Re: [asa] Krauss's quote of Haldane

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Tue Jun 30 2009 - 15:17:58 EDT

> New Atheists are often proud of the fact that their familiarity with
> theology is so superficial.  For example, philosopher Anthony Grayling
> rationalizes flippant dismissal of theology as follows:
> “For example, if one concludes on the basis of rational investigation that
> one’s character and fate are not determined by the arrangement of the
> planets, stars and galaxies that can be seen from Earth, then one does not
> waste time comparing classic tropical astrology with sidereal astrology, or
> either with the Sarjatak system, or any of the three with any other
> construction placed on the ancient ignorances of our forefathers about the
> real nature of the heavenly bodies.”

Dawkins makes the same claim in The God Delusion, except his example
is that one need not consult with "fairyologists" to determine that
there are not any fairies in the garden.

There are at least two major errors. First, there is the assumption
that all religion, etc. is equal in merit to astrology or fairyology.
Secondly, it is necessary to examine the claims of different sorts of
astrology, fairyology, or whatever to determine what they actually
say. Even within many polytheistic systems, I don't think that the
supposed astrological influences would be attributed directly to the
thing seen in the sky; rather, particular spiritual beings were
thought to be associated with the planets, etc. and to have influence
on events on earth. (Contrast that with the ancient idea that the hot
"dog days" of summer resulted from the extra heat of Sirius plus the
sun-a physical effect attributed to the actual thing seen in the sky).
 Thus, any investigation of the physical nature of planets, stars,
etc. fails to disprove the idea that there are associated spiritual
influences. Likewise, determining whether there are fairies in the
garden is dependent upon a definition of fairies and how to detect

Of course, one can easily show scientifically that the newspaper
horoscopes are unreliable-simply check if the advice applies any
better to people born on certain dates than on others, or check if
people claiming to use the same system get the same results.

>For example, what scientist would disagree with the following change to the first sentence of his quote?

“My practice as a scientist is to be objective.”

Anyone? Anyone?

Okay, so let’s follow through on Haldane’s logic:

My practice as a scientist is to be objective. I should therefore be
intellectually dishonest if I were not also objective in the affairs
of the world.

What this means is that if we were to read the various blogs,
magazine, and newspaper writings of various scientists, and found them
to be biased in regard to “the affairs of the world,” Haldane's logic
would have us declare these scientists are intellectually dishonest.
Are the New Atheists truly willing to expand all aspects of the
scientific approach into all of their lives? Or has religion been
singled out for special reason?<

While the question of objectivity applied to other areas is very
appropriate, the logic has faults. E.g., if you are a chemists with
credible commitment to safety (not exactly Haldane's forte), your
practice as a scientist is probably never to ingest anything (unless
you are a food chemist). This does not mean, however, that you should
never ingest anything outside of work, either.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Tue Jun 30 15:18:40 2009

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