Religion as a “containment vessel” for irrationality

“buzzsawmonkey” at @corrcomm quotes his father, a scientist, on the irrational (see comment #16):

When I was young, I thought—we all thought—that science and rationality would triumphantly replace religion.  We were wrong, because man, while capable of rationality in certain areas, is not a rational animal.

There is no removing the non-rational from human beings—and if you try to do this, all you get is bad science, because the non-rational impulse will invade and corrupt the ability to think rationally.  It is the lack of a place and a control for non-rational thinking that creates false science like the hysteria over cancer from cell phones or power lines, or over global warming.

Human non-rationality is like a universal solvent, which dissolves whatever it touches.  The problem with a universal solvent is to find a vessel to contain and control it so it cannot do any harm. The only vessel that has proven itself capable of containing non-rationality over any period of time, and making it possible to control it so that it is not harmful, and even to harness it for useful ends, is religion.  Religion is not a perfect vessel; there are spills and breakages. But it is the only vessel which has been able to contain non-rationality and harness it for good.

Nail, meet hammer. I now see where buzz’s way with words comes from.

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Egypt: the view of Egyptian scientists

Michael Harms, director of the Cairo office of the DAAD (Deutsche Akademische AustauschDienst, i.e., German Academic Exchange Service), offers a view from the Egyptian capital in an interview with Nature magazine. (Hat tip: Mrs. F2; emphasis mine)

Where are you now?

My team, as well as 55 German DAAD fellows, have been camping here in the office since Friday. We’re located in the diplomatic quarter on the Zamalek Nile Island, just a few kilometers from Cairo’s main square downtown and the centre of the protests. The situation here is still very critical: there are armed guys patrolling the streets, and there are militia everywhere.

What is the mood among Egyptian academics?

They basically share the same views with the majority of the protesters: a deep fury about the Mubarak regime. Most intellectuals say the regime is unfair and corrupt. But nobody really has a program or a vision for the future, nor are there any common goals for the time to come.

The many academics I have spoken to do not think there is currently a political force which would be capable of unifying the country. Certainly they don’t trust the Muslim Brotherhood [a leading political opposition group] to do it. There is also a widespread feeling that Western-style democracy is not a panacea for Egypt. But few have a good idea of what a political system that would suit Egypt should look like.

How would you describe Egyptian science?

There are many problems. Universities are critically under-funded and academic salaries are so low that most scientists need second jobs to be able to make a living. Tourist guides earn more money than most scientists. You just can’t expect world-class research under these circumstances. […] Some 750,000 students graduate each year and flood the labor market, yet few find suitable jobs – one reason for the current wave of protests.

But there are some good scientists here, particularly those who have been able to study and work abroad for a while. The Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education has started some promising initiatives. For example, in 2007 it created the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF), a Western-style funding agency. And Egypt is quite strong in renewable energies and, at least in some universities, in cancer research and pharmaceutical research.

Read the whole thing. And I cannot recommend this piece I linked yesterday enough: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution: An on-the-ground narrative by Sam Tadros