explanation for reality, in hopes that in the process they strengthen religion. The problem is that they are putting religion under a microscope, and more and more people are seeing the agenda for what it is. So the ironic result is that they weaken their own religion, because if anything, religion cannot survive focused scrutiny. It holds its power only so long as it continues as a personal belief of the individual, based on faith, and assumes that individual must not question his own belief. Religion through the centuries has discouraged introspection and knowledge seeking, in favor of blind adherence to dogma. It’s the only way it can survive.

So any attack on science and naturalism is really a defense of religion.

It is often asked why theists can’t accept that god used evolution as the process he chose to create the world. Many do. Catholics for instance. But to those who believe in the fundamentals of their religion, science is a threat to dogmatic belief. It has the potential for destroying faith. “This way lies madness’ is what they see in science, because it offers nonreligious explanations for those things that were previously explained as coming from god. Incrementally, they see religion losing every time a scientific explanation is accepted until eventually religion falls into the dustbin of history.

And you know what? They are right.

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16 thoughts on “Science vs. Magic

  1. Excellent. I think this may prompt me to write something of my own. Certainly the religious extremists, in their zeal to crush science where its findings challenge their beliefs, may ultimately undermine their belief system.

  2. Good post, I’ve written similar things in the past. It’s really sad to watch the fundies whine because science doesn’t buy into their silly ideas that they pulled out of their theological backsides, especially when their only evidence for these backward ideas is “we say so”. They have a fundamental misunderstanding of science and the basic state of reality and apparently, are proud of it.

    These are sad, pathetic people.

  3. religion cannot survive focused scrutiny

    This is why a lot of people, like me, eventually reject religion.

  4. The Christian approach to science closely mirrors the Christian approach to politics: give me everything I want and let me tell others what they can and cannot do or I’ll scream persecution. If we don’t allow the religious right to destroy science education (and create ‘intelligent science edjumakashion’) we are persecuting them.

  5. Mmm hmmm… you wouldn’t be copying a certain someone by completely redecorating, now would you?

    Great point about how religion is trying to weaken science to strengthen religion. Science has been a threat to religion since its inception. An explanation of reality that can actually be tested? Burn that witch!

  6. In Australia the religious schools are currently whinging that to recieve government money they wont be able to teach (un)intelligent design.

    I’m horrified that churches get tax exempt status as it is, but for fundies to want me to pay for their stupid and morally criminal indoctrination of children with incorrect “facts” infuriates me.

    Luckily Australians are generally pretty secular in practice so I think this whinge will backfire.

  7. Pingback: Why Writing About Creationism/ID Matters « An Apostate’s Chapel

  8. Hi,

    In general I agree with the analysis except that science also has belief and dogma. It shouldn’t, but it does because that’s the nature of humans. Ultimately, bad science does eventually wither and die but we would not be honest if we did not recognize that it exists.


  9. Science doesn’t have belief and dogma, individuals choose to dogmatically believe specific things in science which is actually antithetical to what science is supposed to be all about. Let’s also not forget that some have their careers tied to a theory, so out of personal interest they may forfeit their objectivity to defend their position even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    I believe we’re acknowledging the same failings of human nature, but your wording can easily be misinterpreted by the ignorant (or misused by the unscrupulous) theist who sees science as a pseudo-religious entity. There’s nothing of science which dictates or should even make possible what you call “bad science”. Science is not to blame, people are to blame.

    As a preemptive strike, I don’t think I’m treading into ‘no true Scotsman’ territory since the scientific method is not open to interpretation, it’s specific and clear. Form hypothesis, test hypothesis, reject if unwarranted, accept if warranted. Pretty simple.

  10. With even greater respect, I think Philly’s talking about science, and you’re talking about scientists.

    To be clearer, bad science exists not because of the flaws in science, but because of the flaws in the scientists. There is nothing dogmatic about science. It’s a process, one that has proven to work repeatedly, when properly applied. There are dogmatic scientists however, who have lost sight of the process.

  11. No disagreement there but I guess I am pointing out that science is a process and only as good as the people undertaking it. Also within science you can have dogma about what is the best way of explaining things. For example, the Behaviorists did not regard cognition as something that could be reliably measured and that a whole theory of human behavior could explained without having to refer to the mind. That approach became dogmatic. Eventually it was overthrown by the rise in cognitive science and no doubt there will be further approaches, but throughout the history of science, you have periods where theories become entrenched and resistant to counter-examples. It’s not my opinion but a historical truth.

  12. Absolute proof of creationism by Creationism-on-a-stick! (The creation Museum got the best name.)
    Proof that snakes can talk! by Alduos Corvair. A linguist realizes if snakes can talk in the diabolical Harry Potter series, they should be able to speak in the Bible!
    Demon captured in this box. Don’t look! If you look, he’ll escape and it’s your fault!
    Time traveler confirms new earth! “I sent my controls to 6005 BC and there was nothing in existence yet,” explains Henry T. Swoondock, who received a p.h.d from liberty Diploma Mill. “No ancient Egypt, no Mesopotamia, no burgeoning middle eastern culture. Not even darkness, which was not invented until the first day the next year. It’s science.”

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