Re: [asa] Re: (Santa?) [christians_in_science] Brilliant article by Dawkins

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Wed Aug 26 2009 - 23:04:56 EDT

David Clounch wrote:
> Murray,
> You said>My point was that Dawkins makes much about the need for
> EVIDENCE to rule people's beliefs -
> So when the DI people start talking about "following the trail of
> evidence" what happens is the followers of Dawkins hoot and haw and put
> on monkey suits and do cartwheels. So his own followers aren't listening
> to him. Apparently they only echo him because he is against what they
> are against - not because they actually believe him.

More subtle than that, I think.

It seems obvious to me that "following the trail of evidence" is a nice general rule, but FIRST you have to ask whether the trail of evidence is worth following or not.

Some people think THAT is a simple question to address. I think it's not. Actually, scratch that and replace with "I KNOW it's not" because part of the art of conducting good science is knowing whether or not, and if so, how, to take account of particular data.

And the way you hone that art is by first acquiring a large enough background familiarity with the data and theorems of a particular science such that you have a context in which to assess new material and, second, by practising science in concert with people who already have the knack of making sound judgement calls. It is, ultimately, all about informed but subjective judgements - hence one of my little maxims: "science is an art, not a science"

I could evidence plenty of instances from my own experience when seemingly valid experimental results railed against the validity of a theory and my response was simply to throw out the results and start again. Being able to make that judgement correctly is, in my opinion, a very large part of what scientific competence is about.

But in the case of "no religious person can be a competent scientist" I would have thought that the contrary data was so overwhelming that it's beyond the realms of a reasonable judgement call to dismiss it. Or, what is the same thing, it evidences a lack of awareness with the data and theorems of the social study of religious belief. No person, in my view, who is reasonably informed about the interaction of science and religion would ever object to Collins' appointment on the basis that his belief in God is on par with belief in the Easter Bunny or Santa. It's a very tendentious claim.

That's why I liked Schwarzwald's mention of Grant's drinking. When you're as successful as Grant was, to argue that he CAN'T be a good general because of X would seem to me evidentially self-refuting.

So "following the trail of evidence" is something you do when you think it merited. Otherwise you quite rightly dismiss the evidenced as irrelevant. And if you want to know when which course of action is appropriate, you have to do so by earning your stripes as an insider.

All of which is simply to say that I think Dawkins really does believe in following the evidence where it leads - but he simply kids himself in respects of his competence to make a sound judgement call in this instance. Ditto for his supporters.


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Received on Wed Aug 26 23:05:48 2009

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