Nov 26, 2010

Whatever Dawkins says it’s just not science

A tangle of wires

Not every statement a scientist makes is a scientific one just as not every statement from a theologian is a theological one. The God Delusion works by mixing up scientific statements with mere assertion and then leaving it to the reader to separate the two.

We saw in the last post that Dawkins at times misrepresents, distorts or skews the facts when it suits which isn’t the best commendation for scientific inquiry.

Today we look at a different example of how some of Dawkins’ statements are anything but scientific. Rather than look at distortion this time we’ll look at omission. What happens when all of the evidence is not considered but instead significant evidence is disregarded, ignored or omitted. We’ll see that it inevitably leads to a bad argument and for bad science.

Remember what he is seeking to do which is to demonstrate the absurdity of religious belief and so in a section of The God Delusion entitled ‘The Argument From Admired Religious Scientists‘ he seeks to respond to the charge that there are many able scientests who believe.

Scientists who believe

Dawkins begins by conceding that there were  great men of science who believed in God before Darwin (eg. Newton) but of course everyone believed in those days!  He accepts further that there were some, even after Darwin, who believed in a personal God such as Faraday, Thomson and Kelvin.  And there are a few notable examples of living scientists who are equally devout such as Peacocke,  Stannard and Polkinghorne.  Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project even receives a begrudging mention. Dawkins relegates him to merely an ‘administrative head’ whereas the Endocrine Society regard him as ‘one of the most accomplished scientists of our time’.

But here comes the trick of hand, in the next sentence Dawkins extrapolates ‘they (believing scientists) stand out for their rarity and as a subject of amused bafflement to their peers in the acedemic commuity.’ p.125

For Dawkins’ case to stand he must prove that belief in God is contrary to good sense and therefore that ‘atheists are likely to be drawn from among the better educated and more intellegent‘ p.129

The problem for Dawkins is the preponderance of scientific studies that contradict his hypothesis that believing scientists are an ever rarer breed.  The problem for us is that Dawkins (surprise, surprise) doesn’t mention them in his book. A good survey of them can be found here.

Facts that Dawkins would rather you didn’t consider

Some of the revealing studies that Dawkins would rather you didn’t consider include;

  • The 1997 study published in Nature that made newspaper headlines. It demonstrates that among contemporary physicists and biologists about 40% hold strong religious beliefs, which showed no change in patterns of belief from a similar poll from 1916.  It concludes ‘Although the suggestion eighty years ago that four in ten scientists did not believe in God or an afterlife was astounding to contemporaries, the fact that so many scientists believe in God today is equally surprising.’
  • A 2005 University of Chicago study that found a staggering 76 percent of doctors believe in God and 59 percent believe in some sort of afterlife.
  • A 2007 study which concluded  “the assumption that becoming a scientist necessarily leads to loss of religion is untenable
  • A survey of 1400 US professors, many in scientific fields, discovered that “Contrary to the view that religious skepticism predominates in the academy, we find that the majority of professors, even at elite research institutions, are religious believers”

Many other studies could be mentioned.

The value of a good scientific argument rests in its ability to marshall all of the evidence and make a case in the light of all the known facts. As we’ve seen Dawkins’ isn’t keen to do that and whatever else his book is much of it is just not science.

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