Re: Dawkins on Channel 4 tonight

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 09:49:19 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: Dawkins on Channel 4 tonight"

    Ben Dawson wrote:
    > I'm not sure it's valid to equate a religious belief with the
    > acceptance of an established scientific theory in this way. There is a
    > big difference in my mind.
    > Scientists accept established theories. You could term that acceptance
    > faith, but it is faith that is based on some sort of objective
    > evidence which leads the theory to be adopted in the first place.
    > On the other hand, how does religious belief come about? It certainly
    > isn't based the same principle.

    > Also, I don't believe that many religious people are as inclined to
    > let their beliefs drop as easily as you believe. There is an
    > overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution and yet creationists are
    > abundant. If statistics are to be believed then nearly half of
    > Americans believe that the Earth is 4000 years old, despite the
    > discovery of a 3.5 million year old complete human skeleton. People
    > who hold these beliefs cannot have investigated the evidence at all.
    > Their faith is definitely not based on reasoning in the same way as
    > scientific acceptance of a theory is.
    >>So, for example, a Christian is taken ill, or betrayed by a friend, or
    >>is scared about an impending challenge. Faith is about not being able
    >>to see her way out of the current situation, but knowing that in the
    >>past God has never let her down. Faith is about praying, and trusting
    >>God with the situation, on the basis of all her life's experience to
    >>date, even though just now she cannot see how on earth she is going to
    >>be able to cope with the situation.
    > This is all subjective evidence though, isn't it? A person may believe
    > that God is in charge of the situation, and when she overcomes that
    > situation, she may be adamant that God helped her to do that -- but it
    > cannot be proven one way or another.
    > "Faith" as Dawkins defines it, I think, is a belief in spite of lack
    > of proof - proof being the cogency of objective evidence that compels
    > acceptance of a statement.
    > And I think it all comes down to how we define "proof". But a
    > subjective notion such as the one you described above - that God has
    > control of a given situation - is, in my mind, no proof at all.

    Dawkins should employ you to clarify his arguments and put them so reasonably that religious people actually want to engage in discussion with him!

    I hope this is an accurate summary of what you've said: "Belief in a scientific theory comes from the cogency of objective evidence that compels us to accept it. Belief in a religious proposition is purely subjective and cannot be proved in the same way."

    I have a couple of thoughts in reply. First, I think that it is possible to overestimate the objectivity of science and scientists. You knew that I was going to say "phlogiston" at some point, so here it comes . . . It is just such a classic example of how scientists can be so attached to a theory that they stop being able to be objective about it. Just as we can in any walk of life.

    Having said that, though, of course I accept that there is a difference between religion and science. Science, as you say, is based on evidence which is "objective" in the sense that everyone can agree about it: if the evidence convinces one person in any given field of science then it should be capable of convincing all the others as well.

    Problems arise, as you point out, when people don't bother to investigate the evidence. I feel cross and embarrassed when I hear Creationists saying, with an air of triumph, that evolution is "just a theory". Not only have they not bothered to investigate the evidence for evolution, they haven't even bothered to find out what the word
    "theory" means when it's used by scientists!

    Further problems arise when people stop thinking for themselves at all, and accept for example that if they are Christians then that automatically compels them to believe that evolution/Harry Potter is A Bad Thing. People who talk about what "we believe" (rather than what "I believe") always make me feel rather wary.

    I think that this attitude arises from fear. Fear of questioning the basis for their beliefs in case they might be proved wrong. Whereas science at its best is a search for the truth, which is perceived as more important than any specific hypothesis.

    Likewise, though, if God exists, if the claims about him are true, then he can stand up to any amount of questioning and investigation. And if he doesn't exist, isn't it better to find that out than to base your life on a falsehood?

    But I think that the *type* of investigation you mount will be different in religion from what it is in science. More about that in my reply to Chris. This is quite long enough as it is.


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue 17 Jan 2006 - 10:10:43 GMT