Marion Nestle writes in Food Politics "Although most scientists view scientific methods - testing hypotheses by controlled experiments - as inherently valid and truthful,... many people regard science as just one of a number of belief systems of equal validity and importance.  Religious beliefs, concerns about animal rights, and views of the fundamental nature of society, for example, influence the way people think about food.  So do vested interests."

The same thing applies to people's religious beliefs.  Although to most people with a science background it seems obvious that science is our best way of knowing, this is apparently not true for people in general.  They adopt a religion, or stick with it, because it feels right and they believe their feelings reveal truth. 

One's feelings do reveal truth about inner realities, and it's crucial to be in touch with one's feelings.  Taking one's feelings as evidence about objective realities extends "being in touch with one's feelings" beyond its proper area of authority, but that's what people do. 

I like Marion Nestle's writing about food politics so far, because it reveals a lot of corporate and advertising interests that we are often influenced by without realizing it.  These influences contribute to people being overweight, and other problems.  And it's a good question, in what ways economic interests reinforce religious belief as well. 


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Indeed.  Religion is like a Hot Dog.  It looks OK on the outside, but it only makes you feel a little funny after you have swallowed some of it.

What Marion Nestle was talking about with food, is that many people don't see science as authoritative. To them, "what the science says" is just another opinion, one among many ways of thinking.

I'm sure she's right. I live in a little lefty "alternative" town, and what she said resonated with me because I've experienced so much of what she's talking about. With food issues and other things. Most people here aren't religious (at least in any conventional way), but creationists probably have a similar low opinion of science.

For example, one time in a grocery store, a woman told me she'd bought a microwave oven a month ago, but she couldn't bring herself to use it because she was afraid it was dangerous to eat microwaved food. So I told her that actually microwaving is healthy because it destroys the vitamins in the food, less than conventional cooking; also microwaves are a different kind of radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, etc.; the microwaves just jiggle the molecules in the food, to heat it.

But she brushed that off, because "the studies (that show microwaved food is healthy) are all done by microwave companies".

The belief system is “science and the government are corrupt and in the pocket of Big Business.  And Big Business is  harmful to people's health”. 

Another example: anti-vaccination feelings are common here.  One woman asked me out of the blue what I thought about the anti-vaccination stuff.  I said vaccination is a good thing.  She said she's not convinced by what the experts say and she thought there might be something to the talk about bad consequences from vaccinations. 

When these people talk about “experts”, there's a shade of sarcasm in their voice.  It seems the attitude is something like “that's just what somebody thinks, and I'm independent enough to question their supposed expertise.  And we as a community are collectively wiser than some outside 'expert' who might be in the pocket of Big Business.” 

This attitude is not informed by a knowledge of the science backing vaccinations, or of why science-based information is usually valid. 

Other examples of non-science beliefs are “natural is better”, “supplements are bad”, “raw food is better”. 

There's a grain of truth in a lot of these things.  For example, Ben Goldacre wrote in Bad Pharma about distorted research by pharmaceutical companies.  But people expand this grain of truth into a general belief system. 

Also, people tend to expect others to share the same fundamental beliefs – like that science is generally valid.  When I read what Marion Nestle wrote, I realized that when I told people what science publications say, I expect it to mean something to them.  But they already have their rejoinder ready:  “You can't trust the corporate media”, or “That research is invalid because it's funded by special interests”.   I'd have to change their entire belief system to change their minds – not just tell them about research!

Marion Nestle wrote about the University of California at Berkeley's microbiology department  “auctioning itself off” to Novartis (with her wonderful wry humor).  I sure hope science and universities don't really end up in the pocket of corporations, because there would no longer be information you can trust.  With economic difficulties, this is more likely to happen. 

It's often good parts of people that are involved in these alternative belief systems – their feeling for other people, their wish to do the right thing.  One person told me I ought to believe in alternative medicine, like homeopathy, because “it's kind of the underdog”.  Her belief was reinforced by a laudable championing of the underdog.  That's part of why those belief systems are so tenacious.  And this sense that it's a good part of the person that believes a religion, is part of the general respect for religion.

It would help if people learned in high school about the scientific method, placebo effect, etc. - were given these skeptic tools of reasoning. 

As far as I know, high schools do teach there is such a thing as scientific method but may not go into it very thoroughly.  I was taught this way back in the dark ages and we did go into it thoroughly.  I think only just recently has religion tried to actually take over education and I think it is related to politics.

I would like to change the name of this post to Science as only One Way of Learning.

Also, the fact that science gave us nuclear bombs makes people turn away from it.  Sure, we all depend on the technology that science made possible, every day.  And in many ways it has made our lives better. 

But science has also made it possible that hugely many people could die horrible deaths, at any time. 

This reality is so awful that people block it out and it propagates in people's mindsets like a subterranean stream.

It seems we are more likely to make bad decisions when we use faulty language. In characterizing 'science' and 'religion' as belief systems several errors occur.

The first mistake lies in thinking that well-defined entities exist called science and called religion. The whole realm of thoughts and practices that might be called science is intellectually vast and not easy to define. The same is obviously true of religion. Each science has its own methods, traditions, standards, etc., just as each religion has its own doctrines, rituals, scriptures, etc.

The second error is the false equivalence implied in calling science and religion belief systems. It suggests that both give adequate explanations of phenomena and which you select is only a matter of taste.

There is also confusion between the established body of results in the sciences and the statements of scientists and teachers just as there is confusion between the established doctrines of religions and the priests and ministers who preach them. In scientific discussions this usually takes the form of accepting as established anything said or published by a scientist, but the history of science is full of altered viewpoints.

Testing hypotheses in controlled experiments often provides the most reliable method for acquiring knowledge, a reliable way of adding to what we know and can use. It has been spectacularly successful and should not be regarded as just another belief system.

Science == SUM(Self-education, Troubleshooting, Empirical Research, Documentation, (Testing*n), Review, Application) ;

True_Faith=random_range(Religion_Alpha, Religion_Omega);

While (True_Faith!===Science){Theology=0; }

What, in any way, do the concepts of Science and Theology cross at all?  Both use up a lot of paper and electrons?

Only one other relationship:  Conclusions based on scientific investigation can be used to repute specific claims of historical events, physics, mathematics, and biology made by theological texts.  Religion can only be used to sway opinion.  As it is a specialist application, it is more effective at swaying opinion than scientifically obtained data elements.  You need intellect and education to be swayed by data.  You only need to fear rejection by your society to be swayed by religion.

Thanks, very articulately put Dr. Allan H. Clark.

Not to say too much information is bad, but as stated above, critical thinking is not a skill taught until college. In my experience when people haven't learned how to process vast amounts of information available most revert to forming an opinion first and then finding supporting evidence. Think of the impact of having one mandatory critical thinking class in all public high schools, that is the sort of thing that would change the world.

Organized religion and the right wing would never allow critical thinking to be mandated in public school high school curricula.

This is basically what I've run into with religious relatives.  They told me (shortly before blocking me on Facebook) that science provides only "one worldview" and is not the only one.  They gave equal weight and validity to their indoctrinated, mythological worldview, which somehow encompassed every religion on the planet despite all the differences.  Of course, there's someone close to me who does not think science can be trusted as a way of knowing whatsoever.  During a phone call, she shrieked "I didn't come from no damn monkey!"  And, "Science never made no humans, but the Lord has!" That's how she knows that science cannot be the basis for knowing, and then she called me stupid!   

Science-oriented people tend to assume that other people have a high regard for scientific results. People tend to assume that other people share the same basic assumptions, at least until they find out otherwise. We "model" other people on that basis, perhaps because people evolved in little hunter-gatherer groups where people did have a common world-view.

I had an "aha!" feeling when I read what Marion Nestle wrote, because it put into perspective the experiences I've had, when I told someone what the science said, naively expecting they would regard this as (at least an approximation of) truth - but they just waved it aside. They had a belief system that was dismissive of science (except perhaps if it confirms their ideas).

Religious people often say they believe some religion because it feels right. They apparently feel there's a kind of logic that says that something that makes sense out of their lives, satisfies their need for order and purpose, appeals to them esthetically, is right.

I can sympathize with this point of view. Nontheists experience something similar when they fall in love with someone, and they *just know*!!* that eventually, they'll end up with the person - it's fated. And perhaps some of the same hormones are at work as in religious belief :)

But I went through the overturning of a (nonreligious) belief system that I had without even realizing it.  If you have an explanation for something; even if it explains things well, even if it satisfies your heart and your life is organized around it, that doesn't mean it's THE explanation. Life is bigger than our minds.

The Pythagoreans a long time ago apparently thought that you can arrive at mathematical truth by religious methods. For mystical reasons, they believed that all numbers are rational (the quotient of one integer by another). They were very shocked when someone found an irrational number.

Nowadays, nobody goes around saying "Pi is algebraic, I know it in my heart; my proof isn't rigorous but it's good enough for me."

Except I just did ;)

The Pythagoreans a long time ago apparently thought that you can arrive at mathematical truth by religious methods. For mystical reasons, they believed that all numbers are rational (the quotient of one integer by another). They were very shocked when someone found an irrational number.

The story is actually slightly different. The Greeks (and the Pythagoreans) did have the concept of whole numbers and ratios of those numbers and used both in geometry. It was  natural for them to believe that geometric lengths constructed from a given unit length would be a whole number or a ratio --that it would be measurable.

Hippasus gave a proof of the incommensurability of the diagonal of a square with the side length in the fifth century BCE. He showed that if the side length of the square was a whole number multiple of any given unit length, then there was an easy contradiction to the diagonal being either an odd multiple or an even multiple of the same unit. Hence it could not be measurable. (His proof used the Pythagorean theorem which implies that the square of the diagonal is twice the square of the side length.)

Legend says that Hippasus was exiled for his discovery.




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