Friday, July 06, 2007

The Scientific Method at its best: A fellow atheist takes on Richard Dawkins

The Scientific Method is one of mankind's greatest discovery. If you're reading this blog post, you have benefitted from the methodology that provides a path to truth that each reasoning individual can independently journey on.

As noted on the University of California Riverside discusssion of the Scientific Method:
...The great advantage of the scientific method is that it is unprejudiced: one does not have to believe a given researcher, one can redo the experiment and determine whether his/her results are true or false. The conclusions will hold irrespective of the state of mind, or the religious persuasion, or the state of consciousness of the investigator and/or the subject of the investigation. Faith, defined as belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence, does not determine whether a scientific theory is adopted or discarded...
Peer Review is a major component of the Scientific Method. Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson's provides an excellent example of peer review along with the unprejudiced and open-mindedness approach to scientific inquiry in his essay 'Beyond Demonic Memes Why, Richard Dawkins is Wrong About Religion' (HT: Andrew Sullivan)

Wilson challenges his fellow atheist Richard Dawkins to get back to the basics of science and do more than just express his loathing for followers of religion and calling them delusional (great presentation here and here). Professor Wilson lays out a well reasoned case for being true to the discipline of the scientific method in analyzing the role religion has had from an evolutionary perspective and rightly reminds Dawkins that the methodology is key:
...Toward the end of The God Delusion, Dawkins waxes poetic about the open-mindedness of science compared to the closed-mindedness of religion. He describes the heart-warming example of a scientist who changed his long-held beliefs on the basis of a single lecture, rushing up to his former opponent in front of everyone and declaring “Sir! I have been wrong all these years!”

This inspiring example represents one end of the scientific bell curve when it comes to open-mindedness. At the other end are people such as Louis Agassiz, one of the greatest biologists of Darwin’s day, who for all his brilliance and learning never accepted the theory of evolution. Time will tell where Dawkins sits on the bell curve of open-mindedness concerning group selection in general and religion in particular. At the moment, he is just another angry atheist, trading on his reputation as an evolutionist and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion.

It is time now for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on understanding one of the most important and enigmatic aspects of the human condition.
There's more than meets the eye in Wilson's essay. As you read it, consider the question: Do any of the world's major religions have a built-in mechanism like the scientific method that allows a peer to review and challenge the pronouncements of an individual with the prominence Dawkins has in the scientific community? This is science at its best...valueing truth and process over personality.

Mr. Dawkins may have been taken down a peg by his colleague, but in the end both Dawkins and science are all the better for it.

A related argument to Wilson's holistic view of religion was made in a prior post: 'Religion: A man-made, two-edged sword':

...Religion [the belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe] is a man-made institution; a meme that offers humanity, like many man-made things, a two-edged sword.

The first edge has been used to create a more harmonious and prosperous society when individual rights conflict:

  • Don't like the way a neighbor's cattle keeps eating your crops...Thou Shalt not kill him.
  • You're already married but you think your neighbor looks kind of cute...Thou shalt not commit adultery, etc.

It can be argued that the 'Golden Rule', a foundational principle of many religions, is the chicken to the egg of cooperation as an evolutionary survival strategy .

The second edge of the sword has historically been used as a justification for violence and subjugation. Examples include the Inquisition, Taliban's brutality to women and the Islamic theocracy in Iran. Humanity's challenge today is the terroism justified by religion; more specifically, by Isalmic Facist...

Update: Great analysis on the scientific method: Bad Science Journalism and the Myth of the Oppressed Underdog

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