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Piero Morandini pm1 at imiucca.csi.unimi.it
Fri Feb 20 11:05:42 EST 1998

>>The second point is that we heavily rely on somebody's else data and we
>>trust them until we have evidence for the contrary.  Every paper we publish
>>contains 20-30 may be more references: some are for the backgroung on the
>>problem, some on the techniques, some for the interpretation, some...
>>We trust this stuff.  We do not say "hey, today I better confirm water is
>>made up of hydrogen and oxygen and then that the dissociation constant for
>>water is 10 exp-14".  We would not be able to make the slightest step
>>forward with this attitude in mind.
>>Trusting others until there is evidence for the contrary is also integral
>>part of faith.
>The difference, Piero, is that if we wanted to confirm that water was made
>up of hydrogen and oxygen, we *could* do that.

I do not think I could (despite having studid chemistry) since I would
probably  need a mass spectrometer first, which I don't, and then being
taught how to use it (that is, trust what a manual or somebody says).
Then before reaching a reasonable level of mastering the device, I would
conclude that it is better to trust generation of scientists who
demonstrated this long ago.
Even if I could, then I would start doubting that hydrogen is really made
of protons and electrons, and that a proton is made...

What I mean is that trusting is really part of our attitude towards reality.

>On the other hand, no matter
>how much we might want to try, the tenets of faith in the works of what
>many call god or jesus or whom/whatever are not testable.

Dead right!  Nobody would ever be able to demonstrate "scientifically" that
Jesus has done a miracle 2000 years ago.

>Nor can they be
>observed repeatedly to confirm that they happened. Thus, we should just
>accept there is fundamental and irreconcilable dissimilarity between
>science and faith.

*Exactly.*  as many pointed out, they deal with different aspects of
reality and what I mean is that the attitude of a human being inquiring has
strong similarities (start from evidence/facts and trust in somebody's else
work/word) in the two fields.
Science and faith are dissimilar, but the method WE use -as human beings-
has strong similarities.
If I see a buddist (or a communist or a mormon or whatever you want) who
lives better than you do, who does things better than you do, who is
happier than you are, would you rank this as evidence or not?
If you regard this as evidence, then you are forced to question WHY. In
searching for an answer, you will use different "techniques", but you will
start from the evidence, formulate a theory, put the theory to the test and
draw your conclusions.
Unfortunately, many would like to have a scientific way of progressing also
in these matters.  Missing that, they refuse to address the question.  And
this is a mistake as big as that one of a believer who says: "I do not want
to hear this crap on evolution".

I imagine NOBODY would analyse the soup your wife prepares for you this
evening -if you fear I am not for equal opportunities say the chicken you
bought for this evening- for the presence of poison.  You trust her (trust
your local store), you know her.  You do not use a scientific method to
reach certainty about her, do you?
You do not apply scientific methods in human relationships, but this does
not prevent you from living, and may be living happily.

>Interesting comments from the bible belt, too. In the upper Midwest, we
>have no problem talking about this, regardless of our rank. It makes for
>good discussion, and it's too bad that those who would squash that
>discussion in areas of religious fervor cannot live up to the principle of
>open and honest dialog and disagreement -- a concept upon which I would
>hope all universities were based.

Interesting for me too.  I never had any problem, so far, in bringing up
these matters with students (maybe this is why I did not get tenured so
far?).  On the contrary, I had strong discussions on scientific matters
where full professors would not believe a certain theory, without even
discussing the data:
a marvellous example for that is the question of dietary pesticides (that
are said to be 99.99 % of natural origin), see for example:

Ames & Gold (1990) PNAS 87:7772-7776
Ames, Profet & Gold (1990) PNAS 87:7777-7781
Ames, Profet  & Gold (1990) PNAS 87:7781-7786
Gold et al. (1990) Science 258:261-265
Ames, Gold & Willet (1995) PNAS 92:5258-5265.
Especially the first three papers.  My conclusion after these discussions
was that scientists have original sin too...

Hope this does not bother too many.  I believe it belongs to the question
of teaching since we should bring the best out of any student we have
(educate comes from e-ducere, to get something out of somebody).
If many feel it inappropriate, please, email me.

Best regards

Piero Morandini
Biology Department "L. Gorini"
Plant Physiology and Biochemistry Section
University of Milan
Via Celoria 26,  Torre 4C,
Milan 20133    Italy

tel:  +39-2-2660-4394         Email:  pm1 at imiucca.csi.unimi.it
fax:  +39-2-2660-4399

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