Building a "Religion"

This post seems very relevant to my roomate's response to my idea of a website that tracks politician's stances on scientific matters. I expressed an urge to expand the idea to other political ideas, but a reluctance due to those issues being opinion, rather than fact-driven.

He liked this idea, and pointed out that politics is an opinion game, which in some instances is perfectly reasonable (truly political issues), while other times it interferes with actual facts (for instance, evolution).

The goal of this organization would be to gather powerful political leaders' stances regarding certain scientific facts, first and foremost: evolution. We want a list of every politician, from the top down; name, location, influence, and sourced quotes describing their acceptance, rejection, or ignorance of scientific theories.

Suddenly I wondered if the phase "jump the gun" could mean, "charge the shooter".

Sean Carroll wrote:
When Chris and Matt talk to the PZ/Dawkins crowd, they do a really bad job of understanding and working within the presuppositions of their audience — exactly what framing is supposed to be all about. To the Framers, what’s going on is an essentially political battle; a public-relations contest, pitting pro-science vs. anti-science, where the goal is to sway more people to your side. And there is no doubt that such a contest is going on. But it’s not all that is going on, and it’s not the only motivation one might have for wading into discussions of science and religion.

There is a more basic motivation: telling the truth.

What Matt and Chris (seemingly) fail to understand is that PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins are not trying to be successful politicians, persuading the largest number of people to come over to their side. They have no interest in being politicians. They are critics, and their goal is to say correct things about the world and argue against incorrect statements. Of course, they would certainly like to see evolution rather than creationism taught in schools, and ultimately they would be very happy if all of humanity were persuaded of the correctness of their views. But their books and blogs about science and religion are not strategic documents designed to bring about some desired outcome; they are attempts to say true things about issues they care about. Telling them “Shut up! You’ll offend the sensibilities of people we are trying to persuade!” is like talking to a brick wall, or at least in an alien language. You will have to frame things much better than that.

However, we also need critics. If everyone were a politician, it would be equally disastrous. In Bernard Shaw’s famous phrasing, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” The perfect can be the enemy of the good, but if we don’t have a loud and persistent chorus of voices reminding us of how far short we fall of perfection, we won’t work as hard as we can to get there.

I find the categorization of "politicians and critics" interesting, and I can't help but bring this up: scientists, in general (at least real scientists), must always be critics, in this sense. Truth must always be the #1 priority. Limited funding and competition conspire to distort that ideal, but in the limit, any veering from the truth will one day be revealed, that's just how science works.

But now we might wonder, should one hold a default skepticism, doubting everything they are told, only accepting it when sufficient evidence is presented? Or could one tentatively accept anything that fits into the previous body of evidence & best-fit model? Obviously it is undesirable to accept non-evidenced (no data one way or the other) claims as being validated, and obviously invalidated claims should be scrutinized, but for claims in which no relevant data exists, scrutinizing the claim in terms of it's consistency with unrelated data and accepted models, and accepting the claim tentatively, ought to be acceptable, as it allows one to advance their thinking into new areas more rapidly. This may also lead to new theoretical considerations which could ultimately lead to new experiments to validate or falsify both the new claims as well as the older models.

Perhaps I should start a "religion". It's tenets would be strict physicalism and metaphysical naturalism, and a complete rejection of any notion of supernaturalism.
In those sense, it wouldn't be much of a religion, but why not call it one?
We can emphasize personal responsibility and a sense of community, equality, and truth.
Personal testimony could be shared between members with our experiences of the numinous, and Sam Harris's notions of mysticism, or something resembling spirituality.
Our reverence for nature and humanity will be our sacred tenets.

Our principles will include requiring our worldview be consistent with empirical evidence above all else, combined with a utilitarian-like approach to moral issues, which, although relative, should be fairly solid and perhaps only laid out by a majority vote of church members.
Sometimes moral views will change, and some morals, if divided among two large majorities, will be given a "no comment" stance by the church, citing insufficient evidence, understanding, and/or consensus to make a decision.
Individuals could perhaps abstain from voting, in which case they have no influence on the outcome, or perhaps allowed to vote a "I don't know" vote, which if in a majority, may prevent an official stance by the church. (Though it seems likely that anyone involved with such an institution would tend to be informed, or if not, rapidly remedy that themselves.)

We could call it "Saganism." We could always write "religion" and "church" in "quotes."

If we had a political stance, I would prefer they promote a linear combination of socialistic and capitalistic models, as well as a mix of meritocracy and democracy, better voting systems (that is, multi-vote systems or the other alternatives, unrelated to computers), issue-based rather than party-based elections, (as well as issue-based metrics for feedback), and a more scientific approach to what does and doesn't work, to eliminate debate over the correctness of social and economic models. (E.g., abstinence-only doesn't work, lazza-faire economics failed, and free-markets don't necessarily evolve into creatures that will efficiently promote the best interests of the people.)

"The favored method of those who would claim that science and religion are compatible — really, the only method available — is to twist the definition of either “science” or “religion” well out of the form in which most people would recognize it. Often both. Of course, it’s very difficult to agree on a single definition of “religion” (and not that much easier for “science”)..."

We would use Richard Feynman's 'definition' of science, as the process of testing old information to make sure it is valid.
And of course, "Saganism" would be an immense distortion of the definition of "religion," at the expense of preserving the definition of "science" in all it's glory.
I'd be really nervous about such a distortion, and the potential damage it could cause. But on the other hand, it seems like it might attract swaths of previously elusive faitheists who just haven't quite seen the incandescence of atheism for the rainbow of benefits it really is.

Of course, the purpose of such distortion is really to create a competitive, non-destructive alternative for religion. Something people can do on Sundays, and that instills a greater sense of purpose in them. Real science isn't for everyone, it requires a lot of time and effort, and sometimes a de-prioritizing of what many people consider "more typical" goals (i.e., a sacrifice; a cost incurred against the possibility of a more 'normal' life).

"Religions have always made claims about the natural world, from how it was created to the importance of supernatural interventions in it. And these claims are often very important to the religions who make them; ask Galileo or Giordano Bruno if you don’t believe me." -Sean Carroll

I should emphasize: morals can not be derived directly from science, they require a set of axioms that can only be defined by human opinions and interests. However, such opinions should not be considered "true" indefinitely, as technology has a way of spurring real-world moral dilemmas that exceed the previous societies' moral sophistication. The only seemingly sensible way I can imagine to deal with this is to bring the full brunt of human discussion down on it (I think Sam Harris advocated this approach as well), relying on the best scientific knowledge available to inform a debate in which we, as a society, develop a consensus view of where exactly to draw the line between right and wrong.

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