Rational Optimism vs. Religious Pessimism: a Secular Science Perspective episode 1.

It is time to replace the pervasive “things are always getting worse” outlook that frets that “temptation and sin are always lurking around the corner” or that “disaster is but a breath away” (or hell) with a more reasoned and completely realistic perspective which ignores 2,000 year-old religious pessimism of doom and gloom. The new and reasonable Secular Science Perspective (SSP) stems from a in-depth analysis of human history and its very measurable and formidable progress, especially in the last century. In promoting such an optimistic, problem-solving, can-do attitude we can make the world incomparably better, adding to the significant progress in science, technology, human rights, and human flourishing we have already accomplished in the modern era.
The mantra: “We’ve only just begun”: should replace the ridiculous and unfounded pessimism of the religious mindset and the blatant mistrust of science and progress promulgated by the backwards looking and backwards thinking religions of this world.

Thinking, imagining, planning ahead, imagining better times and figuring out how to make them happen has been our schtick for hundreds of millennia. It’s not a spandrel, not a sideline, not an accident. Its what we do. And since the Scientific Revolution it has changed our prehistoric and historic worlds into this barely 100 year old modern world we take for granted as our new normal.
We long ago began to outwit for a living – and not the usual predator avoidance, or merely better prey stalking and kill, but more solving mundane problems, figuring a better way to do even menial chores-in real time, instead of slowly and serendipitously evolving genetic, instinctual, behavioral responses.

Don’t have the right kinda rock and this ones shaped funny, but you figure out how to make a decent cutting edge anyway. Not optimum, but workable and you do the task you need to-cut a hide to make a better windbreak on your shelter to keep out the draft that could make you miserable or deadly sick, fashion a quick coal holder out of whatever is at hand cuz your fire went out and your gonna go get some coals to restart your fire from the neighboring hut-instead of freezing to death. It’s colder here than your home encampment territory miles to the south, but the game is plentiful-lots of food on the hoof-if you can manage the weather. Instead of genetic shivering, sweating, panting, piloerection, curling up in a ball – temperature stasis behaviors (we still have those but without a winter coat of our own fur, they don’t do the job), we manage fire and skins, eventually bone needles and the fitted parkas like the Eskimos…and survive comfortably anywhere. Nowadays we got gas fired forced air furnaces, and even the poor have A/C!! Compare that to the rich thru most of the 20th century who did not have air conditioning because it wasnt feasible in homes or offices or schools- not affordable in most homes well into the 70’s and beyond…all thru grade school during the 60’s our home, our car, my school, we didnt have A/C-what are you kidding? Its the new normal now-all over the world. And religion didnt get it for us. It didnt happen by ritual or prayer.

Lucy wasn’t there yet, but she was on the path with upright posture and those almost human hands-more human than primate. And she prolly made digging sticks and foraged for not just nuts and berries but maybe edible tubers and roots. And she may have been bashing scavenged long bones and skulls open for nutritious marrow and brains with expedient cobbles of the right heft to do the job. Lucy at 3 million years ago, may have had simple early Oldowan (Lomwekian) choppers and flakes and by the time of Homo habilis in another million years, the procurement of marrow may have been a real kicker for brain expansion into Homo erectus and beyond. Certainly Homo heidelbergensis with symmetric handaxes, shelters, thrusting spears, and fire, was living by his wits, with erectus moving out into Eruasia, Asia, and Heidelbergensis into Europe and England by 500,000 years ago. Progress. Slow but progress nonetheless. And the ability to figure out how to live in damn near any environment.

So when did real theoretical-scientific understanding start? We had technology and a practical level of simple working hypotheses-like making a needle out of bone and not something else – stone or wood wont do it, bone and stone make for good points, depending on the application, a Clovis spearpoint of much later times was where its at, but if you wanna harpoon thingy with barbs carved into it-bone is the way to go. To chip rocks (flintknap) another hard rock is good for larger flakes, but a softer hammer to drive off thin long flakes and really fashion a tool, well its antler that does the job for this application of force. They could feel that it the way it sticks briefly to the stone you are working and knocks off nice thin flakes, but they didn’t know why. All of our innovation for hundreds of thousands of years was the result of haphazard discovery or simple trial and error. Hard-won practical knowledge with no understanding of the underlying structure.

For millennia there was no theoretical grok of why things have different properties, why one thing works and not another. Simple tricks were discovered – like heat treating chert for finer stone points and arrowheads-which lines up the grains in the stone for more uniform fracture. This is practical knowledge (technology): that it knaps way better, with no understanding of why, no ken of microscopic grains in the stone now in uniform re-alignment from the heating…thats why it fractures so evenly and makes for a harder, sharper edge.

“Don’t know what it is but it fits on here like this” (thnx Roger!).

And for most of us, using our smartphones and thermostats and starting our car, relying on its ABS and with all the medicines we take-WE (Joe and Jane Average consumers) have no causal process understanding, no explicit knowledge of the underlying structure that makes stuff work-BUT we know there are plenty of experts who design and build and fix these things (including our bodies when they break down in cancer or disease, or just fucking wear out)-especially our bodies-who do know how and WHY stuff works. And those experts aren’t trained in religion, they are trained in science, even if they are religious themselves, they leave their religion at the laboratory door, the design shop entrance, their medical office or public health department door. They do science in the lab and the factory, not religion: no ritual, no prayer, no priests, no dogma, no Scriptures, no burning bush, no sermons, no unquestionable, infallible authorities…just hard won human knowledge-practical AND theoretical understanding. A formidable one-two punch!

We operated and peopled the entire globe with just implicit, practical knowledge – that something works, discovered by trial and error or accident (and not from any real understanding of the underlying causal processes) and not re-represented in explicit concepts for most of human existence: technical know-how without theoretical understanding. Implicit knowledge is how our brains usually work. Modern science with its theoretical understanding as its basis is a recent development and not the usual way the human animal has problem-solved its way around the landscape-into any landscape over the last 2 million years.
Consider language. We all use nouns and verbs separately with ease, incorporate new names for objects and even turn them into verbs… a guy named Munson gets pimped out regularly (in the movie: Kingpin) and one can now get “Munsoned”- I can send you a text message, now I’m “txting.” Children pick up on this trick before age 5, with no clue of what they are doing.

Young children all learn how to effortlessly use nouns and verbs implicitly in milliseconds, and correctly, years before ever hearing those precise terms “noun”, “verb” for the 1st time in 4th grade English…learning explicitly then what the hell they are and how we use them. So much can be handled by the brain implicitly-and we made a decent living populating every corner of the globe with simple expedient technologies-Stone age culture from Australia to the Arctic, and everywhere in between across Africa and Asia, with Europe in between and eventually the Americas. No modern science knowledge necessary.

Innovation, as the physicist David Deutsch points out, was slow, years, centuries, millennia in the making. ½ million years from symmetric handaxes to the bow and arrow, water, pottery, and oxcart wheels. 5,000 more years from the wooden wheeled chariot to the radial tire.

But now! With ubiquitous theoretical understanding of materials, and intricate energy capture and transformation we now have an exponential technology explosion. New gadgets of every substrate imaginable -most themselves manufactured as well: alloys, plastics, fibers, some even mfg’d right there in your own home with a 3D printer. Precious little of anything is made of bone, stone, wood, and antler, like in the old days. We know why something works or doesn’t and understand explicitly the science under the technology to make the substrate we want with the properties we want. Tiny amounts of tin or nickel had to be added correctly through the use of elaborate rituals and formulas to make the early bronze and steel come out right for a millennia and more. Implicit knowledge: Knew it worked, but not why and the correct procedure had to be memorized, memorialized in precise ritual – or it wouldnt work -and we didnt know why it did or didnt, just that it did when done right. Now we know why.

As Jacob Brunowski explained in the Ascent of Man- the Gothic masons had their impressive practical knowledge of fitting one block of stone to another from trial and error to build their formidable (and precarious) cathedrals, as they could not calculate the forces, the stresses, that would make a structure stand, or doom it fall. Another 600 years would pass before the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions made modern materials and construction possible thru theoretical understanding of the atomic structures involved.

Implicit vs. explicit knowledge: explicit knowledge comes from science, from theoretical understanding, and an unquenchable curiosity to know how the world works and from the can-do, optimistic secular scientific perspective, and NOT from pessimistic, fatalistic, foolish religion, full of childish 2,000 year old attempts at explaining how the world works-and an arrogance of claiming they got it all figured out…
All this viewpoint is for the 4th book I hope to write: on the SSP (Secular Science Perspective) working title:

“What We Know Today and Take for Granted-200 years of How the World Works”

Brought to you by a secular science perspective-not fucking religion. Like I said, even the religious among the scientists leave their religion at the laboratory door. They don’t pray for their experiments to turn out, they know the world doesn’t work like that, they don’t look for answers in a burning bush. They gotta do the detailed work or it don’t work.

Know-how, savvy, problem-solving, we bought into this early on with implicit, practical innovation, but add in the theoretical understanding the Greeks gave us that we adopted as unquestioned habit in past 200 years or so of the Scientific Revolution and BAM!-we can fix a one hell of a lot more stuff. We went to the moon, developed vaccines for disease when plagues used to kill millions, we got smart-phones, lasers, A/C in the home and office, TV dinners and microwaves…on and on and on. After millennia of religious hegemony, the SSP has transformed our lives.

Here in ‘Murica, we are seeing a backlash to secular science in the vehement vaxx-defiance that is such an open and obvious culture clash-and almost all that have that attitude are religious in some way, and strongly. Democrats and other liberals, that largely follow the medical science their doctors and the CDC recommends, tend to be much more mildly religious-and put science and human rights at the forefront, not their religion from which many get an anti-science, anti-elitist spin.

However, just like the fight with the tobacco lobby over the health hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke, the COVID deniers will lose (many of ’em by getting sick or dying themselves, oh well) – just as they are already losing the climate change battle: recently a conservative caucus in Congress has formed that accepts the inevitable climate changes we are seeing and are forecasted to only get worse: Conservatives accepting reality – Now that’s progress! Information does Kill Religion-eventually. The data slowly wins-grinding on until the inevitable reality sinks in. Isn’t it silly that we have to fight 2,000 yr old thinking to make progress without delay or a ridiculous fight on the way?

Bringing the culture war with the anti-vaxx movement to the forefront of our awareness unfortunately is a good thing – just seeing daily how absurd the vaxx defiance is. Vaxx defiance-good description, Ill keep that.

It is definitely a clash of world views. The QAnon folks are all hard-core Christians in the US as are the promoters of Trump’s Big Lie about non-existent voter fraud and him winning the election.

And with that package comes anti-science and vaxx-defiance.
Religious arrogance vs. a rational scientific understanding. Good. Bring it on. As you watch your comrades die, a bunch of you will learn the hard way. So many already have. There is a whole website dedicated to deniers who have died:

The site is just full of mostly average American folks who for one reason or another bought into (in their cases): the deadly vaxx misinformation on Facebook, Fox News, from the neighbor or coworkers, or ironically, but too tragic to be funny –
their fucking minister…and then died.

7 different Xian radio broadcasters, vehement anti-vaxxers all, died of COVID the last few months of 2021. I feel for their families but not for them. They were all grown men, conned by religious thinking, but so obnoxious about it and full of themselves-and spreading misinformation that may have caused any number of their listeners to reject good medical advice from their own doctors and skip getting vaccinated and who then got sick or “God forbid” died. Those guys being dead and gone and unable to con anyone else into a risky vaxx defiance is a “blessing in disguise”.

Some will carry their defiance to their grave sucking their last breath on a ventilator in the ICU or watching a loved-one do so on Zoom…but many are already coming around. Some of the Repub governors caught on watching the Delta wave knocking off their constituents, or the Omicron wave packing their hospitals. Hard to deny or look the other way to satisfy the religious a second and third time around. That religious indoctrination, that righteous ‘tude is tough to buck. I didn’t call it the Arrogance of Religious Thought for nuthin’. What so many in the anti-vaxx movement are missing is an understanding of how science and theoretical understanding works.

As a f/up to my previous blog on Scientism , I described the need for casual process explanations in scientific theories. Not just a single cause, nature is usually not that simple, but a whole chain of causes that are related in a temporal set of successive changes: a process. How do u get from point A to point B-by some process or another

(Aside: nice visual-spatial-movement metaphor there. No-one is “going anywhere” in a process, and using point A to point B “movement” gives you a feeling as much as a visual image-going from here to there… but in a process its not even a “going”, there is no movement, but rather a change in state, or a succession of events. There’s a starting point A, and an endpoint B, an end state of affairs point B, so you really didn’t go from A to B at all, but the metaphor gives u an immediate understanding of going from a starting state or event to and ending state-just like real movement. You understand based on the movement abstraction of the metaphor, you know what I mean and its crucial to theoretical understanding.)
Metaphor-now when the hell did that evolve?!?

So a causal process is a chain of successive events that cause the next one, and they are crucial to theoretical understanding: Let’s take Plate Tectonics Theory as an example.

Alfred Wegener had the idea back in the 20’s I believe. It was hard not to notice the continents looked like they could fit together-South America and Africa, especially, and he proposed they had moved apart and were once a single land mass. But he had nothing but superficial evidence-they looked that way-but how did it happen, how could it work? Since this was a scientific theory that lack of any plausible process being known relegated the idea to speculation only. Unlike astrology and ESP, that much of the general public succumbs to despite no causal process ever being found nor even theorized, Wegener had no process, no casual chain explanation, no theory to propose how it might have happened.

So 40-50 years later with submarine development post WWII and the ability to research in deep ocean trenches, the spreading seams between the continental plates were discovered deep in the Atlantic and Pacific. The long and well-known Ring of Fire of volcanoes along the Pacific fit into the idea that along those continental plate boundaries, volcanic and earthquake activity evidenced the movement and upwelling of material from the earths mantle below and that these trenches were actually spreading, centimeters per year, which extrapolated back millions of years, could explain the continents of Africa and South America matching up not only in form but in similar geology and fossils-so now we had a plausible process to move the continents around. Continental Drift or more specifically nowadays Plate Tectonics Theory: the continents are riding on plates of material that move around over millions of years.

A specific unvarying (gratia Deutsch) causal process of sea floor spread and continents moving away or along each other or sliding under one another over millions of years. And now we have GPS data to confirm the continents moving apart a few more centimeters each year. Without that causal process-hard to understand a theory. It might be true, but how does it work, how does it happen?

In science, detailed description (from systematic observation) is the 1st step. Detailed description in the form of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion meticulously extracted from Tycho Brahe’s voluminous planetary data, and Galileo’s observations of Jupiter’s moons-was the beginning for Newton, as his idea of universal gravitation was staggering: It completely changed the long accepted and religiously compelled idea of the perfection of heavens beyond the moon. The planets and stars were unchanging, perfect spheres in perfect circular motions, fixed for all time. Conversely the corrupt, imperfect, and always changing goings on below the moon such as here on earth were another thing altogether. The first nail in that coffin was Tycho Brahe’s seeing a new star, a supernova, appear in the supposedly unchanging eternal heavens, and later Galileo observing that the moon was a pitted, irregular surface with valleys and mountains and craters galore-when they weren’t supposed to be there, any more than Brahe’s new star, or Jupiter having its own “planets”. The heavens were supposed to be different and perfect and unchanging and utterly unlike the earthly realm.

But no, according to Newton, it all works the same way, gravity keeps you on the ground, wears down the mountains here on earth – AND runs the heavens the same way: keeping the planets in their orbits, which are not perfect and circular but run in Kepler’s ellipses. All the heavens above and below the moon and here on earth follow the law of universal gravitation.

But the precise description itself, the claim of universal gravitation (UG), and the evidence for it was so revolutionary, and exact-it was enough for the time.
For Newton it was “Non fingo” beyond that – that famous quote being:

“Hypotheses non fingo” “I frame no hypotheses”.
He described how UG works but made no theoretical claims as to WHY it works the way it does. It was enough that he brought the heavens down to earth and described in precise mathematical terms how apples fall and planets orbit.

ESP and astrology have been proven repeatedly to be false: they don’t work and no-one who believes in such things has ever provided a plausible theory of how they would work. Makes perfect sense that Continental Drift was not accepted until the causal processes of Plate Tectonics Theory were discovered and developed.

So goes the soul and the mind. How do they operate, how do they work beyond the brain and neuronal processes. How does your intellect and personality work outside the brain or survive the death of the brain? Like ESP and astrology, no-one has ever put forth a theory. No causal explanation, no process of how the mind/soul could somehow survive and operate without a brain. ESP, astrology, soul and mind dualism still have the same mechanism problem they have always had, and its worse today. There is no way that they work or could work. If you propose any of these things do exist, groovy, how?

We got a comprehensive and just as earth-shaking actual Theory of Gravity with Einsteins 1915 General Relativity, explaining that the force of gravity as described by Newtons equation is really the curvature of space-time itself: Detailed description and theoretical understanding-the hallmark of the Scientific Revolution. And it gives us all the incredible explicit knowledge that drives the exponential technological, medical, even social progress that is the hallmark of the 20th and now 21st century.
We did this. We can do more.

A secular science perspective (SSP) and a problem solving can-do attitude is borne of the success we have had since the Scientific Revolution of the 1600’s with Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and then the Ascent of Modern Science in the 1800’s. We got the Germ Theory of Disease, Cell Theory, Evolutionary Theory, the beginnings of modern Neuroscience and Psychology, and and the exponential expansion of working scientists in research universities, government institutions, and private enterprise.

We can include the Industrial Revolution of the 17-1800’s as a corollary to the Scientific Revolution-a can do attitude, with mass manufacturing and more importantly-machine tools-tools to make other tools and all things imaginable-like the iron works and precision mechanisms which allowed big telescopes to further explore the universe and other science projects. The technology often has to come first-ya gotta build the apparatus to do the next level of scientific investigation-better microscopes, telescopes, radio-xray telescopes, orbiting telescopes-now the James Webb solar sail telescope parked a million miles out in space to look back almost to the Big Bang and the beginning of time-just to name the technological advances in modern astronomy. The Industrial Revolution in many ways enabled the next steps in the Scientific Revolution and it continues today as robust as ever.

Computer processing on a grand scale since the 70’s and universal around the world gave us CT, MRI, AI, the LHC, LIGO, and so on. Without the computers to process the voluminous amassed data, to crunch the #’s, the intricate patterns of nature that we cannot see from our surface view would remain hidden. The Computer Revolution is but 50 years old, but we take it for granted at so many levels in today’s world of 2022.

We think voice recognition software good enuf to run Siri and Alexa are normal now…in the palm of our hands realizing 1960’s Star Trek levels of science fiction. And I watched it happen within my lifetime!
And we now take for granted that we have GPS in our smartphones that tell us exactly how to get where we are going nearly anywhere on the planet-using Einsteins Special Relativity and General Relativity to make microsecond corrections to the computations on the fly-else your GPS would be hopelessly inaccurate within a matter of hours. This is OUR new normal. And religion, religious thought didnt get us here.

All u know, your underlying worldview, here in the 21st Century is not a religious one. The mode you function in minute to minute throughout your entire day is not full of ghosts, goblins, omens, rituals, prayers, offerings, superstitions, or worship.Your understanding of how the world works around you is no longer full of gods and spirits causing rain or thunder, plagues and epilepsy, or any manner of misfortune due to sinning against some god or another. You drive a car and turn on electric lights, check the weather on your smartphone, and txt your kids you’ll be back soon using GPS to find that new grocery store in the next town and you take prescription meds made by the insides of mice, and ur vaccinated against a dozen or more diseases that people suffered horribly before dying regularly while begging some god for forgiveness.
Going about your day and comprehending what goes on around you is built on the worldview you carry in your head from science- Heliocentric theory, The Germ Theory of Disease, Cell Theory, Evolutionary Theory, Electromagnetic Theory, Atomic Theory, General and Special Relativity, the Standard Model, Plate Tectonics, Quantum Field Theory-all which affect your 21st Century life and accurately portray the world around you-NOT Bronze Age myths or Medieval musings on them.

The SSP. The real deal. Not Jungian archetype bullshit or Freudian sex laced mythology, not primitive religious origin myths and parochial historical fictions-but the real story of us and how our world works. The one we live and die in-NOT some mythical realm beyond the clouds.

We could continue to outgrow the tribal mythologies of religions that do nothing but divide us and deny knowledge.

Larry Brilliant’s engaging tale in his book “Sometimes Brilliant” of the HUGE effort to eliminate the horrific scourge of smallpox in India-gives a striking example of the utter cluelessness of religious thought. For millennia, people have suffered from this excruciating and usually fatal disease- and what did mysticism get you?-a childish explanation that an angry female god visited your village and gave you the pox. Done. That’s all that thinking produces and it stagnates to this day.

But modern thought, eschewing such understandably fatalistic and utterly clueless explanations provided a diff approach-study the reality-in detail-true systematic observation and little details emerge in the epidemiology of it all that give you an opening-a way to solve the spread, since they couldn’t immunize everyone yet in the 70’s- but they could isolate and contain desperately try to stop the spread–and let the virus die out instead of millions more people-and it worked.
Yes, brilliant. Systematic observation of the nuances of viral contagion and infection throughout local populations. They did the hard work-and it worked. Dr. Brilliant and others pulled it off, using a purely scientific and wholly secular approach- while the fat guru did what all gurus have ever done- sat around being adored for their withdrawal and accomplishing absolutely nothing.

The gurus and monks have contemplated for millennia and gotten what out of it? Not a fucking thing…revered for their monastic withdrawal into prayer and worship of imaginary beings-Im supposed to be impressed from an intellectual standpoint? Fuck that. Gimme some dedicated lab tech peering under his microscope identifying the pneumococcus that would other wise kill me-just part of his daily routine – did it just before lunch – and my doctor, your doctor, doctors all over the world prescribe an antibiotic and the suffering ends and a life is lived another couple of decades. Religion got us none of this.

The SSP and a can-do, problem solving attitude, as evidenced in these books and others, bring us all together and successfully promotes human flourishing above all.

Its time we dropped silly worship to non-existent gods and the separation of all us into Christians, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus and others. We are one species, we could be one tribe-and we are all in this life together.

end religion now.





Leave a Reply