My good friend Steve today blogged about Grand Theft Auto IV and the Holy Lie. To recap the irony: many will oppose this game based on their perception that it promotes violence and antisocial behavior. Yet the empirical data doesn't support that notion. So the arbiters of moral rectitude will lie in order to promote their agenda. It used to be that the Devil could "quote scripture to his purpose." But now that the church has abrogated or has been deposed of the mantle of the determiner of reality, the Devil quotes data to the same purpose. What will please old Scratch more--the idea that there are some hormone-driven youngsters out there virtually carousing, drinking, stealing, etc., or their moral guardians' lies? Won't old horny-head salivate at the prospect of having a group of the righteous headed for the circle of hell that incinerates hypocrites?
I'd much rather stick a self-righteous theocrat with my pitchfork than a pimply faced kid. But that's just me.
If only it were that simple! The problem is not with the kids or the videogames or with the Devil, for that matter. The problem is the nature of belief. For 2000 years Western Civilization has relied on scripture as the final say in what's real and what's moral. But those attitudes have changed decidedly in the last 200 years. As a result, the purveyors of "correct standards of behavior" have changed their tactics. They now rely upon the bible AND the scientific method. It used to be that they could scold bad behavior simply stating that it was anti-Christian. Now, they have to have data to support their position because they know that science is the only thing that anyone pays any attention to. The subtext being: Isn't it interesting how science supports biblical standards. (Except for evolution, of course).
The problem is that they approach data without any understanding of science--they view data as though IT WERE SCRIPTURE. I.E., the data is a matter of belief and faith, *not of proof or disproof.* The data supports them because they *believe* it supports them. There is no truth other than the truth of personal perception based on biblical principles. Objective truth simply doesn't exist. Therefore, they can't be said to be LYING, because they don't believe the alternative to be true. Anything that does not support their personal perception of biblical principles is a lie. Thus the worst that they can be accused of is willful self-delusion. Not exactly the same as lying.
While it sounds like I might be defending these hypocrites, I realize that I fall prey to the same willful delusion by relying on science too much in daily life. While science might be helpful in some circumstances to daily living, it has less relevance than the bible. I'm not a researcher. I cannot independently verify the data, I have to have faith that it is true! I must choose to believe it. While experts will tell me that such and such is supported by the data, I either have to accept that at face value or say, "show me the proof." Graphs and charts are totally abstract. You can't see the objective truth unless you understand the statistical principles underpinning them. Again, you have to accept on faith.
In many respects it is just this problem of science/belief/faith that has caused Global Warming to be such a divisive area of science for so long. Science has theorized that it is happening for decades. But Science is not equipped to tell us what the moral response to the data should be. Thus we are left to flounder.
While it may be bad for you to play Grand Theft Auto, it isn't science's place to say so. Many of the same blue noses pointed to Doom and Quake and the Littleton, CO massacre.
In that respect we return to our old adversary, the devil. It used to be that if someone went out and shot someone "the devil made him do it!" That was quantifiable evil. Nowadays, because of psychology, we have to figure out the psychpathology that made him do it. Except for a small handful of researchers, psychopathology is a scientific stand-in for the devil. But where is the truth? And more importantly, where is the truth that matters to daily life?