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

From: Schwarzwald <>
Date: Wed Aug 26 2009 - 23:40:17 EDT

Murray Hogg,

I actually think the efforts of Dawkins, Harris, and Coyne in this respect
have an unintended result. That Collins is a competent (putting it mildly)
scientist and research leader is beyond reasonable dispute. That he is so in
the field of biology, no less, I'm sure grates intensely on the nerves of
atheist evangelists - but when even Harris has to open up his criticism with
"Okay, his scientific credentials are impeccable, however..!" it's clear
what kind of hand they have going into the game.

Here's what I find interesting, though. Here we have Dawkins, Coyne, and
Harris all arguing that the choice of Collins is a poor one precisely
because of beliefs they disagree with, even though Collins has not only a
long, but a very successful track record in his field even while a
Christian. So here, for me, is the million dollar question.

If Coyne, Harris, or Dawkins were for whatever reason being considered to
head up an important scientific research team, would their attitude/words in
this case serve as reason to believe they weren't fit for the task?

To put it more bluntly: Would you trust a manager who obviously and
unapologetically demonstrated that he would be willing to block the addition
of a team member, *even if this team member had a long and established track
record the manager himself admitted he could not dispute*, because he
disliked this prospective team member's beliefs and/or thought they were

Wouldn't that sort of attitude, frankly, be one of those "threats to
science" I hear so much about?

On Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 11:04 PM, Murray Hogg <>wrote:

> 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.
> Blessings,
> Murray
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Received on Wed Aug 26 23:41:18 2009

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