June 23, 2007
Dawkins (we all know him, right?) is suggesting that, while we all are aware of the threat to science by creationists and religious fundamentalists, there are other threats which must also be taken seriously.
“I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism – the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged.”
Sure, Dawkins has a point. While I certainly would disagree with his implied (correct me if I’m wrong) view that scientific truth is the only legitimate form of truth, suggesting that scientific truth should not be privileged above that of, say, religion or even philosophy would certainly be a mistake. Religious “truth” seems almost an oxymoron, but philosophical truth does have some merit. Perhaps we could also talk about “personal” truth (gotta love Dr. Phil). Of course, if science and philosophy (or science and my “personal truth”) were to ever disagree, I’d side with science – no question.
That said, I found the link to Dawkins’ quote from Atheist Revolution, who seems to take Dawkins’ argument to some strange extreme. I started reading:
For a more current example of Dawkins’ concerns, we turn to Philadelphia where police officer Kimberlie Webb sued her department for their refusal to allow her to wear a hijab while on duty…
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission actually concluded that the police department had violated Webb’s rights by prohibiting her from wearing Muslim garb while on duty.
Fortunately, federal judge Bartle had more sense
Now, the judge’s reasons might have some validity – he suggests that (and this is me paraphrasing) by disallowing “religious symbols and attire” puts officers in a better position to deal with varying cultures/religions of people who they have to interact with.
But, I digress. My issue is not with the judge’s decision, as I clearly don’t know enough about the facts to disagree with him. I do, however, take issue with the comments made on Atheist Revolution:
Why must freedom to practice one’s religion become freedom to practice one’s religion in public?
Isn’t that exactly the point of the legal right to practice one’s religion freely? Things that we do in the privacy of our own home are protected by the mere fact that the government cannot enter our homes without a warrant. The only practical benefit of providing a legal freedom to practice one’s religion is to allow people to freely do this in public.
June 21, 2007
Creationists (how we love them) might suggest that we can’t “prove” that evolution is true, not 100% anyway. About Atheism just posted a nice succinct response (written by a forum member) to that argument, which I wanted to share.
Creationist: You can’t prove evolution is true, 100%.
Me: But evolution has been proved true beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s like in court, to prove a defendant is guilty, the jury needs to decide that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the claim is true.
Creationist: A ha! But innocent people are sent to jail all the time!
Me: Okay, but imagine a different court. In this one, a juror has to first pass years of tests to prove that he knows about the law and the case at hand. Then, he and a million others who also passed the test hear case after case after case. A million different defenses [sic.] are launched against the truth of the claim. Every single of the million jurors after every single of the million cases concluded that there was no reasonable doubt that the claim was true. A single juror, in one case, could say “Not true” and the defendant would go free. But that never happened, and still never happens to this day. Because this defendant gets a million trials every day. And still, not one “Not true” has been found.
That’s the case that evolution is true.
Creationist: Yeah but someday we’ll find a Not true, but for you it’ll probably be too late. Enjoy hell loser.
It comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of science. I just recently finished my final undergraduate essay ever, On The Nature of Proof for my “History and Philosophy of Mathematics” subject. One section of the essay deals with this issue specifically
The scientific notion of proof is not dissimilar from that in general use. While scientists (or, perhaps, the media which portrays scientific research to the public) may occasionally be casual in their use of the word “proof”, when questioned about the certainty of their results (and thus, whether their work actually constitutes “proof”), they might reply: “Scientists don’t talk about ‘proof’, period. We leave that to the mathematicians… Change the word ‘proof’ to ‘evidence’, and it makes more sense.”
Scientists seem to have little problem admitting that they do not, in fact, prove anything. Karl Popper, whose ideas defined the modern scientific method, suggested that “scientific experimentation [is not] carried out with a view to verifying or finally establishing the truth of theories; … we can never finally prove our scientific theories, we can merely (provisionally) confirm or (conclusively) refute them”
It should be clear that any use of the word “proof” in science is either accidental, or a deliberate attempt to promote “pseudo-science” or non-science as legitimate. Scientific theories may be contingently true, but it is not the goal of science to provide “proof”. While science may have higher standards of evidence than the general population, scientists (like the general population) seek “evidence that is sufficient to establish knowledge of a conclusion”, not certain truth.
June 6, 2007
Here are some of the sites I’ve been looking at recently, that I wanted to share: