Are scientists really humble?

The question invokes psychological concepts of our cognitive bias. It’s easy to imagine that scientists do share our biases, but we are supposed to take comfort in the fact that science is incorruptible and that its methodologies are shielded from human bias – in the same way that computers, despite being a human creation, does not share human biases. However, it is important to recognize that science (and computers) are tools, that can be used by any scientist.

So if the scientific community, being made up of people, shares collective biases and institutions, which are created through isomorphisms that arise as a result of concepts like intellectual reputation, intellectual conformity, personal pride, and other human susceptibilities, then the aforementioned tools will be used predominantly to affirm the beliefs of the scientific community. [excuse the run-on]

Neil deGrasse Tyson claims that Newton invoked intelligent design at the limits of his knowledge, and that we all have a tendency to do so at that point. I propose the reason for that and the lesson to be learned from it. A person working at the frontier of human knowledge, literally pushing our intellectual boundaries, has a much better understanding of the ignorance of man. This is an example of intellectual, hyperopic humility exhibited by many enlightened giants, from Einstein who expressed infuriation when he was used in religious or anti-religious arguments. Socrates, when accused of hubris for his condescension, proclaimed that his wisdom is “knowing that he knew nothing”. I would like to stress that most people would not be able to imagine the alteration of perspective that extraordinary intelligence can cause. It is within human capacity to imagine and understand a universe with no God, just as easily as it is to imagine one with a God. However, the universe is not obligated to appeal to common sense or intuition. The problem with the increasing idolization of rationality and its integration into science is that it holds in it the assumption that the universe(s) is/are rational, axiomatically negating any possibility of its validity. In summation:

  • Less intelligent people are more prone to a belief in God.
  • More intelligent people are more prone to a lack of belief in God.
  • Extraordinarily intelligent people are more prone to sit on the fence or retreat altogether from the issue.

Imagine for example a world of absolutes and statistics in which exists a single religion in the world (for simplicity), called Mumbo-Jumboism. By Gaussian distribution, 50% of people (those below average intelligence) remain Mumbo-Jumboists, but only 49% of people (those of higher intelligence) become atheists (in the sense of a conviction that God does not exist), or agnostics, who are mostly atheists that are trying to bypass the technicality that they cannot disprove God (i.e, stating that they are not 100% sure God doesn’t exist, but only 99% sure). The last 1%, those of extraordinary intelligence (e.g. Einstein and Newton) will either become true agnostics (a 50/50 chance of God’s existence; God not being limited to the Abrahamic, personal archetype), or retreat from the issue all together, both in their personal life and publicly/professionally.

The message to take is that despite how often certain icons masquerading as humble scientists (e.g. Richard Dawkins and friends) proclaim the ridiculousness of religion and fringe science, until the tools of scientific method are employed in these regards, they are as valid as any hypothesis. That statement does require some qualification, however, in that fallacies and other rhetoric cannot qualify as  hypotheses. The reason for this is that until (if ever) scientific knowledge is sufficient to allow further investigation into them, they are not testable, and are cursed to be mere beliefs. Furthermore, it is necessary for science to distance itself from individuals that go around posturing as adherents to the scientific method and as the epitome of rationality.  These individuals (some of them not even scientists) aim to turn science into a movement of sorts that prepositions rationality before inquiry and humility (i.e., if not rational, then not deserving of inquiry, and warranting ridicule), as though the universe is obliged to behave in a way that is fully discernible to our rationality, senses and the senses of our scientific instruments in their present state. The danger in adulating scientific icons is that is that they begin to possess excessive influence on public opinion, having the power to declare valid hypotheses that do not comply with their reality tunnel as invalid, without consulting and employing the scientific method.


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