Saturday, August 19, 2006

Let's fill in the blanks.

Being a scientist requires rationality and intelligence in your field of study. It does not mean the practitioner would be rational and intelligent in all fields. That ought to be obvious to any of us.

A man who is a decent physician won’t necessarily be a good mechanic. Some of the worst errors that have been made are the result of people speaking out on topics for which they are inadequately trained --- or in some cases not trained at all.

I think of Dr. Paul Ehrlich the entomologist who’s speciality is butterflies. His degree is in zoology. Ehrlich, however, was also a political activist who wrote The Population Bomb which proved to be dismally wrong on almost every front. Ehrlich was not a demographer and he was contemptuous of economics. Since he dismissed economics openly he didn’t understand how markets work and why there were feedback loops which invalidated his own theories. No doubt in entomology Dr. Ehrlich is brilliant man.

Martin Heidegger was no intellectual slouch and considered a major influence in modern philosophy. Yet he was a relatively early member of the Nazi Party and remained a member of Hitler’s organization until the end of the war. His intellect was no guarantee that he wouldn’t make an error in his politics. And there is no shortage of brilliant individuals who support the vile politics of Marxism regardless of how genocidal the record of that ideology.

Francis Collins is a geneticist and no slouch in that field. But he and his religious fans think that means he’s no slouch in the field of philosophy and theology. It’s the Ehrlich/Heidegger error all over again. Collins is one of these born again types and he argues that believing in Jesus is scientific and that skepticism is irrational. His arguments are pretty sad for someone considered intelligent. You can read one essay on his views here, written by Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith. Harris quoted one passage from Collins which I wanted to comment upon. Here it is:

“If the case in favor of belief in God were utterly airtight, then the world would be full of confident practitioners of a single faith. But imagine such a world, where the opportunity to make a free choice about belief was taken away by the certainty of the evidence. How interesting would that be?”

Collins has to deal with an anomaly. Dumb people tend to be religious and the smarter the person the less religious they tend to be. Study after study confirms that. The dumber the person, on average, the more fundamentalist their faith. For instance 517 members of the National Academy of Sciences were asked what their beliefs were concerning a deity. Only 7% said they held such personal belief while 93% said they either disbelieved or were agnostic on the issue -- in other words the lacked a belief in a deity.

One general marker of intelligence is the level of education a person acquires. Note I said “general marker”. People who don’t have the intelligence tend to fail and don’t move on educationally. Some intelligent people don’t get the levels of education for which they are capable but in general there is a correlation between intelligence and levels of education. Believers are far more likely to have never finished high school or only finished high school than non-believers. On the other end of the spectrum believers are far less likely to work on advanced degrees than non-believers.

Faith, in my opinion, is a substitute for knowledge and intelligence. You believe something to try and fill in the gaps of those things you don’t understand. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum. Well the human psyche abhors ignorance. So if there is something humans don’t understand they have a tendency to fill in the blanks with faith statements. And even intelligent people end up with blanks that trouble them and they are just as capable of inventing an explanation for those areas of their own ignorance as dumb people.

I suspect Collins has done this. And he needs to explain why intelligent people don’t fall for religion as easily as dumb people. So Collins posits why it is that God didn’t make the evidence for existence clearer. He claims that human free will would be eroded if the case for God were clear! What nonsense!!!

Do I have any less free will because the earth is known to revolve around the sun? What Collins is really saying is that the accumulation of knowledge diminishes freedom. If you know something to be true you don’t have free will to believe a lie. Hence the quest for knowledge is the quest for non-freedom. The more we know the less we are free. So why his quest to understand the genome? Doesn’t each new piece of information diminish our free will? Surely if knowledge of God makes us less free all knowledge makes us less free.

Freedom is ignorance and ignorance is freedom. That is the fundamental premise of what Collins has said whether he realizes it or not.

And it gets worse for him I think. He wants to explain why some people don’t see the “rationality” of god so he offers this silly argument. But it isn’t just “some people” who don’t believe it is very specific people. Generally speaking it is intelligent people who don’t believe.

Now that is a problem for him. He wants to argue that belief in God is the intelligent thing to do. If God is rational why is it that intelligent people tend to disbelieve and unintelligent people tend to believe? His attempt to address this lack of evidence still misses the point. He knows that intelligent people understand his genome work better than unintelligent people. He knows intelligent people are more likely to understand science in general than unintelligent people. But he can’t explain why intelligent people are so much less likely to believe in Jesus.

This idea that God made it this way is a bit odd. If you accept Collins’ theory you have to conclude that belief in a god is the only “rational” belief which is accepted more by the unintelligent than the intelligent. To preserve “free will” God made a mystery so mysterious that only the intelligent seem to have great problems understanding it while those who are intellectually closer to plants have no trouble grasping it at all.


Blogger Derreck said...

It's what you make out of rading the Bible. The unintelligent people you are talking about are the regular church-folk as we call them here. They are quite silly having others tell them what to believe.

The other side of religions belongs to the thinky people, who are not very strong in Faith, but contemplate everything, not blindly sticking to some ancient (and unreliable) book or a former-nazi Pope.

August 20, 2006

Blogger GodlessZone said...

Let's discuss your second group. First, Collins seems to be more in the first group based on the logic he uses, which is very poor.

I'm not sure your second group is what I'd call thinking people. They think better than the true believers but then a house plant can do that. You say they contemplate and don't blindly follow a book or the Pope. But what do they follow? Facts? I don't think so. They follow theories they invent to explain things for which they don't have facts. Collins is right when he says that evdience for a god is not exactly over whelming. In fact it is not there at all. All the major arguments have been refuted long before any of us were born. And the "thinkers" and the "true believers" are two of a kind. The difference is how much they accept without real evidence.

August 20, 2006


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