Posted by: Dan | September 25, 2006

Reason and Science

J.B.S. Haldane wrote:

My practise as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel, or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world. And I should be a coward if I did not state my theoretical views in public.

I, too, think that if I am to apply the critical thinking associated with science to the question of “Does God exist?,” then the answer must clearly be “No” if I am to intellectually honest, making me an atheist.

Of course I have friends and family (not evangelical or fundamentalist, thank goodness) that attend church at least occaisionally, and I myself go at least twice a year (Easter and Xmas) – it’s more tradition to do so, rather than philosophy, for us. So I’m not out to criticize religion wholesale.

But I am going to add Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science to the sidebar – afterall, I wish to promote free- and critical-thinking about science and society, and denounce dogmatic views, modern tribalism, and intolerance.

However, Dawkins is not infalliable. Red State Rabble has a take on Dawkins and his shortcomings in the culture wars that’s worth a glance.



  1. On the general topic of religion, this is pretty scary:

    Contraception the Next Big Target?

    The Chicago Tribune had an article this weekend by Judith Graham that indicates that the religious right is now broadening their focus on abortion to include opposition to contraception itself.

  2. The Guardian has a much more positive review of Dawkins’ book

  3. Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence.

    As an agnostic I wholeheartedly agree with the points you and Haldane make. But as an intellectually honest one, I must also admit that the point is predicated upon the assumption that we would be able to recognize God’s intervention for what it is.

    Science gives us no evidence that there is a divine power interfering, but it also can’t disprove that entity. Science is agnostic on the matter, in my opinion.

  4. IC,
    Fair points – technically science is agnostic, at least in concept. I just find that, as Haldane says, science is atheistic in practice, which makes his quote so appropriate. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with conceding that we haven’t proven that God doesn’t exist.

    Relating to the topic of reason and science (biology in particular), I was reminded of this list of “physicians and surgeons dissenting from Darwin”(PDF) today – and just thought I’d share my mental reminder to make sure and never go to any of those medical practitioners.

    I wonder if there’s a society for geologists dissenting from Lyell…

  5. It’s a good quote. My problem comes when people go from science is atheistic to ‘there is no god’.

    Dan, the number one thing to remember is that physicians and surgeons are not scientists. They are not trained in it whatsoever. But they seem to forget this. They also only have a tiny modicum of evolutionary biology, most of which is actually population genetics rather than a discussion of the evidence. And they get upset when I tell them this. They are actually mechanics. Intelligent, expensive, and well-educated mechanics. But mechanics nonetheless.

    They dont’ even know how to interpret the results of medical research properly, let alone understand evolution.

    Mechanics think in terms of created machines. Biologists, don’t.

    I wrote this a few months ago about them.

  6. Interesting thoughts on medical practitioners, and a very good post on pssiinternational – plenty of food for thought.

    I wonder if the same is true of veterinarians, who see first-hand the homology between various different animals that they work on, as opposed to focusing on the mechanics of one species alone.

  7. very good question. I don’t know too many vets so I can’t answer that. One thing I can say from undergrad tho is that you had a lot more pre-vet students taking biology electives in evolution and animal behavior than you did pre-med.

    More often than not I was the only pre-med guy in the mid and upper-level courses in that area of biology.


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