Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dawkins and Krauss on science and religion

Richard Dawkins and physicist Lawrence Krauss debate the approach science should take towards religion in this month's Scientific American. Here's a typical piece of Dawkinology:

I am happy to agree with you that I could, and probably should, have put it more tactfully. I should have reached out more seductively. But there are limits. You would stop short of the following extreme:

"Dear Young Earth Creationist, I deeply respect your belief that the world is 6,000 years old. Nevertheless, I humbly and gently suggest that if you were to read a book on geology, or radioisotope dating, or cosmology, or archaeology, or history, or zoology, you might find it fascinating (along with the Bible of course), and you might begin to see why almost all educated people, including theologians, think the world’s age is measured in billions of years, not thousands."

Let me propose an alternative seduction strategy. Instead of pretending to respect dopey opinions, how about a little tough love? Dramatize to the Young Earth Creationist the sheer magnitude of the discrepancy between his beliefs and those of scientists: "6,000 years is not just a little bit different from 4.6 billion years. It is so different that, dear Young Earth Creationist, it is as though you were to claim that the distance from New York to San Francisco is not 3,400 miles but 7.8 yards. Of course, I respect your right to disagree with scientists, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt and offend you too much to be told—as a matter of deductive and indisputable arithmetic—the actual magnitude of the disagreement you’ve taken on."


Susan's Husband said...

Dawkins' mistake is a common one made in weblog comments as well. There's really no point in engaging such a Creationist for his own sake. The true audience is the set of lurkers who will observe the discussion. Because condenscension, arrogance, and ad hominem attacks are the stanard refugee of someone losing an argument on merit, there is a natural and legitimate tendency to make a judgement on those grounds, if the subject is otherwise opaque, which is what many of the lurkers, the ones who are still open to persuasion, will do.

Gordon McCabe said...

Sometimes you think you can see a lurker out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn to look, he's gone.

Andrew said...

What about the approach science should make towards poetry?

Gordon McCabe said...

Well, anthropologists do analyse literature, I guess. Religion makes direct declarative claims about the nature of the human-independent world, whereas poetry generally doesn't, so many of the claims of religion are open to scientific refutation in a way that poetry isn't.

Andrew said...

Presumably poetry only achieves any value once it leads to what may be described as a profound state of mind in the beholder of said poetry. Religion also deals specifically in profound states of mond. I would have to be an idiot to wish to prove the experience of profundity arising from looking at a certain paining to an outselder doubting the profound state- a state which exists in that moment and for all manner of reasons will not be exactly duplicated. Likewise presumably a Buddhist monk will presumably have little interest in proving to a doubtful third person the reality of an enlightenment experience. In both the above cases, the doubting outsider is to be pitied.