Re: virus: 'Faith' in science.

Mon, 08 Feb 1999 10:37:51 -0800 wrote:
> Atheism and Theism; two wheels of the same cart.

Right on!

> Yesterday, I visited Richard Dawkin's website. I went to the "books" link and
> there was a short listing of his books with description. The webmaster then
> gives you a recommended reading order depending on your goals. One of the
> goals was "I want to defend evolution against creationist", to which, the
> visitor is then directed to buy "The Blind Watchmaker".

Richard and I went to see Dawkins give a reading at the University of Washington bookstore last year. I asked Professor Dawkins how he thought scientific models could ever out-compete pseudo-scientific and superstitious ones. His answer made me think that he'd never heard of memes. He said that astrology, numerology, palmistry and their ilk would loose out to a scientific model because they don't "work."

Huh? As memes, they work great. We all wear blinders of one sort or another, but Dawkins seemed (at least on that occassion) to be wearing a box over his head into which one small pinhole had been cut. The image of the world he gets through the pinhole is very clear and sharply focused, and he gets around quite well with that box on his head, but he certainly seemed to be missing A LOT of things that I would think would be quite relavant to his goals.

> How many of us (general public w/interest in science) quickly validate the
> theories and claims made in the popular science works of Dawkins, Gould, Bloom,
> etc., without ever doing our own research or otherwise applying our own
> scrutiny and skepticism? Aren't we guilty of this phenomenon called faith?

One doesn't have to put on a lab coat and safty glasses in order to scrutinize an argument. Practicing research scientists are often contemptuous of the philosophy of science because most philosophers of science are philosophers rather than scientists. "What do they, who have never carried out any experiments of their own, know about science?"

Imagine a bank robber leveling this same criticism agains a criminalogist. "What do you know about crime? You've never even held up a liquor store."

Science is an inductive enterprise, and as such, requires faith. Faith in the regularity of nature. Faith that the functional regularities of the universe (what some scientists and many self-proclaimed skeptics uncritically accept as "laws") are the same now as they were in the past and as they will be in the future. You can't proove this regularity scientifically because the scientific method pre-supposes it. Any scientific argument for the uniformity of nature would be circular, i.e. it takes the argument's intended conclusion as one of its premises.

I'm reading "True Halluncinations" by Terrence McKenna. Allow me to share an excerpt with you.

"Natural laws are easier to understand if we assume that they are not universal constants, but rather slowly evolving flux phenomena. After all, the speed of light, which is taken as a universal constant, has only been measured in the last hundred years. It is pure inductive thinking to extrapolate the principle of the invariance of the speed of light to all times and places. Any good scientitst knows that induction is a leap of faith. Nevertheless, science is founded on the principle of induction."

> I've heard, "to know without doing is not knowing"; how many
> pseuo-intellectual--would be scientists among us does this describe?

And how many practicing research scientists think that theirs is something other than a faith-based enterprise?

When you read "The Blind Watchmaker" or "The Lucifer Principle" you can evaluate the author's theoretical models for internal consistency, and you can compare them to what you "know" of the world to see if they are compatible. If they seem compatible, you can conduct your own experiments in an attempt to falsify the theory, but if the theory survives your initial attempts at falsification, it could still be false, and no matter how many times the theory survives your attempts to demonstrate that it's false, you can only accept it tentatively without an act of faith on your part.

Most of us here are not practicing research scientists. For the most part, when we read a work of popular science, we check for internal consistancy and compatibility with the data available to us as scientific dilettante's, and then go no further. Is that the same as accepting something on faith without ANY analysis?

> I am not defending the concept of faith or the religious mind. I just think
> that in many cases atheists are the evolutionary 'pots' calling the creationist
> 'kettles' black.

I would agree that this is true in many cases. Some people recognize the coercive and manipulative tactics employed by the faithful, and they look for something to use as a weapon against these coercive enterprises. There is a pre-fabricated arsenal available in the accumulated literature of the evolution/creation debate, and the anti-religious crusader needn't evaluate the internal consistency of the skeptic's arsenal in order to draw elements from it for use against the enemy.

I doubt that you are arguing that everyone on this is of this stripe.

> We just open a hole in our back large enough for our chosen
> ministers (Darwin, Dawkins... whoever)to put their hand in there and then use
> us as the ventriliquistic mediums of their work. Regardless of whether these
> scientist/authors are right or not, until we ourselves see it, hear it, touch
> it taste it and otherwise live out these theories, we are reduced to nothing
> more than Sunday morning yes men.

You CAN'T proove the truth of a scientific theory through experimentation. After sustained, varied, and repeated attempts at falsification, you can decide that a theory is a strong candidate for truth, but if you decide that it IS true, then, even having conducted seemingly exhaustive research, you are still making a leap of faith. Taking the matter to the lab or field is an extension of the kind analysis that we can perform without leaving the arm-chair. It is a difference of degree, not of kind.

> Okay off my soapbox for now. This is my first time posting something to this
> forum, so be gentle--I'm a virgin! :)

I hope you'll be back for more.

Take care.